My Favourite Window

August 3, 2011

The House of Skudder

"Anyone would think that you have lost interest in the Skudder House," says Lady Mondegreen reflecting on progress. "The occasional picturesque photograph will not a restoration make."

Let's say that since the EQC assessment that followed the February Earthquake, I am in a state of limbo: nothing as demoralising as the uncertainty surrounding the Orange and White zone declarations, and some of the Red zoning, but still a need to wait and see... what repair work the Earthquake Commission is prepared to pay for.  Earlier in the year Gordon painted the main living area for me, and arranged for some crucial repair work, an upgrade for which I am immensely grateful. But to embark on major structural work at this stage might confound the insurance process.

So when someone like Simone comes to visit and, with new eyes, sees what could be with the old house, I feel a renewed enthusiasm for this dream of mine.  But for now let's begin at the beginning.

With someone else's dream. Was it Hannah or Thomas (photograph above) who saw the possibility of a new life on the other side of the world?  She, Hannah Inwood of Thames Ditton had married Thomas Skudder, stone mason of Kingston-on-Thames in 1857.  Did they become disenchanted with the changing face of their town which surely happened with the population explosion that occurred in Kingston-on-Thames during the middle of the 19th Century.  Like many modern-day English immigrants they may have sought to remove their growing family from over-crowding and urbanisation, or maybe they were simply starry-eyed romantics? Whatever the reason, they left England in 1874 with seven children and expecting another, sailing from London on 18th April in the iron sailing ship, Hereford, and arriving in Lyttelton after a voyage of 87 days. The Skudders lived at Ashley Forest before buying an acre of land in 1881 - newly subdivided by John MacFarlane - in Ashley Bank.  And here they built their family home,
not only on the banks of the Ashley River, but of the very river shingle itself: the stone-mason exploring concrete as it became a newly viable building material.  This piece of unpainted wall, high in the stairwell, shows not only the raw material but also the method of construction with shuttering and layers of varying mixtures tamped into roughly 15 inch deep bands.

And here the Skudders raised their family, planting an orchard, the remants of which have inspired Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden.  The original print of this photograph is marked Scudder [sic] Family??  The children's ages and genders do not quite tally with the written record and the eldest daughter Sarah had probably begun a family of her own by the time this photo was taken. Other named children in order of birth are William, Thomas, Emily, Harriet, James, Annie, Frances, Helen (who died in infancy) and Alfred.

Hannah died in 1900 and Thomas survived her by nine years, dying suddenly of heart failure, one morning while breakfasting at the Ashley Hotel after milking the publican's cow.

He left a legacy of distinctive culverts and bridges across this rural area.  Some quietly decaying but many well maintained, their distinctive coping and faux-stone engravings taken for granted.
This modest culvert greets visitors entering the village along High Street.

I am indebted to the descendants of Thomas and Hannah Skudder, who visit and readily share family notes and memories with me. Elaine Downes has provided me with the family record, while Colleen Young has supplied photocopied photos and identified individuals in them.


smullan said...

I wonder which rooms all those children slept in? Did the four girls share a bed as was common in those times. Who had the rooms with the fireplaces? I wonder what their evenings were like? Did they read or write to loved ones back home? I can imagine sitting room chairs nestled close to the fire while indoor tasks such as mending, tending to business accounts, and a family member reading letters, news articles and novels, aloud to others. Don't you wish you could glimpse back in time?

Jeneane said...

So many children in a four-roomed house, though that big upstairs bedroom looks like it was designed as a dormitory. Those letters back home: I am sure there will be letters - maybe still in a Thames Ditton household treasury, or a Kingston-on-Thames museum archive.
Something to investigate one day.

nodrog said...

Came upon this site by accident and as i am a descendant of the Skudders I am curious. My email is

Jeneane said...

Hello nodrog: Glad you came to visit. Quite a few of my posts feature or refer to the Skudder House. If you have been googling Skudder you may have come across them already. Although there were so many children, the name is no longer a local one though there are plenty of descendants.

Caitlin Skudder said...

Hi there!
This is so great to see, as I am a direct descendant from the youngest child Alfred.
Was this the house in Christchurch that they first settled in? I have always wanted to visit, but its hard because I now live in the north island
Always good to get info though :)
Caitlin Skudder

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Welcome Caitlin. I'm guessing you are a great grandchild of Alfred. I am enjoying these connections with descendents of the Skudder family. It helps bring them to life for me. The house is at Ashley near Rangiora - about 40 minutes drive north of Christchurch. If you want to contact me by email you can find my address by clicking on my profile down the sidebar of this blog.
Sorry I've taken awhile to reply - I've been away from blogging for three months.