Good House — Bad Paint
Hi, Peter, do you have time for a chat?
I’m just finishing a drink of Earl Grey tea.
Kathi and I go for Twinings English Breakfast, but we branched out the other day. Kathi discovered Yorkshire Tea. Phew, that’s solid stuff! Very strong. Big teabags. Enough for a whole teapot. Shall I send you some?
I might give it a try. Could well be you’ve found something interesting, but Earl Grey is very good — a good decision.
Now, getting down to business — I have some questions.
Go on, boy.
I can’t make sense of the records relating to two houses you Leylands had in Palmerston North. The first is 139 College Street where your mother and father lived from at least 1919.
The second is 249 College Street. There are lots of references to Old Phil living there later on. But 249 doesn’t exist — the number is missing — a street runs through where it should be. I remember you sent me to visit a different number where Old Phil had lived — three hundred and something.
Well, I can clear the whole thing up. The last one you visited was 309.
Now 139 and 249 and 309 are all the same house — the same property. It all came about when the Palmerston North City Council decided to change the numbering system. Over the years they changed the whole bally system, not just once, but twice. We got used to it. 139 became 249, and 249 became 309 — all the same original house.
So the first Leylands to live there were your parents. Did they own it?
Yes, I’m sure Dad bought it. And he had a story to tell about it.
He was a Railway Man, you see — on the locos — the old steam-engine days. And it came around that he had a chance to get a house. The government had set up a settlement at Milson — railway houses — up Milson Line, on the north end of town. The whole thing was a settlement for the benefit of official railway men. You had a chance to actually buy a house at a cheap rate.
Dad explained it to us later, so we understood why we didn’t get one of those places. According to him, ‘who would want to work all day, every day, with the same people you had to live with? You’d work all day with them, then after work, at night, they’d still be there, surrounding you — the same mob.’
Dad wanted to get rid of that. He said it was better to turn your back on the Railway settlement. He said, ‘Imagine you had an argument with a man at work — a flaming row — and then have to rehash it at night with the man next door.’
That possibility was no good to Dad. He vetoed the whole business. So he cut himself adrift from the night-time. He had definite ideas of his own, and when he explained them they made sense to us.
That settlement is still there, up Milson Line, railway houses — state houses — that sort of thing. But Leyland wasn’t part of it. Wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Now, as I understood it Dad got some of the money from his father. It was all done with loans. Old Phil stayed up around Waipawa for about 20 years, while his wife and his daughter Florrie, and Sydney and Dad (the younger sons) all left Waipawa. Dad ended up in Whanganui for a time. The others ended up in Palmerston North. Eventually Old Phil sold up the original property he had up the line and came down to Palmerston. That was around 1925, when my parents divorced. It seems that Old Phil had a bit of money and I understand he bought out Dad’s interest in the College Street house. So Grandfather settled down with my Dad, and with Florrie. Us boys went off with Mum for a while.
There’s a lot of history in that house!
There sure is, right down to the roof paint. In those days roof paint was cheap if you mixed it yourself. You got a gallon tin of linseed oil, and a pot of red lead. You mixed them together — and that took a bit of doing. The red lead was a kind of paste to start with, and you had to stir and stir and stir to blend it together. Tough going. To make a good roof paint out of that mixture took a lot of work. It was popular though — all over the country — everyone was doing it. Only two ingredients.
Eventually the authorities vetoed it. ‘NO MORE!’ they said. They’d found that as well as being used on roofs it was used on walls and tin sheds. It sure put a good coat on, but it was all poisonous — DEADLY POISON — and what was happening was that animals took a liking to the taste and would lick it off the sheds. And people were collecting water off their roofs, and children were getting poisoned. It was all over the country — good paint — deadly poison.
You showed me a stepladder you had, that was made by my father. It was red.
Yes, and I remember explaining it to you at the time. Perhaps you forgot? That red paint was the good, old fashioned, do-it-yourself poison paint. It’s what we did back then. Homemade paint.