A wonderful example of nineteenth century construction, Grubb Cottage is one of few surviving early colonial residences in Lyttelton after the Canterbury earthquakes devastated so many heritage buildings.

Grubb Cottage

Grubb Cottage is located on 62 London Street, Lyttelton and open on Saturday mornings from 10am to midday for self-guided tours.


Grubb Cottage was built in 1851 by Scottish shipwright, John Grubb, who travelled to Lyttelton to work on the construction of the town's first wharf. The cottage is significant as one of the oldest non-prefabricated buildings in Canterbury and as the first plot of land to be sold in New Zealand that hadn't been pre-purchased in England.

Before John's family joined him in New Zealand, he wrote and requested his wife Mary bring a number of his carpentry tools with her. Using these tools John was able to build a simple cottage during a time when most people were still living in huts and barracks.

The house remained in Grubb ownership until 1961, passing from John Grubb to his children and grandchildren. Between 1961 and 2006, the cottage changed hands numerous times before coming into City Council ownership.

The original cottage was east facing and built with two bedrooms upstairs in the high pitched roof and a kitchen and living area downstairs. Rimu and kahikatea weatherboards formed the cladding while the floor was made from kauri.

In the 1860s, additions were made to accommodate the growing Grubb family, these consisted of a verandah, three bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom and sitting room below. A final addition was made in the twentieth century.

The interior of the cottage contains many examples of early wall coverings such as newspaper, hessian scrim, silk ribbons, and early linoleum. The original light fittings and switches are also all in situ.

In 2010 work was undertaken to stabilise and conserve the cottage creating an opportunity for a small scale archaeological investigation. For the cottage to be stabilised, it needed to be repiled. Fifty-three pile holes were dug by hand under the house and a number of artefacts discovered as a result.

Alcohol bottles from pile hole cache

Alcohol bottles

Artefacts discovered

One pile hole was full of alcohol bottles (mostly beer and gin) and bottle manufacturing and maker's marks date the bottles to nineteenth century occupation. This tells us that the Grubbs did not subscribe to the growing temperance philosophy of their Presbyterian religion. Most bottles were fragmented but some complete and still full of their original substance. It is likely the bottles were deliberately buried, possibly by John Grubb to keep the alcohol cool and prevent spoiling. 

Other artefacts discovered in pile holes included an engraved writing slate, miniature tea set and a doll - all likely to have belonged to John Grubb's children.  

Pharmaceutical bottles

Pharmaceutical bottles

During the investigation, a filled gully was discovered underneath the nineteenth century extension. Under the fill, a number of waste disposal features were discovered which suggests the Grubb family used the gully to discard their rubbish.

The location of the gully supports idea that the main entrance to the cottage was on the eastern elevation and that rubbish would have been discarded from the kitchen doorway directly into the gully. It is unknown when exactly the gully was filled in but certainly prior to the 1860s addition to the cottage.

Lucozade bottle

Lucozade bottle

While excavating the area between the house and the west fence line, a small rubbish pit was found. This collection of artefacts contained complete ceramic vessels, women's stockings, pharmaceutical bottles and a bottle of Lucozade. The artefacts firmly date to the twentieth century and probably belonged to John Grubb's grandson John, and his wife Kate, who lived in the cottage between 1920 and 1961.

The number of pharmaceutical bottles (some still full) and lucozade suggest an occupant of the house was ill. However, as Lucozade was used medicinally for energy and the one legible pharmaceutical bottle is for Morse's Indian Root Pills – claimed to cure all kinds of illness – it is unclear the exact ailment they suffered from or why so many full bottles of medication were discarded.  

The archaeological investigation provided a fascinating look into nineteenth and twentieth century living.

Further information

Read more about Grubb Cottage and its significance in the Christchurch District Plan(external link).