Memories of Sharp house remain

All that remains after the March fire.

A full moon, and a pyromaniac’s lust for a cheap thrill, saw the old Sharp house in Gordonton reduced to ashes, early on the morning of March 19. In an hour all that remained was burnt iron, and a forlorn chimney.

By Alan Sharp

For 60 years the home, built in the 1890s, was a cramped but happy one, of five or more adults, five children, and ever-changing farm labourers. My father Ron spoke of times when he slept on the front veranda.

In 1905 the Sharp brothers, Alexander and James from Pukekohe East, were looking to buy land. After getting their latest South Auckland Railways maintenance contract signed off they jumped on a south-bound train to attend the July ‘Firth Estate’ disbursement sales near Matamata. Prices there were too dear, but on the way back home they detoured via Woodlands.

The Sharps rested and staged horses for those travelling from the Waikato to Auckland, so had many contacts. Before they left, Alex and Jim started negotiations to occupy two titles, on the Hukanui Road, opposite Woodlands, and adjacent to the Whitikahu Road intersection.

In 1906 William and Helen Sharp’s farm was sold, and they came to Hukanui, to live with their youngest sons.

On June 12, 1912 there was a double wedding at Woodlands. Sisters Margaret and Annie Riddell married, respectively, Robert Gray, and James Sharp. About this time a new, single gabled wing was added, at right angles, to the Sharp home. It contained three bedrooms.

The Sharp family on the porch of their house, 1922.

This became the family home for Jim, while his brother established himself on the neighbouring title. The brothers sold this better-developed title to Arthur Morgan, who became the Dairy Factory manager and Alex moved to Auckland.

At some stage the building was quartered into two larger and two smaller rooms. A lean-to was added in front of the back door which housed a few cupboards, a small sink and hot water cylinder (c1927) and a very small storage room, which also contained a tin hip bath. The washhouse, smokehouse, and pig-curing house were down a concrete path and adjacent to the long drop.

As I remember it, the house was very basic. On sleepovers, I would be bedded down in either of the two bedrooms, while my grandparents were in the front bedroom. The bedrooms and lounge had scrim and wallpapered walls, with original 1920s electrical fittings, and no in-built furniture. The back half was more original. The walls and pitched ceiling were of painted, match-lined timber. Where the original middle doorway had been was a wall of inbuilt shelves, tin-lined cupboards, and two drawers. Those cupboards held the soda bottle. Our reward for behaving was to be allowed to fetch the replacement soda ‘bomb’ and to watch, as Granddad charged up the wire-net encased bottle, before supplying us with the best, sweet home-made lemonade that there ever was.

Jammed in this corner was Granddad’s large lounge chair. Many a time he nodded off there. There were usually a couple of spindly wooden chairs set under the table, or in summer, next to the open fireplace. That left a narrow access track to the stove. The back room contained all manner of stored items. Original Leonard refrigerator, a bucket of preserved eggs and a yarn jenny.

Outside the back door was a 300 gallon, galvanised water tank, to take all the rain water. Because it was so low, running water was only available through the wall when the tank was over half-full. Woodlands was noted for its sweet spring water, so in the droughts wagon-loads were ferried home, in 20 gallon milk cans.

The concrete-floored washhouse was down the path, and had the traditional wood-heated copper. I remember Dad drove the tractor into this building, and then drove off with it, relocating it at the cowshed, where it housed a tractor until I had a new barn erected in 1979. By then the inside timbers were very black, from cold-starting the tractor engine.

Pork prducts in progress in 1922.

However the building was quite black before then. There were remnants of sooty scrim at the window, around the door and on one wall. Ron told me the scrim was his father’s way of partitioning the washhouse when he wanted to smoke his cured and pickled pigs. At the cowshed in May 1922, Jim killed and processed 65 pigs for neighbouring farmers, and himself. I believe he also gave, as an insect repellent, a light smoking to the winter-stored apples, squash and pumpkins lining the washhouse shelves.

No one lived in the house after Annie Sharp died in November 1955. The older the house got, the more frequent were requests for access, and always there were those who just helped themselves. One could yearly expect six to eight wedding parties, nearly as many photography students, plus others on artistic missions. The house and grounds has also hosted a scout patrol, two film crews (night lights – camera – action), two Armed Offenders exercises (live firing), a Hot Rod Club, among others.

In recent years it had been my wish to organise a crew and disassemble the building from the top down, recording as we went. However it was not to be. Now the fire has robbed me of an opportunity to explore our heritage, and I am left kicking myself for not being more proactive.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

One thought on “Memories of Sharp house remain

  • September 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Rich history, Alan. How about a story on Ron’s herringbone . . .


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