Gleeson’s Terrace

Built: 1904
Address: 618-626 Great King Street
Architect: Percy William Laing (1859-1915)
Builders: Sydney Drake

This terrace is one of the most unusual and distinctive in Dunedin. Its balconies with bullnose verandahs and lashings of decorative cast iron fretwork would look quite at home in Melbourne but are almost exotic here. Terraces featured significantly in Dunedin’s early housing and more than twenty rows still stand from their heyday period of 1876-1912, not including terrace-like pairs of semi-detached houses. There were once many more. The simplest ones were working-class tenements but the fancier ones were marketed to white collar workers and professionals. They were a good investment option for early landlords, particularly before electric tram services opened up the suburbs, and with land in the industrialised central city at a premium.

I’ve titled this post ‘Gleeson’s Terrace’ because these houses were built for William Gleeson, but as far as I know this was not a name used historically. Gleeson (1841-1917) was the proprietor of the Rainbow Hotel in George Street and in 1902 he also owned the Annandale Arms, a two-storeyed wooden hotel which stood on the site of the terrace. The Annandale Arms was refused a license in June that year and the old building was soon torn down. In October tenders were called for the erection of the terrace. In addition to the three two-storeyed ‘villas’ at the front of the property, a row of four single-storey dwellings was built at the rear. These survive but cannot be seen from the street and are only accessible via a private right-of-way (so I haven’t included photographs of them).

After the terrace was built the next-door neighbour on the southern side sued Gleeson, as the building encroached onto her land and it was claimed that water swept from its roof onto hers. She was awarded some damages and it was ordered that decorative features at the top of the building that projected over her property be removed.

The front elevation as drawn by the architect.

Detail from an early photograph, showing the parapet as it appeared c.1910, with balustrading and finials. Te Papa Co.025249.

The building contractor was Sydney Drake, possibly with Peter Campbell and Henry Foster. The architect was Percy Laing, whose signature can be seen on the deposited plans on file at the Dunedin City Council. Laing was a Dunedin boy who went to Otago Boys’ High School and was trained by that pre-eminent Dunedin architect, R.A. Lawson. He afterwards went to Melbourne where he was employed by N. Billing & Son. After returning to Dunedin he worked with Robert Forrest before establishing his own practice in 1903, the year this terrace was built. Laing died in a climbing accident near Ben Lomond saddle in 1915, at the age of 56. His other designs include Ramsay Lodge at 60 Stafford Street and the Kensington Hotel (later remodelled in art deco style).

This terrace is a little old-fashioned looking for 1903 and could easily be mistaken for an earlier building, although the front walls and fire walls perhaps give it away as later. It is derived from a style popular in Australia in the 1880s and the architect’s time working in Melbourne largely explains the connection, although it would be interesting to know what his client’s instructions were. The deposited plans differ from the finished building in that they show a balustraded parapet with finials. They also show a cornice that was probably built and later removed.  The plans don’t show the iron lacework as it appears. This was produced very nearby at Barningham & Co.’s Victoria Foundry in George Street (opposite Knox Church), and possibly chosen straight from their catalogue. The company’s name can be seen at the base of the verandah posts. Barningham’s were well-known for manufacturing the ‘Zealandia’ brand of coal ranges and their 1903 advertisements referred to ‘verandah castings of all kinds’.

The first resident of the southernmost house (then number 308) was Frances Grant, who taught singing and piano. The other two houses were occupied by painter/decorators. Two of the three houses were soon converted to flats (upstairs and downstairs), and for this reason new front doors were installed. Few tenants stayed long and occupants included a butcher, a draper, engineers, a brewer, a grocer, a police sergeant, a railway guard, and a barman. Special mention should be made of the Lindsay family. Robert and Sara Lindsay’s family moved into the southernmost house around 1928. Robert was a blacksmith. Annie Lindsay remained there until her death at the age of 97 in 2007, when the house was still in very original condition, retaining its kauri fireplace surrounds with tile insets. The houses now appear to be used as student accommodation, being handy to the university.

Otago Daily Times, 4 February 1907 p.6. The street numbers were changed in 1910 and 308 corresponds with the present 618.

The terrace looked pretty rough in 2009 but by 2010 a lot of love, money, and expertise had obviously gone into renovations and restoration. The balcony no longer slumps and mismatching timber railings put in over the years have been removed and replaced with replicas of the original ironwork. The result is impressive.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 2 June 1903 p.4 (license refused to Annandale Arms), 27 October 1903 p.6 (call for tenders), 4 December 1903 p.7 (Gleeson fined re drainage), 5 August 1905 p.3 (legal dispute re land), 4 February 1907 p.6 (advertisement for Frances Grant); 6 April 1915 p.3 (death of Percy Laing), 28 April 2007 (advertisement in property supplement); New Zealand Tablet, 1 October 1903 p.32 (Barningham advertisement).

Other references: Dunedin City Council deposited plans, Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory, Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory.

13 thoughts on “Gleeson’s Terrace

  1. Elizabeth

    The same can be said for many sites throughout Dunedin…. the city’s layered up to hell and back archaeologically. But see Frank Tod’s book, Pubs Galore: History of Dunedin’s Hotels 1848-1984 (Dunedin: Historical Publications, 1984), as a rough guide to old sites (and it is rough in places, but educational).

    On page 13, Tod says the hotel established in 1863 by the licensee John Brown was briefly known as the Auld Reekie Hotel (1867-68), then St Vincent Hotel until 1875; after which it was renamed Annandale Arms Hotel – sometimes referred to as Armadale Arms Hotel and Allandale Arms Hotel.

    If the timbered Annandale Arms was built on the ground without a basement it’s likely very little archaeological material survives on site from that time; and owing to the extent of site cover provided by the terrace houses.

    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks Elizabeth. The licensee lists in Pubs Galore are very handy – they’re updates of the lists R.W. Willett compiled, which were published in poster form some decades earlier.

  2. eyejs

    In the mid 1980s I lived in the bottom middle flat. It had so many of the original features including the old copper in the laundry and out the back courtyard was a gate that opened on to the pathway between these houses and the cottages out the back- real coronation street style living. Fabulous memories

  3. Ross

    I live in the middle flat during 2000. The bottom and top units were combined then. The copper in the laundry was still there, as was the cast iron stove. The fireplaces were sealed up a few years prior. The balcony had apparently collapsed in 19991 under the weight of too many students during a party, and in 2000 wooden shoring under the deck was obvious.

  4. stephen freeman

    Being related to the Lindsay family in regards to the back four single story flats. The round topped windows that were in the Annandale Arms hotel on this site were used as the front windows for these four buildings.

    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks for that interesting detail Stephen. The Victorians and Edwardians generally seemed to have been better at recycling building materials than we are today.

  5. Leigh Morris

    My partner and I owned the rear four terrace houses and the North one at the front (626) We bought them off the Lindsays and extended family, I I think around the mid 80’s.
    I did find some interesting artifacts including a very fragile tiny teapot in one of the backyards while excavation for new drains. We took a heap of top soil away to get the grounds levelled up for paving. Some of the bricks from the rear houses were from the Speights sign on the wall beside the Annadale Arms Hotel. As they still had black and white paint on them.
    Yes, the arched windows in the back houses are the ones from the front of the Hotel.
    Other things I found while working there incude a very nice looking early water colour painting, an enamel cigarette/tobacco sign (possibly originated from the shop that was situated on the North side of the alleyway ). I also found was an unopened cigarette packet…still wrapped in cellophane and with cigarette cards inside. (Still unopened! ) It must have fallen down the chimney of one of the terrace houses while it was being built, as it was preserved under lime mortare that had also gone down behind the fire surround.
    We got to know Annie and Norman Lindsay very well over the years. We were always welcome for a cuppa….or a sherry, anytime. They were a lovely couple of people. Real salt of the earth.
    Will always remember their stories of the early days in Great King St.
    Incidentally my grandfather was born in the same area, just across Dundas St, in the 2 story building that was on the corner. Where the takeaway chip shop is now. Can send photos if required. Cheers, Leigh Morris

  6. Kelly

    I lived around the area for most of my time at Uni (1998-2002), and recall seeing Annie once or twice. I always wondered what happened to these, given the state they were in and the demand for dryer/warmer, i.e ‘modern’, housing, I thought they may have been demolished. I’m very glad to hear that isn’t the case!

  7. Kierron

    A great piece of research on these historic houses, well done. I’m also a relation to the Gleesons and Lindsays. William Gleeson and his family moved to Dunedin from Ballarat, Melbourne in 1895. This may account for the style of architecture that was decided on for the building of Gleeson’s Terrace. William Gleeson was proud of his Australian connection and both he and Robert Lindsay were involved in Dunedin’s second attempt to get an Australian rules football team started in 1904. Robert Lindsay married William’s daughter Sarah in 1906. As a child I remember visiting Annie, Jessie and Norman Lindsay (all siblings of Robert and Sarah ) in 620 Great King St. The radio or small screen black and white tv was constantly on with the latest horse racing results. I was always amazed at the length of the pull chain for the toilet and the extreme size of the shower head above the bath. The interior staircase seemed to go forever! A beautiful old house and a wonderful example of Dunedin architecture.


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