Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ngaio Marsh House

One of the highlights of our recent visit to Christchurch was to visit Ngaio Marsh House, in the hilly suburb of Cashmere. Other than Agatha Christie's house in Britain, Ngaio Marsh house is the only crime writer's residence open for public viewing.

The Ngaio Marsh Trust which runs the house has done a fantastic job of keeping the property in the condition it was in when she died in 1982. With great foresight, after her death they went through the house and photographed everything, as they were able to keep the majority of her possessions, but unfortunately not the house. With everything photographed the possessions available to the trust were put into storage. Many years later, when the trust was able to purchase the house, they were then able to use the photographs to place Ngaio's belongings back to their original positions.

There were some items they didn't own, and they have also over the years added items, specifically portraits of Ngaio that they have purchased. The end result is you walk into this home and you get a wonderful sense of Ngaio and her life.

For a start, as you wind your way up the narrow bush-clad road and driveway, you get an overwhelming sense of peace and privacy. All I could hear was the bird call and sound of cicadas merrily chirruping. You could immediately understand why this place was so special to her and such a haven.

The house itself is fascinating. It is an Arts and Crafts era home designed by leading Christchurch architect Samuel Hurst Seager. The wooden ceilings were wonderful, and the entire house, which is quite compact exuded a homeliness and warmth. It was charming.

It was wonderful to be surrounded by Ngaio's belongings, and all of her books. I love looking at people's book shelves, for don't they say you are what you read? Ngaio must have been a most fascinating woman. Her reading was very diverse. I was also intrigued to see her reference material and the books she used in researching her novels.

The swords woman in me delighted in seeing sabres adorning her walls. She had many of the stage props used in her theatre productions decorating her home.

I was also delighted to see her Edgar Award.

So if you are ever in Christchurch, do make sure you book in a tour of Ngaio Marsh house. It is an utterly brilliant experience and the guides are knowledgeable and entertaining.

The Ngaio Marsh trust still has a mortgage on the property, and struggles to make end meet - so any tours and donations are gratefully received. Like many organisations, they are reliant on volunteers and donations.

We are truly blessed to have this home available to us - make the most of it, people. It is unique!


Kiwicraig said...

Thanks for the great post Vanda. It's definitely on my "to do" list for next time I'm in Chch. I'm appalled at myself that I didn't know about it when I was studying there several years ago.

Rachael said...

I think I'll visit, even if just to see that wonderful blue of the walls up close. I wonder if that is the colour she had it or was that added later?

Dr Tony Shaw said...

And unlike some writers' house, you can obviously take photos here. It's a must for when I visit NZ in March.

For the record, another crime writer's former residence open to the public is Maurice Leblanc's house in Etretat, France.

Vanda Symon said...

Hi Tony. There are a few authors' homes open to the public in NZ, including Janet Frame's in Oamaru, and Katherine Mansfield's in Wellington. I think Ngaio Marsh's is extraordinary as it is as it was when she died, and has all her books and treasured stuff. Well worth it!

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Hi Vanda. Yes, I shall be visiting those too, and also Frank Sargeson’s bach in Takapuna. Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s restored attic in the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera also sounds too interesting to miss.

But I don’t think I’ll be able to find time for Dan Davin’s house in Invercargill