Taking an historic cottage into the future
It’s that time of year when Vallance Cottage in Alexandra comes out of hibernation, flings open its doors and invites the public to experience the authentic cosiness of a true pioneer home.
The Vallance Cottage Working Group, which consists of Vallance family descendants, volunteers and Central Otago District Council staff, are gearing up for two annual open days, the first during the Alexandra Blossom Festival weekend (Sunday 24 September), and the second over Labour Weekend in October.
During the winter, CODC Property and Facilities officer Bex Snape has been scoping out a maintenance programme for the 127-year-old mudbrick cottage, built by early pioneers William and Jean Vallance. The walls are showing signs of deterioration and need some fairly urgent TLC.
“We’ve had some good advice, with experts being very generous with their time, to get a good idea of what needs to be done to preserve the cottage. The plaster on the outside, while it has done its job by adding strength to the walls, is not the most breathable material in the world, and the mudbrick inside the walls tends to draw in any moisture. We need to look at ways to remedy the situation, that are sympathetic to the durability and authenticity of the structure.”
The work could also include removing the concrete around the cottage, to stop water collecting underneath, which could be contributing to the recent deterioration. Probes would be placed in the walls to measure moisture levels.
“The situation should improve moving into spring and summer, and we’re looking forward to seeing people tour the entire cottage again. There is normally all year-round access via the key code at the front door, where people can get a good view of the rooms through the Perspex doors, we installed last year. However, actually being able to go into the rooms adds another layer to the experience of visiting Vallance Cottage.”
A family member Judith Maxim plans to be the cottage to greet and talk to visitors during the blossom festival weekend.
“That’s another thing that adds to the experience – speaking to people who have a genuine connection to the cottage,” Ms Snape said.
In the past year, staff have been working on ways to make the 19th century cottage more interactive by using 21st century technology.
Plans are afoot to embed QR codes at strategic points of interest around the cottage, to enhance the visitor experience at the historic cottage and reserve.
“When you visit Vallance Cottage, you can read the interpretive panel outside, and that gives you a good amount of information about the cottage. When you go inside, you can’t help but get a feel for the place, and the people who lived there. It’s in the atmosphere, in the smells, the materials it is built from, and the various artefacts that have been carefully preserved.
“Our aim is to enhance what you can see and feel. To do this, all you need is a mobile phone. Most phones have apps that can read QR codes. People just need to point their phone at the QR code, and it automatically begins to read or play back the information. This will allow people to linger and soak up more of the experience, and to hear more of the back story about the cottage and the people attached to it.”
It is hoped the concept could extended into the special features of reserve, including the world-class lilac collection, which should be flowering by Labour Weekend, and the Trees for Babies collection, along with the heritage fruit orchard.
The project will be a work in progress. Work has already begun to build the content for this increased interactivity. Two videos have been made, a short introductory piece that tells the history of the cottage and the Vallances who built it and lived in it for nearly 80 years, and a longer video featuring one of the descendants. Nicola Toki nee Vallance introduces the oral histories of the cottage that have been gathered from the youngest of William and Jean Vallances eight children ‘Aunt’ Hazel and her son Teone. There is also an archive of photos and documents that have been preserved that will feature on the Council website.
The Council, which maintains the website and owns the cottage and reserve, would like to see more people given the opportunity to use and experience this unique piece of our early pioneer history.
“Over the past two decades there has been considerable effort gone into conserving and preserving the cottage. This is an ongoing effort, to preserve it for our community and into the future. We’ve been working hard to also develop the grounds around the cottage, to give it the look and feel of what it would have looked like in the days when the Vallances were there, when they would have needed a large garden to sustain their large family. There are so few places like this left. But in order to keep it going, the cottage and reserve need to be more visible to the public and more self-sustaining through donations from visitors to help pay for its upkeep.”
Information and videos about the cottage and reserve are available on the Council website: https://www.codc.govt.nz/services/parks/alexandra-area
- Former Property and Facilities officer Christina Martin introduces the Vallances and their cottage: https://studio.youtube.com/video/TDttCgecQhA/edit
- Nicola Toki nee Vallance descendent – introduces oral histories: https://studio.youtube.com/video/1Sv8mNgLFjE/edit
- Teone’s audio/oral history: https://studio.youtube.com/video/Vys1KcjPAo8/edit