J.C Watts-Russell (1825 – 1875) & Alfred Creyke (1831 – 1892)

You couldn’t have had two closer friends than J.C. (pictured) and Alfred. The grew up together as their fathers were friends, owned land together, married the same women, travelled together and are even buried in the same cemetery in Upper Riccarton, Christchurch. It’s the land these men owned that puts them on the map…the suburb of Ilam.

As Jesse Watts-Russell helped to build the Ilam Hall in Staffordshire, England, maybe he dreamed of better for his son J.C. He sure helped him on his way by purchasing 500 acres from the Canterbury Association for the new colony of Christchurch. 10 acres of this was in Lyttelton and the rest would become known as Ilam. 1850 would be a huge year for J.C.; he married Elizabeth Bradshaw and the newly weds were among the passengers of the Sir George Seymour, one of the first four ships to Lyttelton.

I’m sure the first transaction of business J.C. did was buy the Morven Hill Run – situated in Annat – from William and John Deans in 1851. The brothers property in Riccarton neighboured his, which was Ilam, back in Christchurch. J.C. renamed the land Dalethorpe after his family’s property back in Staffordshire. The Deans sold the run to help pay for the legal battles they were having with The Canterbury Assocation over Riccarton. With now three plots of land, I’m sure J.C. was glad to see his friend Alfred Creyke arrived in Lyttelton the same year and the two went into business together.

Alfred became the manager of Dalethorpe. While many other farmers made their start with crops, the pair made their living in cattle and horses. However, there was one BAD decision they made; Rabbits. Managing Dalethorpe didn’t stop Alfred from purchasing his own land. He was the first owner of Racecourse Hill.

The old Racecourse Hill Homestead is now a part of the ‘The Oaks of Darfield’.  It had been cut in half amazingly. The left half of this home became The Oaks of Darfield and the right half was relocated to Bleakhouse Road – about 15kms away. On hunting for the right-hand side of this old place, I was told it had burnt down and no sign of it remains.

The Oaks of Darfield sits on State Highway 73. You drive past it on the way to Sheffield and sits a few driveways from the now Racecourse Hill.   Just recently renamed The Oaks of Darfield, it is about to reopen as a B&B, restaurant and wedding venue!

The Racecourse Hill of today is a beautiful 9 bedroom home damaged with the earthquakes. The house has not been red-stickered and after months of no interest in the place, it is now being fully restored,

Racecourse Hill and Homebush (who are neighbours) have always had a good history together. Norah Knight was living at Racecourse Hill with her family around the time of World War One. Norah married Alister Deans in 1915 and the two started a family at Alister’s farm of Morven. Morven was once a part of Homebush. While Norah was carrying their second child, Alister went off to fight in World War One where he lost his life. I’m sure Norah was greatly comforted that her family were just 3 miles away at Racecourse Hill as she bravely managed Morven with the help of staff. One of their little boys was the famous painter Austen Deans who passed away late last year (2011) at the age of 95.

As Alfred busied himself out in Darfield, the Watts-Russell family settled down in Ilam, building one of the finest homes in Christchurch. The house became the centre of the Christchurch social scene – it was there that James Edward Fitzgerald thought up ‘The Press’ while he was dining there one evening.

J.C. also sold Alfred 10 acres of Ilam in 1858 for £200. It was soon after this that J.C sold off his land and interests (except Ilam) and returned to England. Alfred also returned to England around this time. Tragically, the homestead burnt down in 1910 whilst in the ownership of Countess of Fresnedo.

The Ilam House of today was built in 1914 by Edgar Stead.  The house and the land of Ilam went on to be sold to the Canterbury of University in 1949. The house which is now a Function Centre has been closed since February the 22nd due to the earthquakes…the house has known a darker history though.

Around 1953/54 Ilam House was the home of the Rector of The University of Canterbury. The more modern term of that position is Vice-Chancellor. Henry Hulme was the Rector of the University in 1954 and Ilam House housed his wife Marion and his two children, Juliet and Nicholas. Juliet went on to face a murder charge along side her friend Pauline Parker. The two killed Pauline’s mother in Victoria Park, up on the Port Hills.
Pictured here is actress Kate Winslett as Juliet Hulme in the movie “Heavenly Creatures”. Director Peter Jackson filmed the movie in the actual places where this story unfolded, including Ilam House.
Juliet was arrested at the old house the morning after the murder.

On the 10 acres that Alfred brought off J.C., he built a grand homestead that he called Okeover. He named it after the Okeover Hall back in Staffordshire.
Alfred also owned land in Kaiapoi, Linwood and Sydenham. In fact, the land he owned in Linwood stretched from Linwood Road back to Ferry Road.  The naming of Okeover Street in Linwood acknowledging this history.  Okeover today now houses the Vice Chancellor offices of the University of Canterbury.

After the trip back home to England, they soon returned home to Ilam and Okeover. In 1875, after a short illness, J.C died in his home which was in Cathedral Square. The same year Elizabeth married Alfred Creyke.
In honour of her late husband, a memorial window was erected in the Christchurch Cathedral and at St Peter’s Anglican Church. He is also buried in the graveyard there.
She gave the same honour for Alfred when he died. The western porch of the Cathedral is in his memory. There is also a memorial window at St Peters’, where Alfred is buried.
Elizabeth returned to England for good and died in 1905.

J.C. Watts-Russell’s simple grave at St Peter’s Anglican Church at Church Corner, Upper Riccarton. Alfred Creyke is also buried there but I have been unable to find his stone. There has been a lot of damage including the church falling on some stones while others have fallen face down. So at the moment, he is just missing in action.

These men are remembered in the naming of Ilam Road, Creyke Road (Christchurch & Darfield), Okeover Street and Russell Flats in Annat, Canterbury.

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