Plas-Gwyn, the Mystery House
The following blog was written by Jane Paul for a screening that she hosted in 2014, but for some reason it was never published. Jane went on to present many more public programmes but unfortunately passed away in November 2018. We feel this blog captures Jane’s curiosity, cheekiness and passion for New Zealand film. Jane remains a much-loved and much-missed friend and colleague.
We’d still like to know – where did the name ‘Plas-Gwyn’ come from?! Please comment or contact us if you have the answer.
Update – a former Ngā Taonga comms staff member says that Jane decided not to publish this article in 2014 as she was no longer sure that Plas-Gwyn and Rahiwi were the same house. Bearing this in mind, we’re still glad to have found the opportunity to share Jane’s voice again.
Another reader got in touch to suggest that Plas Gwyn, wherever the house is, might have been named in tribute to the British composer Edward Elgar, whose first love Jane Weaver was ‘packed off to New Zealand’ to prevent their marriage. One of Elgar’s homes was named Plas Gwyn – details can be found here. Thank you to Jacqui Wood for that information!
– By Jane Paul (NZFA Manager, Outreach Services)
One of the films in the Reel Life Home and Garden programme [which screened in Featherston and Wellington in July 2014] shows a Wairarapa property, ‘Plas-Gwyn’. Amateur filmmaker Nancy Cameron was a keen gardener and member of the Wanganui Amateur Cine Society, who shot the film Home and Garden as a record of the Horticultural Society tour of the Wairarapa in 1951. The gardens shown include ‘Longwood’, ‘Plas-Gwyn’ and ‘Rathkeale’. ‘Plas-Gwyn’ was unfamiliar to me. I did a search of New Zealand Historic Places Trust properties and Mr Google, but nothing New Zealand-related turned up. There were, however, a raft of Welsh properties bearing the name. So I contacted Gareth Winter at the Wairarapa Archive. Gareth is an authority on local history and interested in gardens (from a past life). He was puzzled and intrigued – Plas-Gwyn was not a name he had come across before. So we got the digital file out, and took a frame grab:
This time he replied “problem solved!” – but not the problem of the name! Winter notes:
‘This is a view of ‘Rahiwi’, a house that would then have been in Jordan Terrace, but is now in Rahiwi Place. I can even tell you that the garden was landscaped by Laurie Robinson, using some of the features that Alfred Buxton (“the nation’s paramount landscape designer” of the 1920s and 1930s) used in his many gardens throughout Wairarapa. The house was owned by J. Jameson, but I have been unable to find any connection to ‘Plas Gwyn’. Jameson’s grandson also had no knowledge of the name ‘Plas-Gwyn’ and they had lived there around the time the movie was made. The Jamiesons were from Essex, not Wales… so that doesn’t explain the name.’
This photo is of the house from about the same time (c. 1954):
Nancy Cameron’s films won many prizes in Amateur Cine Society competitions – she was known as a very good technician as well as being an imaginative and innovative filmmaker. It seems unlikely that Nancy just made up the name of the house. Can anyone give us an answer?