Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dunedin’s first state house

Built: 1937
Address: 11 Wilkinson Street, Liberton
Love Construction Co. Ltd

For this post I set myself the challenge of finding Dunedin’s first state house. By state house, I mean a residence from the housing scheme of the first Labour Government of 1935 to 1949.

The state did have a go at social housing earlier in the century. Twenty houses were built at the Windle Settlement in Belleknowes under the Liberal Government’s Workers’ Dwelling Act of 1905, and another eleven houses were built in Dunedin under the 1910 Act, but these projects never developed into the ambitious schemes that had been intended. Meanwhile, the Railways Department had a history of building housing for its workers, and local councils also developed schemes. The Dunedin City Council built rental houses for low-income families in Clyde Street in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it subsidised private housing developments, with 270 houses built when land was opened up at Clyde Hill in 1937.

The housing crisis of the early 1930s was made worse by the Great Depression, with some low-income urban families living in slum-like conditions. Michael Joseph Savage’s Labour Party came to power in the 1935 general election. The party’s electoral platform for housing was modest (chiefly extending state loans already in place), but in their 1936 budget the new government declared plans to build 5,000 state rental houses throughout New Zealand. John A. Lee, who had himself been raised by a solo mother in squalid conditions in Dunedin, was Under Secretary to the Minister of Finance and had the responsibility of overseeing the state housing scheme in its first years. By 1939, fifty-seven state houses were being completed every week and over 30,000 state houses would be built by the time Labour left office in 1949.

A leaflet from Labour’s 1938 election campaign. Ref: Eph-A-NZ-LABOUR-1938-01-010. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The first state house developments in Dunedin were at Pine Hill and Wakari. Corstorphine is probably the suburb most associated with this type of housing in Dunedin, but it wasn’t developed until the 1940s. Newspapers from early 1937 refer to a proposed new settlement Liberton in Pine Hill, which apparently took its name from a place in Edinburgh. This may have been due to its association with a local identity, but there also was a default way of finding new names in Dunedin: look at a map of Edinburgh and see what hadn’t been used! Intriguingly, the name of the original Liberton is widely said to have been a corruption of ‘Leper Town’, as a leper colony was supposed to have been sited there. This theory now appears to be discredited and the name may come from the Old English words hlith (hillside) and beretun (barley farm). Three new streets in the Dunedin settlement were arranged in a horseshoe fashion on former Otago Education Board land. They were named after past secretaries of the Board: James Wilkinson, Patrick Pryde, and John Hislop.

A contract to build the Dunedin houses was awarded to the Love Construction Company in April 1937 and soon a small army of construction workers was at work on Pine Hill. Sixty-four dwellings were constructed. The houses were of similar finish with tile roofs and brick exteriors, and the trademark square-paned casement windows, but the designs were varied. The Evening Star noted that Liberton ‘was not being built to a definite geometric pattern, and cannot be criticised on the grounds that every house is exactly similar to its neighbour’. Some local real estate agents were doubtful that the scheme would succeed in such a location. ‘What is the use’, said one, ‘of houses carrying a low rent if they are so far out of the town that the occupiers will have to spend a large sum every week in bus fares?’. For this reason they suggested Green Island, with its easy access to the railway.

On 18 September 1937 New Zealand’s ‘first state house’, at 12 Fyfe Lane in Mirimar, Wellington, was officially opened by the Prime Minister. At the same time, houses in Liberton were already nearing completion, with roofing and glazing completed on some of them, but none were occupied until March 1938. Factors contributing to this may have included the logistics around services for the scheme, or drawn out application processes for tenancies.

So which house was the first? To be consistent with the acknowledged first state house in Wellington, I looked for the first house tenanted in Dunedin. The Otago Daily Times and Evening Star newspapers recorded that the first tenants moved in on 1 March 1938 and featured photographs of their house, though without naming the street or number. After taking a look around the area, I have identified the house as 11 Wilkinson Street.

11 Wilkinson Street on its completion.

Moving in day at 11 Wilkinson Street, 1 March 1938.

Who lived here? Electoral rolls and directories record that the first couple to live at no.11 were Alf and Beryl Seamer. Beryl was 28 years of age, and Alf was a 32-year-old civil servant who worked for the Department of Agriculture. I checked the Pine Hill School records but the Seamers did not have children enrolled there. They remained in the house until 1942, when they moved to the North Island (where they had come from originally). Bill and Esma Lobb were the next to move in and they stayed at the address until 1950.

These days Pine Hill is a mixed area including state houses, ex state houses, and newer private dwellings. The earliest houses are mostly grouped together in Dalmore. As in many suburbs, there are fewer shops than there used to be but there is still a dairy. There are two schools (one state, one private) and two churches (Presbyterian and Anglican). In recent years local gang tensions have sometimes made the news. Wilkinson Street is an appealing spot with its sunny outlook, semi-rural views, and some established trees. Some houses appear down at the heel, but others look lovingly maintained. Where Corstorphine has more of the later weatherboard designs with more uniformity, there is a nice variation on a theme here. Considering the large number of state houses that have been sold under different administrations since the 1990s, I was a little surprised to find that Housing New Zealand still own 11 Wilkinson Street. Of the twenty-eight original state houses in the street, five are still owned by the Crown corporation. No.11 looks mostly original from the outside, although one of the gable ends has been reclad and false shutters at the front have been removed. I hope it will be preserved – sometimes, modest little buildings are more significant than appearances suggest.

A White’s Aviation aerial view of Liberton taken in April 1947. Pine Hill School is at the centre. Ref: WA-06367-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 8 April 1937 p.12 (‘The Liberton project – its success doubted’), 19 April 1937 p.10 (Dunedin contract let), 31 August 1937 p.4 (progress), 2 March 1938 p.4 (‘Liberton homes – first tenant moves in’).

Other references:
Findlay, Michael. Dunedin Contextual Thematic History. (Dunedin City Council, 2009).
O’Brien, Rebecca. First State House. (New Zealand Historic Places Trust register entry, 2002).
Schrader, Ben. We Call it Home: A History of the State House in New Zealand (Auckland: Reed Books, 2005)

Thanks to the Dunedin Public Library for access to their newspapers for photography.

Barton’s Buildings (Stafford House)

Built: 1928
Address: 2 Manse Street
Architect: William Henry Dunning (1872-1933)
Builders: G. Lawrence & Sons

The building in July 1975, photographed by and reproduced courtesy of Ray Hargreaves. Hocken Collections S13-127b.

For decades, neon signs at Barton’s Corner brightened Dunedin’s night life and made the 1920s butchery buildings a city landmark. Little pink pigs ran along the verandah, green lambs leapt along the parapet, a suited pig doffed his top hat, and a large bullock capped it all off. The signs were especially popular with children, and many parents would slow their cars so the kids could enjoy the display.

The history of occupation on the site goes back to Māori settlement, although the level of the land was reduced by early Eurpean settlers. In 1851 James Macandrew, later Superintendent of Otago, built a store here. His single storey building was described nearly fifty years later as being ‘more attractive in appearance than any other in embryo Dunedin’.  Macandrew was succeeded by James Paterson, who sold up in 1863.

Meanwhile, in 1853, Benjamin Dawson established Stafford House as a private boarding establishment on the site above in Stafford Street. Under John Sibbald it became Sibbald’s Private Hotel, which was given a license in April 1858.  It was renamed the Provincial Hotel in 1859 and enlarged in 1861. It was probably in 1863 that the timber hotel buildings were extended down to the Manse Street corner, and at the end of the decade the ground floor portion became a shop (it was a grocer’s for some years). This extension was very narrow and a separate brick building took up most of the site facing Manse Street. The occupants of this second building included the Caxton Printing Company from 1889 to 1913.

An advertisement showing the Barton & Trengrove butchery in 1918. It is housed in both the old Provincial Hotel additions (left) and the former Caxton Printing Co. building (right). Otago Witness, 16 October 1918 p.33. Hocken Collections S13-184.

Barton & Trengrove, butchers, opened on the site in 1913 and took both of the old buildings. George Barton was a young Australian who had been making his way to America when he saw an opportunity to go into business in Dunedin. His partner was John Trengrove, and both men were enterprising horse racing enthusiasts. Barton’s pacer Indianapolis rode to victory in the New Zealand Trotting Cup in three successive years and won over £10,000 in stakes. Trengrove sold his share in the butchery in 1924 and from 1928 it was known simply as Barton’s. In the same year a new building was erected, with demolition work started in January.

The building under construction. Otago Witness, 25 September 1928 p.44. Hocken Collections S13-127e.

Permit papers and deposited plans record the work as ‘additions and alterations’, as the new building incorporated an existing basement and some ground floor walls. Steel frame construction was used and the business was able to remain open on the site during the rebuilding. The upper storeys had steel-framed windows with fine decorative detail on the first floor bay windows. There was a light well within the building. The contractors were Lawrence & Sons and the architect was William Henry Dunning, who had previously worked in Tasmania before arriving in Dunedin in 1908. Dunning’s early designs here included the National Bank in Princes Street and Ross Home in North East Valley. A later work was the block of shops at the corner of Albany and George Streets, which has some similar decorative features to Barton’s Buildings, including Art Deco elements.

Dunning’s design was described in an Evening Star newspaper report as being in Renaissance style. This might seem a stretch, but the composition can be read as  ‘stripped classical’, a style then in vogue and used on contemporaneous Dunedin buildings such as Queen’s Buildings and the Public Trust Office. There are also hints of an Egyptian Revival influence, including a winged cartouche at the top of the splayed corner. The facades were finished in white Atlas cement, lined with a block joint, and the shop fronts and internal staircase were finished with terrazzo. Crown Derby tiled panels depicting sheep and Highland steers were fixed to the ground floor facade facing Stafford Street.

Detail from one of the panels of Crown Derby tiles next to the Stafford Street entrance.

Barton’s flourished and a branch was established in Rattray Street in 1930, while George’s brother Douglas operated a butchery in the Octagon. In 1942, following the Japanese bombing of Darwin, an air raid shelter for up to 30 people was built in the basement of the Manse Street building. Quite a few of these were constructed in the central city and other businesses that built or planned shelters around the same time included the D.I.C., Penrose’s, and Woolworths.

George Barton junior eventually returned from service in the Air Force and took over the business together with his brother Reg in 1946. He later remembered that ‘After the war, all of the town was dull and dreary. We thought the place needed brightening up, so we decided to make a statement’. This was when the first of the neon signs were installed.

Neon lights c.1962, photographed by and reproduced courtesy of Bruce Murray.

The gentleman pig on display in Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

The signs were made by Claude Neon, who for more than 30 years owned them and leased them to Barton’s. A photograph taken in the early 1960s shows the running pigs, the lambs, and the cattle beast in place, with the name Barton’s displayed vertically down the splayed corner. In 1965 the name sign was replaced by a suited pig built by Trevor Hellyer, who was then a junior at Claude Neon. Hellyer also built the Fresh Freddie fish sign that was a familiar sight in St Andrew Street for 40 years. Another large sign reading ‘Barton’s’ was added to the Manse Street facade.

A night view from 1970, photographed by and reproduced courtesy of Lloyd Godman.

George Barton senior died in 1963 following a fall at the Burnside sale yards. He was 82. George junior and Reg ensured Barton’s remained a family business and took the butchery to its peak, when it employed over 200 staff, including 63 butchers. From 1967 special lamb cuts were exported overseas in a joint venture with PPCS, and major alterations and additions were carried out to allow the increase in production. Trade restrictions made this venture less successful than it might have been. The original shop fronts were taken out in 1969.

Reg Barton said the best way to beat the supermarkets was to offer a different product by going back to old-fashioned ways, and in 1978 the business announced it would revert to selling unpackaged rather than pre-packaged meat. By the end of the decade, however, the firm faced an estimated cost of $100,000 to bring its building up to Health Department requirements. The Manse Street shop closed for the last time on 29 January 1980. Other shops in Rattray Street and the Golden Centre remained open for a little longer (the Octagon shop had closed in 1966). The neon signs were removed in September 1980 and some were put into storage at the Dunedin Museum of Transport and Technology. The restored gentleman pig can now be seen at the Settlers Museum, and some of the running pigs are on display outside Miller Studios in Anzac Avenue.

From 1985 to 1995 Dick Smith Electronics were the ground floor tenants. G.S. McLauchlan & Co. bought the buildings in 1988 and redeveloped them to the plans of Mason & Wales, the work being complete by April 1989. The upper floors were converted to offices, the original central light well was built over, and more than 90 truck loads of rubble were removed from the site. The building was painted grey with details highlighted in white. The original ‘Barton’s Buildings’ lettering was removed and replaced with the new name, ‘Stafford House’ in black plastic lettering. This was a pity as the old lettering had a distinctive period style, and the material and font of its replacement is out of character.

The current name may reference the original Stafford House of the 1850s, although it’s not on the same site.  To add confusion, the pink building on the opposite corner was also known as Stafford House for some years, as was the building that fronts the Golden Centre in George Street.

In the 1990s Stafford House got its current colour scheme and the Pet Warehouse has been the ground floor tenant since 2001. An association with animals continues, but in a very different way!

The building in 2013

Facade detail

Update: Since I wrote this the building has undergone major refurbishment. Below is a view of the exterior taken in September 2014.  The Barton’s name has returned and Dad’s photograph of the neon lights now decorates the lift!

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 17 December 1853 p.2 (Benjamin Dawson), 13 May 1854 p.1 (stable), 7 February 1854 p.4 (John Sibbald), 3 May 1856 p.2 (Sibbald), 14 April 1860 p.1 (Provincial Hotel).
Otago Daily Times, 16 November 1861 p.5 (hotel enlargement), 6 April 1863 p.2 (James Paterson), 7 September 1864 p.5 (transfer of licence), 20 June 1872 p.2 (grocery), 3 April 1899 p.6 (Macandrew’s store), 4 April 1963 pp.1 and 3 (obituary of George Johnson Barton), 29 June 1967 p.13 (exporting and expansion), 22 October 1970 p.13 (history of Barton’s),  1 March 1980 p.1 (closure), 4 September 1980 p.1 (neon signs), 17 September 1980 p.5 (signs), 7 April 1989 p.12 (redevelopment), 3 January 1995 p.25 (signs), 24 August 1996 p.1 (signs), 7 April 1989 p.12 (redevelopment), 25 October 2008 (Trevor Hellyer), 23 June 2012 p.36 (obituary of George Hobson Barton).
Evening Star, 27 December 1927 p.2 (description of building), 12 June 1928 p.2 (building progress).

Other references:
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Block plans (1889, 1892, 1927)
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)