Stately lady has a facelift
It is perhaps part of the intrigue surrounding Castle Claremont that it was built in a neo-Gothic style reflecting the Anglo-Catholic reawakening of belief, then later became a Marist Brothers' training centre on its journey back to becoming a private residence.
Stories of ghosts linked to a former cemetery where monks were buried faded temporarily when the bodies were reinterred at Temuka Cemetery in 1999.
Two of the brothers were reinterred for a second time, for they had originally been laid to rest in Nelson, where they had worked at an orphanage.
Some of the surviving brothers, now in their 90s, have visited and talked about the good times they had when it was St Joseph's Novitiate for aspirants from 1932 to 1998, owner Rob Young says.
They recalled how the house was "as cold as charity" and the hours they spent in the vegetable garden to maintain the self-sufficient order.
Seeing the beautifully coiffured gardens now, it is hard to imagine that 40 novices with 40 hoes worked in a row, weeding systematically.
Young arrived in 2005 and discovered hidden pathways and bridges after cutting back the overgrown garden, as well as the odd discarded whisky bottle he attributes to the time it functioned as an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre.
The property developer and investor made the purchase within 48 hours of viewing the property. He has spent many hours refurbishing the 10-bedroom house since.
"I upgraded three of the bathrooms. One of the toilets hadn't been flushed for 30 years," he says.
An ensuite attached to the master bedroom is where the novices worshipped at an altar until they built the chapel in 1955.
With its sweeping driveway, grand grounds and mansion, this is possibly the closest Timaru has to an English estate, confirmed by the carved chalk Prince of Wales feathers on the roof peaks.
Claremont House, as it was known, was built in 1884, from bluestone quarried on the property, white facing from a Teschemaker property and roofing slates from England, at a cost of £5000.
The house was a wedding gift to Henrietta, George Hampton Rhodes' French bride. The pioneer settler owned 4000 acres (1600ha) of land, including Mt Horrible, apparently named because surveyors spent a ghastly day assessing the land in the cold and wet.
Rhodes subdivided the land and sold five plots in 1895. Rumours abound of how he changed his mind about selling his house in 1908 while visiting England, but was unable to contact the real estate agent in time to prevent the sale.
Surrounded by a wooden veranda, the outside posts are host to wisteria and other climbing plants winding up towards the ornate architraves of the house.
Young has planted the roses that border the edge of the deck. At one end, there was a glass conservatory until the mid 1940s.
According to plans Young found in the attic, there is also a well at the back of the house, but it is no longer visible. Additional buildings on the property include two two-bedroomed units for visiting clergy, now used by staff.
Stables have been turned into garaging and the former 40-roomed dormitory, which was later used during its time as the Claremont Recovery Centre for rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts from to 1981 to 1997, is now a reception hall.
The centre used the chapel as a gymnasium only and held Christmas carol nights in the main foyer below the wooden stairway.
Former drug and alcohol counsellor Tony Bunting remembers enjoying going to work at the 11-hectare property with its pathways through the beautiful flora.
Sometimes, clients decided to quit halfway through their six-week or six-month programmes and would start walking towards Timaru, he says. Staff would pick them up about an hour later nowhere near their destination.
"By then, they had cooled down and were ready to return. It was an advantage being away from town," he says.
Bunting always found it interesting fossicking in the roof spaces where there were old fireplaces and antiques the Brothers had stored.
The centre failed to renew a funding contract with the Southern Regional Health Authority and was sold back into private ownership in 1988.
Young has been passionate in his care to restore the house without losing its charm. "I have enjoyed seeing it transformed, although it's always a work in progress," he says. "It is steeped in history."
He has put the property on the market and hopes new owners will maintain the historical integrity of the house.
- The Timaru Herald