Restoring Hinemihi at Clandon Park

Removing the carvings at Clandon Park

Nestled under a tree in the garden is an extraordinary little building. As one of only four Māori meeting houses in the world outside of New Zealand, and the only one of these in an outdoors non-museum setting, Hinemihi is an internationally significant building.

We are embarking on a programme of conservation and protection to ensure her significance is not lost.

Once located in Te Wairoa, New Zealand, the carvings of Hinemihi were brought to England by the 4th Earl, 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, which originally stood originally stood beside a lake in the park. She was moved to her current site sometime between 1925 and 1934.

Looking after a building… which is actually a person

As well as being an internationally significant building, Hinemihi also presents a unique challenge, in that she is a building who embodies an actual person. 

Hinemihi was a woman of great authority and prestige who lived in New Zealand in the mid-1500s 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, which bears her name.  The conservation works about to take place are 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 have recently removed the carvings from the building.

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.  As the carvings embody the ancestress Hinemihi, before any work could take place we had to put her spirit to rest.  

Jim Schuster, a specialist conservator from Historic New Zealand came to Clandon to oversee the removal of the carvings. He led special 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 conservator specialising in wood, and National Trust volunteers.

Volunteers arriving to help with the carvings at Clandon Park
Volunteers turning up to help 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 will work with specialist advisors and the Māori community to plan a restoration programme for both the carvings and the building that the carvings were attached to, so that she can once again welcome and host visitors from around the world, as she used to in New Zealand over 130 years ago.