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Deconstruction starts at historic Cracroft House

9 August 2012

Deconstruction starts at historic Cracroft House

Cracroft House, at GirlGuiding New Zealand’s Guiding Centre in Cashmere, Christchurch, will start to be demolished this week.

Built in the 1850s from mud bricks, the house suffered significant damage during the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes.

“We had engineering assessments of Cracroft House and it was judged to be beyond economic repair,” said Trevena Wilson, Warden at Cracroft Guiding Centre.

Pippins, Brownies, Guides and Rangers have stayed in the house while enjoying overnight camps and outdoor adventures, and it has also been used for training and conferences by businesses and community organisations over the years.

“Cracroft House holds a special place in the hearts of everyone, not only in Christchurch but also those from afar who have visited Cracroft House over the years.”

Camping is a highlight for many girls at GirlGuiding New Zealand and Cracroft House was very special to the organisation with its peaceful setting, native and heritage trees, birdlife and stream.

A group of Riccarton Brownies was staying overnight at Cracroft House on 4 September 2010.

“Luckily everyone got out safely but the February earthquake caused even more damage and the house was subsequently red-stickered.”

Cracroft House is also a landmark for local people with its leafy driveway and historic building.

Cracroft House was built between 1854 and 1856 by Sir John Cracroft Wilson who was born in Madras, India. He bought a 108ha property on the Port Hills and named it Cashmere after Kashmir in India.

In 1958 John Frederick Cracroft Wilson, Sir John’s great grandson, gifted 1.4 hectares of grounds to the Girl Guide Association. His mother Mildred and wife Barbara had strong links to Girl Guides. Mother Mildred was the first President of the Girl Guides Association in Canterbury and Barbara was a District Commissioner, Provincial Commissioner and member of the National Council.

The Girl Guides renamed the homestead Cracroft House and made the property their Provincial Training Centre for Canterbury. Some alterations have been made through the years to maintain the building including ablution facilities in 1990, significant replastering in 1991, and work to strengthen the unreinforced walls in 1993 and 1998. A warden's cottage (1978) and training centre (1971) were also added to the site.

Cracroft House was registered as part of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and will be of significance archaeologically.

Felicity Aitken and Caroline Bonzon are the daughters of John Wilson and have lasting memories of their time as Guides and visiting Cracroft House.

Felicity (83), who is on the Friends of Cracroft House and has been involved in fund-raising over the years, describes Cracroft House as “very special” and is sad to see it go.

“I feel so sorry for the Christchurch Guides in particular who have had a lot to put up with and have loved being there so much over the years.”

Caroline (81) was a Brownie, Guide and Ranger before becoming a Tawny Owl at St Michael’s Brownies.

“One of my fondest memories of Cracroft House is nervously carrying an enamel pie dish up the hill for my cook’s badge as a Brownie – and the Toadstool,” she said.

“Felicity and I both feel very sad that all our buildings have gone one by one.” Some of their original land was taken by the Government to build The Princess Margaret Hospital down the road.

Alice McElroy (91) has fond memories of Cracroft and used to camp on the land before it was gifted to GirlGuiding NZ. As a Ranger she cycled from Opawa to the meetings at Cracroft.

“It was a wonderful place to camp and we were able to go anywhere on the property in those days.”

Being part of Guiding was “really something”, says Alice.

“I enjoyed my days there during the great depression. It only cost a penny a night.”

Baden Powell’s visit was a highlight for Alice and the rest of the group.

“We had big rallies at Addington Showgrounds and went by train from Opawa to Addington. It was great fun.”

Future plans for the site will be a custom-built training and accommodation providing a new beginning for GirlGuiding throughout New Zealand.

”The old Cracroft House will be gone but it will still be a great purpose-built training centre for GirlGuiding NZ and we will be welcoming community groups and businesses to come and enjoy the peaceful, tranquil setting here,” said Trevena.

Several pieces have been taken from Cracroft House before demolition including the bell that used to be rung to call the girls in for meal times, paintings and a clock that was donated and hung in the kitchen.

“It stopped at the time of the September earthquake,” said Trevena.

Cracroft House was farewelled at a special Guiding function at Christmas 2011 and a blessing was recently held with members of the Cracroft-Wilson family. The demolition of Cracroft House will take about a month to complete.


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