Time capsule under the lino

Have you had a look under the floor lately?

When we bought Te Ana Lodge in 2004, the house had been a rental property for 10 years. It had been moved to the Coromandel at least 20 years earlier by someone called Miller and had been partially renovated by previous owners.

One day in 2005 our tenant broke the news that she was moving out and we decided to start renovating. It was no easy task. First we had to clear all of the old furniture and junk left by the last ten years of tenants.

There was some building work to be done in each room. Two rooms had creaky wooden wardrobes fixed into the wall studs, with gib board fitted around them. The end of the house had a sunroom and its floor sloped three inches over a distance of ten feet.

As we were pulling it up we noticed newspapers had been laid underneath - not just pages but entire newspapers. The date on the first one was 16 October 1924. There was a name scribbled on the front cover by the paper boy: Miss Wishart. Who could she be? And how many more papers were under there?

There were 26 in all, counting the supplements. There was no more renovating that day. We sat and read them all and marvelled at how much the world had changed since those days.

The black-and-white photographs hadn’t lost any of their clarity in their time hidden under the floor. There were New Zealand Heralds (some with photo supplements) and Daily Stars, the newspapers themselves all columns of text apart from enormous adverts in the middle sections.

There was one article about a man who was arrested by police in Auckland after throwing a block of wood over a hedge in a city park - it landed on the ground in front of a gentleman and his wife who were sitting on a park bench. They called the police and the culprit was fined one pound after admitting to the crime.

There were photographs of the All Blacks’ 1924 tour of the UK, the royal family, Zeppelins - the new mode of transport - a tram crash in Queen Street, Auckland.

There was a story about a mounted police sports event at Ilford in England, the policemen riding their horses with balloons on their heads, trying to clobber their opponent’s balloon! Wouldn’t Monty Python have loved this?

There were sections of land for sale on Waiheke Island from 35 pounds, payable at no interest for one pound per month.

I called the Herald and asked if these newspapers were worth anything. They explained that they weren’t, because a copy is kept in the archives of every edition ever printed and anyone can go in and read them.

They did tell me however that memorabilia collectors might offer something for the papers containing photos of the All Blacks, royal family etc.

I prefer to hang on to them and we are considering allowing guests to read them if they ask - as long as they don’t trash them.

My question to all other bach owners is, ‘Have you had a look under your lino recently?’ I think it might have been a common thing to insulate floors from draughts in the days before heat pumps.

We would love to know who Miss Wishart was/is and where the house was from originally but we may never find out.

By Kingsley Burn

More info

Te Ana Lodge

Afterword

miss-wishart
A press clipping from 1919 about Alice Wishart, who was teaching at Thames South School at the time.

Following the publication of Kingsley Burn’s story, he was contacted by relatives of Miss Wishart, who supplied the following information:

Assuming the house did come from Thames, then Miss Wishart would have been Alice Ethel Wishart, who was the youngest of the eight children of Robert and Annie Wishart. 

Robert emigrated to NZ with his parents and siblings in 1852 via Australia, arriving in 1855.  Robert married in NZ of course and moved to Thames, where he was a gold miner. Apart from an older sister who died as a child, all of Alice’s siblings married and left the area. 

Alice lived with her parents in Cochrane St until their deaths in August-September 1922 and then moved into a house in Beach Rd, Thames and I presume that would be the house that was moved (unless it came from somewhere else entirely in which case the foregoing is irrelevant!).  She was certainly in the Beach Rd property through to 1928 but by 1938 she was at 78 Queen St, Thames.

While the Electoral Rolls list her as a spinster, she was in fact a teacher and from what we can see she had a senior appointment at Thames South School in 1919.

She was born 21 Sept 1885 and died in Thames on 1 July 1940.

There are many references to her in the local Thames newspaper but the records only go as far as 1920 so her later life is still unknown as is the identity of the house that Kingsley now has. 

She was a keen participant in the local scene, featuring in a number of concerts.  There are a number of references also to her sister Florence May and both seemed to be accomplished music teachers.  Florence married in 1912 leaving Alice Ethel as the only “Miss Wishart” in the area.