Ruby and Ambrose Hudson’s house

Built: 1926-1927
Address: 28 Tweed Street, Littlebourne, Roslyn
Architect: Henry McDowell Smith (1887-1965)
Builders: Fletcher & Love

One of Dunedin’s most impressive 1920s homes is on the market. Its listing provides an opportunity to take a closer look at some remarkable architecture and history.

Built for Ambrose and Ruby Hudson between 1926 and 1927, the house cost over £6000 at a time when a standard three-bedroom house could be built for about £800. The only local houses I can think of that matched if for cost between the two world wars were the Brinsley house on Forbury Road and the Stevenson house, now University Lodge, at St Leonards. There was so much buzz around the house when it was new that the architectural writer in the Evening Star devoted no fewer than five articles to it. The columnist, known only by the pen-name ‘Stucco’, wrote: ‘Without exaggeration it can be claimed that Mr Hudson’s new residence is of the most magnificent in the dominion’.

Ambrose Hudson was a director of the chocolate and confectionery business R. Hudson & Co. Established in 1868, this became one of Dunedin’s leading industrial concerns. Cadbury bought a controlling interest in 1930, but for many years the Hudson family remained closely involved in the restructured Cadbury Fry Hudson.

Born in 1877, Ambrose was the fourth of six sons of the firm’s founder, Richard Hudson. He became a director while still in his twenties, and remained in that role until his retirement in 1931. He often went overseas to buy machinery for the factory and was credited with modernising the manufacturing. Gregarious and well liked, he was also a bit of a practical joker. Ambrose made a special chocolate for company chairman Carl Smith that had a castor oil filling!

Ambrose Hudson (1877-1969)

Ruby and Ambrose Hudson (front left) at a family wedding in 1965.

Ambrose married Ruby Christian Cooke, an Australian, at Sydney in 1906. Ruby was announced as the granddaughter of Mrs Tait of Granby Towers, Granville. The couple’s first son, Sydney, was born in 1907, and a second son, Ralph, followed in 1910. In the same year the family purchased the Tweed Street property. It was not until sixteen years later, with the boys all but grown up, that they rebuilt. The old house was only demolished after the new one was completed, so presumably it was on the adjacent site where no.30 stands today. Ambrose’s younger brother William bought the house next door (no.32) in 1922 and the two families had a tennis court between them.

I have been unable find out much about Ruby, but she was active socially. Her interests included women’s cricket, the Otago Women’s Club, and the Kaikorai Kindergarten. Both Ruby and Ambrose enjoyed motoring, and Ambrose also took an interest in aviation, eventually becoming a life member of the Otago Aero Club. He was a keen gardener with a particular fondness for sweet peas and poppies, which he entered in competition. He developed his own variety of poppy, which he named ‘Ambrosia’.

He also kept pigeons. A 1926 report stated that when he left home in the morning about twelve birds accompanied him, ‘flying around, resting now and again on his head and shoulders’. At the intersection of Smith and Stuart streets several of the birds returned to their loft, while about three followed Ambrose all the way to the factory offices in Castle Street.

For the architect of their new house, the Hudsons chose Henry McDowell Smith, a well-established Dunedin practitioner. Born in Manchester, England, in 1887, he worked in Newcastle before coming to New Zealand in 1909. He managed Edmund Anscombe’s Invercargill branch for some years and became his business partner in 1913. He returned to the Dunedin office after his war service and started an independent practice in 1921. McDowell Smith’s building designs of the following decade included other high-spec houses, notably the already-mentioned University Lodge. Other work up to 1930 included St Michael and All Angels’ Church at Andersons Bay, extensive additions to Selwyn College, and the hospital complex at Ranfurly.

The Dunedin City Council issued a building permit for the Hudson house in April 1926. James Fletcher of Fletcher & Love took the building contract. The Fletcher Construction Company had temporarily joined with Love Bros for the purpose of erecting the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition buildings at Logan Park. Fletcher left Dunedin after the exhibition, and while the Hudson house was under construction, so the completion of the project passed to Love’s.

North elevation. C.M. Collins photographer. The upper balcony was glazed in 1941, and two gables added to the roof.

The view down to the house from the front path.

East elevation. C.M. Collins photographer.

A view looking up towards Tweed Street.

One of the generous balconies.

The front gate.

The house has a transitional style between English Arts and Crafts and the emerging Modernism, and is outwardly characterised by clean lines, neat brickwork, and generous glazing and balconies. Window sills of blue burned blocks were specially made at Abbotsford. The Arts and Crafts influences are particularly evident in a charming entrance gate, and a herring-bone brick path leading down to the house, which sits below the street.

The ground floor sun porches were designed with dancing in mind and originally had a loud speaker for music. The terrazzo flooring was claimed to be the first in Dunedin, slightly predating local manufacture. On the balconies above, the kauri flooring is constructed like a ship’s deck. Stucco commented, ‘it has a delightful spring to the feet, and should send the least sprightly visitor jazzing along its inviting surface’. The views of the harbour from here are stunning. The north elevation was altered in 1941, when the balcony on this side was glazed and two small gables added, all carefully matching the original style. It is surprising the gables were added but they successfully soften this aspect of the building and give it a more domestic quality.

The steel-framed windows were originally painted green, and feature imported British plate glass and exceptional bevelled fanlights. There are also impressive leadlights in the bathroom, over the stairwell, and in a panel in the front door featuring a female figure. This was the work of local craftsman John Brock, of Arnold, Brock, & Raffills.

Floor plans published in the Evening Star (from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand).

The house originally had five bedrooms (including a maid’s room), drawing room, dining room, meals room, kitchen, billiard room, dressing room, and extensive basement. Stucco observed there was ‘nothing unduly ostentatious, everything being designed and executed in the most artistic manner’, but at the same time thought the interior sumptuous, magnificent, and a ‘miniature palace’. He wrote: ‘The visitor is immediately impressed by the chiselled perfection of everything, and, though he might pardonably go into rhapsodies about what he sees, there is no vulgar flaunting of ornamentation’.

The entrance hall. The coffered ceiling was originally gilded.

Landing. C.M. Collins photographer.

The upstairs landing.

Meals room. C.M. Collins photographer.

Originally the ‘meals room’.

Dining room. C.M. Collins photographer.

The dining room.

Drawing room. C.M. Collins photographer.

Drawing room.

The spacious entrance hall features figured beech panelling with maple panels. Coffered plaster ceilings by the Wardop Fibrous Plaster Co. were originally gilded, and said to give a magnificent golden effect when the hall was lit up. Original light fittings include a blue Venetian glass ball with bronze eagles, from which hang individual lamps. The flush internal doors, by Henderson and Pollard of Auckland, were unusual in Dunedin and the latest fashion.

Both the drawing room and meals room have enormous tiled fireplaces that are architectural works in themselves. Stucco mentioned that a visiting manager from one of the biggest tile firms in England thought the slabs the best he had ever seen. The Wardrop ceilings again impress here. The two rooms are separated by sliding doors with more bevelled glass. English wallpapers originally decorated the walls. All of the spaces on this level flow well into each other and the house must have been excellent for entertaining.

The billiard room is a standout space of the house. It is a single-storey projection, allowing natural light from three sides. It has a coved ceiling, originally stippled with biscuit and cream colours, and massive wooden beams terminate over beautifully carved brackets. Panelling is stained ‘Jacobean’ and the floors are jarrah.

The bedrooms are less ornate but plaster ceilings again feature, and three of the rooms have access to the balconies. The master bedroom was built with a large adjoining dressing room. S.F. Aburn decorated the house, and many rooms and the entrance hallway originally featured stippled paintwork, blending two colours to shade up from dark to light. In one bedroom this was from pink to white, in another from biscuit to white, and in another from grey to white.

Billiard room. C.M. Collins photographer.

The billiard room.

A carved corbel in the billiard room.

Master bedroom. C.M. Collins photographer.

The master bedroom.

Bathroom. C.M. Collins photographer.

The main bathroom.

The kitchen. C.M. Collins photographer.

The Hudsons were keen on their mod-cons and the house boasted over 80 ‘electric points’. J. Hall & Sons installed electric fittings from the British General Electric Co.

Of the kitchen, Stucco commented that ‘everything has been planned with the object of lessening domestic drudgery’, with the coal range banned in favour of gas and electric cookers. This has since given way to a yet more convenient modern kitchen.

The bathroom featured a swivel nozzle tap, a hot rail for drying towels, and modern fittings from Twyford’s exhibit at the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition. This is another room of beauty, and still largely original. The mosaic floor tiles were specially imported, with other features including grey wall tiles and a streamlined bath.

Ambrose was particularly pleased with the separate shower room. ‘This is one of the best things in the house,’ he exclaimed to Stucco ‘as he entered the glass door to demonstrate how some of the mysterious nickel-plated contraptions work. There are three different sprays, and a special mixer for the hot and cold water… one can splash merrily for hours, if so inclined, without risk of flooding out the house and home’.

A visit to the basement revealed a space with huge concrete pillars, and Ambrose boasted the foundations would carry the biggest building in the city. Stucco described it as like inspecting the engine room of a ship, there being boilers and pipes everywhere. The heating system was served by a coal boiler and two electric elements, and hot water provided by a 100-gallon circulator. There was also a well-equipped laundry.

In their 70s the Hudsons downsized, selling the  the house to the Gardner family in June 1953. Later owners were the Cottle, Shearer, and Lane families. About 1963 Ruby and Ambrose moved to Auckland, where their sons lived, and they led a quiet life at Mission Bay. Ambrose kept up his interest in the factory and last visited it in 1967. He died on 17 November 1969, aged 91, and Ruby died on 6 March 1974, also at the age of 91.

Their former home has been lovingly cared by the current owners of 28 years, while also adapted for modern living. It now awaits the next chapter in its story.

A view of the house when new in 1927. C.M. Collins photographer. Ambrose and Ruby Hudson’s old house on the right was demolished not long after this photograph was taken.

West elevation and forecourt, with Tweed Street on the left. C.M. Collins photographer.

Acknowledgment:
My special thanks to Andrew and Denise Lane, to Alice Munro and Craig Palmer of Bayleys Metro, and to the Hudson family. Images by Bayley Metro reproduced by kind permission.

References:
For the full series of 1927 Evening Star articles follow these links:
12 July 1927 (Stucco, ‘The Home Builder’)
19 July 1927 (Stucco, ‘The Home Builder’)
26 July 1927 (Stucco, ‘The Home Builder’)
23 August 1927 (Stucco, ‘The Home Builder’)
30 August 1927 (Stucco, ‘The Home Builder’)
2 September 1927  (Hydro, ‘Let Electricity Help’)
9 September 1927 (Hydro, ‘Let Electricity Help’)

For more of the early photographs, see the next post.

2 thoughts on “Ruby and Ambrose Hudson’s house

  1. longwhitekid

    “nothing unduly ostentatious…”, and yet the ceilings were gilded. It’s like ‘Stucco’ had some kind of reverse creative license. Very enjoyable article!

    Reply
    1. David Murray Post author

      Yes, their intro was a bit contradictory (is there a fine difference between ‘unduly ostentatious’ and ‘ostentatious’?) I think I can see what they were getting at though, in that there is an attractive simplicity and (for that time) general unfussiness. I’ve now got some historical photos to add, which are really something special. I’ll try to get them up soon.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s