For over 125 years the two storey, gothic-styled ‘Warder’s House' has stood on the corner of Oxford and Winchester Streets. It was built on Oxford Street opposite the gaol as new housing for the gaol’s Chief Warder. There were several warders at the gaol (in 1878 over 100 inmates were controlled by 19 warders) some of whom were accommodated in or around the gaol site. The Gaoler, Reston described its beginnings in an 1875 report to the Provincial government:
“To accommodate the Chief Warder’s house the government have rented a piece of land on the west side of Oxford St.”
The house today is in near original condition; its decorated gables have handcrafted bargeboards with scalloped shingles below and the verandah posts and upper rails have intricate wooden fretwork which gives the house a stylish finish; in the 1870's this indicated to people the status of the person who lived there.
The land the house was built on (TS 62), was first owned by a notable early settler, Mr.William Guise Brittan (Brittan Tce is named after him). He sold the quarter acre of land in 1860 to Jane Wormald who had it divided into three, each section had a small building on it, including a smithy where a blacksmith worked from the 1860’s and 1870’s.
In 1915 Paparua prison was built as the new prison for the province so in 1921 Lyttelton gaol closed but the Warder’s House stayed in government hands under the auspices of New Zealand Railways; Wises Street Directory lists the occupant as Mr. Edward Vine, Loco driver. It wasn’t until 1962 that the house was privately owned, by Mrs Martha Harkess , after her Mr.R.J. Hanson, a sea-man, after him Mrs Mavis Boyd and then Mr. J.S Downie a watersider. Mr. Downie sold the house in 1997 and then the new owners applied to develop the house to double its size. The local residents were much opposed to these plans and by the end of the year the plans were halted and the present owners Toni Jones and Tony Geddes purchased it. They faithfully restored it to its former glory over the next seven years by repairing and painting the outside, re-roofing it and strengthening and securing the chimney. This is where Tony could apply his carpentry and painting skills that he uses daily, when designing and making sets for the Court Theatre.
Inside the house the skirtings, window and door surrounds, archways, staircases and fireplaces are all original, so it is a perfect example of interior domestic architecture of the 1870’s which many of our old houses have lost over the years, especially between the 1960’s and 1980’s when it was fashionable to modernise old buildings.
The organisers of the Lyttelton Schools’ house tour (2005) were therefore pleased when Toni agreed to be included on their list to open their doors to the public to help raise funds for our three local schools.
The owners, Toni and Tony, realised the importance of the house as a part of Lyttelton’s heritage and street scape and invited the Historic Places Trust to assess the house for registration, hoping it would become a protected building. The Historic Places Trust assessed the house in 2003 and stated that:
“It is a fine example of the Rustic Gothic style of architecture with its strong gable form and timber decorative detailing. Its planning is typical of the 1870’s and it is in remarkable original condition…The house’s architectural character, location and planning illustrate the lifestyle of settlers in the 1870’s.”
In December 2004 the house was registered as a Category II place for having historic and cultural heritage significance and value. This gives the house protection under the Historic Places Act (1993) so it will continue to be a Lyttelton landmark for many years to come.