Napier – New Zealand’s architectural gem

A vintage car in downtown Napier, New Zealand.

I have been lucky enough to spend a great deal of time in New Zealand, a country that will always be very special to me. The following article appeared in Oberoi Magazine.

On the morning of 3 February 1931, people in the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand’s North Island woke to what seemed like a particularly calm day, although the summer heat felt oppressive, as though a storm was brewing. One peculiarity noticed by several residents of the seaside town of Napier was that the sea was a strange colour. As they ate their breakfast or took early morning walks, they were unaware that their life was about to change forever. At around 10:46am, the earth heaved and shuddered. The second shock was even more violent and the earth seemed to rip apart. Freda Sharp, a schoolgirl in Napier, wrote to her relatives in England that “the ground came up in mountains beneath our feet”.

The earthquake, which reached 7.8 on the Richter Scale, lasted for just under three minutes, but it – and the ensuing fires – devastated the region. 256 people were killed and thousands more injured. Throughout New Zealand, many of the buildings had been created by European architects, settlers who had no concept of the need to create earthquake-proof buildings. 

An Art Deco building in Napier, New Zealand

Before the earthquake, Napier hadresembled other fairly prosperous New Zealand towns, its architecture a mixture of styles, having grown up and been added to with every new influx of settlers. Immediately after the earthquake, with thousands of people in temporary accommodation and so many surviving buildings now declared unsafe, the town desperately needed rebuilding. While much of the world, including New Zealand, was struggling under the Great Depression, architects and builders were starved of work. There was little money to spare and the lavish building projects of the 1920s had been replaced by the belt-tightening of the 1930s. Napier, however, needed to be reinvented. One of Napier’s home-grown architects was Louis Hay, who was enamoured of the very fashionable style of Art Deco. Hay helped to rebuild Napier meaning that New Zealand now boasts one of the world’s most complete Art Deco towns – and a place where, uniquely, Art Deco design incorporates Maori patterns.

Street art in Napier, New Zealand, depictng a 1920s scene of a woman and child waiting for a tram.

Today, Napier makes the most of its iconic 1930s architecture, a time period still redolent of glamour and glitz – despite the Great Depression. The town’s now-famous buildings draw as many tourists as the nearby wildlife and wineries. Every February, the town hosts its hugely popular annual Art Deco festival, which began as a relatively humble affair in 1989, but now lasts for five days and draws tens of thousands of visitors every year. It’s one of those occasions where people notin fancy dress are the ones who look ridiculous. People aren’t the only attendees to arrive in droves: magnificent vintage cars are shipped by enthralled owners from all over the world, just so they can take part in the parade. 

The Art Deco Daily Telegraph building in Napier, New Zealand.

Whatever time of the year you visit, you can join an Art Deco walking tour, or enjoy a journey around the town in a stylish Art Deco-era car, both of which are run by the Art Deco Trust. There are also self-guided walks and driving guides for the region – and if you’ve hired a car, travel on to Hastings, 20 kms from Napier, which also boasts its own post-earthquake Art Deco buildings.

The region is also rightly famed for its wineries. Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second-largest wine-producing region, and one of the oldest wine-growing areas in the country. The first vines were planted here in 1851, by missionaries. Since then almost 40 wineries have grown up in Hawkes Bay. The region also has beaches, wetlands, hiking trails and it boasts the world’s largest and most accessible mainland gannet colony: the fabulously named Cape Kidnappers. 

The waterfront in Napier, New Zealand

Amongst the historic buildings to be visited in Napier are the Daily Telegraph building, the National Tobacco Company Building, the Masonic Hotel, the ASB bank, and the Art Deco Centre (formerly the Napier Fire Station), which is where the Art Deco tours begin. When you’re walking through Napier, along the pretty walking and biking trail known as Marine Parade, you will also discover a fascinating stucture: the Soundshell. Its design was inspired by the glamour of 1930s Hollywood. The Soundshell was built in 1935 and became a centre of town life and especially of teen life, because its collonaded courtyard provided a dancefloor that doubled as a rollerskating arena. Walk a short distance from the Soundshell to find the tourist information centre, where you can book winery tours, wildlife tours – and encounter possibly the world’s most friendly tourist information staff.

To find out more about Napier visit

To find out more about visiting New Zealand go to

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The Life and Lies of Augustus Dickens

In the 1850s, Augustus, the youngest brother of Charles Dickens, abandoned his wife in London and ran away to America with his pregnant girlfriend. He was barely spoken about in the family again. A few years ago, I travelled to Chicago to research what had happened to my great x4 uncle and Bertha, the woman who had been brave enough to run away with him. Join me for this online talk and find out about the life and quite extraordinary lies of Augustus – the original owner of the nickname ‘Boz’. 

It’s happening on Tues 26 Jan, at 6pm UK time, but joinable from anywhere in the world

Augustus Newnham Dickens, younger brother of Charles Dickens
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A Very Country Christmas

I was also lucky enough to meet the fab Ellie Harrison and film in Malton in Yorkshire for the BBC’s ‘A Very Country Christmas’. It’s available to watch in the UK on BBC iPlayer

Outside the Counting House Museum in Malton, Yorkshire.
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Paul O’Grady’s Broadstairs

In between lockdowns, I managed to do some filming, including working with the lovely Paul O’Grady on his Great British Escapes programme, for ITV. It’s available to watch on catch up.

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Secrets and Surprises…

My next event in the #InConversationWith series is ‘Secrets and Surprises in Biography’, with fellow author Julie Summers, on 22 September. This is an online event, starting at 7pm UK time, but joinable from all over the world. Tickets and more information are available on Eventbrite: The event itself will take place on Zoom (NB you cannot access the event through the Eventbrite website, that’s only a platform for buying tickets.)

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Eastbourne talk postponed

Today I should have been giving a talk about my book ‘Elizabeth Revealed’ at the lovely Langham Hotel in Eastbourne. Sadly, for obvious reasons, we’ve had to postpone it, BUT my author talk will be happening in 2021! (FYI, isn’t this book jacket gorgeous? Well done to the team at Scala books and HRP publishing.)

Book jacket for Elizabeth Revealed by Lucinda Hawksley.
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Online talk: A hairy history of art!

Come on a pogonographic journey into the history of facial hair in art! A few years ago I was commissioned to give several lectures and tours of the National Portrait Gallery about hairy history, and this resulted in my book Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards, inspired by the gallery’s collection. It’s a fun look at history of art as well as the social history of bewhiskered men and women, taking place on Thursday 30 July, at 6pm UK time – but joinable from all over the world. You can book tickets by following the Eventbrite link: Or by searching for “hairy history” on your Eventbrite app.

Once you have booked a ticket, please wait for an email, which will arrive on time for you to join the talk. That email will contain the zoom joining details of meeting ID and password. Please ensure you check your junk mail folders for the email, thank you. Please note I don’t record my talks, so I’m afraid it won’t be possible to watch the talk later. 

Take care and stay safe in this surreal time.

Moustaches, Whiskers and Beards by Lucinda Hawksley (book jacket)
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De Morgan Foundation talk, 31 July

Last year, I was invited to become a Patron of the De Morgan Foundation. On 31 July, I’m doing my first event for them. Obviously it has to be online, but the great news about that is that you can join from anywhere in the world! I’ll be talking about Lizzie Siddal with Sarah Hardy, from the Foundation. Advance booking is essential:

Book jacket: Lizzie Siddal, the Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel, by Lucinda Hawksley
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Dickens Lost Portrait podcast

If you’re looking for something to listen to during this strange time of lockdown, here’s a link to the podcast I made with Philip Mould, Emma Rutherford and others about the Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens. It’s in 3 episodes.

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Happy Birthday Dickens!

Happy birthday to my great great great grandfather: Charles Dickens was born on 7 February 1812. Find out more in my book, which is available from the Charles Dickens Museum bookshop and all other good #bookshops, as well as online.

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Top Podcasts of 2019!

So pleased to see that my podcast “The Real Sherlock” made it into this article in Good Housekeeping Magazine:

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Victorian Radicals in Texas

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas, which is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Victorian Radicals, including many items from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in England.

I was invited to give development training to the musem’s docents about the Aesthetic movement and to give a public lecture on Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites, which was a packed house!

Thank you San Antonio, for making me so welcome. What a beautiful place. If you’re in Texas, make sure you visit the exhibition. You won’t be disappointed.

The image shows the interior of the San Antonio Museumn of Art with the exhibition banner for Victorian Radicals: from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement, as well as a banner showing the image of Medea by Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys.
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Dickens in Texas

I am very pleased to have been invited back to Galveston, Texas, for this year’s Dickens on the Strand festival. It is taking place on 6-8 December. Come along and raise money for the architectural charity, the Galveston Historical Foundation, which has helped to save and preserve so many 19th-century buildings. (Yes, I know the sunglasses in this photo aren’t very authentic, but they were necessary!)

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Meeting Fagin’s descendant

When I was in Sydney for the NSW Dickens Conference, I was fortunate to meet a number of great people, including the Australian authors Tom Keneally and Kate Forsyth. This photo is of me and Scott Whitmont, a bookseller and writer, who has a close connection to Dickensian history. Scott is the great great great nephew of Ikey Solomons, one of the inspirations used by my great great great grandfather Charles Dickens when he created the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist!

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Walk Charles Dickens’s London

If you’re planning a trip to London – or if you live there! – my downloadable walking tour works with your smartphone and takes you on a journey from Dickens’s first adult home, to the Charles Dickens Museum via many of the London streets and sites from which he took inspiration. It is available to download from Voice Map:

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Te Papa, Wellington

On 26 January, I’ll be talking about my book ‘Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper and Arsenic in the Victorian Home’ at Te Papa in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets and more info here:

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“16 facts about HM The Queen”

This Historic Royal Palaces blog is taken from my new book, Elizabeth Revealed


You can buy my book from good bookshops or online from the publisher:

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Elizabeth Revealed

This is my new book! Elizabeth Revealed: 500 Facts about the Queen and her World is available now worldwide, published by Scala together with Historic Royal Palaces. You should be able to get it at your local bookshop, or you can order it online here: (isn’t this a beautiful book jacket?)

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Princess Louise on Audible

On 12 June, my biography of Princess Louise will be available on Audible (& you can pre-order it now):

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Also Festival

Tickets are now on sale for Also Festival, 29 June-1 July, “the best independent ideas festival in the country” – and I’ll be speaking there. (Wellies at the ready, just in case….) Find out more here:

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My new book on Katey Dickens Perugini

I have fully updated my 2006 biography of Kate Perugini (née Dickens). Katey, as I came to know her, was a superb artist and a central figure in the late 19th-century art world; she was also my great great great aunt. This updated version was made possible by the many kind people who contacted me after reading my first edition of the book to share news about previously ‘lost’ paintings. Researching Katey again has been so fascinating. Her new biography is being published by Pen and Sword on 30 April 2018. If you order it in advance (link below), you will get a discount of £3:

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Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards in Auckland

I am very happy to have been invited to take part in the Auckland Writers’ Festival in May. One of my events is a talk on my NPG book Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards, tickets go on sale today:

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© Lucinda Hawksley 2022. Last updated 24 March 2022.