Restoring Hinemihi at Clandon Park

Removing the carvings at Clandon Park

Nestled under a tree in the garden is an extraordinary building. One of only four Māori meeting houses outside of New Zealand, and the only one of these outdoors in a non-museum setting, Hinemihi is an internationally significant building. We're embarking on a programme of conservation and protection to ensure her significance is not lost.

Once located in Te Wairoa, New Zealand, Hinemihi's carvings were brought to England by the 4th Earl of Onslow, as a reminder of his time as Governor of New Zealand. 

Hinemihi arrived at Clandon in April 1892. A structure was built like a traditional Whare, upon which to display the carvings. She originally stood beside a lake in the park but was moved to her current site sometime between 1925 and 1934.

Looking after a building… who's actually a person

As well as being an internationally significant building, Hinemihi also presents a unique challenge. She's a building who embodies a person. 

Hinemihi was a woman of great authority and prestige who lived in New Zealand in the mid-16th century and gave her name to the Ngati Hinemihi, a sub-group of the Tūhourangi tribe.  

Today her spirit resides in the carvings attached to the Māori meeting house at Clandon that bears her name. The conservation work we're undertaking is focused on protecting and conserving the physical structure, as well as taking care of Hinemihi’s spiritual condition.

Caring for the carvings

Hinemihi’s historic carvings were crafted in the 1880s by Tene Waitere and Wero Taroi, widely considered to have been the finest Māori wood carvers of the 19th century. 

Many of the 28 carvings represent parts of Hinemihi’s body: her head (koruru) sitting on top of the house, her arms (maihi) embracing the veranda, and her heart (poutokomanawa) represented in the central supporting column inside the house. 

The wooden carvings are extremely delicate, and despite regular care and maintenance, they have deteriorated in the British weather over the past 130 years. To ensure no further deterioration, we've recently removed the carvings from the building.

Hinemihi's carvings at Clandon Park
Hinemihi's carvings at Clandon Park
Hinemihi's carvings at Clandon Park

Putting her spirit to rest

Such a unique conservation challenge required international expertise. Because the carvings embody the ancestress Hinemihi, before any work could take place her spirit needed to be put to rest.  

Jim Schuster, a specialist conservator from Historic New Zealand oversaw the removal of the carvings. He led prayers and blessings attended by members of Ngati Ranana (the London Māori Club), Kohanga Reo (the Māori School) and Tūhourangi (the descendants of Hinemihi).

Once Hinemihi was at rest, Jim worked alongside a team of specialists led by National Trust conservator Emily Nisbet-Hawkins, including Dr Dean Sully and dozens of conservation students from University College London, a specialist wood conservator and National Trust volunteers.

Volunteers arriving to help with the carvings at Clandon Park
Volunteers turning up to help at Clandon Park
Volunteers arriving to help with the carvings at Clandon Park

The team took three days to carefully remove, surface clean, wrap and transport the 28 carvings to safe storage, and to install scaffolding within the building to ensure stability in the absence of the carvings.

Hinemihi’s future at Clandon Park

Over the next few years we'll work with specialist advisors and the Māori community to plan a restoration programme for both the carvings and the building to which they were attached. We look forward to when Hinemihi can once again welcome visitors from around the world, as she used to in New Zealand over 130 years ago.