Words on Wednesday: Three Historic Houses

Last week was Wellington Heritage week, an opportunity to see inside familiar, and not so familiar, houses and buildings around the city. This year I managed to get to see three listed heritage buildings in Thorndon. It was a gloriously sunny day, so lovely to walk through the Botanic Gardens to see the three houses open for the event.

The first house I visited was Randell Cottage (14 St Mary Street). Built in 1867 by William Randell, this house was home (unbelievably given the size) to him, his wife and ten children. After his wife died in 1921, the house was sold and fell into disrepair, finally being restored in 1994 by descendants of the original owner. The cottage was gifted to the Randell Cottage Writers Trust in 2001, and is now used as a writers’ residency. A writer from France works in the cottage for six months of the year, and a New Zealand writer for the other six months, using the time to work on their writing. There is still an original white rose in the garden, planted by Randell’s wife. During the open house afternoon, there were readings taking place in the garden. During my visit, there someone was reading in French, what I believe was a Katherine Mansfield short story: quite lovely.

The sign at the entrance to Randell Cottage, and below the outside of the house.

The second house I visited was the Lilburn Residence at 22 Ascot Street. This was designed in 1951, and became home to the musician Douglas Lilburn. Lilburn was a composer and a pivotal figure in the development of New Zealand music. The current Lilburn Trust, which looks after the house, allows the use of the house for such things as a composer residency. I arrived in time for a short concert of guitar music, a few excerpts from his 17 Pieces for Guitar, played in the sunshine with a little breeze blowing through the open window. It was such a beautiful moment, a real small pleasure.

On the way to Lilburn House
A kowhai tree

The third residence was the Rita Angus Cottage at 194a Sydney Street West. Built in the late 1870s, this building is also listed as a Category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand and is owned by the Thorndon Trust. I have mentioned the artist Rita Angus before in this blog, and this house was where she lived and worked. The house continues to be used as a studio for an artist in residence program.

On this occasion, only the garden was open to visitors. The garden was an inspiration for many of her works, including the magnolia at the front of the house. It really is a gorgeous space, full of flowers, a lemon tree and green spaces. People were sitting on the grass, sketching, chatting, drinking lemon barley water, and enjoying the garden in glorious weather.

Some of the flowers…more below and the lemon tree
The magnolia

All in all this was a perfect little gem of a Saturday afternoon. Good weather, interesting places to visit, music…and there was cake at each location should you wish it. I’m sure where you live there are similar events, so do make the most of them – you never know what you might discover.

If you want to listen to Douglas Lilburn’s music, here is a link to his Overture Aotearoa.

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram@thistleandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on thistlesandkiwis@gmail.com


  1. I always find it poignant to step into old houses and feel the past. Ten children in that small house! Oh, my. Lovely that it’s used for a writers retreat.


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