The Houchen story

began in England with Edward Houchen Senior, the son of an Anglican cleric, who was also vicar of a parish in Cornwall. He immigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, with his family in 1885. After his death in 1902 his eldest daughter, Grace, a nurse and Secretary of the Trained Nurses Association, turned the family home, Porthcurnow, Milford, into a Convalescence Home. The eldest son, Edward Charles, had already moved to Te Mata and married Laura Margaret Vernon in 1897. Edward and Laura farmed at Te Mata, near Raglan, and raised their family of 8 children, with Doris being born in 1915. They named their farm, Tirohanga – a raised area from which one can see a long way – and certainly Edward Charles demonstrated this quality by being very involved in his local community. He was Director of Raglan Co-operative Dairy Company, Overseer of the Public Works and a member of various sporting, School and community committees.

In 1922 Edward Charles sold the farm and with their 30 cows moved to the 147 acres he initially purchased on this site at the outskirts of Hamilton. You would not recognise it compared to what you see today. There was no road to the farmhouse. The current Houchen’s Road was first formed in 1923-4 by a scoop and team of bullocks. The farmable land was covered by gorse, blackberry, and manuka which was all cleared by hand. There was no well and the gutters of the house were rotten so their was no water supply. Over the years, which included the depression, the farm was gradually increased until it reached from Ohaupo Road to north of the Rukuhia railway line. If you go to the gazebo at the top southern end of the property you can see how much of the land would have been un-drained peat swamp.

Over time Doris, Enid, Grace and Edward junior, remained on the farm while other family members settled elsewhere. In more recent years the house was modified with the addition of a self contained flat, then a new house was built next to the Homestead for Doris and Enid. A further small building (now behind the Main Centre kitchen) was built as an art studio for Enid. You are welcome to view the photographs of the Houchen home and family hanging in the Homestead along with a framed copy of the current Houchen family tree.

The vision for the Retreat House

was born out of Miss Doris Houchen’s desire to have a suitable venue in Hamilton for residential retreats. She had been organising retreats since 1972 at the Passionist Father’s retreat house in Rotorua because there was no suitable local venue. Due to the keen public response, members of the Houchen Family decided in 1979 to form a private charitable trust gifting the 5 1/2 acres that form the current retreat property, and money to build what is now the Main Conference Centre. Further financial support came from the Springhill Trust in Gisborne. The Main Centre was completed in the mid 1980s and ten years later the lower accommodation block and chapel were added. The Doris Memorial Chapel was dedicated in 1993.

In 2002 the grounds were landscaped, and the last of the farm fences within the property were removed. You can still see some of the old fence post around the chapel building. Some of the old orchard was retained and many native trees, shrubs, ferns and grasses have been added, which in turn are encouraging the return of native birds. You are invited to explore the gardens and pause for awhile at the seats you will find scattered around the grounds.

The grass Labyrinth and gazebo were added in 2002. Many discover that each time they walk the labyrinth they feel more empowered to find and do the work for which their soul longs. The gazebo offers a lovely tranquil view across neighbouring farmland and mountains, and is a fitting reminder of the name the Houchen family have adopted for their farm – Tirohanga – the raised place from where we can pause and with fresh vision see beyond the immediate concerns to that which calls us forward.