The Narrows, Hunt to Way

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When Deborah Hunt died in Cambridge in 1897, the Waikato Argus reported that “the old lady will be greatly missed as she was a favourite with everyone”.

Deborah Hunt was in her 91st year. She had been resident in Cambridge for several years but had lived at The Narrows from 1873 to 1882.

The Hunt family built The Narrows homestead (now Glenhope) in 1873. The house at 433 Airport Rd is listed on the Waipa District Council’s heritage schedule and it is registered by the Historic Places Trust. It is one of the oldest farm houses in the Waikato, writes historian Lyn Williams in her regular Waikato Times column, The dead tell tales (not online).

Two of Deborah’s sons, John and Thomas, came to New Zealand from Yorkshire in 1858 and settled in Northland. After Deborah’s husband, William, died, she and her other sons and daughters came out, in 1863. In 1873, Deborah “and others” purchased seven 50-acre allotments near Rukuhia, each of which had been granted to a militiaman of the 4th Waikato Regiment. These men had not settled their land, but had on-sold to Auckland investors David Comrie and Thomas Russell. The land was on the west side of the Waikato River, in the block bounded by the river and Raynes Road. Airport Road cuts through the property.

Sons William and Nicholas came south first and boarded with the Raynes family while they built a house suitable for their mother and two of their sisters. (Another sister married up north and stayed there.) A late 1890s photo of the property shows two closely adjacent structures, one hip roofed, one gable – the gabled one looks to be the older, but is less substantial,with only two small bedrooms and a sitting room. It seems more likely that the hip-roofed one was built for Mrs Hunt and that perhaps the gabled one was a relocated older building brought to the site. After 1906, the two buildings were joined under one roof.

The Hunts grew crops and had a beef herd and Thoroughbred horses. According to local historian Nancy Raynes, the Hunts became known for their riding prowess. In November 1881, Nicholas advertised that his Exmoor pony Nutmeg, “a perfect model of strength and symmetry”, would be standing at stud at the Narrows – fee “two sovereigns per mare”.

When the first bridge across the river at The Narrows opened in 1879, the approach roads had not been formed. William Hunt on the west and John Martyn on the Tamahere side marked routes through their paddocks for the public to use, earning the Waikato Times’ praise for their liberality and community spirit.

The Hunt family remained at The Narrows for less than a decade – in 1881, they sold to George Way, but his occupancy was delayed a year. Way had been working for Thomas Hunt at his Hillcrest farm. The Hunts remained in the district – John farmed at Walton, Nicholas managed large estates near Cambridge before shifting to the Te Kuiti area, daughters Sybella and Elizabeth married locally.

William seems to have done less well – manual jobs in Auckland, a brief marriage. John died suddenly in 1893 and was buried at Hautapu cemetery. His mother, Deborah, was buried nearby four years later.

Other historical records show that George Way, born in the Isle of Wight, educated in London and arrived in New Zealand in 1879, ran sheep and cattle at The Narrows and grew grain crops.

He extended the house in 1890 with a second gable section, prior to his marriage with Laura Barugh, daughter of the noted J.J. Barugh, of Tamahere. The pair were noted gardeners and they established formal gardens with brick pathways, a lawn tennis court and a large oak grove that extended down to the Narrows Bridge. Way owned the property for 38 years and sold it in 1919 to the stock firm W. And R. Fletcher Limited.

* The Narrows homestead is in the path of the Southern Links road and potentially faces removal or demolition.

For more history of Tamahere click here.

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