The relationship between a city and its motorways can be a complex one — and Wellington is no exception!
The same was true in 1965, when the imminent construction of the Wellington Urban Motorway was the defining issue of the local election. And for good reason: the motorway was — and still is — one of the largest and most complex works of infrastructure development in Wellington’s history, with hundreds of houses demolished and over 3600 graves disinterred from the Bolton Street Cemetery to make way for it.
Decades later, transport through Wellington is still a vitally important issue. But what can be learnt from this earlier attempt to ease congestion?
Join Wellington City Libraries’ Local and New Zealand History Specialist Gábor Tóth at 12pm on Thursday 29 October at Te Awe Library for a special talk on the history of the Wellington Urban Motorway project — including a powerful set of images taken at the time.
After more than a decade, our Cuba Street Memories Project is moving to a new platform. Launched in 2009, this was the first interactive online heritage platform created by Wellington City Libraries.
For the first time it allowed us easily display heritage items from our collection online as well as enabling people to share their memories of Wellington’s most vibrant and best loved inner-city streets. Based on a platform called ‘Kete’, the system was developed by local Wellington firm Katipo Communications working in collaboration with the Horowhenua Library Trust and was highly innovative in its use of cloud-based storage long before the practice had become commonplace. However, with a limited number of features by today’s standards, we have decided to shift the Cuba Street Memories Project over to our main heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect. In coming weeks all the material will be transferred over to a new ‘collection’ page on Recollect. This will enable items to be displayed in a much more intuitive manner, articles will now be fully searchable by keyword but users will still be able to comment and contribute their memories using the ‘Recollections’ function of Recollect. We’ll let you know when the transfer is completed and the new collection page has gone ‘live’.
Selected from our Rare Book Collection is this beautiful 1503 illustrated edition of Terentius Comico Carmine, a collection of comedies by the Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer
Publius Terentius Afer (better known simply as ‘Terence’) was born into slavery in North Africa around 185 BC and was sold as a child to a Roman senator who took him back to Italy. His owner educated him and became so impressed with his wit and intelligence that he granted him his freedom. Terence went on to write six plays based on the Greek Attic style of comedy, all of which survive to the present day. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, his plays survived as hand-written manuscripts which were preserved in monasteries for hundreds of years through the Dark Ages and into Medieval period. Following Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in the mid 15th century, Terence’s works were among the first plays to be printed in Europe. This copy was published by Johann Grüninger in Strasbourg at the very start of the 16th Century. Though today part of France, at the time the city was principally German speaking and was the centre of the early European printing industry.
The protestant religious reformer Martin Luther became a great admirer of Terence and frequently mentioned his insights into human nature in his own writing. One famous Terencequote which has inspired many is Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, or, “I am human, so nothing human is alien to me”. Luther also suggested that his plays could be useful for teaching morals and ethics to youth. What makes this somewhat surprising is that Luther was known for his socially conservative views but Terence’s work is often bawdy with no shortage of risqué content. His work Hecyra (akaThe Mother in Law) of which three pages are shown here, is a good example of this. The play follows a young man who falls in love with a prostitute and includes drunken debauchery, sex, domestic violence, and a farcical case of mistaken identity which wouldn’t be out of place in a Christmas pantomime…. but everything works out happily in the end.
Amusingly, the first two attempted performances of the play during the Classical period both ended somewhat disastrously. The first was in 165 BC whenshortly before it was supposed to begin,a rumor spread that a tightrope-walker and boxers were about to perform and the theatre was suddenly swamped by people expecting to see circus acts. The second in 160 BC was cancelled after the theater was again overrun, this time by drunk gladiator supporters. It was finally performed successfully on its third attempt later the same year. Another curiosity is that it was long thought that a musical phrase which accompanies a single line of the text in Hecyra was the only remaining written description of the entire body of ancient Roman music. However, its authenticity is now disputed and it may have had 10th Century origins.
Terence’s newfound popularity during the Renaissance followed the spread of the reformation to England and his work had a notable influence on Shakespeare nearly a century after the publication of this edition. One intriguing thought is the possibility that another copy of this edition could have ended up in Shakespeare’s own library. This now-500+ year old volume came into our collection after being gifted to the institution shortly after the municipal library was founded in 1893. At some point the volume was rebound in vellum, a hard-wearing cream-colored covering made from calf skin which (unlike leather), does not go through a tanning process but is stretched and dried without significant chemical treatment. With the Central Library currently closed, the book is being carefully stored in a custom-made acid-free enclosure in a temperature and humidity controlled room at the Wellington City Archives.
Today Wellingtonians are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out in the city with a huge range of different cuisines to try and restaurants which cover every budget. But what was the restaurant scene like nearly 40 years ago? This booklet now on Wellington City Recollect gives you some idea as to what going out for dinner in Wellington was like in the early-mid 1980s.
Called The Menu Guide, it was published in late 1982 by Henry Newrick and his firm Newrick Associates Ltd. Its cover price of $4.95 was relatively high for the time (approximately $18 in 2020 terms) but the booklet also included a set of discount coupons for diners to use at a selection of restaurants, one of the first times that a hospitality discount coupon scheme had been used in Wellington. A full and complete listing of almost every restaurant operating at the time was included in the introduction but establishments could pay to have a larger advertisement placed in the main body of the booklet in the form of a menu and it is these which offer a fascinating insight into our dining-out past.
This was at a time when traditional ‘family’ and ‘fine dining’ establishments started to be joined by new ‘ethnic’ restaurants as Wellingtonians’ culinary tastes expanded. Most of the fine dining restaurants were of course, French, while family restaurants all shared the common dominant theme of steak and chips.
Although the prices listed appear ridiculously low by today’s standards, how do they compare when inflation adjusted? The menu for Camelot, a popular family restaurant in Brandon Street which sported a ‘Ye Olde King Arthur’ theme, indicates that average prices were probably a bit higher than today; their $9.70 T-bone steak served with a mushroom sauce would be hitting $34 in 2020. Meanwhile, Des Britten’s legendary TheCoachman offered grilled prawns at the eye-watering equivalent of $63. The Bacchusrestaurant seemed to take the approach that if you needed to know their prices, you probably couldn’t afford to eat there (suffice to say that deep pockets were needed).
Though new ethnic cuisine restaurants were starting to appear, choice was still limited. Chinese restaurants serving a ‘Kiwi-fied’ version of Chinese food had been part of the city’s dining scene for generations, but these were now joined by Greek and Indian restaurants reflecting the long-standing presence of these ethnic communities in Wellington. South-east Asian eateries were virtually non-existent (the long-standing Indonesian restaurant Toko Baru being one of the few exceptions), middle-eastern restaurants were yet to be seen and it would be another decade before the doner kebab made its first appearance.
However, one new ethnic restaurant is included which really shook up the local scene; the Mexican Cantina in Edward Street. This gave many Wellingtonians their first taste of guacamole and nachos at a time when it wasn’t yet possible to buy corn chips or taco shells at the supermarket. The ‘Mex’ took the approach of keeping their prices low, the food simple (though exotic to most taste-buds) and packing customers in. Popular with students, waiting crowds would often be spilling out the door while chugging on their B.Y.O supplies (alcohol licences were difficult and expensive to obtain for most restaurants). With no reservation system in place, groups would have to write their details on a blackboard and wait until their listing got to the top at which point their name would be yelled out over the noise of diners indicating their table was ready.
Possibly influenced by the success of the ‘Mex’, Manuel’s — which operated out of the Broderick Inn in Johnsonville — also adopted a Mexican theme, but amusingly kept their menu as ‘family’ orientated as possible with not a pinch of cumin, dollop of sour cream or a kidney bean to be seen…
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.
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.
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 houseand 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 City. First 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.