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Greenslade House -Fairytale House By The River

16375.jpgFrom the imported St Helena roof tiles, to the pressed metal ceilings from Germany, the building of Hamilton’s iconic Greenslade House was an exercise in extravagance.

French firebricks, stained glass windows and even flushing toilets - the house was a jewel from the very beginning.

John W. Warren designed the stunning home at 1 Wellington Street in 1911. His original architectural plans are in a fine condition and are carefully stored at the Waikato Museum. The plans comprise two sheets, immaculately crafted in a combination of ink, pencil and watercolour. The first sheet shows the plans for the ground, first and attic floors, as well as an elevation through the hall and of the outside stairs. The second sheet - titled “Mr Greenslade’s Works”- shows front, east and back elevations. The plans were accessioned by the Museum in 1997, and are a part of the White and Macdonald architectural collection.

Warren was commissioned to design this fine home by Henry James Greenslade, one time Liberal MP for the Waikato, and proprietor of the Waikato Times, who had purchased the property from Isaac Coates for 1500 pounds. During the 18 months it took to build Greenslade house, Henry, his wife Louisa and two sons Roy and Errol, lived in a long shack on the riverbank. Errol estimated it was about 80 feet long and a single room’s width, so when the house was completed in 1912, there was a “good party” to celebrate.

The completed home cost 3,500 pounds and was an opulent example of the finest Edwardian architecture. Mr Greenslade spared no expense, and the builder J. McKinnon used premium materials including heart rimu, kauri and matai from the Mamaku ranges. The house included dining and living rooms, a maid’s room, butler’s pantry and a library, along with 7 bedrooms and of course, the signature tower room.

The tower room was built for Errol Greenslade, who was 16 when the home was completed. He recalls the view being magnificent, allowing him to see as far as Hamilton Hotel on Victoria Street, and he could clearly see trains crossing the railway bridge. In an oral history account recorded in 1980, he said his mother had considered him a ‘sickly child’, and pampered him so much he remained that way. The tower was for him as it would allow plenty of light and air, and Errol lived there from 1912-1920. When the First World War erupted in 1914 he went to enlist but failed his medical as a “weakling”, perhaps due to his Mother’s pampering. He was refused entry to the army, even as a despatch rider using his own motorbike. He recalls being given an armband to wear so he wouldn’t be labelled a conscientious objector and sent white feathers.

Henry Greenslade’s fortunes changed not long after his home was completed. A combination of bad luck and a fondness of drink diminished his fortune, forcing the family to let rooms and eventually sell the house in 1934 to Thomas and Rose Pearson, of Sandsoap fame.

It remained largely a boarding house until 1970 when it was purchased by Tom and Shirley Muir. They lovingly restored the home to its former glory, and today it remains an iconic heritage symbol on our riverbank.