The Newnes of St Sebastian’s Road (and why they changed their surname) 

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It was finally when I spotted a lady sitting in the verandah of the house that I gathered the courage to open the gates of Roseville or what I refer to as Newnes Villa. I had mistaken her for the owner or resident of the house. She informed me she was neither, and was, in fact, accompanying her son who was enrolled in a GK class. She shared the owner’s landline number, with a warning: She is stern. Don’t just land up at the house, call first.

I did. Very carefully at 10 am and after several missed meetings finally met Ms Rita Newnes, who was kind enough to not only share her time, but also throw open her home for the blog.

Rita is the daughter-in-law of Egidio Nunes (note the spelling), who built the house in 1928. It was a large family then — five daughters and three sons — she says. She moved to the four-bedroom home in 1968 after marrying Errol. The couple’s two children (Ian and Tracey Ann) today live in Canada (here’s a shoutout to them — I’ve been told they have been waiting to read this, please drop in a hello when you do). They should be house proud too. This ground-plus-one bungalow is a Grade A heritage structure and even the original stained glass is intact.

Rita says that in the first years of her marriage, she and her husband lived in Lagos, Nigeria, where he had a business in lace. “Errol had done a course in lace-making, which was a new concept at the time. He bought a new machines for the business as well,” she adds. The couple returned to Mumbai after three years to take care of their parents.

Rita talks of stories of when the house was built. “There was a bullock cart tied to the chikoo tree there,” she points to the gate. I nod faintly, not sure which one (note to self, brush up on natural heritage as well). “My father-in-law’s father would sit and count the number of times it took while mixing the cement, so that it was perfect. So strong are the walls, that even today when we call a carpenter to drill a hole, it’s more likely that the drilling machine breaks.”

With seven doors, the house is well ventilated. Till 1968, says Rita, there was only one fan in the house. “My in-laws would sleep in the bedroom with all the doors open. There was never a question of safety.”

The family name changed from Nunes (of Portuguese origin) to Newness after Egidio suffered a massive heart attack and survived. “The priest came and told my husband ‘this is your second life’. My father-in-law then celebrated this newness of life by changing his name. He announced it in the papers and changed the plates. The other brother and his family are still Nunes, thought,” Rita adds.

Change in name or not, Rita says a lot of old friends often drop in to say hello and greet the family. “My father-in-law insisted that the kids play in the large area outside the house. So, a lot of people who played here remember this home. They come and say that they can’t help but come to this house when in the area.”

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