George and Catherine Glenny from Old Croft, Carlisle, Scotland acquired a 716 acre (290 ha) sheep farm on the slopes of Te Awanga in 1927, naming it Wilton after the village of Wilton Dene near Hawick Scotland where Catherine was born.
The “easy contoured, rolling country”, rising to about 120 metres at its highest point, land and sloping gently to the north was once part of the Tuki Tuki and Clive Grange stations and was purchased in a mortgagee sale when Major Taverner who acquired it in WW1 servicemen’s ballot failed to make a living from it.
The boundaries of the Wilton land extended from the Haggerty Estate to Tiromoana in Charlton Rd and Clifton Station’s roadside paddock near the bridge. George Glenny was offered the existing Meriwee house adjoining the property but it didn’t appeal to his wife so it was excluded from the purchase.
In 1930, a new homestead was built for George, Catherine and their son Jim, was one of the most impressive along the coastal area. It was also named Wilton and located further along the escarpment, adjoining the Gordons ‘Clifton paddock’ to the north and running down to Clifton Rd in the front.
Their son James (Jim) Douglas Glenny married Lorna Elizabeth (Betty) Secker of Te Awanga in 1932. Betty was born in Bangalore, India, when her father was stationed there as part of the British Army before WW1.
The Glenny family were passionate about tennis and had a court added to the property. George had won at Wimbledon in the 1890s as a junior and his daughter Margot Ritchie, who lived along Tukituki Rd was also a well-known tennis player and was destined for Wimbledon in 1939.
Before she could play the threat of war was looming and she decided “to get out smartly and head home to New Zealand”, says Lorna Willis, of her aunty.
Lorna says her mother Betty was very involved with the Haumaona Women’s Institute and was on the national executive for Girl Guides for three years. She recalls helping her in 1957 when the first Girl Guide biscuits arrived by rail in Hastings; together they loaded them on the truck for local distribution and fundraising.
Betty also started the Te Awanga Pony Club. “We all had ponies as children and did a lot of work with the sheep and cattle.”
Lorna says her father Jim was mechanically minded and always making things on the farm as they initially didn’t have a lot of money. He wanted to train as an engineer at Cambridge but health problems prevented that.
He came out to New South Wales to work with his cousin on a large sheep farm, arriving in New Zealand on Christmas eve 1925 to study agriculture at Lincoln College in Christchurch.
He required an operation on his ears which meant he didn’t complete his degree and it subsequently left him almost totally deaf. “We had to learn to speak very clearly.”
Lorna says he never rode a horse instead opting for an old 1930 James motorcycle to get around the farm, often had one or two of his children on the back dropping them off at various places, including when he was part of the Home Guard in Napier during WW2. “He helped build the forts and gun placements on the Napier foreshore.”
Jim worked long hours raising sheep in the front of the property and cattle in the back paddocks. “He was always looking for new ways to do things and grew wheat and harvested rye grass seed in the summer.”
He regularly had over 2000 breeding ewes; the majority Border Leicester-Romneys cross bred with 650 Romney ewes mated to Border Leicester rams. “By January each year he would have sold off all the other sheep on the farm and only concentrated on his special breeding plan” with crossbred ewe lambs mated with Southdown rams for fat lamb production.
He used leaves from the Willow trees growing in the front of Wilton to feed the sheep. “He knew it was good for them, something others only found out about later. He knew what he was doing and applied what he had learned at Lincoln and Massey.”
Lorna says the farm never made a profit until 1950s when wool prices boomed. The Glennys also ran about 150 steers at the back of the property each winter.
Fire rips through home
In the afternoon of November 1942, the original Glenny residence, described as “one of the largest along the coast”, was destroyed by fire.
The day remains strong in Lorna’s memory. She was about four and a half years old, attending school in Leyland Rd when she looked up on the hill at her family house and saw flames coming out of her bedroom window.
“My parents were out and when the neighbours saw the smoke they pulled out everything they could from the rooms that hadn’t caught fire. We’d only moved into the house nine months beforehand and had previously lived with my grandparents at the Hursthouse family in Te Awanga.”
The family lost everything including her aunty Margot’s wedding presents that were stored there.
The cause of the fire? The power in Te Awanga regularly fluctuated due to the poor performance of the transformer causing the fridge to short out.
“In succeeding years, even though the fridge was placed within a concrete box it still caught fire on at least two other occasions before a new transformer was installed by the power company.”
Lorna says part of the old house had a large servant’s quarters, and her grandmother didn’t like living at the old mansion for that reason. They had become used to a relatively prosperous lifestyle but “after WW2 everything shifted.”
The double garage, used for the Te Awanga School for a few years, escaped the fire and is still there, says Lorna.
Local resident and archivist Maureen Heaps said she visited the original Glenny house several times collecting for Barnados and often gazed in awe at the lovely, 5-bedroom residence, set on two levels of lawn and gardens, enhanced with brick walls.
“We heard about the fire and saw smoke rising from the ruins as we walked home from school…I was shocked at the terrible disaster. For many months after I avoided that section of Clifton Rd and walked home from school via Wellwood Terrace unable to look at those ruins on the hill.”
Later her father Mick Burden helped to clear the site, carting the rubble to use for fill and for concrete bases at the campground. “Broken pieces of pink stucco were used for building concrete paths from the back door of our house across the lawn to the gate at the back landing to the Burden’s camping ground.”
New home, less land
Jim and Betty Glenny and their four daughters, Ina, Ann, Lorna and Sarah, lived in the Charlton Road cottage behind the site of the big house until their new home, also called Wilton, was completed on the original site.
There were delays until the restrictions on building were lifted in 1949 with further additions made in 1956. The brick walls and the terrace from the former homestead remained along with the tennis court.
In the early 1950’s a section on the rise between the Haggarty’s and Meriwee was sold to Mrs Frank Gordon. The drive to the Wilton woolshed and Meriwee then became Gordon Road. The Glenny’s eventually sold Wilton Farm to Paul Heeney in 1965 keeping only 16 acres and the Wilton house.
Lorna says Heeney demolished the old Charlton Rd cottage, after it had been left vacant for some time and sheep had become locked in the bathroom “creating an absolute mess” before they died. The garage remains intact, even today.
Betty Glenny died in 1967, and two years later Jim Glenny’s cousin Elizabeth Henderson (nee Pringle) came out to see the family, staying with Jim and his sisters Margot and Mary (McNeill) in Te Awanga.
“They had all known each other as children in Hawick, Scotland where the Glenny’s had the Woollen Mills and the Pringles the Cardigan and Jersey mill.
Jim married Elizabeth in 1970, and to her initial distress became known as ‘Dunty’, a pet name previously only used by family back in Scotland. Elizabeth had two daughters, Catherine (Polly) and Susan.
Having lived in Te Awanga for 40-years Mrs Glenny recalled deliveries of meat and fish and baked goods into the village when most residents were still only there for the weekends or holiday.
She had lived through two world wars, remembered soldiers parading in the street in London and food rationing. Her key to longevity she claimed was a glass of red wine with dinner, two small squares of chocolate after tea and not taking life too seriously. In 2009 she and Jim had 32 grandchildren between them.
Elizabeth, outlived Jim and when interviewed for the local TAPA newsletter in 2009 was 101 years old and still driving her Nissan March to get her hair cut and run errands. At the time she was still looking after chickens and doing most of the cooking at her large home on the hill at Te Awanga. She passed away in 2013 aged 105.
Interview Lorna Willis George and Catherine’s granddaughter.
London Times, 19 Sept 1932 http://george-powell.co.uk/family/1767.htm
Farms and Stations of New Zealand, G.A. Tait and Allison, Cranwell Publishing, Auckland, 1961
Maureen Heaps typewritten and handwritten notes.
Mrs Glenny interview by Heather Scherger for TAPA newsletter, Dec 2009 vol 31, no 3