Nelson Women's Club


The Nelson Women’s Club is formed

On Monday 26th July 1926, sixty ladies of Nelson gathered in the afternoon in the Haeremai Room of the building at 296 Trafalgar Street, Nelson City, on the site formerly occupied by the Nelson Institute, for the purpose of inaugurating a Womens’ Club.  Present were women from prominent families whose descendants are still here in Nelson today.

Womens Club Trafalgar St c1915View looking north along Trafalgar Street from Church Steps towards the Post Office. F.N.Jones, c.1915. Nelson Provincial Museum 309991
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From the outset, a formal meeting process was followed.  Mrs C.R. Fell was elected to chair the meeting, and the motion by Mrs W. Rout that a Womens’ Club be formed, was seconded by Mrs Gibbs, and carried by the ladies present.  Officers of the Club were elected – President Mrs Gibbs; five Vice-Presidents; Committee of ten, and the annual subscription was set at £2.2.0.  The subscription would be without entrance fee, for those on the list of ‘original members’, i.e. those present at this meeting, and for all those applying, subject to ballot, before 1 September 1926.  

The committee was instructed to draw up rules along the lines of the Otago Womens’ Club, and the meeting was adjourned till 4 August 1926 at 7.30pm.  In preparation for the General Meeting in nine days’ time the committee met and a Secretary and treasurer were appointed; a bank account set up with trustees recommended by the bank manager; suitable possible club rooms identified; and Club Rules prepared, which were later ratified at the adjourned General Meeting on 4 August 1926.  64 members were elected.

Club rooms

The City Council offered the Haeremai Rooms, basically the present rooms, at a rental of 35/- per week, on a three year lease.  The Council offered to effect repairs to the value of £100.  A Furnishing Committee was formed and it was decided to issue debentures for £300 of £1 each at 5% for items to furnish the rooms.

In October it was decided to “open” on 17 November 1926, when the furnishing would be finished.  On the opening day, the president was “At Home” to members in the afternoon from 3.30pm to 5.30pm, and in the evening from 8pm to 11pm to members and one man friend.  The Mia Mia tearooms catered for 300.  The president provided entertainment in the afternoon and the committee provided the evening entertainment.  Vitetta Brothers played for one hour at each function.

Traditions of The Nelson Womens’ Club

The Bridge Circle was the first to form in December 1926. In February 1927 Drama, Garden, Arts and Crafts, French and Literary Circles were formed, and so the life of the Club really got under way.

Nelson Womens Club NEMNelson Women's Club launch. Nelson Evening Mail 28 July, 1926
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A tradition of the wives of Governors General being Patronesses of the Club began, with the invitation to Lady Alice Fergusson to take the role. She accepted in May 1927 after the Incorporation of the Club and its affiliation with the New Zealand Federation of Womens’ Clubs.

The Club had 13 Patronesses, who were wives of the current Governor General. This ended when Dame Catherine Tizard became Governor General, when the chain was broken.  The photographs given to the Club by these ladies are on display in the Club rooms.

Becoming owners of the building

The Nelson Women’s Club took over the lease of the upstairs floor of the building in August 1926, and successfully ran the Club for 39 years as tenants of the Nelson City Council. In 1965 Nelson City Council wanted to sell the building; Club members of the 1965 era took up the challenge and bought the premises, despite the only income being from subscriptions. The original subscription was £2.2.0 – in today’s money that would be $189.69.  A much lower annual subscription, currently $65, is set today. The purchase of the building by the Club was funded by debentures raised by individual members.

Nelson womens clubPhoto: Martin de Ruyter in 'Meet You At the Church Steps - A Social History of a Nelson Landmark' by Karen Stade, 2013.
Click image to enlarge

The Club celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2011 and were proud of what had been achieved by volunteers since purchasing the building in 1965. Successive presidents and executive committees, volunteers all, have run a business with responsibilities for maintenance, employment, and governance issues and accountability as landowners and landlords, plus the continued enjoyment of the members.  Long hours of voluntary labour have willingly been given by these people, and the general membership, to keep the Nelson Women’s Club and all its Circles afloat and flourishing.

The continual need for maintenance of the exterior and interior of the building, furniture and furnishings could not have been handled from subscription income alone.  There have been high and low points as building owners, and huge fund-raising efforts -  the major one being to fund the strengthening of the south wall to the seismic requirements of the 1990’s (nearly $86,000 was the cost). This was completed in June 1992.

Good management of the Club, owning the building, and having good tenants whose rent has assisted the Club to maintain the high standard of facilities for members to enjoy today, have meant the Club is in good shape to last a lot longer.

The history of the building at 294 Trafalgar Street

Located in Town Acre 445 the site was the first location, on land, of the Nelson Institute, first called The Literary, Scientific and Philosophic Institution of Nelson. This was formed on board the ships ‘Whitby’ and ‘Will-Watch’ in May 1841 in the Bay of Biscay, on their way to Nelson.  Late in 1842 the “Nelson Institute” took up residence on the site, in a single storey building, starting Nelson’s first library, and subsequently incorporating a museum. In 1844 the Institute had 60 members, though membership was not open to women at this stage. By 1861 it had outgrown the initial premises and relocated to Hardy Street.

On 14 April 1897, Margaret Vining, wife of William Graham Malone Vining, acquired title to the land, and the Vinings built the building the Club occupies today.  Originally Mr Vining operated a piano showroom and cycle shop; and in 1901 the building was extended at the rear for a car showroom, repair depot and garage, which later moved to Montgomery Square.  Other occupants of the building, prior to the Nelson City Council buying it in November 1925 were Fredric Higgins, draper, and F.A. Palmer cycle importer.

Nelson City Council operated a gas showroom on the ground floor of the building, and the Nelson Women’s Club became the building’s owner from 1965.

There have been various tenants of the downstairs shop-front area, commencing with the Nelson City Council gas showroom, some of whom are:

  • Tudor House China & Crystal showroom, owned by Wattie Gibson and Ted Hockey; which subsequently moved down Trafalgar Street to approximately where Glassons is today.
  • The “Chez Eelco” coffee bar and art gallery of Eelco Boswijk, from 1961 until his retirement in 2001, was famous for Eelco’s great hospitality, long hours of opening, and being one of the earliest cafes in New Zealand to have footpath table and chairs.
  • Kirsten Boswijk, Eelco’s daughter ran a café from 2001 to 2004.
  • The late Graham Barker ran a café called “The Chez” on the site for a short time during 2004.
  • “House of Ales” Café and Bar was run by Barry McCann from late 2004 until his enterprise ended in receivership in 2010.
  • Harrys, run by Howard Morris and Rob Fanselow relocated from their previous site in Hardy Street in 2011 and remained there until 2018. This was replaced by Harry's Hawker House run by Matt Bouterey in 2018.

The Club has many photographic records of historic interest and has been well served by gifts and bequests from past members.

For more information contact the Nelson Women’s Club

2011 (edited April 2020)

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