Samuel Hurst Seager

Whanganui – forgotten capital of the Arts and Crafts Movement

With a number of cultural festivals and events unfolding over summer, this time of year is especially busy for Whanganui. The town has long stood out as a magnet for arts and culture, drawing creative people in from far and wide. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a major centre of New Zealand’s Arts and Crafts Movement.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts Movement was overturning the cluttered look we associate with the Victorian era. A response to urbanisation and mass-production in Britain, it was a design approach which recalled the pre-industrial world. It embraced hand crafting, simplicity, and nature-inspired patterns.

In 1892 Whanganui became the fourth city in the country to establish a formal arts school. This was the Wanganui Technical School (which eventually merged into the Wanganui Technical College). At this point, design training was an important part of most trades. The Wanganui Technical School taught both boys and girls – woodwork and metalwork were popular for girls and allowed for a career in the design world. Staff had Government funding to travel to all surrounding settlements in the Whanganui region and teach regular classes – art and design was equally accessible in rural areas.

3. Art class at Wanganui Technical School

 Art class at Wanganui Technical School. Auckland Weekly News, 15 August 1901.

While work was sent back to England for marking under a British syllabus, students were encouraged to incorporate native plants into art nouveau designs, and Māori carving and weaving was brought in for exhibition, appreciation and study. New Zealand materials like pāua shell and pounamu were inlaid into finely crafted domestic objects, such as picture frames and mantelpieces. The Movement evolved into a unique New Zealand form.

Edith Collier is the most well-known ex-student of the Wanganui Technical School, but her sister Dorothy was also an accomplished artist. A hammered pewter clock made by her is in the Museum collection, and it is a fine example of the art nouveau look that was emerging in the 1900s.

1. Dorothy Collier clock

Clock with pewter body made by Dorothy Collier. Ref: 2007.52

The Wanganui Art Society was founded in 1898, and a local Arts and Crafts Society appeared in 1901. These groups provided plenty of opportunity for locals to hone their artistic talents, holding regular competitions and exhibitions. For those Arts and Crafts enthusiasts with money to spend, Whanganui also had New Zealand’s first Liberty of London outlet store – one of the most luxurious department stores ever.

2. Liberty Shop

 The Victoria Avenue Liberty shop. From Wanganui Coronation Souvenir 1911.

Opened in 1905 by Mrs Martin, customers could buy “art furniture”, “art needlework”, William Morris fabric, and Tudric pewter ware. Some artists frowned upon Liberty’s as it was suspected that items on sale were mass-produced. The shop was eventually taken over by the Alcorn family; Margaret and Mary Alcorn had one Liberty outlet in Wellington, and a cousin ran another in Christchurch.

4. Liberty Advertisement

 Liberty Advertisement from the Wanganui Chronicle 3 July 1907, page 3.

The Arts and Crafts Movement remained popular in New Zealand right into the 1950s, long after it had faded from popularity elsewhere. A number of local houses were built which carry a distinct cottage look typical of the style. Durie Hill was planned by prominent architect Samuel Hurst Seager according to Arts and Crafts ideals. The state houses of the 1930s-1950s are a further legacy of the Movement. All in all, Whanganui is a forgotten capital of the home-grown Arts and Crafts Movement and deserving of greater appreciation.


Scott Flutey is a student of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is working as a summer intern at Whanganui Regional Museum.


Location, Location, Location


From the Museum collection, we present a selection of land sale posters printed during the boom years of Whanganui. These posters illustrate the suburban development that was a feature of Whanganui from the 1890s to the 1920s.


In the late nineteenth century Whanganui was a flourishing town with a growing population and excellent prospects in commerce, education, building and the finer things in life.  Prosperity created a demand for land on which to build houses and businesses. Landowners sold property to meet demand and turn a profit while auctioneers and estate agents provided a needed service and received a comfortable income.


The tramways, the Castlecliff Railway and the building of the Dublin Street Bridge during the early 1900s provided easy access between town and suburb. The Wanganui Borough Council boundaries were extended throughout the first two and a half decades of the twentieth century to include suburbs that had grown haphazardly beyond the original town boundaries. The ever-increasing population in these new residential areas led to Whanganui being granted city status in 1924, when the population reached 24,740.


As the stories of local subdivisions show, place names tell a lot about the people of the time, their personal histories and associations, what they treasured and whom they loved.



1802.605.2.Hair Estate, 8 August 1891

After the death of William Hair in 1853, his property Virginia Farm was gradually sold off.  Governor Sir George Grey was among those who wanted to buy the Lake and some of the surrounding land to build a home on. In 1874, however, Hair’s widow, Jane Hair, sold Virginia Lake to the Borough Council for £500 for the town water supply. One of the first roads established in the area was Krull’s Lane (also shown on the 1903 poster as Krull’s Road).  This led to the home of Ferdinand Krull, former German Consul for New Zealand and partner in Freeman R Jackson and Co.  A burst of partriotism during World War I provoked the Council to change the German name of Krull to Oakland Avenue.


1802.605.1St John’s Hill, around 1903

The development and growth of public transport made outer suburbs such as St John’s Hill increasingly desirable. The sale of the Alexander Estate was followed by that of the Parkes family land, sold by Frank Parkes. He was the grandson of Samuel Parkes, who had bought 100 acres on the hill in 1841 and named it after his family’s London suburban home. In 1903 the first steps were taken to improve the appearance of the overgrown Virginia Lake, with a proposition for the creation of botanical gardens.


1802.605.5Walker Estate, Aramoho, date unknown

John Walker was the first proprietor of the Aramoho Hotel (established in 1866 in the Roberts Avenue area) and a keen supporter of horse racing. When his estate was sold, land developers hoped to attract buyers with promises of imminent borough status and amenities such as piped water and gas that such status would bring. Ultimately, Aramoho failed to become an independent borough and in 1910 it was absorbed into the town borough.


1802.605.8Township of Durie Vale, date unknown

In the area originally known as Purua Major David Stark Durie, Resident Magistrate during the 1850s and 60s, named his valley property Durie Vale. The homestead he built in the valley was given the name of Glen Durie. With the success of local rower William Webb in the World Sculling race in 1907, the Council named the only developed road in the area Webb Road. After the subdivision of the land by Whanganui businessmen John George Sharpe and William Bassett, the name of Durie Vale was restored for the winding road along the edge of the valley.


1802.605.9Durie Hill Garden Suburb, around 1919

Despite designer Samuel Hurst Seager’s grandiose plans, the Garden Suburb never quite eventuated. This Christchurch architect proposed a radical departure from the ordered lines of previous suburbs, with curving streets and areas reserved for gardens, orchards and bowling greens. Instead The Shrubbery became Tower Crescent, after the completion of the Memorial Tower in 1925, and The Rosary became Windsor Place, after resident Leslie Nott, a staunch Mason, objected to the name and requested the Council change it to a good British one. Only the East and West Ways survive.


1802.605.6Georgetti Estate, 28 January 1911

In 1896 Augustine Georgetti purchased 244 acres of Major John Nixon’s Sedgebrook Estate for £20 per acre. Georgetti named the area Bastia Hill after his birthplace, Bastia, the largest town on the island of Corsica. Like many of the early large estates, the Georgetti lands were gradually broken up and subdivided by succeeding generations of the family with the pressure of eager buyers wanting to build just outside the town boundaries to escape rate levies.

Durie Hill – The Garden Suburb

View from Victoria Avenue looking at Durie Hill, 1918

View from Victoria Avenue looking at Durie Hill, 1918

Durie Hill is named after Major David Stark Durie who arrived in New Zealand in March 1840. In the 1850s he was appointed Resident Magistrate in Whanganui. He built his home, Glen Durie, on the hill across the river from town.

Working Bee on Durie Hill Steps, 1910

Working Bee on Durie Hill Steps, 1910

In the early days of the settlement Durie Hill’s height was both its best and worst asset. Its wonderful views were a short but energetic journey from town. Even though the first town bridge was opened in 1871 it was not until the early twentieth century that the development of the suburb began to take hold.

In July 1919 Samuel Hurst Seager, an acknowledged expert in town planning and garden cities, was in Whanganui. He had been engaged to lay out the site of a garden suburb on Durie Hill. At the time there was a huge amount of enthusiasm for the idea of garden suburbs throughout New Zealand.

View from Victoria Avenue to Durie Hill under snow, 1901

View from Victoria Avenue to Durie Hill under snow, 1901

Seager said the sixty two acre site on Durie Hill was ideal for the purpose. The estate was to be developed on true garden suburb lines “not only must the site be subdivided for the houses, but there must be a good proportion laid out for the amenities of life.” There were to be recreation grounds with children’s play areas, croquet lawns, tennis courts, and bowling greens, and also quiet places, well planted with shrubs and flowers.

Paramount to the design was the idea that the houses would be sited in such a way that the greatest possible number would be able to enjoy the view. He also remarked that Durie Hill would be an ideal site for a residential college or other similar educational facility.

Access to the top of the hill had been a problem for many decades and even improved roads only made the journey tolerable. The opening of the new elevator on 2 August 1919 by Mrs W. Polson greatly assisted the growth and development of the new garden suburb.

The views from Durie Hill, now officially a suburb of Whanganui, was just a pleasant ten minute walk and a short elevator ride from the Central Post Office.

View from Durie Hill overlooking Whanganui town

View from Durie Hill overlooking Whanganui town