Thursday, 29 September 2016

Charles Major Offices: the history

77 Princes Street is registered with Heritage New Zealand as a Category 2 historic building (#838), as the 'Charles Major Offices (former)'. It is is an important building in Hawera, both for its history and architecture - including connections to three of Hawera's mayors.

77 Princes St in Hawera.

This building sits on the famous Princes Street Row, "one of a row of period buildings on Princes Street that is unsurpassed in Taranaki for its consistency, scale, decoration and style - with national historical importance. Although [77 Princes Street] is the smallest, and the only timber one in the group, its architectural presence is strong." -South Taranaki District Council Heritage Inventory

A current view of the Princes Street Row. 77 Princes St has the red door in the centre.
Princes Street Row circa 1912. 77 Princes St shows an awning in the centre.

William J. Furlong, Chairman of the Hawera Town Board 1881 and Hawera Mayor 1884-1886, was one of the earliest occupiers of this building. He purchased the property in 1879, but a newspaper report in 1877 states he added a new facade with the sign 'Bank Offices'. The actual build date and early records are unavailable.

77 Princes St is named as the 'Charles Major Offices' due to serving as a centre of business for Charles Edwin Major (1859-1954). The date on the facade reads 1881, referring to the establishment of Major's business.

Advertisement for Charles Major's business - showing the facade as at 1892.
The original side sash windows and lower part of the brick chimney are still there today.

The building itself is likely to date from the mid 1870s, and was one of the few to have survived the great fire of 1895. Currently, it is the oldest surviving commercial building in Hawera. After the fire, the current facade was added in 1896. This was designed by G.R. Card, who also designed the iconic Hawera Library.

The front of 77 Princes St, showing the date of 1881.

Charles Major was a larger than life character, an advocate for the town and active in many civic, cultural and sporting spheres - including serving as Mayor, town coroner and magistrate. In the early 1880s, Major ran his land and insurance agency from this building. Between 1886 and 1908, it served as his political office during his various terms as Mayor of Hawera and district MP. In 1889, it was the meeting place for the formation of the Taranaki Rugby Football Union; Major convened this meeting. He played and captained various rugby teams in the Taranaki region.

Charles Edwin Major (1859-1954)
Mayor of Hawera 1886-1902 (3 terms)
South Taranaki District MP 1902-1908

Major occupied the building until 1910, after which it became the premises of Athol Bob Grant, and later Grant and Campbell Land Agents. James Campbell was also a Mayor for Hawera 1933-39.

77 Princes St is one of the Hawera Heritage Trail buildings and has been given an official plaque, cementing its status as an important historic building - not just in Hawera but the Taranaki region.

All images © Cecilia Russell 2015

More posts will be added as soon as we can - including interior photos and more information.

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