House reveals its history

The last thing a Nelson artist was expecting while renovating her home was to learn about death tolls in World War I.

Lisa Grennell and husband Malcolm moved into their Rentone St home six years ago, and have slowly been renovating it.

However, they keep getting distracted.

"As we started to give the house some TLC we discovered the original poor man's insulation, concrete slabs that are extremely heavy."

But it's what covered these slabs that the couple found so intriguing - local newspapers from the early 1900s. There were pages from the The Nelson Evening Mail and The Colonist newspapers.

The papers list death tolls from World War I, accident and fatality listings as well as public notices and house prices.

Back in the early 1900s you could get a house in Vanguard St for £400.

There's an arresting headline visible above the death tolls stating "The Slaughter. What mankind lost in life, limb and health."

"All renovations went to a halt when we found them, we were glued to them," Mrs Grennell said.

Since moving in, she had done some research on the house and found it was once a settler's cottage. Through the renovations, the couple had discovered the original stairs now hidden underneath the lounge.

The chickens now live where she assumed the long drop once was and her art studio was probably on the site of the pantry.

"There's so many different nooks and crannies, it's quite an interesting house."

She had seen photos of the original house from the 1800s, and had been told it was used to house local Maori.

"My husband is Maori, so when we moved in we had his parents bless the house," she said.

While they had been taking their time with the renovations, they had to smash the slabs that were in the ceiling as they were unsafe in an earthquake, but Mrs Grennell managed to save eight blocks used through the house.

She found the war-related papers poignant as her great grandfather died in World War I and her grandfather survived eight prisoner of war camps in World War II. Her son was joining the Australian Army.

"It makes you wonder if these things are set in place," she said.

The couple have set themselves a deadline to finish the house by the end of this year, with plans to make it "quirky and creative".

They have left the slabs outside to be cleansed of dust and brightened up in the sun, parts of the slabs are more visible through this, so Mrs Grennell plans to exhibit them as she wants everyone to be able to see them.

The Nelson Mail