Built in 1856, the building known as Riccarton House has significance for its historic association with the Deans family.
In 1843, after having been given permission to squat on the Port Cooper plains by Lieutenant Willoughby Shortland, John and William Deans selected an isolated forest area, Pūtaringamotu, as a suitable location to establish a farm. Although the area surrounding Pūtaringamotu was uninhabited at the time, Ngāi Tahu still held rights to the land and the Deans brothers entered into agreement with them to establish grazing rights.
Both brothers lived in a house (Deans Cottage) which had been built for them in 1843 until William’s death in 1851. Although John selected a site for a new house to be erected prior to his marriage to Jane McIlraith in 1853, he died in the following year before architectural plans could be made.
Following his death, Jane worked with James Johnston, a commercial builder, to design a new two storey house. Construction of the first section of the house, the present east wing, began in 1855 and was completed in 1856.
Facing north, the house consisted of two wings and two floors. On the ground floor were located two bedrooms, a kitchen, a parlour, a morning room and a lobby. The second floor consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom. Mataī was used for the framing, while the weatherboards and roof shingles were kahikatea. Of the original house, only the upstairs bedrooms, morning room and parlour remain.
In 1874 a second section was built to accommodate guests for the twenty first birthday of John Deans (junior), the only child of John and Jane Deans.
The 1874 addition was erected to the southeast of the original building. The ground floor featured a dining room and a bathroom, while the first floor consisted of a bedroom and a bathroom. A dormer window was added to the upstairs bedroom of the original house and a bay window was added to the eastern façade of the parlour. The architect for this section was William Marley and the builder was most likely George Rankin. This resulted in less than adequate workmanship.
In 1900 John Deans was gifted money by his uncle, James Deans in Scotland to improve his family situation. This endowment allowed him to add further extensions to the house. The architect who oversaw this addition was Robert William England of the firm England Brothers.
Out of respect for his mother, John retained the eastern half of the original 1856 house. The original western wing, however, was removed. The new section of the house faced north with a grand verandah and balcony. The interior of this section consisted of an entrance hall, a drawing room and three bedrooms on the upper floor. Behind this addition, with rooflines running north to south, was another wing with servant quarters, a nursery, a store room, a kitchen and, on the upper floor, six bedrooms.
After the death of John Deans (junior) in 1902, and Jane Deans in 1911, the wife of John, Edith, remained living at Riccarton House until her own death in 1937. After Edith’s death, the house was seldom occupied and in 1943 it was used as accommodation by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
In 1947 the house and the property were purchased by the Christchurch City Council and in the 1960s it was converted into a function centre. This resulted in internal modifications which were unsympathetic to the heritage fabric. The house was eventually restored in 1992 and further restoration (of the servant quarters) took place in 2000. In the following year, the exterior of the house was repainted to match its 1900 colour scheme.
The house was damaged after the February 2011 earthquakes. It underwent restoration and earthquake strengthening before reopening in 2014.