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Chris Mathers and daughter Madie, 10, in the re-creation of his grandfather’s basement workshop.

The Wellington man with a time capsule in his basement

Chris Mathers has kept more than memories of his late grandfather.

“You even got the smell of the old place!” exclaimed Chris Mathers’ mother, Leigh, when she stepped inside a re-creation of her father’s basement workshop, in a new location across town.

Bill Hendry was a Wellington shipwright. He bought a house in Lyall Bay for his family in 1941, and spent much of his time downstairs, building model ships in what today would be called a nautical-themed ‘man cave’. After Hendry died, grandson Chris bought the house in 2004 and lived there for six years.

“I’d often find myself going down to the basement to get something and end up spending an hour or so searching through Grandad’s treasure trove, only to return upstairs forgetting whatever it was I originally went looking for,” he says.

When Mathers decided it was time to sell up and move on, he was determined to take the collection of tools, photographs and model ships with him. Fortuitously, his signwriting business was also on the move, shifting to a larger workshop at Rongotai. “It was perfect timing. I decided to relocate the entire basement.”

With archaeological precision, he measured, photographed and numbered everything. Only then was the basement painstakingly deconstructed, and the giant jigsaw puzzle reassembled inside the new workshop space. “Everything is exactly as Grandad left it,” says Mathers, who aged the paint to complement the original linoleum.

He also kept the Bakelite plugs and light fittings. Even the old radios still work. “The first time our daughter Madie saw the relocated basement, she did a double-take! She was only two and a half, but must have remembered the old place.”

Today, it’s a time capsule from another age, where everything was handmade. “Back then, you couldn’t just nip down to Bunnings and buy a grinder, a bandsaw or a drop-down vice – you had to make it.” That’s what Hendry did and everything still works perfectly. “It’s not just an exhibit,” says Mathers. “It’s alive and well. I use it all the time.”

More photos of the workshop

This article was first published in the August 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories about life in NZ.