Restoring Hinemihi at Clandon Park

Removing the carvings from Hinemihi at Clandon Park, Surrey

One of only four Māori meeting houses outside of New Zealand, and the only one of these which is outdoors in a non-museum setting, Hinemihi is an internationally significant building. In consultation with the Māori community in 2016, we embarked 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 made by local builders to display the traditional carvings, but the building wasn’t created like a traditional Māori meeting house. Hinemihi originally stood beside a lake in the park but was moved to the 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. Hinemihi is a living being, and each carving represents parts of her body: her head (tekoteko and 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.

Hinemihi was a woman of great authority and prestige who lived in New Zealand in the mid-16th century and is the namesake of the Ngāti Hinemihi community, a sub-group of the Tūhourangi Māori tribe. 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. 

Today her spirit resides in the carvings attached to the Māori meeting house at Clandon that bears her name.

Caring for the carvings

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 removed Hinemihi’s carvings from the building, keeping her body together for concentrated conservation attention in a specialist studio.

The conservation work was focused on protecting and conserving the physical structure of the carvings, as well as taking care of Hinemihi’s spiritual condition.

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 sleep for the protection of those engaging in conservation work with her. 
 
Jim Schuster, a specialist conservator from Historic New Zealand oversaw the removal of the carvings. He led prayers and blessings attended by members of Ngāti Ranana (the London Māori Club), Te Kohanga Reo (the Māori language 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, dozens of conservation students from University College London, a specialist wood conservator and National Trust volunteers.

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.