When ‘Herbert Gardens’ was actually the Herberts’ garden

Many Wellingtonians will be familiar with Herbert Gardens, a striking mid-century modernist apartment building located at 186 The Terrace, next to the top end of Boulcott Street leading to the motorway on-ramp.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Biggs, Power and Clark in the early 1960s and built between 1963 and 1965.

Herbert Gardens (c. 1980), photo by Charles Fearnley

One can only imagine the impact the building had when it opened; at the time of construction the Terrace was still dotted from end to end with wooden colonial villas and only two modern office buildings (Shell House and Massey House) had been completed.   This was also an era when the inner-city population was in rapid decline as people moved out to the suburbs, shops were closed on weekends, ‘six o’clock closing’ was still in force and Wellington’s first and only so-called ‘supermarket’ was little more than a medium-sized grocery store on Willis Street.  With that in mind, the development firm of Winchester Developments Ltd took on a degree of risk in believing that there would be enough people interested in European-style apartment living at a time when inner-city culture and atmosphere was anything but ‘vibrant’. The name the developers decided to give to their venture commemorated the former owners of the large house which once existed on the site and (as the name suggests) their well-known and much-loved garden. 

Bowen Hospital, c. 1970. Photo by Charles Fearnley

Dr William E Herbert was born in central Otago in 1872. He studied at both Otago University and the famous medical school at Edinburgh University before settling in Wellington where he established a small private practice as well as working at Wellington Hospital. After a visit to the United States where he was impressed with what he saw as a much more efficient way of delivering health care, he formed a business partnership with Dr Henry Hardwick-Smith and in 1912 they established what was then Wellington’s first ‘modern’ private hospital in Bowen Street. Though the hospital buildings were demolished in the early 1970s for the construction of the Treasury headquarters, the original name of the institution continues to live on after Bowen Hospital became a charitable trust and relocated to Crofton Downs.  It was during the 1920s that William and his wife Florence moved into the large mansion at 186 The Terrace which had been owned by her parents, her father being the wealthy businessman and hotelier, Hamilton Gilmer. Likely built in the 1880s, it was located at the front of a one-acre section with the back of the land parcel dropping down into a natural valley where the Kumutoto river flowed and which later became known as Herbert Gully.  They set about landscaping and planting the section behind the house and transforming it into what was regarded as one of the finest private gardens in inner-Wellington. The Herberts had long been involved with charity and philanthropic causes, raising large sums of money to build Wellington’s children’s hospital and to purchase some of NZ’s first radiotherapy machines used for treating cancer, so it followed that they would use and showcase their garden for charitable purposes. 

In early 1934, The Social Review reported such an event; a garden party raising funds for Wellington Free Kindergarten.  Highlights included a fashion show featuring new work by the local clothing designer Mary Garden, a performance by a dance group and a display of “relaxation exercises  demonstrated in a reclining position”.  Though her husband died unexpectedly in 1933, ‘Florrie’ Herbert remained living in the house, outliving her husband by almost 30 years until her death in 1961. Soon after the mansion was demolished and planning and construction of the apartment building began.

The northern portal of the Terrace Tunnel under construction, 1975, just a few meters south of where the gardens were once located.

Photos from this period in the late 1960s  show the original gardens still existing and though they were in a state of disrepair, they would have provided a quiet outdoor area for the apartment building’s early residents. However, it was to be a short-lived peace; almost exactly the same time as the building was completed, the final route of the Wellington Urban Motorway was confirmed. Most of what remained of the gardens were compulsorily acquired by the National Roads Board and in the mid 1970s they were dug out to create the section of the motorway which leads to the northern portal of the Terrace Tunnel. However, now clad in regenerating native bush, a small section of the original garden remains for residents of the apartments to enjoy to this day.

2ZB and the ‘Golden Age’ of Radio

This souvenir publication, now on Wellington City Recollect, offers a nostalgic look at the ‘Golden Age’ of radio in Wellington. It was printed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of 2ZB which began in April 1937. Broadcasting from their studios in the Hope Gibbons building on the corner of Dixon and Taranaki streets, 2ZB took advantage of the new transmission facility at Titahi Bay which had opened just months before the radio station began. Its superior location over the former principal transmission site on top of Mt Victoria meant that the entire region could pick up the 2ZB signal during the day and this range extended at night to include most of the bottom half of the North Island and the top half of the South Island. Remarkably, its second massive valve-powered AM transmitter installed in the 1940s was still in use and broadcasting on 1035 kHz from Titahi Bay  into the 2000s when it was finally replaced with a modern solid-state unit. 2ZB was the first ‘commercial’ radio station in Wellington but rather than being privately owned,  it operated as a branch of the National Broadcasting Service (later to become the NZ Broadcasting Corporation and then Radio New Zealand).

The ‘First Lady of Radio’, Aunt Daisy

It proved to be extremely popular and many of its announcers (the most famous being Maud Basham, aka ‘Aunt Daisy’ aka the ‘First Lady of Radio’) were feted as major celebrities by the public. Companies flocked to advertise on the radio station and it became very profitable for the NBS. Before the advent of reliable recording technology, advertisements were often performed live in separate studios and many Wellington actors began or supplemented their careers voicing advertisements in the form of short skits. Though they were expensive items, a radio became the appliance that every family wanted to own and in many cases they would have been regarded as the most valuable item in the household. In the mid-late 1930s, a basic five-valve shelf or ‘mantle’ radio would have cost about £10 (about $1000 today) but a ‘luxury’ floor-standing model with seven or more valves, shortwave reception, hand-crafted woodwork and superior sound quality could easily cost £20 or even £30 for an imported English model.  Radio manufacturing became a significant local industry with a number of factories based around the Courtenay Place area and specialist radio retailers and repair shops became ubiquitous throughout the city and suburbs. 

A long-line radio aerial above a house in Luxford Street, Berhampore, 1929.

Self-installed long-wire aerials were a common sight on Wellington houses and in their backyards. These greatly improved the reception of local stations but were essential for listening to shortwave broadcasts at a time when stations like the BBC and Radio Australia were some of the few reliable sources of international news available during a period when overseas news coverage in daily newspapers was limited.  

2ZB continued to be the most popular radio station in Wellington for decades but it was an end of an era in 1993 when the original call sign was dropped as the station’s name and was replaced with ‘Newstalk ZB’. In 1996 the NZ Government sold off Radio New Zealand’s commercial stations and Newstalk ZB came under the ownership of the Australian-owned conglomerate, The Radio Network which in turn became New Zealand Media and Entertainment Ltd in 2014 (better known today as ‘NZME’).  Though it can now also be heard on FM and online, the station continues to provide an AM transmission on 1035 kHz frequency, slightly offset in the 1970s from 1120 kHz  that it began broadcasting on over 80 years ago.    

The day the Empress came to town

In late 1937, an exciting news announcement quickly spread across Wellington; the RMS Empress of Britain was going to visit the city the following year. Launched in 1930, she was one of the largest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liners of the period.

Only slightly smaller than the Titanic, her design incorporated lessons learnt from the tragic sinking of that ship and included double-steel plating to deal with the ice-infested waters which were common on her main Atlantic run between England and Canada.  As trans-Atlantic passenger numbers would fall dramatically each winter and the freezing of the St Lawrence River made Canadian port access difficult, towards the end of each year she would be seasonally converted into a luxury cruise liner and it was in this capacity that she visited New Zealand.

She first visited Sydney and Melbourne where hundreds of thousands of spectators turned out to see the ship. Then on 6th April 1938 she crossed the Tasman Sea, heading first for Milford Sound which had been promoted to passengers as the highlight of the cruise, before coming to Wellington. As the vessel approached NZ, much was made of her size and technology. Readers of newspapers were advised of how passengers could make a ship-to-shore phone call to London if they wished…at a cost of £3/12 for a three-minute conversation, the equivalent today of around NZ $400! Features included a regulation size tennis court, picture theatres and a ‘country fair’ with a coconut shy, hoopla stalls and a fortune teller. There were 390 staff employed in the catering department alone, while the ship’s three great white funnels could be used as a beacon in emergencies; when illuminated by powerful flood lamps they could be seen by other vessels 50km away. When she arrived in Wellington on the morning of Sunday 10th April 1938 (thankfully a calm sunny day) excitement was at a fever-pitch. A live radio commentary from Mt Victoria commenced on Radio 2YA as soon as she was spotted off the Wellington heads and thousands of people lined the shore and hillsides to catch a glimpse of what was then the largest passenger vessel ever to enter the harbour. That afternoon there was a radio broadcast of a live concert given by the ship’s orchestra, while what was said to be “the wealthiest and most distinguished aggregation of passengers ever to visit Wellington” toured the city. Car-owning locals picked up random passengers from Pipitea Wharf, inviting them to their homes and driving them all over the region to show them the sights. When she departed that evening just after 11pm, songs were sung, thousands of streamers were thrown from the deck by passengers and Oriental Bay was jammed with cars lined up nose-to-bumper with all of them sounding their horns to echo the horn blasts coming from the ship.

After being converted into a troop carrier for World War II, she made another brief visit to Wellington in May 1940 to transport New Zealand soldiers to the UK. Unlike her visit two years earlier, wartime restrictions meant that this time there was no public announcement, no media coverage and not even a simple listing in the Evening Post’s daily ‘shipping news’ column. With all of the secretive war-related shipping activity that was happening in the harbour at the time, many in the city may have been unaware that the great ship had returned.  However, five months later came some shocking news that was reported and which likely would have had some people in the city in tears; on 26th October 1940 the Empress of Britain was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-Boat. She was the largest passenger vessel lost during the war and the largest vessel of any kind to be sunk by a U-Boat. 

The hand-tinted photo above captures the ship tied up at Pipitea Wharf on the evening of 10th April 1938 shortly before its departure to Auckland (by coincidence, this was 30 years to the day before the storm that resulted in the sinking of the TSS Wahine).  Pipitea wharf no longer exists after it was demolished for the construction of the container wharf in the late 1960s but it was located just north of the Wellington Railway Station. You can see the photo in full detail and read more about the port’s activities during this period in this Handbook of the Wellington Harbour Board which has been digitised on our Recollect site.

 

How Crofton Downs got its name

Crofton before restoration in 1978. Photo by Charles Fearnley

The Wellington suburb of Crofton Downs is known for its steep hills, shopping centre and how several of its streets are named after Winston Churchill (e.g. Winston Street, Churchill Drive, Spencer Street and Downing Street). However, the origin of the suburb’s name can be found in neighbouring Ngaio. Tucked away at the back of a section on the eastern side of Kenya Street lies a house (once part of a larger estate) called ‘Crofton’.  Seen today from the street, at a glance you could be forgiven for thinking that it is an example of a 1970s or 1980s faux-colonial cottage, the style of which was popular with house builders during that period. In fact Crofton is one of the oldest surviving houses in Wellington and its early history is connected with some of New Zealand’s most significant figures from the Victorian period.

The house was built in 1857 for William Fox, one of the most polarising NZ politicians of the 19th century. Born in 1812 in County Durham, he started his working life in the UK as a lawyer, moved into journalism, immigrated in 1842 to Wellington where he helped manage the New Zealand Company and finally drifted into politics. As an indication of how tumultuous the political scene was the time, Fox became Premier (i.e. Prime Minister) on four separate occasions between 1856 and 1873. His longest period as ‘PM’ was just over three years but his shortest was only two weeks! Crofton may have been used by Fox and his family as a weekend retreat when they were in Wellington (his parliamentary seat was actually Rangitikei and the town of Foxton is named after him).

Letter from Octavius Hadfield to his sister Octavia dated 1866 mentioning his son Henry attending Crofton School

In 1864 the house and land was sold to the first Bishop of Wellington, Charles Abraham. He established a ‘grammar’ boarding school on the site, essentially one of the first serious attempts of an institution providing formal secondary education to teenage boys in Wellington. One of its pupils was Henry Hadfield, the first-born son of the missionary Octavius Hadfield. We recently discovered several references to Henry’s education at Crofton in the letters Octavius wrote to his family back in England. These were later repatriated back to NZ, gifted to Wellington City Libraries by Henry’s sister in 1951 and have now been digitised on our Recollect site (click on the caption to see more). Little snippets include how Henry grew quickly and was physically strong for a boy of his age but took a while to find his feet academically and socially. Meanwhile, his father often wondered how he was going to pay his son’s school fees on a reverend’s salary. It is likely that Octavius would have made the journey to Crofton with his son many times via the tortuously steep Old Porirua Road, especially when his friend Rev. Henry Woodford St. Hill purchased the school and became its headmaster.  The school closed in 1875 after Wellington College opened on its current site with much better facilities and easier access. The original 14 acres of land which surrounded the house was gradually sub-divided and sold off and the house became a normal residential property.

Its location was originally called Upper Kaiwarra (a corruption of Kaiwharawhara) but in the 1870s the suburb took on the name of the house and the whole area became known as Crofton. Confusingly, around this time William Fox created another estate also called Crofton not far from Marton in Rangitikei which he hoped to develop into a ‘temperance’ (i.e. alcohol free) township. With mailed letters continually ending up in the wrong place, in 1908 the suburb changed its name to Ngaio after the species of tree which are abundant in the area and ‘Crofton’ fell into disuse. Then in the 1950s, a neighbouring semi-rural area was developed after the addition of a train stop to help make it attractive to commuters and the name re-emerged as the suburb of Crofton Downs. As to the source of the original name that William Fox gave his property, the most likely explanation is that it came from the small village of Crofton in Wiltshire where his wife Sarah Halcomb was possibly born or her family may have owned land. As village lacked a church, she was christened in the neighbouring town of Marlborough only a few kilometres away in 1816.

The Octavius Hadfield Collection

Wellington City Libraries is proud to launch an online, digitised collection of correspondence from one of New Zealand’s most significant missionaries and supporters of Māori rights, Octavius Hadfield.

Octavius Hadfield Papers on Recollect

These original letters and diary extracts were gifted to Wellington City Libraries by his daughter, Amelia Caroline Hadfield, in 1951 and are now easily available to read for the first time as part of our heritage database, Wellington City Recollect.

Hadfield arrived in New Zealand shortly before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and soon made his way to Kāpiti. There he befriended Te Rauparaha and was able to prevent the great warrior making a retalitory attack on Wellington following the Wairau ‘Affray’ of 1843. Te Rauparaha and his son Tāmihana later encouraged Hadfield to establish the Rangiātea church in Otaki. He worked closely with Māori communities, introducing them to farming to allow them to engage with the settler economy and became a fierce critic of the NZ Government because of their actions in causing the NZ Wars. Despite many Europeans turning against him and even accusing him of treason, in 1870 Hadfield became the second Bishop of Wellington and then in 1890 he was elected to head the Anglican Church as Primate of New Zealand.

These letters are amoung our most valuable taonga and offer a fascinating insight into the mind and thinking of one of the greatest New Zealanders of the colonial period. Each document includes a full transcription.

Discover these taonga and more on Recollect .

Khandallah Heritage Night this week

Come along to the Khandallah Library this Thursday evening (7th November) from 6pm where we will be celebrating the heritage of the greater Onslow area with the rededication  of a memorial scroll in honour of F.L (‘Fanny Louise’) Irvine-Smith.

Born in 1878, Irvine-Smith was a pioneering educationalist who lectured at the Wellington Teachers College and had a notable role in first introducing Māoritanga and NZ History to the primary school curriculum. She is best known for her work as a historian and her book The Streets of my CityFirst published in 1948, her book presented Wellington’s past through a tour of its streets and how they had been named. It was a radical departure from the dry, pedestrian works of local history which had been published to that time and it went on to be re-printed multiple times. However, we remember her for her extraordinary efforts over many years to establish the Khandallah Library. A strong believer in the importance of libraries to the social health of a community, she lobbied the council and walked the streets of the suburb to gather nearly 1300 signatures on a petition supporting the library’s establishment.

As well as unveiling the memorial scroll we are going to take the opportunity to launch a digitised collection of a historic local magazine, The Ngaio and Khandallah Review and its follow-up publication, The Social Review which were published in the early-mid 1930s. Drawn from the collection of the Onslow Historical Society, we worked collaboratively with the society to allow these  extremely rare copies to be made available to the general public for the first time on our digital heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect. They offer a fascinating insight into the local community 85 years ago and will become an invaluable source of local history and genealogical information. Once launched, the digitised magazines will be fully key-word searchable.

Come along to the Khandallah Library on Thursday evening from 6pm to share your memories of the library and the greater area. Light refreshments will be served. There is no need to R.S.V.P but space will be limited. 

The Levin House of Hobson Street

Completed  in 1904, the Levin House was one of the most extravagant houses ever constructed in Wellington to that time.

It was built at 72 Hobson Street in Thorndon for Robert Lionel Levin, the son of the wealthy businessman and  philanthropist William Hort Levin for whom the Horowhenua township of Levin is named. W.H. Levin was also regarded as the ‘founder’ of Wellington City Libraries through his large donation of funds which enabled the city’s first municipal library to be constructed in the early 1890s.

Following his father’s death in 1893, Robert Levin decided against taking a partnership in the family firm of Levin & Co (he went sheep farming in the Manawatu) but used a proportion of his considerable inheritance to construct this house which soon became the talk of the town.  It was designed by the notable architect John Sydney Swan who was also responsible for St Gerard’s Church and Monastery, the Backbencher Pub, The Erskine Chapel, the Iko Iko building in Cuba Mall and many others.

The house featured central heating, 100 volt DC electric lighting (230 volt AC mains power did not arrive in Wellington until the mid 1920s) and a “telephonette” intercom system which allowed servants to be summoned from any room.  Located on two acres of land, rather than facing the street which was the norm at the time, the architect orientated the house away from the road so that it received all-day sun and had views out over Wellington Harbour. It was built before the major reclamation that created the railyards and Aotea Quay had taken place so the shoreline would have been substantially closer to the house than it is today.

By the early 1970s the house had fallen into disrepair and ownership of the property had long since passed from the Levin family. It was purchased by the Australian Government and then demolished in 1975 to become the site of the Australian High Commission.

Click here to see the house on our Recollect page which also includes a link to a digitised copy of the vintage NZ architecture magazine Progress which published a glowing review of the house in 1906.

The Rare Book collection is again available to view

The Library’s rare book collection, which was previously at the Central Library, has been safely moved to the Wellington City Archives who have very kindly agreed to house the collection for us while Central is closed. Items in the collection can be identified in the online catalogue by their shelf location being listed as an email address (enquiries@wcl.govt.nz). If you see something that you would like to view, send us an email with all the details included and we can arrange a time for it to be made available for you in the reading room of the City Archives in Barker Street (Te Aro). Note that all the books in the collection are reference only and they can only be viewed during the normal business hours of the archives (9am – 4pm, Monday to Friday)

History for Lunch! Wednesdays, 12.30-1.30pm during August at the Central Library

Wellington Harbour by Barraud tiny

On Wednesdays from 12.30-1.30pm during the month of August, the Central Library will be hosting a series of history talks covering the social, urban and Māori history of Wellington. Have a read of the programme below, and come along!

Wednesday 7 August: The Flight to South Karori: How Katherine Mansfield’s family coped with life and death in the time of cholera (1890-93) by Redmer Yska Notable Wellington historian Redmer Yska uncovers the extraordinary story of Wellington’s cholera epidemic and the associated flight of the Beauchamp family out of the city, along with many other members of Wellington’s middle-class. The story also covers the political battles that waged between influential forces as the city struggled to gain the means to rectify the situation.

Wednesday 14 August: Te Upoko o te Ika, 1840s: A Struggle over Power, Mana and Resources by Hēni Collins Presented by the researcher, writer and journalist, Hēni Collins, this illustrated talk will cover a period of history in Te Whanganui a Tara/ Wellington Harbour and the Kapiti Coast during the mid-19th century. It was a time when the mana of Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and allied tribes was undercut by English settler ambition and then eventually backed up by the heavy hand of the British military. This represented a huge shift in access to land, economic resources, power and cultural dominance in the region. Ka mate ka ora! The siprit of Te Rauparaha / Hēni CollinsHēni Collins is the author of Ka mate ka ora! : the spirit of Te Rauparaha (Steele Roberts, 2010). The story of Te Rauparaha and his times continues to intrigue, provoke and inspire Maori and Pakeha alike. In this book Collins describes Te Rauparaha’s life from the time his birth was foretold, through inter-tribal conflict, migration, settlement in the south (Kapiti Island), and into the period of colonization. Signed copies of the book will be available for sale at the conclusion of this talk

Wednesday 21 August: Radical Wellington: Philip Josephs, the Freedom Group & the Great Strike of 1913 by Jared Davidson Jared Davidson, archivist and author of Sewing Freedom, will be talking about the colourful radicals of the early labour movement in Wellington – anarchists and the Industrial Workers of the World. As well as organising one of New Zealand’s first anarchist collectives, Josephs and members of the IWW were active in Wellington’s working-class counter culture and the Great Strike of 1913. This talks aims to highlight the role of literature, meetings and international influences in these events. Signed copies of Jared Davidson’s book Sewing Freedom will be available for sale for $15 at the conclusion of the talk (sorry; no eftpos) Whatu kākahu = Māori cloaks / edited by Awhina Tamarapa.

Wednesday 28 August: He tohu aroha – the protective role of Māori cloaks by Awhina Tamarapa Awhina Tamarapa edited and contributed to the book Whatu Kakahu which arose from the outstanding exhibition at Te Papa,  Kahu ora : living cloaks (June-Otober, 2012). Of special interest to Wellingtonians will be the history of the cloak of Ruhia Porutu, deposited into the care of Te Papa by the whānau of Henry Pitt.  This is the beautiful kākahu that saved the life of Thomas Wilmore McKenzie in 1840 who had arrived in Wellington as a teenager on board one of the first settler ships. McKenzie went on to become a prominent Wellington citizen but never forgot the debt he owed to Ruhia Porutu and the two families maintained a life-long friendship. Awhina Tamarapa (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Ruanui, Ngati Pikiao) is a curator of Maori artifacts at Te Papa.  She holds a Bachelor of Maori Laws and Philosophy from Te Wananga o Raukawa, Otaki, and a Bachelor of Arts from Victoria University, Wellington, where she majored in Anthropology.

History For Lunch

Ian Athfield talk at the Central Library

ian athfieldAs part of the 20th anniversary celebrations for the Central Library building, the pricipal architect of the building, Ian Athfield will be giving a free talk on Tuesday 13th December 2011 at 6pm on the 2nd floor. Titled Why is the library more than just about books? his talk will discuss how the presence of a library can “inform” the physical structure of its neighbourhood as well as his thoughts and memories of how the building’s design came about.

Ian Athfield is the founding principal of the Wellington-based firm, Athfield Architects Limited. He has headed this practice since its inception in 1968 and has been responsible for most of the design direction through this period.

As well as his contribution to the design of a broad range of projects throughout New Zealand, in 1976 “Ath” won an international design competition for housing in Manila, the Philippines. He has been involved in a teaching fellowship with Victoria University, has been a keynote speaker at various international conferences and has judged at numerous architectural / urban design competitions. Under his directorship Athfield Architects has won over 100 design awards. In 2004 he was the recipient of the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ highest honour, the Gold Medal, and from 2006 – 2008 was President of the NZIA. In 2006 he became the first New Zealander  to be registered as an APEC Architect. More recently he has been a member of the Auckland City Property Enterprise Board, advisor to Auckland’s Aotea Square development and a member of the assessment panel for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery master plan. He is currently serving on the Board of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and was made NZIA Architectural Ambassador to Christchurch soon after the September 2010 earthquake to provide advice and coordination during the rebuild and restoration process.

Come and enjoy this rare opportunity to hear one of New Zealand’s best known architects whose designs and influences have made a significant impact on Wellington’s urban geography.

Details:

Ian Athfield : Why is the library more than just about books?
Tuesday 13th December, 6pm, Central Library (2nd floor), 65 Victoria Street.
Free and everyone is welcome – just come along.