Standing on Yaldhurst Rd., through the original wrought-iron gates and up on an avenue of trees is ‘Huntley’, one of Christchurch’s historic wooden homes. Built more than one hundred years ago, it is one of the few houses remaining from the time when Upper Riccarton was one of the more fashionable parts of the city.
Rev. (later Archdeacon) Octavius Mathias was the first owner of the land where ‘Huntley’ stands. He and his family arrived in Canterbury on the ‘Dominion’ in 1851. Mathias came to Christchurch on the promise of a canonship of the cathedral proposed for the new settlement; he served here as a commissary for Bishop Selwyn until the arrival of a Bishop.
However Mathias was in New Zealand both as a land purchaser and clergyman. He built his own home, a cob house replaced later by a two-storey wooden one, by the present Riccarton Road railway crossing. As an added inducement to emigrate, Mathias was given a land order applied for in London in October 1850. This was Rural Section 160 - 160 acres between the Main South Road and Racecourse Road - for [[sterling]]600 from the Canterbury Association. At the time, there were no roads but the lines of those planned were marked with surveyor’s stakes. Twenty acres of the land was to be set aside for the parish of St Peter’s to use for a church, vicarage, Sunday School, burial ground and glebe (common ground attached to the vicarage). The rest of the 200 acres was named Horsford Farm. (Mathias had been vicar of Horsford, near Norwich in England). Mathias farmed a crop of oats and advertised them for sale at the ‘Mathias Horsford Farm’. The land, now split by the Curletts Road extension between Yaldhurst Road and the Main South Road, was farmed until 1939.
The first vicar of St Peter’s, Rev. Croasdaile Bowen (1831-1890) was a landscaper, an architect and a forester. He planted many of the mature trees still found around St Peter’s.
In 1872, eight years after Mathias died, John Twentyman, one of two partners in a Cashel Street hardware business (the other being named Cousin) and an original member of the Canterbury Club, bought 16 1/4 acres of the farm in a mortgagee sale for [[sterling]]328. He owned the land for only five years, 1872-1877, but it is believed that during that time Twentyman had a house built on the property. Exact details are unknown but by the time the land was sold the price had increased to [[sterling]]2400 indicating the presence of a substantial house. Hand-forged nails later found in the timbers suggest a construction date during the 1870s.
The house is roughly square in plan, with two slated gables running east and west with a central gutter. Originally three sides of the house were surrounded with a two-storey verandah. A broad staircase is a feature of the house with wreathed handrail, simple balusters and heavily moulded newel posts.
The owner in 1877 was George Holmes of Pigeon Bay. He was a notable early Canterbury contractor whose work included the Lyttelton tunnel and railway line south from Christchurch to the Rakaia River. He took much of his payment in the form of land granted to him by the Provincial Council.
Holmes died four months after buying the property, at the age of 55, and left everything he owned to his brother John, of Huntley, in the county of Carleton, Ontario. John Holmes had had quite a notable political career in Canada, representing his county in the Canadian Parliament 1867-72.
John Holmes lived for only two years after his brother, dying at ‘Huntley’ in 1879. His widow, Elizabeth, remained at the property which stayed in the family until 1841. John Alexander Holmes of Bangor and his wife were the longest-standing owners of the property, from 1895-1938. In 1941 Holmes’ son sold the house and five acres to R.M.D. Morton. Subsequent owners have been Rupert S. Trapnell, Douglas M. Lamb and since 1971, D.J. Reid and family.
The house remained in its original condition until the 1940s. During that time a bay window and balcony was removed from a north-facing gable and part of the verandah was built into the downstairs drawing-room. The old service quarters were removed to make way for a large double garage.
A new residential development is now planned for the land around the historical homestead. Twelve homes designed by architect Andrew Barclay are to be built this year on the site of the long disused tennis courts and the orchards. Every effort is being made so the development will blend in with the adjoining homestead and none of the mature trees will be removed. A reserve will be formed comprising a small stand of walnut and maple trees at the north western end of the site and the houses will be built behind and around other trees. ‘Huntley’ itself will remain untouched.
- Christchurch Press. 11 July 1981, p61.
- Christchurch Star. Property Weekly. 11 March 1994.
- Mair, A.J. Homes of the pioneers: pen & wash drawings. 2nd ed. Christchurch [NZ]: Caxton Press, 1969.
- Scotter, W.H. 1905-1974. Paparua County Council county history (uncompleted). Christchurch, NZ: W.H. Scotter?: A.C. Loach? 1974?.