When I consider the rigmarole involved in building a house these days, I think of how simple it was in my grandfather’s day. It was hard work, but there was certainly no red tape.
In 1909, Harold Marsh proposed marriage to Grace Moffatt. He lived in the house his father built in the 1860s and perhaps it was getting a little rundown, so he decided to build a new one to start married life. Our family is fortunate to have not only his diaries and photographs to give details of the build, but also invoices for building materials.
The couple chose a flat site adjacent to the “old house” with a lovely view of the Oruawharo River. In June, Harold went down into his little patch of bush and cut trees to become house blocks. He went to Port Albert and arranged with Mr Bennett to supply the galvanised iron, spouting, ridging, paint etc and to deliver it.
The following Monday, Bennett’s launch came down the river with most of the timber, weatherboards, lining etc. The diary notes that the weather was so rough Mr Bennett had to throw nearly all the load overboard to land it. Harold then had to get everything ashore. The whole next day was spent cleaning and stacking it, ready to haul 13 loads a half-mile or so from the beach using a horse and sledge.
In late July, Bennett’s launch delivered corrugated iron, sash weights, nails, scrim etc and joinery from O’Brian’s of Wairoa. These supplies, too, had to be hauled up through the paddocks. While all this was going on Harold was still working his farm, gumdigging and travelling the district taking photographs, not to mention continuing to court Grace. He spent hours painting weatherboards before starting to build.
On August 30, Harold wrote: “Guy Witheford came along in the forenoon and we commenced to build the new house and put in the blocks under the East and South walls. Took a photo laying the foundation block.” Guy and his father, Walter Witheford, were accomplished builders in the district.
On September 9, the framework began. Six days later Walter and Guy had the fascia and front and west side weatherboards up. The following day Walter arrived early and finished attaching the spouting. Guy and Harold completed weatherboarding the eastern side and put all the iron on the roof. Harold remarked that they didn’t knock off until 5.30pm, then he went to visit his fiancée.
The exterior was completed by September 18 and the men began internal flooring and lining. By the end of the month, ceilings were up and scrim attached to walls ready for papering. Windows were installed and a porch built. Not everything was brand new. Internal doors from the old house were used in the new one and it’s always amused family and friends to see how many different hinge holes there are in some of these doors. Ceiling battens were reused. So, too, was the chimney, taken down brick by brick, cleaned and re-erected by John Moffatt, Grace’s father.
A diary entry says that Mr Moffatt continued the chimney on October 27, then Harold took him home in the punt and went for a moonlight stroll with Grace.
By December the house was nearly complete with only finishing touches needed. Harold made dining room cabinets and fitted them. Concrete fireplace arches and hearths were his own work. Wallpaper and dado were put up and joinery painted.
The house was ready when Harold and Grace were married in February 1910. A year later a lean-to was attached which contained a small bedroom, scullery, pantry and, most important, a photographic den. A verandah was added on two sides.
More than a century later, the den is now a bathroom/toilet and the kitchen has been modernised. The house has been reroofed, reblocked and repainted over the years but the basic structure remains the same — an honest country farmhouse overlooking the Oruawharo River.