Have you ever wondered who has lived in your house? When it was built or altered? Who was the builder, architect or owner? Or what the house or garden looked like in the past? Who else has called your house their home?
Often it’s our neighbours who know most about our home. They remember the past owners, tenants, families and visitors that have brought the house to life. They recall which car, or what lawnmower was owned, and when it was used – especially if it was noisy or early morning! They know who climbed on the roof during a storm, or when an extension was added or a new garden planted.
While long-term residents and neighbours are a great source of anecdotal evidence, and many fascinating stories, there is also a wealth of information to be found in documentary and archival sources.
Archives are the place where non-current documents go to be given new life. Ashburton Museum is home to an extensive archive, containing hundreds of thousands of documents, records, and plans; and over six million images. Each item is part of a puzzle that tells the story of lives well lived, houses well loved, and the many things that have made daily life so interesting in the Ashburton District.
Most importantly, archives are carefully managed to ensure all that information is made accessible. Physical care for archives ensures each item will last, with attention given to storage, handling and environmental conditions. Care for knowledge ensures that each item is catalogued and recorded in a way that makes it easy to find and to understand what it contains and means. A professional archivist is the key that both cares for the collection, and ensures that knowledge is made readily available.
Some of the most important and interesting items in the Ashburton Museum collection relate to people’s homes. Many of our research enquires come from homeowners who want to learn more about the past life of their house. They seek photographs, plans, street directories, maps and more. Many want a copy of a photograph or plan to hang on their wall.
Many people are also curious to learn more about past occupants. Older houses particularly, often have past residents who were well known members of the community. They have left traces of their interests through the committees they have served, war records or even the items that they have donated to the museum.
Much of this information is publically available as part of the shared heritage of our community. Ashburton is rich in heritage, and much of it is documented.
Stories to tell
It’s not only large or grand houses that have a story to tell. Recently, interest has turned to the history of state housing in New Zealand. Along with railway houses and Maori Affairs houses, these homes contribute to the distinct built environment of many New Zealand towns.
At least two books have been published recently that delve into the architectural history of these houses. They show how current owners continue to adapt these homes to suit stylish, modern lifestyles.
They also show that even quite recently built houses have a story to tell. These histories are a reminder that even modest houses have design, historic, social and political significance.
- Architect William (Billy) Thomas and his wife outside their home at 112 Cameron St, Ashburton. ©Ashburton Museum.
- Friedlander house, 254 Tancred St, Ashburton, built for David Friedlander in 1910. ©Ashburton Museum.
Author: Tanya Zoe Robinson