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Stepping back into Canterbury's past

Stepping back into Canterbury's past

Papanui Road in Christchurch is home to some of the city’s most beautiful historic homesteads, and Merivale Manor is no exception.

Once the family home of one of the city's early settlers, the Manor is now boutique accommodation. The main house features ten period-style suites for those wishing to escape to the garden city.

"It's got a good feel to it; you walk in, and you feel comfortable," manager Gin Leslie says.

"It doesn't feel pretentious at all."

The Manor, built in 1882, was designed by esteemed architect Samuel Farr.

Farr was the architect behind some of Christchurch and Canterbury's most iconic buildings, such as Christchurch Normal School, and homesteads, such as the Glenmark Estate, which, like many buildings of the era, was destroyed by fire.

Merivale Manor has survived two fires since its construction and escaped the Christchurch earthquake with relatively minor damage thanks to previous restoration work completed in 2004.

Known initially as Domus Textorum, the Manor was then named Te Wepu by owner Henry Webb, a Māori transliteration of Webb, a common practice at the time.

Webb, whose business had failed in Australia, moved to New Zealand to take over management of his wife Augusta's family-owned shipping company, Peacock and Co.

The couple initially settled in Lyttleton, where Webb served as a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council and a local member of parliament.

In 1881, Webb purchased what was originally a 50-acre farm block on Papanui Road, a popular area for the city's prominent citizens, to build a homestead for the couple's growing family.

The original eight-bedroom house was built in Farrs' signature Italianate style, with architectural embellishments and a wrap-around veranda with ornate detailing.

Webb remained actively involved in the community until his retirement in 1893 and lived at Te Wepu until he died in 1901.

Following his death, his wife Augusta subdivided the property, eventually selling the house in 1911.

Between 1911 and 2004, the building spent most of its life as a boarding house. In the 1950s, it lost its road frontage when a brick house was built in front, which stood until its demolition in around 2003.

In 2004, restoration was begun on the homestead. Over the years, additions to accommodate boarders were removed, and the house's original footprint was restored.

New studio rooms were built on the property adjacent to the driveway, and in 2005, the building was opened as Merivale Manor.

Current owners Wayne and Karen Peat, an interior designer, bought the business in 2014. Since then, the house has been redecorated with a charm that embraces the building's heritage.

Managers Phil and Gin Leslie have been caretakers of the property for five months while the Peats run a retreat in the North Island.

"It doesn't feel like a run-of-the-mill hotel," Phil said. "It's got all of Karen's knick-knacks, flowers and ornaments. People just look around it and feel at home."

Maintenance of such an old building is a constant labour of love.

"One day you're the plumber, the next day you are the sparky, then you're the builder or the landscaper.

"We have a good schedule, though, and we try to keep to that."

A short walk to Merivale Mall, Gin said Merivale Manor is popular with visiting farmers looking for a break or with children at the nearby boarding schools.

"We get a lot of retired farmers from down South and people visiting family in hospital because it's so close to St Georges."

With so many heritage buildings lost to the Christchurch earthquake, fire, or simply the ravages of time, Merivale Manor is a precious slice of Canterbury history that guests are lucky enough to experience first-hand.

by Claire Inkson