Care brings cottage back from brink
When former builder Grant McAlpine and his wife Carol retired to Richmond from Masterton, they had hoped to settle in at their new home quietly.
But the dilapidated pioneer settler’s cottage at the back of the property demanded their attention. The McAlpines lived in a three-bedroom Edwardian villa built in 1909, but behind the villa is a cottage thought to be the oldest residential home in the region. It bears a plaque from the Historic Places Trust.
Made out of rammed earth taken from the neighbouring paddock, Bonnington Cob Cottage is thought to have been built by early settler Joseph Bonnington.
Joseph’s son George grew up in the cottage as one of nine children, inventing the popular Irish Moss cough syrup there before manufacturing it on a large scale in Christchurch.
Joseph bought more than 20ha of land and built the cottage in 1853 as a homestead for his family. After the property was sold to the Lusty family the late 19th century, the land was further subdivided and the new owners built a grander main residence.
The Historic Places register said the building was a rare remaining example of a type of house characteristic of New Zealand’s early European settlement. It described the McAlpines’ restoration project as ‘‘intensive and extensive’’.
The McAlpines bought the property in 1992, and embarked on major renovations when they moved in four years later.
‘‘It was really dilapidated,’’ said Grant, who explained it had been used as a woodshed.
‘‘Several of my colleagues looked at the cottage and said, ‘ Oh, you’re mad to restore it, just knock it down’, but it had the Historic Places Trust sticker on it and we just couldn’t do it.’’
He said the untreated earth walls had dried out and badly eroded, and some even had plants growing in them. Layers of shredded wallpaper and copies of the Isle of Man Times covered sections of wall, and the floorspace was filled with mouse and rat droppings. Most of the newspapers dated from 1890.
‘‘It was pretty mucky getting rid of all the old stuff,’’ Grant said. ‘‘You’d get covered in clay and old dust. We breathed in large quan- tities of it.’’
With the help of local ‘‘ mud scientist’’ Ralph Butcher, Grant filled the cracks in the walls and coated them with more than a ton of a special putty-like ‘‘mud’’ made from clay, lime and other chemicals. This was covered with a protective ‘‘skin’’ made of a substance called isinglas, which is derived from the dried swim bladders of fish.
The final step was a waterproofing coat of silicone compound on the walls, and a layer of new cedar tiles on the roof. Dormer windows were also added inside the two small bedrooms upstairs.
Bayleys Nelson salesman Anthony Carppe said the sale was a rare opportunity to invest in a slice of history. The owners are taking offers above $975,000, and he said there had been plenty of interest.
History restored: Grant McAlpine takes it easy at Richmond’s 160-yearold Bonnington Cottage which he and
his wife have restored.