An elegant homestead with links to European nobility, once owned by a scion of a global shipping empire, and at one time the centre of one of New Zealand’s largest wool-producing high country stations, has been placed on the market for sale.
St Helens Station in Hanmer Springs traces its roots back 158 years. The original run of 3,200 hectares was established by English settler J.W.A Watts in 1858. After his death in 1862, French-descended English aristocrat Count Gerard de Lapasture and his brother Henry took over the run, adding the Glynn Wye block. Countess Stream at Mouse Point near Culverden was named after his wife.
In 1877, St Helens was purchased by W.A Low – the great-uncle of British spy R.H Bruce Lockhart, whose adventures in Russia influenced author Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond. Low also purchased several neighbouring runs and amalgamated them to create St Helens Station, at one stage encompassing 101,000 hectares.
During the 1890s, high country runs hit hard times and the mortgagee took over St Helens from Low, placing a manager on the property until St Helens was purchased in 1916 by F.J Savill – a son of a founder of the British shipping company Shaw Savill - who had emigrated to New Zealand from England.
After buying St Helens, Savill commissioned Armson, Collins and Harman to design a large, new modern homestead in 1917. The architects designed St Helens in the Arts and Crafts style fashionable in English country houses at the time. The resulting present dwelling is the third homestead on the site.
Now, after having only four owners in 99 years, St Helens has been placed on the market for sale by negotiation through Bayleys Canterbury. Salesperson Wendy Miles said the homestead’s current owners had undertaken substantial renovation, restoration and conservation work to ensure the longevity of the historic North Canterbury property.
“The interior and exterior of the homestead have been renovated and restored. Improvements include a fully-automated commercial-grade heating and cooling system, insulation, a home automation system, new plumbing and wiring, re-roofing, insertion of a structural steel cage, installation of a high-pressure water system, bespoke joinery in many rooms, and the installation of luxury European appliances,” Ms Miles said.
“Although fully adapted for modern living, the homestead’s original features have been preserved. Native rimu wood is used extensively throughout including all the floors, staircase, many ground floor doors, paneling, arches and match-lining. The formal rooms and main downstairs bedrooms have stone-framed, multiple-pane steel windows, and there are four feature fireplaces throughout the home.
“Characteristic features include the use of local stone, deep eaves and dormer windows, a wide verandah with square posts and triangular brackets, and a large entrance hall which forms the core of the homestead.”
“The creamy white limestone blocks used to build the homestead were quarried near Waikari, and the rough-hewn blocks slowly moved to St Helens by traction engine and shaped on site.”
The 750m² homestead features four formal or casual living areas, a modern kitchen, library, conservatory, large entrance hall, playroom and extensive covered veranda. In addition, there are six large bedrooms and an office or seventh bedroom, four luxurious modern bathrooms (six toilets) and various original servants’ rooms.
Food, wine, glassware, silverware and china can be stored in a separate store, wine cellar, larder or pantry, with extra dish washing provided in the pantry and a large scullery providing yet more storage and laundry facilities.
“The homestead has been completely renovated and restored in order to meet the requirements of modern living, while preserving the unique historical features that give the building its character,” said Ms Miles.
“Its location – close to Hanmer Springs and Christchurch City – make it possible to enjoy the privacy and serenity of country living while not missing out on the hustle and bustle of city life when the need arises.”
“An additional four-bedroom cottage on a separate title is also situated on the property. This residence is ideal for staff or as a source of additional income.”
In the 1930s St Helens homestead was the centre of the largest wool-producing station in New Zealand north of the Waitaki– peaking at 74,000 sheep until the extremely hard winter of 1940. It is during this time that New Zealand soldier and war hero Charles Upham VC & Bar – one of only three soldiers to have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross twice – worked on St Helens after obtaining a Diploma of Agriculture.
St Helens Station came to an end in 1949, when the government took back the leases for the back country and incorporated the area into the iconic Molesworth Station – almost half of which is former St Helens land today. The Hanmer flat land – which had been part of St Helens Station – was divided into farms for returned servicemen from World War II.
The homestead and its remaining 20 hectares was bought by a widowed Leeston farmer’s wife and her bachelor son to use as a run-off block for their Omihi property. They owned the homestead until the son’s death, and it was then purchased in 1979 by the Masters family, who restored the deteriorating building. The current owners purchased St Helens in 2011.