Living History at Nairn Street Cottage 

By Sofian Scott

With Wellington Heritage Week coming up, I’ve been thinking about the ideas of Heritage and History. Working in the museum world, I am lucky enough to get a glimpse behind the scenes. A chance to connect with history without the glass barrier. I have always felt the best way of learning about a topic is to discover a connection with it, find some commonality, allowing me to relate.

Often when it comes to history and heritage, we are taught in a vacuum. History, by its very definition, has already happened, it was a blip in the past, now an artefact on display.  

This becomes especially obvious within the galleries of a museum. Thankfully, museums these days are far more aptly executed when compared with back when museums were mainly composed of rich folk’s personal collections. Today we have moved well beyond those ramshackle collections and taxidermy botch jobs.  

History needs context, otherwise you are looking at a jumble of events, just one thing after another. We are getting ever better at sharing and showing this context, however, sometimes you need to honein with a magnifying glass, get a look at the daytoday and the real nittygritty. That is where heritage buildings come in. Growing up in the lush pasturelands of Oxfordshire, I was surrounded by these heritage buildings, history was constantly around the cornerbe it the old roman road in the next village, or the closest town having been continuously inhabited since the Iron age! Of course, the ones I was most excited about growing up were the ruins and castles of eras long gone.

Although there are no tumble-down castles, we are absolutely surrounded by history and heritage right here in Wellington. You may need to just look a bit closer to find it. I have had the chance to spend some time and work in one of these such buildings, our very own Nairn Street CottageSpending time in this building, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the early days of Wellington City, the changes wrought upon the region, as well as the rather impressive set of historic societal events that can be traced along the Wallis family saga.  

I’ll be honest though, as much as I am interested in the history surrounding this building, and as good as it is at giving one the context of life in Wellington over the decades, as well as the early living conditions (need I remind you of a lack of running water?), there is one thing that keeps bringing me back, the gardens. And wouldn’t you know, we’re coming into just the right season to enjoy it! More specifically, the patch of lavender near our Visitor Centre, amongst which the bumblebees lazily float about, although that may just be due to a hearkening back to childhood summers in Provence, funny how the simplest of things can take you way back. Small connections tend to lead to deeper appreciation I reckon!

I guess I think that the best way of learning about something is by connecting with it. If you want to connect with the people of yesteryear, see where and how they lived. You never know, you might make some bee friends of your own. 

Sofian Scott is an Educator at Museums Wellington, fascinated by history, mythologies and the cultural narratives we tend to build our national identities on. This has been a point of some contention for Sofian, coming from a mixed background of historically feuding cultures and never entirely sure what or where he is. 


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