Only UK wharenui languishing under tarpaulins

1:01 pm on 16 March 2016

The only Māori meeting house in Britain is in desperate need of repair, and is currently being sheltered by a couple of tarpaulins in Surrey.

A performance outside Hinemihi near Clandon House in Surrey, which was been her neighbour since the 1890s.

A performance outside Hinemihi in Surrey's Clandon Park, which has been her home since the 1890s. Photo: Alan Gallop for Te Maru O Hinemihi

Hinemihi sits just 60m from Clandon House, an 18th century brick mansion that was gutted during a massive blaze last year.

But while Clandon House is being restored, the wharenui is languishing uncared for nearby.

The building's custodians want to change that.

"She needs an awful lot of tender loving care, she's not in the best of shape," Te Maru O Hinemihi chairperson Alan Gallop told Morning Report.

"She has a thatched roof that has a couple of tarpaulins over the top to stop the rain from coming through -and we've had an awful lot of rain this winter.

"She's got some kind of plastic device over the front to protect the exterior carvings, which get the full brunt of the weather - whether it's hot sunshine or rain or snow."

An unidentified Maori group in front of the Hinemihi meeting house in the 1880s.

An unidentified Māori group in front of the meeting house at Te Wairoa in the 1880s. Photo: Burton Brothers (Dunedin, N.Z.). Burton Brothers, 1868-1898 (Firm, Dunedin) : Ref: PA7-19-19. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ

The whare ended up on the grounds of Clandon House back when it was the home of the former Governor of New Zealand, Lord Onslow.

In 1892, when his term ended, Hinemihi was dismantled, transported and rebuilt in his garden as a souvenir.

But little has been done since the building was transported to Britain.

"She's more or less in the same condition as she was when she left New Zealand nearly 130 years ago," Mr Gallop said.

"She's got no heating, she'd got no lighting. She's got no electricity whatsoever. She hasn't even got a floor."

And now Hinemihi was hidden from public view, he said.

"Anyone coming to Clandon Park and looking over to Hinemihi really wouldn't see her looking her best right now."

Hinemihi was built in 1881 and originally stood in the settlement of Te Wairoa. In 1886, more than 50 people sheltered inside her when Mt Tarawera erupted.

Now Mr Gallop's group would like to see the building restored - and used again.

"What we want the [UK's] National Trust to do is to restore her so she can be used as a community building. So she can be used for 365 days a year, whatever time of the day or night.

"Whoever uses her will be comfortable and warm, and sitting in some of the most interesting surroundings they will [have] ever sat in.

"The time has come to refocus on Hinemihi."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs