The sweet villa of Highwic by Angela Caldin

p1010463In the middle of bustling Newmarket, between some stylish shops and a multi-storey carpark, there is a hidden gem which you might drive past time after time without noticing the entrance to it. It’s the beautiful villa of Highwic, home to generations of the Buckland family from 1861 to 1978 and now run by Heritage New Zealand as a historic house museum. I went there this morning with a lively bunch of children of different ages and we had a very good time indeed.

p1010477Victorian fertility

Alfred Buckland and his wife Eliza left Devon for New Zealand in 1850. Alfred did well in his new country, buying and selling land (including Buckland’s Beach) as well as dealing in livestock. By the 1860s he had amassed enough wealth to buy an elevated plot of land in Newmarket on which to build a villa of Carpenter Gothic design. The family, with their seven children, moved in to the house in 1862. Eliza Buckland had two more children during her short time alive in her new house; she died of pneumonia in July 1866. With rather untoward alacrity, Alfred married again in May 1867. His chosen bride was Matilda Frodsham who had lived with the family for some time as a companion to Eliza. She was a mere twenty years old, while he was in his forties, which makes one wonder if Alfred’s eye had fallen upon her even before his exhausted wife died, and whether Matilda knew a good thing when she found herself in the middle of one. Matilda went on to have eleven children of her own with the progeny-inclined Alfred, nine of them surviving to adulthood. The generations then overlapped confusingly, with some grandchildren born before some of the later children. The original eight room house was extended in 1874, 1883 and 1884 as the Buckland family grew bigger and their wealth increased.

p1010476Modern day arrangements

Today the house is exquisitely furnished in Victorian style. Some of the furniture is original to the house with decoration, curtains and carpets restored to how they would have been in Matilda’s day. She was clearly a woman of taste and style. A tour of the house is a fascinating experience, all the more so if you visit with children because there is a well organised programme of activities for them.

First they were whisked away in a group by a Yorkshireman from Dewsbury to a large table where they took turns at making butter from p1010469cream, each child giving the glass churn handle ten turns. Then, continuing the hands on energetic experience, they plunged their hands into a tin tub to have a go at doing the washing with soap and a washboard before passing the sheets and towels through a mangle. (I can remember we had one of those in our garage as a child – we called it the wringer.) After hanging the washing out, it was into the kitchen to make scones with flour, butter, milk and baking soda, rolling the dough fairly flat before the kitchen maids put the carefully shaped scones into the roaring range to cook. This was followed by a quiz which had them all dashing in and out of the rooms with great enthusiasm. Finally, we spilled out into the garden to try walking on stilts, throwing quoits and playing hopscotch.

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