Friends of Old Fairfield Inc.

Friends of Old Fairfield
's (FOOF's) Mission Statement, which was written in the early 1990s, encapsulates the early aspirations and continuing focus of FOOF for Fairfield:

"To administer the Fairfield Reserve in order to retain and enhance its unique character, linking the past with the present and future community growth".

Community involvement in Fairfield has enabled the restoration and development to date. FOOF manages this community resource on a self-funding basis. We rely on grants, events income, voluntary work and membership subscriptions to upkeep this wonderful, unique historic house and heritage woodland. Below, you will find details of our current development and maintenance projects.

We are officially registered with the Charities Commission.  Our official registration number is CC41609.  To see our listing on the national register, please go to this URL:   

You will also find information about how you can become a FOOF member or renew your current membership.  If you are interested in doing voluntary work with us, please contact us on 03 548 3640 or e mail us at
[email protected]

Current News:

November 2013

info board:
June 2012

Tower built to observe rare stellar moment

Venus Viewing:

    marion van dijk/fairfax nz

It was almost 130 years ago when Arthur Samuel Atkinson climbed the stairs to the tower he built beside his new Nelson home, Fairfield House, and full of hope he raised his telescope to the fiery sun.

A rare astronomical event was nigh and the amateur star-gazer had spent time and money preparing to witness the December 1882 transit of Venus - the last time it was visible in this country.

But alas, the purpose-built tower was much too shaky for Mr Atkinson to view the transit through his telescope.

The tower vibrated too much and the otherwise clear image of Venus crossing between Earth and the sun was just a blurry light. Mr Atkinson moved the telescope to a more stable site on the hill behind Fairfield House to witness the event.

The transit happens twice each century at alternating intervals of 105.5 years and eight years, then 121.5 and eight years.

No-one alive today has seen a transit of Venus from New Zealand. The transit in June 2004 was visible from the other side of the Earth.

At 10.15am tomorrow history will repeat when Venus will begin its journey between us and the sun.

Fairfield House will once more play an important historic part in the event when Nelson College for Girls science teacher Jenny Pollock will set up a Venuscope on site for the public to watch the image of the little black dot crossing the sun.

Fingers will be crossed for a break in the weather, which tomorrow is likely to be blustery and wet in Nelson with dry spells away from the ranges in the morning and early afternoon. Rain is likely to set in again towards evening or overnight.

Nelson actor and student teacher Jim Risner will play the part of Mr Atkinson at tomorrow's event. He said he shared several interests with the historic Nelson figure, including his love of astronomy and spiders, but that's about where the resemblance ends.

"He had a full beard, which I won't have before tomorrow, " Mr Risner said.

He said the Venuscope was to be set up at the tower at Fairfield House, depending on the weather.

Mr Atkinson was a prominent Nelson lawyer and the driving force behind the formation of the Nelson Astronomical Society. As well as being the notable person who built Fairfield House, he also bought the city a telescope for the Atkinson Observatory that was named after him.

The Transit of Venus fascinated early astronomers for the clues it offered in measuring the solar system.

By measuring the time it took for the "dark dot of Venus" to cross the Sun, astronomers could calculate the distance between the Earth, its "little sister Venus" and the Sun.

zVenus will begin to cross the edge of the Sun at about 10.15am tomorrow and take 18 minutes to move completely on to the solar disc.

The transit mid-point will be at 1.30pm, and a clear horizon will be needed to see the end of the transit just before sunset.

Venus will start to exit the solar disc at 4.25pm and will quit it completely by 4.43pm. Public in Nelson are invited to view the transit through the Venuscope at Fairfield House with a gold coin donation. A college group will be viewing between 12.30pm and 1.30pm.

The sun will cause eye damage if people look directly at it without proper protection such as a filter that cuts both visible light and harmful invisible ultraviolet and infrared rays.  Nelson Mail  5/06/2012

Heavens open for rare Venus glimpse

In between yesterday's stormy gusts and dense grey skies a bright spot occurred at Nelson's Fairfield House.

Members of the public who gathered to watch the transit of Venus in the hope they might catch a glimpse were in luck. There it was, appearing between breaks in scudding clouds, a small dark spot on the sun.

"It could be a miracle, it's fantastic, " Jenny Burton said of the way the clouds suddenly opened and people were able to see the rare astronomical event.

The transit happens twice each century at alternating intervals of 105.5 years and eight years, then 121.5 and eight years. It fascinated early astronomers for the clues it offered in measuring the solar system.

Until yesterday no-one alive today had seen a transit of Venus from New Zealand.

Nelson College for Girls science teacher Jenny Pollock set up a Venuscope in the gallery of Fairfield House for the public to watch the image of the little black dot crossing the sun. Amateur Dunedin astronomer Lynn Taylor drove all the way from Dunedin with her husband to watch the event in Nelson. She brought her own star-watching binoculars and set them up near the Venuscope for public use.

"I was enticed here by all the sunshine hours you have, " the life member of the Dunedin Astronomical Society said. She is also among the fourth generation of her family to take up astronomy as a hobby.

Mrs Taylor said she caught a few glimpses of the transit and it was "incredible".

Scientist and keen astronomer Margaret Bailey who moved to Nelson late last year was also at Fairfield House yesterday to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event.

"It was fantastic. Just as I arrived the sun came out. The black dot of Venus was such a contrast - you could see the round, white sun and the sharp black dot against it."

Fairfield House manager Catherine Brosnahan was delighted at the small crowd, including students from Nelson College for Girls, who turned out to see the event despite the gathering storm. She also caught a glimpse of the spectacle through the Venuscope.

"It was very exciting. When the sun was clear you could see it really well, " Ms Brosnahan said.

Nelson actor and student teacher Jim Risner, dressed in a 19th-century suit, played the part yesterday of Fairfield House owner in 1882 Arthur Samuel Atkinson.

Mr Atkinson had the tower at Fairfield specially built to watch the 1882 transit of Venus but it was too shaky to see anything and he moved the telescope to a secure spot on the hill behind the house.

Yesterday's violent wind gusts meant the viewing tower was well out of bounds.

Mr Atkinson was a prominent Nelson lawyer and the driving force behind the formation of the Nelson Astronomical Society. As well as being the notable person who built Fairfield House, he also bought the city a telescope for the Atkinson Observatory that was named after him.

If you missed it yesterday, there's not much hope of seeing another. The next pair of transits occur on December 11, 2117 and December 8, 2125.

Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail 07/06/2012

September 2011

New lease of life for iconic Nelson building

Fairfield House

COLIN SMITH/The Nelson Mail

Fairfield House, built in 1849, is having many more years added to its future.

Nelson's Fairfield House is undergoing its first major restoration since the early 1980s.

Manager Catherine Brosnahan said $100,000 was being spent on replacing the original roof, repairing French doors, replacing rotten timbers, putting up a new verandah and repainting the building.

The project started last month and would be completed by the end of next month, in time for the summer wedding season, she said.

"It will look fairly amazing at that point."

Ms Brosnahan said "a whole cross-section of Nelson society" used Fairfield House for staging a range of functions.

An $80,000 grant from the Lotteries Environment and Heritage fund, $15,000 from the Canterbury Community Trust and $12,000 from fundraising by Fairfield had made the restoration project possible, she said.

The original cottage and plantings began in 1849 as a family home and after several transformations and developments was close to demolition in 1979.

"This is really the first major repair work since 1981. It will really secure Fairfield's future."

- The Nelson Mail, Monday 19 September

August 2011

Towering feat accomplished

SALLY KIDSON,  Nelson Mail feature 1 August 2011



UP AND RUNNING: The Friends of Old Fairfield celebrate the reopening of Fairfield House tower with a flag-raising yesterday.
Friends of Old Fairfield are celebrating the re-opening of the historic home's wooden tower, after the rotting structure was pulled down piece by piece and rebuilt.

Manager Catherine Brosnahan said the tower was rebuilt in 1995 to 1996, but was closed in November 2007 when it was found to be structurally unsound.Some of the macrocarpa beams were rotting and the tower had its problems "a bit like a leaky house".

Ms Brosnahan said the tower, which offers tree-top height views of the historic home's surrounds, was originally built in 1881 by Arthur Atkinson.He was a keen astronomer who built the structure to put his telescope on to look at the night sky. The Atkinson family donated his telescope to the community in 1912 and its still in use at  Nelson's Cawthron Atkinson observatory.

Ms Brosnahan said it cost $36,000 to rebuild the tower and it was a cost that the Friends of Old Fairfield had not expected. Raising funds to rebuild the tower had required a massive fundraising effort by the friends, who had also secured a $17,000 grant from the Canterbury Community Trust and a $2500 grant from Nelson City Council towards the rebuild.

A new feature has been added to the tower in its third construction, a flag pole, and a variety of flags would be flown, she said. Yesterday, a luncheon was held at Fairfield House to mark the reopening of the tower and to acknowledge the hard work of those who had helped raise money towards it.The first flag raised was one Ms Brosnahan sewed for the occasion on spinnaker cloth donated by Bud Nalder, of NORTH SAILS.

The tower was now open by request.

Friends of Old Fairfield Inc. acknowledge the donations received from the following organisations and individuals

Canterbury Community Trust Grant

Nelson City Council Grant

Bruce King Bequest

 and all the numerous volunteers who donated their time and expertise to help complete this project


Wwoofers Gifts

It is such fun and very interesting to host such lovely couples as we have over the years since Fairfield has been part of the Willing Wookers On  Organic Farms, although we refer to them as Willing Workers Of Old Fairfield. Each bring their own style of humour and share many gifts with the Fairfield family. Our lives are all enriched by these sharing times.

August 2011

rock wall:


Petr, from The Czech republic and Siggi, from USA, constructed this beautiful rock wall up the Fairfield driveway. A lasting memory to their time at Fairfield.

September 2010

                                                             stefan 2:

Another beautiful acquisition is this fine kitchen work table crafted by Stephen when he and Anett, both from Germany, were wwoofing here last year. It has been made from Fairfield elm, just as our fine banquet table is, from a very large tree that fell back in 1999.

February 2010
                                                                         door 2:

Natalie from France, a fine art restorer, usually works in the old cathedrals of France is seen here sensitively restoring the Fairfield Jester door originally painted for us by Harriette Blount back in 1981

NeilAnn Orchard
We are still planting more trees in our orchard, figs, fejoias, lemons, blackcurrents, gooseberries and pears join the apple,quince,citrus and nut trees planted last year. There is an ongoing struggle between  the ground cover and weeds and patience and persistence is being called forth constantly. I often try to imagine how must it have been for Neil McVicar the orginal pioneer owner of the Fairfield property back in 1849, having recently arrived in New Zealand with his two young sons, after losing his wife and infant son on the voyage out, he set about planting 5oo fruit bearing trees and called his orchard the NeilAnn. Using a combination of their names he carried their dream on in this new country only to die himself within 4 years of arrival. Fairfield's community orchard today is carrying on the dream one hundred and sixty years later.


Become a Member of FOOF (Friends of Old Fairfield)

We would like to invite you to begin or to renew your membership of Friends of Old Fairfield.  The range of activities that happen here include educational, spiritual, environmental and cultural events as well as corporate. The beautiful grounds and reserve, open to the public, are cared for by Friends of Old Fairfield. The house, lovingly restored, is available for hire by the wider community.

Your subscription will enable FOOF to continue to maintain and develop Fairfield. 

Membership subscription and / or donation
Internet banking; your membership subscription of $25 can be paid directly, please put your name and 2014 Subs as reference for our records.

Westpac Bank
Friends of Old Fairfield Account
0307 030491854 02

Alternatively, you can post a cheque made payable to Fairfield House.

 All donations over $5 are tax deductible.

Would all new members please fill out the form below and email or post to Fairfield.


Ginny Ward
Chair of Friends of Old Fairfield

_  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Name ____________________________________________________________________________


Phone ______________________________________________________

E mail ______________________________________________________________

I enclose a cheque for $25 for my 2014 Friends of Old Fairfield membership subscription.

And / or I enclose a cheque for a donation of $ ________ to Fairfield House.

Please send to: Fairfield House, 48 Van Diemen Street, Nelson, 7010  or email [email protected]

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