In 1997 Margaret Deans (1934?-2017) retold the history of her family home to Christchurch City Libraries. She still owns the property today (2013). This page details the history of the property and the buildings on it, and explores the lives of the families who have lived there.
About the property
Hidden behind large trees at 46 Memorial Avenue is one of Fendalton’s older homes — of particular interest because it has remained in the hands of one family for more than a century. Margaret Deans (née Cregoe, previously Alpers) is the current owner of the property. She was the widow of the author Antony Alpers (1919-1997) and is now the widow of artist Austen Deans (1915-2011).
The Archer family
Mrs Deans’ grandfather, Fulbert Astley Archer (1860-1911), was the manager of general merchant and stock agent company Dalgety & Co. He married Amy Charlotte Radcliffe (1858-1937) of Derriford, Plymouth at the Fendalton church (later St Barnabas) in 1888. He owned eight hectares of land on the right-hand side of Fendalton Road (later Burnside Road and from 1956, Memorial Avenue), beyond Clyde Road. He added to his eight-hectare holding in 1907 when he paid £1000 for an area of land nearer Clyde Road when that land was subdivided. At one time the Archer family land stretched right across to the Wairarapa stream on the other side of Woodford Terrace and to Clyde Road.
The Archers built a large, single-storey weatherboard house there, typical of many houses built in Fendalton at that time. Like many early settlers, Amy named her new home after family property in her homeland, calling it Colwell. Her hobby was illustrating the family’s many photo albums with delicate watercolour sketches. She felt the black and white photographs of the time needed a lift with some colour.
The first Colwell did not have a long life. Fulbert Archer’s father, of Timaru importers Miles Archer & Co., lived in a Blighs Road property, still there today near the railway line. The Archers arrived home from a visit with him one afternoon to find Colwell burnt to the ground — everything gone except a chimney surround with a kettle still on the hearth. Like most of the disastrous house fires of the time, the fire had probably started in an unsafe chimney. The replacement house, which was built 1898 and also named Colwell, had chimneys built with double brick.
Family life and animals
At the turn of the twentieth century, Colwell was a busy home run with little domestic help. There were three children: Fulbert Cave Archer (1890-1953), Stephen Radcliffe Archer(1891-1915) and Hester Amy Archer (1901-1952). The boys attended Wanganui Collegiate School: Fulbert 1905-1909; Stephen 1905-1910.
Fulbert Archer senior kept polo ponies in stables on the property, and played locally. The ponies were expected to be versatile: the favourite, called Biddy, pulled the gig to the Selwyn Huts and to the West Coast — a ten-day trip — to take the family on holiday.
Photographs show the children at Hurunui; the family had also travelled there in the gig. Fulbert and Stephen rode to Christ’s College on ponies named Darkie and Tommy. A little Shetland pony was a favourite pet belonging to Hester. It was known to trot through the front door and out the back door of the house.
The family also had a house cow they named Mildred Maud. As a child, Hester used to milk her, hiding a mug in a tree ready for sampling the fresh milk. Hay parties were a frequent form of entertainment, croquet was played on the lawn and there was a summer house to relax in. Strawberries and cream were usually on the menu. Tennis was played on courts down by the stream.
The gardener, George, lived for many years where the Fendalton Mall car park is now.
Fulbert Astley Archer died in 1911, aged 51. On 2 March 1911 he was the first to be buried in the Papanui Public Cemetery, Grahams Road, Fendalton (re-named Waimairi Cemetery in 1917). His son, Stephen, a Lance Corporal in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, was killed in action at Gallipoli on 22 June 1915, aged 23. Amy Archer gave St Barnabas Church an oak and iron font-cover in memory of her husband, and the marble base to the font in memory of her son.
Her daughter, Hester Archer, married Julian Plomer Cregoe (1887-1968) and the couple remained in the Archer family property. Margaret Deans is their daughter. She recalls taking the tram from the terminus on the corner of Clyde and Fendalton Roads to school at Rangi Ruru. She eventually inherited Colwell. She married author Antony Alpers in 1964 and they brought up their family there.
The house today
Some land near Clyde Road was sold in 1924 for £3,317/16/3 to Duncan Oliver Rutherford of North Canterbury. Other land was sold about 1949. Some land was taken for road-widening when Burnside Road became Memorial Avenue in 1956. The land between Woodford Terrace and Memorial Avenue was not sold off until 1967.
Today, the property is still large by today’s standards, with an area of 0.2122 hectares. The Christchurch City Council regards the house as of historic or architectural interest and it appears on the list of protected buildings. The chimney pots are of particular historic value although the chimneys were damaged in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. There are several mature cabbage trees on the property. One of them, which is protected, is thought to have the biggest girth and height of any in New Zealand.
The house is largely in original condition. Gone from the property is the windmill which provided artesian water until 1970. Inside, the panelling is original and the house has a smoking room. The rooms have double-sash windows. The hall displays antlers from deer shot by Mrs Alpers’ uncle, Fulbert, in the Rakaia Gorge during World War I when he was manager of the Lake Coleridge Station. Antony Alpers wrote many of his books in the study there.
Friends and neighbours
From 1908 Thomas Tayspill Dowling (1841-1920), his wife and their five sons were neighbours of the Archers on an eight-hectare block of land. They built their large house, Hatherley, at 58 Burnside Road. The drive to their property is now the entrance to 52b Memorial Avenue. It ran down through large plane trees, a few of which are still standing. Gleneagles Terrace was formed from part of this driveway in the 1950s. The Dowling boys used to cut through the Archers’ paddocks to school in Clyde Road. On the way, they used to eat fruit from their orchard.
Owners of Hatherley from 1928 were Dr David Macmillan (1897-1983) and his family. They gave the Cregoe family their gate posts which are still there today. This happened when the road was widened and the old gate posts were not strong enough to withstand the move. The market garden next to Colwell was owned by Peter Chick (1847?-1930). Geoffrey Edward Royds (1872-1959) took up three hectares of land on the corner of Clyde Road and Burnside Road on part of Rural Section 94. He farmed that land as well as land on both sides of Burnside Road between Grahams Road and Greers Road.
Acknowledgement: Margaret Deans.
- Sarah E. W. Penney, Beyond the city: the land and its people, Riccarton, Waimairi, Paparua, pp. 118-123.
- Alice’s letter to pier readers, Otago Witness, 21 December 1888, p. 39.
- Deaths, The Press, 1 March 1911, p. 1.
- News of the day, The Press, 3 March 1911, p 6.
- Roll of Honour, Evening Post, 9 July 1915, p. 7.