An Edwardian gentleman – or at least those occupying the house of one time Edwardian gentleman artist/farmer – as we do – requires a club. Not a tennis club or bowling club but a gentleman’s club – in which one can reside whilst in town and a suite of paneled rooms from which one can conduct business.
Napier is unusual in that its club, the Hawke’s Bay Club, still operates at full power and in considerable architectural splendour – paneling, potted palms and copies of Punch. However as the Club is about 2 minutes away we’ve yet to feel the need to apply.
Wellington however is a different matter. We often find ourselves in Wellington. More often than not attending the auction at Dunbar Sloane Street. Therefore it perhaps no surprise that we have discovered the gentleman’s club on the other end of the same short street.
Architect Gray Young designed the Wellesley Club building in the mid 1920s. He was the obvious man of his day for this sort of thing and his creation is well-mannered and polite but authoritative. The club itself was not particularly old, dating from 1890, but it did mean that when they came to build there was a lot for him to look at as exemplars in the form of London clubs. Therefore Gray Young was able to supply some considerable graciousness – behind his tidy façade. The building had just the right degree of Georgian flair – to garner its architect the Gold Medal from the Institute of Architects in 1931 just a couple of years after its completion and today it sits in Category 1 listed splendour at 2-8 Magginty Street
The advantage of the modern Wellesley club – over that of old – is that the Wellesley is now a hotel (www.wellesleyboutiquehotel.co.nz ). This means that a considerable annual fee – is now broken down into easily manageable night-by-night charges – but that little else has changed. Many of the chattels and furnishing of the old club have been retained and are used to surprisingly good effect.
Not surprisingly it is for the décor and architecture that we frequent the Wellesley – that and the opportunity to invite friends to meet us at ‘the club’ – an illusion that they usually accept without spoiling the fun.
The Wellesley has some lovely downstairs reception rooms – including the smart dining room and a good comfy nook or two where you can sit in paneled splendor with a drink in hand. (The restaurant has an excellent chef and is a favourite meeting place for foodies at lunch time.) An elegant staircase from the ground floor is perfect for descending in sartorial splendor before venturing out for the evening.
Although these rooms are a lovely evocation of an altogether English style, one of the nicest elements of the Wellesley are the unexpected moments that one encounters that really do remind you that this was once as gentleman’s club.
The lift here is a real treasure, oak paneled with a scissor grill but some of the nicest of the reminders of times past are to be found on the staircase. There is a remarkable sense that you are exploring, as you move up the stairs, heightened by a system of movement sensors that turns the lights on just ahead of your path – ensuring you splendors are continually being lit up and revealed just ahead of you.
There is a copy of a Titian on the first landing and a real Lindauer a little further on. Then come large portraits of Prime Ministers (Seddon and Ward) – of the type one seldom sees including one by Walter Bowring an important if neglected early Twentieth Century New Zealand painter. Then there are imperial lithographs of important events and cricketing photographs. There are framed photographs of HMS New Zealand and bronzes of Wellesley himself.
What’s nice here is that the club has stuck with originals – that have seen better days – but water stains and all they are so much preferrable to most ‘hotel art.’
Although wanting to avoid writing a puff piece on a hotel – the Wellesley is a lovely stay for anyone with a sense of history and of décor. Their preference for the original sits beside contemporary and very luxurious rooms and particularly bathrooms. However what is nicest of all is that the personable young man at reception – greets you with ‘welcome back, how long are you staying with us this time?’ He knows how to play the game, and for a night or two at least it is great to live out the fantasy of being a member of a very exclusive club.
Although not wanting to add to the possibility of a ‘puff piece’, I can highly recommend afternoon tea at the Wellesley. While many contemporary hotels and cafes have jumped on the high tea bandwagon, serving over-priced, over-sweet and often stale retro treats in a kitsch environment, the Wellesley’s afternoon tea is the real deal. The scones are fluffy, the sandwiches fresh, everything gentilly bite size. The tea – and yes, the real silver teapots contain real leaves, not a nasty teabag to be seen – is served not by hipsters, but by gentlemen in white shirts and bow ties.