Peter Shelton's love of history has extended to his adopted home
MEMORY LANE: When Peter Shelton was a boy growing up in England, he loved to fossick outdoors, searching for historic treasure.
He certainly lived in the right place for this hobby – just outside the Bedfordshire market town of Dunstable, once a Roman settlement called Durocobrivis, in an area known as the Chalk Cut.
This place, on Watling St, an ancient trackway now the A5 road, was "where we were told as kids the Romans cut a pathway through the hills to save the soldiers from walking over them," he says. "Alas, the chalk cutting was made in 1837 by roading contractors."
Young Peter's father made a point of taking him on trips to many historic sites. "I could never see the significance of the geography, but I loved the history."
He turned up a lot of flint arrowheads near his home. "They were everywhere." And, even more excitingly, found a sword in an old cemetery. "Last I heard, it was in Dunstable Museum."
After coming to New Zealand, Shelton studied engineering in Auckland, and arrived in Palmerston North in 1976. "It's a town that grows on you," he says.
Now a surveyor and electrical engineer living and working out of Church St – and an avid collector of Elizabethan coins – Shelton is still fascinated by things of the past.
So it's no surprise he's finding the same kind of thrill in looking through a recently-acquired trove of old papers and maps about early Palmerston North.
When local surveyor and civil structural engineer Hugh Russell Farquhar died in 2014, his ownership of the Nash building in George St passed to his son and daughter-in-law, Alan and Sue Farquhar.
Shelton, a friend of Hugh Farquhar's, asked the trustees if he could look at the plans, maps and papers the surveyor had amassed in the course of his life's work. "Alan said: 'Take what you like'," he recalls.
So began his journey through a mountain of memorabilia. In all, there were about 4000 old plans, books, maps and survey papers – some with hessian or cotton backings – tracing the development of Palmerston North from borough to city.
Collecting and collating them all has turned out to be absorbing, but time-consuming. Shelton estimates he's already spent more than 200 hours sifting through the trove, some of which was stored upstairs in the Nash building, and in other places such as cabinets in an old shed among "cockroaches, silverfish and bird poo".
As well as papers – most of them copies – there were theodolites, stands, drawing implements, films and 70 canisters of negatives. A portion of the hoard has gone to Te Manawa and to Archives Central in Feilding.
The Nash building itself is a well-known city heritage landmark, built in 1925 for the site's owner Elizabeth Nash, wife of mayor and MP James A Nash.
Hugh Farquhar, whose family line included several city surveyors, became the building's owner in 1978.
"When Hugh died, I knew he had plans and a specification for the building, as he had shown them to me," says Shelton. "I found lots of rent records of the building" – from its shops over the years – "and a couple of early plans and specifications for the Andrews building. The plans and specifications have been lodged with the library archives some time ago."
Back among the old survey documents, Shelton found himself puzzled by an 1871 Scandinavian and roadmen's block labelled "Kevin Grove". Could that mean Kelvin Grove?
Yes indeed, according to historian Val Burr, who has written extensive histories of Manawatu's Scandinavian settlers in her books Scandia II and A Time of Transition.
"It's definitely Kelvin Grove and not Kevin Grove. The latter is a misprint."
A Time of Transition noted that a man called Gillies named his sawmill after Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. "Then the Kelvin Grove district got its name from the mill, then the Kelvin Grove school, which opened in 1893, took its name from the mill… around this time, Kelvin Grove Rd put in an appearance on the records."
Early Scandinavian settlers lived on the properties bordered by that road and Napier Rd, and fronting Roberts Line, James Line and Stoney Creek Rd – now Whakarongo.
Non-Scandinavians were assigned 27 allotments between Napier Rd and Kelvin Grove Rd – known as the "Roadmen's Block". These men worked on the Manawatu Gorge and other projects. Burr says their area, beyond Stoney Creek Rd, "is still marked by their names, such as Henderson, Henaghan and so on".
Other survey maps show land to be taken under the Public Works Act for railway purposes: Northern Rd, 1874 (later called Main St); Rangitikei and Broad streets, 1881; Duke St (now Princess St) 1892; sales plans for sections sold along Foxton Beach Estate, circa 1937; the groundbreaking suburb of Savage Crescent (1941) and many others. The name of ancestor Harry Roy Farquhar, city surveyor, pops up on the 1924 Palmerston North survey map.
Classifying, housing and putting the complete collection in order is still far from done. And there are big plans ahead for the still Farquhar-family owned Nash building.
Peter Shelton adds: "Alan and Sue are in the long process of renovating this historic [category] I building and we hope to have structural plans drawn for earthquake strengthening within the next year.
"The building will hopefully be strengthened within the next five years or so."