Tag Archives: J.A. Burnside

Irvine & Stevenson buildings (part two)

Built: 1929 (rebuilding of structures erected 1882-1888)
Address: 59-67 St Andrew Street
Architects: Miller & White
Builders: Ellis & Glue
The 1920s neo-Georgian facade of this building disguises its industrial origins as Irvine & Stevenson’s nineteenth-century factory complex. In my last post I looked at the company’s shop and office buildings next door, on the corner of George and St Andrew streets, which were designed by J.A. Burnside and built in 1882. Irvine & Stevenson were one of New Zealand’s leading producers of preserved meats, jams, soups, starch, and other (mostly food) products. By 1919 the company had nine subsidiary factories in other parts of New Zealand and it remained a large player in the food industry until it wound up in 1977.

To begin with, old buildings on the site were used for factory activities. They were replaced in stages, beginning with a two-storeyed bacon factory/curing house designed by Burnside in 1882 and completed in 1883. Later development can be pieced together (though not with complete confidence or clarity) from a surviving company ledger. Between the curing house and the shops were a double cottage and brick stables, which were fitted with gas in 1884. In 1886 ‘sheds’ were demolished and replaced with a smoke house for sausages. The cottages were then replaced with a new jam factory building, built between January and June 1888. This was likely designed by R.A. Lawson, as the ledger shows that fees of £33 10s 6d were paid to him in connection with the project in June 1888. The contract price was recorded as £634.

In 1891 Irvine & Stevenson acquired the local operations of the Australian jam company Peacock & Sons., and all jam production moved to their factory in Moray Place, which became known as the ‘no.2 factory’. In 1894 the St Andrew Street factory was described as having 100 x 66 feet of floor space on each of its two storeys. Activities on the site at that time included bacon curing, sausage making, tea blending, coffee and pepper grinding, and washing powder manufacturing. The company purchased Keast & McCarthy’s large brewery in Filleul Street in 1896 and afterwards consolidated most of its Dunedin manufacturing on that site.

The buildings (in the box at left) as they appeared c.1895. W.R. Frost photograph.

A late 1880s view, showing Irvine & Stevenson’s buildings behind the A. & T. Inglis store. They include the tall chimney stack and the building immediately to its right. Ref: Te Papa O.002091.

With the old jam factory no longer required, that portion of the St Andrew Street complex was converted into a freezing plant with insulated rooms and a large engine ‘of the compressed air type with enormous pistons’. There were few such facilities in Dunedin, and a writer for a promotional piece observed in 1895:

Messrs Irvine and Stevenson have on their premises power refrigerating machinery, which is used partially for the curing of bacon, and also for providing cold storage for the city. A glance into the chambers reveals that the contents are surprisingly miscellaneous. Lake Wakatipu trout, caught months previously, and fish of many other varieties, wild ducks, hares, pork, mutton, veal, large numbers of the omnipresent rabbit – these are awaiting shipment to some distant part; and in separate chambers are stored large quantities of butter belonging to various local factories.

The freehold of the St Andrew Street property was purchased in 1916 and in the 1920s soda crystals (for laundering) were still being produced there. The buildings eventually became surplus to requirements for production purposes but they were kept as an investment property for the I&S Trust, the property arm of Irvine & Stevenson which operated as a separate company for some decades. In 1929 the refrigeration plant was removed and the old buildings were rebuilt with structural strengthening (steel and concrete), a new brick facade, new shops and shop fronts, and altered roof lines. A curious dogleg vehicle access and yard remained, and old slates were also reused. The style chosen for the facade was freely interpreted Georgian Revival and the architect was Eric Miller (1896-1948) of Miller & White. The building is similar in style to another Miller & White design, built for W. Duke & Sons, at the corner of King Edward Street and Hillside Road in South Dunedin. A larger brick-faced building Miller designed was the South Block (now Hercus Building) of the Otago Medical School, completed in 1948.

Miller & White drawing for the 1929 work (elevations and sections), Hocken Collections MS-2758/0378.

StAndrew_S14-550b

Miller & White drawing for the 1929 work (sections and floor plans), Hocken Collections MS-2758/0378.

In September 1929 the finished buildings were described in the Evening Star newspaper:

A building with a rather striking and dignified appearance is that just constructed by Messrs Ellis and Glue in St Andrew Street. The structure referred to is situated on the site used at one time as a bacon curing factory by Messrs Irvine and Stevenson. Now this firm has converted the building into four modern shops on the ground floor with two spacious rooms upstairs which are now being utilised by Mr J.W. Finch, of the Octagon Billiard Parlours, as an up-to-date billiard parlour. The extensive alterations were constructed about six months ago by the contractor, who first of all was called upon to shift about 1,000 bags of pumice and a large quantity of charcoal. The finished building shows a new brick front, with the curtains on the windows of the top floor giving it a homely appearance. The shops below are fairly large, and are given quite an impressive finish with terrazzo around the basements and piers of the windows. The doors and other woodwork are in oak, while the ceilings and walls are tastefully designed in fibrous plaster. The billiard parlour, which has been leased for a period of ten years, is divided into two rooms, with five tables in each, and it is intended to make further provision for another table. Messrs Miller & White were the designers of the building, which cost something in the vicinity of £5,000.

IrvineStevenson_1936Letterhead

A 1936 letterhead for Irvine & Stevenson. By this date the company had stopped using the St Andrew Street buildings for manufacturing. Hocken Collections AG-200-11/04/1319.

The Dunedin Cue Club in 2014.

The Dunedin Cue Club in 2014.

A billiard parlour or pool hall has been operating continuously from the upper floor since 1929. For many years named the Grand Billiard Parlour, it later became the Grand Billiard Rooms, and then the Grand Snooker Centre. In 1998 it became the Dunedin Cue Club and it currently also offers internet and gaming facilities. Director Mark Peisker kindly showed me around and said that one of the tables is thought to have been there since the hall opened 85 years ago.

Downstairs, a cycle shop was the first occupant of the shop at no. 59. Originally Ernest Packer Stevenson’s Cycle Works, it became Knight’s Cycle Works in 1951 and later diversified into prams and children’s nursery goods. In 1969 the business moved to the shop at no. 67 as Knight’s Nursery Centre and it closed around 1991.

Other tenants have included the Laurier Floral Studio (at no. 61 from 1938 to 1970), and the T.W.T. Engineering Co. (at no. 67 from 1939 to 1959). The Presbyterian Social Services Association (now Presbyterian Support Otago) Opportunity Shop opened at no. 59 in 1972. It later expanded into the shop next door and is still there today. The other retail businesses currently in the building are Paint the Town Red (boutique fashion clothing) and Rockshop (musical instruments and audio).

The I&S Trust relinquished its last interests in the property in the early 1960s and for many years it was owned by the Butler Family. It may be considered part of the Larent Buildings that front George Street (but do not include the corner site which is on a separate title). The unspoilt St Andrew Street facade demonstrates how a relatively modest building can have a distinctive street appearance while still being in scale with and sympathetic to its surroundings. The square-paned windows with their timber frames are a particular delight, and I seldom walk past this building without appreciating it. You might also spare a thought for Dunedin’s rich industrial past and eight decades of billiards as you wander by!


Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 22 October 1873 p.2 (James Irvine, ham and bacon), 18 January 1882 p.2 (auction of leasehold), 20 January 1883 p.2 (description of George Street buildings), 3 June 1887 p.1 (opening of pork and provision shop), 19 May 1894 supp. (description of Irvine & Stevenson premises), 27 January 1908 p.7 (freezing plant), 20 November 1919 p.10 (‘The Preserving Industry’); Evening Star, 3 September 1929 p.2 (description of rebuilding work)

Other references:
Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd records, Hocken Collections UN-016
Leading Business Establishments of Dunedin: Being a Series of Illustrations and Descriptive Letterpress (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times and Witness Co., 1895)
Stevenson, Geoffrey W., The House of St George: A Centennial History 1864-1964 (Dunedin: Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd, [1964])
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889])
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892]
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans

Irvine & Stevenson buildings (part one)

Built: 1882
Address: 186-198 George Street
Architect: John Arthur Burnside (1857-1920)
Clerk of WorksJohn Wright

An 1890s photograph by W.R. Frost. The grocery store and two other shops face George Street under the verandah. At the left of the image are the factory buildings.

‘St George’ was one of the most successful brands to come out of Dunedin, becoming a household name throughout New Zealand as well as exporting to overseas markets. Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Company produced jams, soups, tinned meat and fish, other preserved foods, and household products such as laundry crystals. In terms of buildings, it was generally associated with the old Keast & McCarthy brewery site in Filleul Street, where it operated a preserving works from 1897 to 1977. Before that, however, it was based on a site at the corner of St Andrew and George Streets, and that’s what this story is about.

In the early 1860s James Irvine owned three grocery stores in Kilsyth, near Glasgow. In 1863 he came to Dunedin with his wife, Jane, to start a new life in what was then a booming gold rush town. He opened a shop in Filleul Street, and was one of the first bacon curers in the city. The store relocated to George Street (between Hanover and St Andrew streets) around 1870.

William Stevenson was 23 years younger than James Irvine. He came out from Scotland as a boy, and at the age of 21 became a partner in the grocery firm Stevenson & Ford, which occupied one of ‘several insignificant wooden buildings’ on the corner of George and St Andrew streets. There had been a grocery store on the site since James Wallace opened for business in 1864. Immediately to its south were premises occupied by Robert Brown’s cake shop (established in 1879), and next to this was the Oddfellows’ Hall (erected in 1862). Behind these structures were brick stables, and a double cottage facing St Andrew Street.

Stevenson married Irvine’s daughter, Barbara, in 1881, and the following year the two men went into partnership as Irvine & Stevenson. They opened a temporary shop in the Southampton Buildings (now part of the Golden Centre mall) while a block of three new shops and offices was built on leasehold land occupied by the old Stevenson & Ford store, Brown’s shop, and the Oddfellows’ Hall. The architect J.A. Burnside called for tenders in April 1882, and by the following January the building was complete. Irvine & Stevenson used the corner shop as their grocery store, and beneath it was a large storage cellar. Two smaller shops fronting George Street were leased out: one of them to Robert Brown and the other to the drapers M.W. Green & Sons.

A late 1880s view, showing Irvine & Stevenson’s buildings behind the A. & T. Inglis store. They include the tall chimney stack and the building immediately to its right. Ref: Te Papa O.002091.

Constructed from brick, with a stone foundation and a slate roof, the buildings cost £2,898. An Otago Daily Times reporter wrote approvingly:

Although appearance has not been the main object in view, it must be admitted that the front elevation of the buildings displays an exceptionally neat style of architecture, and that the block is by no means the least creditable of many fine buildings in the city. It is needless to remark that the buildings are of a substantial character, while the dimensions mentioned show that they are commodious.

The architecture was loosely Renaissance Revival in style, showing some of the emerging eclecticism also apparent in James Hislop’s design for the Boot Palace (1885-1886) on the opposite corner. Features included rounded corners to the window heads, and small chimneys integrated with the St Andrew Street parapet. The incised decoration above the windows was uncommon in Dunedin with other examples from around the same time including the Coulls Culling warehouse in Crawford Street (since demolished), and the former Dowson’s building at 305 George Street. The verandah was described as one of the best in the city. It had a glazed roof, and its iron pillars and ornate fretwork were manufactured locally by Barningham & Co.

The appointed builder was Henry Martin, but he met with financial difficulty and his contract was terminated before the project was far advanced. Subsequent work was carried out through various contracts, with John Wright apparently acting as Clerk of Works. A few years before Wright had performed a similar role in the building of the Terminus Hotel, also designed by Burnside.

Behind the shops and offices, a two-storey building was erected for curing ham and bacon. It was completed a little later in 1883 and cost a further £555. Between 1886 and 1887 ‘sheds’ were demolished and replaced with a smoke house for sausages at a cost of £275. In 1888 a jam factory building and a large chimney stack were built on the site previously occupied by cottages. They were likely designed by R.A. Lawson, as company accounts shows fees paid to him in connection with the project, which cost £815.

Label for tinned boiled mutton. Ref: Alexander Turnbull Library Eph-C-MEAT-1900s-03.

Irvine & Stevenson registered their ‘St George’ trademark in 1885, and it’s possible (though perhaps unlikely) that the idea for the name was inspired by the streets where the company buildings were sited: St Andrew and George. The brand symbol was a shield containing the image St George on horseback, slaying a dragon. By 1889 the company was producing 300 cases of jam per week, with stoneware jars from Graham Winter & Co.’s Milton Pottery Works. Jam production moved to the former Peacock & Co. premises in Moray Place, soon after Irvine & Stevenson bought it as their ‘no. 2’ factory in 1891.

In 1894 the original complex was described as having 100 x 66 feet of floor space on each of its two storeys. Activities included bacon curing, sausage making, tea blending, coffee and pepper grinding, and washing powder manufacture. There was also a short-lived diversification into confectionery. The Keast & McCarthy brewery premises were acquired in 1896, and the company opened new preserving works there the following year. A freezing plant was installed with insulated rooms and compressed-air freezing machine with enormous pistons. Industrial operations in the rear buildings continued until the structures were rebuilt as shops in 1929, but I’ll leave this for further discussion in my next post.

The shop on the corner was occupied by Irvine & Stevenson’s grocery store for thirty-one years up to 1913, when the company sold it to focus on manufacturing activities. A grocery store remained on the site for another ten years, first run by McIlroy Bros, and then B.J. McArthur. In 1922 the shop and upstairs rooms were taken by the optometrists Hugh & G.K. Neill, who over time developed the complementary photography business Hugh & G.K. Neill Photographics Ltd. In 1997 Neill’s Camera & Video became Jonathan’s Camera & Video, which expanded into the shop next door. Jonathan’s Photo Warehouse remains in the middle shop today, while the corner site is once again in the hands of the optometrists Milburn & Neill (the current iteration of the old firm), who have now been based in the building continuously for over ninety years.

The corner hasn’t always been a peaceful spot. In 1892 George Street was the scene of demonstrations in support of the Saturday half-holiday movement, and one of Irvine & Stevenson’s plate glass windows was smashed. There were also demonstrations during the Great Depression, and it was at this intersection where in April 1932 protestors stopped the taxi carrying the Mayoress, Helen Black, attempting to pull her out and overturn the vehicle. She had been involved in running a relief depot where there was anger that chits for supplies were handed out rather than money orders. It was also said that there was some resentment towards Mrs Black for handing out relief wearing white gloves – a symbol of privilege. These days any altercations at this location are likely to be of the late night drunken variety.

A 1925 advertisement for Hugh & G.K. Neill reproduced from a Dunedin Choral Society programme.

A view of George Street in 1949, showing a ‘St George Jam’ neon sign on top of the building. Ref: Hocken Collections 96-106 (box 96), reproduced at builtindunedin.com courtesy of Perpetual Trust.

The middle shop was originally occupied by a succession of small draperies: M.W. Green & Sons, Carter & Co., and William McBeath, before Irvine & Stevenson put their own retail butchery in the space. For twenty years from 1910 it was occupied by the fruiterer William Carlton Ruffell, whose views on Chinese taking up his line of business reflected some of the racism in New Zealand society at the time. The Evening Post (Wellington) reported in 1920:

A deputation from the Dunedin Retail Fruiterers Association waited on the Dunedin City Council last week in reference to the Asiatic question […] Mr. H.E. Stephens said one shop had been opened in Dunedin, and they knew the Chinese were feeling for about a dozen other businesses. In the North, the trade was practically run by the Chinese. They were not desirable citizens, for they were not bound by our laws, could work as they liked, and were therefore unfair competitors. In California it was proposed to keep Asiatics from buying or holding land, and it was time something was done here. Mr W.C. Ruffell said what they really aimed at was the elimination of foreigners. They thought New Zealand should be white.

Ruffell’s shop became an outlet of Star Stores for nearly thirty years from 1930. It was then Adkins Foodmarket (1959-1973), Adams Fruit (1973-1987), and the clothing retailer Slick Willy’s (1987-2004), before Jonathan’s took it.

The southernmost shop (present no. 186) was leased by the confectioner Robert Brown in 1882 and was kept by his family for nearly seventy years. In later years it traded as Brown & Son, Brown’s Cafeteria, and Brown’s Cake Shop. It became Jordon’s Milk Bar around 1953, and photographs from the Hocken Collections show a slick American-influenced hangout of the rock ‘n roll era. It was a place where ‘milkbar cowboys’ gathered outside on Sunday afternoons (the Beau Monde was the spot on Friday nights), the coolest among them with Triumph Speed Twin and Thunderbird motorcycles. Inside, Oriental fans were a feature of the decoration. As well as traditional milkshake flavours, the Fla-va-tru range (‘America’s Latest!’) included: Blue Lagoon, Fruti Tuti, Chop Suey (can anyone enlighten me on that one?), Fruit Salad, Yankee Doodle, Smoky Joe, Nutti Cream, Butterscotch, Mint Julep, and Pink Lemonade. A wide variety of chocolates were sold, from Nestlé and Cadbury bars through to Winning Post, Caley’s Majestic, and Cadbury’s Centennial boxes. The snack bar offered spaghetti, baked beans on toast, poached eggs on toast, tomato soup and toast, and hot pies. Jordon’s closed in 1969 and was replaced by the Four Seasons Restaurant, which was in turn succeeded by Buyck’s Restaurant (1975-1980), the Pig ‘n Whistle Restaurant (1980-1982), and the Capri Coffee Lounge (1982-1987). The closure of the Capri ended the space’s role as an eatery after more than a century. Meanwhile, upstairs was dieting HQ, as Weight Watchers had their premises there for twenty years from 1976. The downstairs shop was occupied by Payless Shoes from 1987 to 1996, before the current tenant, Dollar Store 123, opened for business in 1998.

The street frontage of Jordons Milk Bar in 1957, complete with Melody Master jukebox. Ref: Hocken Collections P11-012, S14-117c. Ritchie’s Studio photograph.

The interior of Jordons Milk Bar in 1957. Ref: Hocken Collections P11-012, S14-117b. Ritchie’s Studio photograph.

Staff of Jordons Milk Bar, Yvonne third from right. Ref: Hocken Collections P11-012, S14-117a.

The property arm of Irvine & Stevenson retained a financial interest in the buildings up to 1962. The corner premises went into the ownership of Hugh & G.K. Neil, and the remainder to the Butler Family who named their portion Larent Buildings. I’m unsure why this name was chosen, as I haven’t found any obvious links between the name and the building, but it may have been because it was an investment property and ‘Larent’ is an anagram of ‘Rental’! The first floor windows in this part were replaced in 1970, giving the buildings their present lopsided appearance. The original verandah, cornice, and parapet have also been destroyed and their restoration together with the first floor windows would transform the building from its somewhat awkward and unassuming look to a striking and handsome feature of the street.

So as not to confuse things, I’ll treat the historical development of the old factory buildings separately in the next post. So, as they say:

To be continued….

A recent view

Facade detail showing incised decoration

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 22 October 1873 p.2 (James Irvine, ham and bacon), 18 January 1882 p.2 (auction of leasehold), 20 January 1883 p.2 (description of George Street buildings), 3 June 1887 p.1 (opening of pork and provision shop), 19 May 1894 supp. (description of Irvine & Stevenson premises), 27 January 1908 p.7 (freezing plant), 20 November 1919 p.10 (‘The Preserving Industry’), 8 November 2008 p.6 (‘Recalling Dunedin’s Dark Days’ by Mark Price); Evening Post (Wellington), 28 June 1920 p.6 (W.C. Ruffell)

Other references:
Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd records, Hocken Collections UN-016
Stevenson, Geoffrey W., The House of St George: A Centennial History 1864-1964 (Dunedin: Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd, [1964])
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889])
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892]
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)
Thanks to Allan Dick for his memories of Dunedin milk bars.

Note: some occupancy dates may be a year out either way due to reliance on annual directories.

Acetylene Buildings

Built: 1909-1910
Address: 126-132 Stuart Street
Architect: John Arthur Burnside (1857-1920)
Builders: George France

The building as it appeared in 1910. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum 63-45-1.

The curious name of the Acetylene Buildings is painted above the door in the historic photograph above. On the parapet and shop fronts is the name of the original building owners, the New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Co. Ltd.

Acetylene lighting became popular in the Edwardian era, particularly for towns or particular properties that were not easily connected to an electricity network. Calcium carbine pellets combined with dripping water to produce the acetylene gas, which was then burned to produce the light. The New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Company was established in Dunedin in 1902, and within a short time branches were operating in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. In 1906 the company was responsible for setting up the street lighting in Picton, the first town in New Zealand to use the system. Kaiapoi and Geraldine followed in 1908, and Opunake in 1909. The company also supplied lighting for private houses such as ‘Aorangi’ at St Leonards, institutions such as Waitaki Boys’ High School, various dredges, and Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica in 1909. Acetylene cooking stoves and heaters were also sold. A problem with the gas was that it was prone to causing explosions. Eight people were killed in an explosion at a general store at Upper Hutt in 1914. Following a long inquest and vigorous argument, the coroner eventually concluded that gelignite on the premises was to blame rather than acetylene, but the bad press may have hastened the decline of the acetylene lighting in New Zealand, while at the same time electrification was becoming more widely available.

The Acetylene Buildings were erected during the boom in construction that came to Stuart Street after the re-siting of the Dunedin railway station. John Arthur Burnside was architect and he called for tenders for construction in September 1909. George France was the contractor and the buildings, which cost £2400 were finished by April 1910. There were three storeys to Stuart Street, with two shops on the ground floor and generously proportioned offices above. An adjoining workshop building faced Bath Street and acetylene lighting was used throughout. The exuberant Queen Anne styling included prominent window pediments and volutes that echoed those on the nearby Roberts Building, which Burnside had designed six years earlier. Most of the architectural features remain today, but the parapet detail and cornice have been removed and as a result the composition has lost its balance. The brickwork on the street facades has been painted and a hanging verandah and fire escape added.

The Acetylene Gas Lighting Company took the corner shop and workshop. The business was renamed New Zealand Acetylene and Hardware Ltd in 1919, and after downsizing it was reorganised as Electric and Plumbing Supplies Ltd in 1929 and closed in 1956. The corner shop was afterwards taken by the Otago Missionary Association, which ran a book room, and then by the Lullaby Fashion House (children’s wear), between 1961 and 1979. Later tenants included Fiesta Fashions and Toy Traders.

William James Bell, a hairdresser, had the other shop from 1913. He died in 1955 but Bell’s Hairdressers continued at the address until 1985. Its 72 years came close to matching the record of Hendy’s Hairdressing Room in Princes Street. The former hairdresser’s became a Middle Eastern café/restaurant for a few years and is now combined with the other shop as Minami Sushi Bar and Restaurant (opened in 2002).

A view of the building from Stuart Street

Up the charming timber staircase, its handrail worn to a fine finish after a century of use, is Lure Jewellery Workshop, established by Ann Culy in 1995. There is a great link here with one of the first tenants in the building, Thomas Long. A manufacturing jeweller, he ran his Zealandia Jewellery Manufacturing Company at the address from 1913. Within five years he dropped the company name, but he continued to work in the building to 1929. Lure has workspace for up to four jewellers and its retail gallery represents up to thirty New Zealand jewellers. On the top floor, jeweller and painter John Z. Robinson has had a studio since 1999.

Other tenants in the upstairs rooms have included August De Beer (indenting agent, 1913-1932), Chrissie Hall (dressmaker, 1913-1925), Robert Bennet (tailor, 1925-1953), and Bertrand Quelch (barrister and solicitor, 1954-1967). The Otago Chess Club (established in 1884) had its club rooms on the top floor from 1941 to 1955. In those days tournaments were typically carried out in a haze of cigarette smoke. I wonder if the concentration of the players was disrupted by the Dunedin Ladies Brass Band, which had its band rooms in the building for a few years after 1946. Watson Studio, photographers, had rooms on the upper floors from 1962 to 1993, and then became the Gary van der Mark studio.

Tull’s Chocolate Annihilation, from the creators fo the Chocolate Massacre. The silhouette of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull featured on restaurant signage and menus.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

The old workshop fronting Bath Street became a restaurant around 1987. Smorgy’s and Just Desserts were there for a few years before Geoff and Lois SImpson opened Tull in 1993. Named after the rock band Jethro Tull, it was particularly known for its desserts, and had almost a cult following. Diners were awarded a certificate (‘The Blodwyn’) if they were able to finish the Chocolate Massacre, and other dishes paid homage to the band with names such as Aqualung (a seafood salad) and Bungle in the Jungle (a green salad). The Simpsons were folk musicians and the New Edinburgh Folk Club (established c.1977) met at the restaurant on Sunday nights from 1999 onwards. Tull closed following Geoff’s death in 2006, and since 2007 the space has been a Japanese restaurant, Yuki Izakaya.

View from Bath Street showing the former workshop and Tull restaurant on the left (now Yuki Izakaya)

Facade detail

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 1 September 1909 p.1 (call for tenders), 16 September 1909 p.12 (Shackleton expedition), 1 April 1910 p.1 (rooms to let), 5 December 1995 p.17 (Lure), 2 September 2006 p.34 (Geoff Simpson obituary)
The Dominion, 29 April 1914 p.4 (Upper Hutt tragedy)

Other references:
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Tonkin, Keith. The Tull Years 1999-2006. New Edinburgh Folk Club (Dunedin, 2007).
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans
New Zealand Acetylene Gas Company brochure, Hocken Collections AG-352/053
Otago Chess Club minute books, Hocken Collections MS-0962/006

Acknowledgment:
Thanks to Lois Simpson for supplying information about the Tull restaurant.

Roberts Building

Built: 1903-1904
Address: 99-101 Stuart Street
Architects: John Arthur Burnside (1857-1920)
Builders: McKinnon & Hamilton

Some buildings offer instant clues to their origins and the identities of the people who once occupied them. The Roberts Building prominently displays its name and the year 1903 above some wonderfully florid entranceway decoration. Although most people don’t look up, a few must find their eyes drawn to this feature and wonder: ‘Who was Roberts?’

Edward Roberts said he was ‘in a sense the Pioneer of the Street’. An earlier post here described the rapid development of Lower Stuart Street in the Edwardian era. In the goldrush years a young married couple had lived in a tent on the site of the Roberts Buildings, and as late as 1900 there were still many vacant sections and simple wooden structures in the street. Only five of the buildings now standing in the street date from the nineteenth century, but there are twelve from the period 1900-1914. The Law Courts were built between 1900 and 1902, and the Railway Station between 1904 and 1906. The station spurred new construction as it caused a new flow of foot traffic, which had previously gone up Dowling Street from the old station at Queens Gardens.  Not long after the site for the new station was decided, enterprising businesses and developers were putting up substantial buildings. Roberts later claimed to be the first in this wave.

Edward Roberts (1851-1925). Photographic portrait by W.R. Frost (Hocken Collections MS-0484/006).

A consulting engineer, Roberts had been paying high rent for offices and decided it would make more sense to build his own premises with shops and rooms he could lease out. The architect, John Arthur Burnside, called for tenders from contractors in September 1903 and the building was completed by June 1904, the same month that the foundation stone for the Railway Station was laid. Roberts’ first floor office faced Stuart Street, in the easternmost room. His first tenant was a dentist, Miss Marion Donald, and within three or four years he found he had a good paying proposition.

Edward Roberts was born in Cornwall in 1851 and grew up in Bendigo where his father established an ironworks. A qualified mechanical engineer, he arrived in Dunedin with his wife Elizabeth in 1881, to take up a job at Robert Sparrow’s Dunedin Iron Works. His projects included bridges, viaducts, ship boilers, harbour works, and road construction. He gained an international reputation for dredge construction, and one of his innovations was a dredge with a stacker, able to work the ground away from the river. This was built for the Otago Gold Dredging Company. Roberts was one of the original promoters, and the designing engineer, for the Dunedin and Kaikorai Cable Tramway Company, which operated the Stuart Street cable car from 1900.

The Roberts Building was given a facade of unpainted brickwork with contrasting cement plaster facings. The parapet was originally plain above a strong cornice. The first-floor windows were surmounted by bold pediments and flanked by volutes, a feature Burnside repeated in a later building he designed at the nearby corner of Stuart and Bath streets. A panel facing Stuart Street featured the name of the building and the date of construction in relief. Above the ground floor office entrance was placed a relief sculpture (‘pargetting’) of an organic fleur-de-lis design beneath an arch surmounted by a ball finial.

There were originally no verandahs, but by 1906 one of the bullnose type had been added, and this was extended in 1909. A hanging verandah was added in 1930 and the original projecting cornice removed around the 1940s, somewhat spoiling the original design. In 1910 a second, smaller building was erected in Moray Place. The existing facade was extended in the same style, connecting the buildings over a lane used to access a yard at the rear of the property. Another name panel was added but this is now illegible.

The seed and plant merchants Skene & Fleming (later Skene’s Ltd) were early ground floor tenants who later moved a few doors towards the railway station before closing in 1943. The longest tenancy in the building was that of the tailors W.S. Reddell & Co. (later Reddell’s Ltd), who had the corner shop from 1909 to 1972. Reddell’s had a reputation for ‘reliable tailoring’ using tweeds produced by the Rosyln mills and other New Zealand manufacturers, although shortages in 1919 led them to buy expensive Russian material that had been intended for the Russian aristocracy.

Advertisement from ‘Roslyn Review’, March 1910 (Hocken Collections S13-555b)

Postcard (private collection)

Postcard (private collection)

Postcard reverse

Postcard reverse

Edward Roberts occupied his offices until his death in 1925, and his son, Edward Fletcher Roberts, kept them on. The area was something of a hub for engineering firms, with A. & T. Burt, John Chambers & Son, Niven & Co., and James Mann, all being close neighbours. The younger Roberts was a civil engineer and surveyor. He trained in England and served in France, Mesopotamia, and India during the First World War. He eventually took over his father’s firm, and his work included water supply projects, mechanical engineering, road construction, and the design of bridges (notably the one at Luggate). Ian Pairman described him as a legendary figure in the engineering and surveying world of Otago. He wrote:

‘His reputation survives as a formidable but fair disciplinarian, a true professional with a keen sense of responsibility. An 8am start meant just that. Staff were lined up – not a very big line – shoes and clothing inspected, hair neat, faces scrubbed. Anything amiss, and you were sent out to rectify the matter. Pay started when all was well. He, of course, was ‘Mr Roberts’; you were plain Smith or Jones. Christian names might as well have not been invented. He was tall, lean, and very deaf, which made him a trifle suspicious of what young cadets might be doing or saying behind his back, but he trusted them as he himself would be trusted.’

A brief partnership with Walter Duffill and Eddie King didn’t work out well. It ended in 1949 after Duffill was locked out and had to break into his own office through the first floor window using an electrician’s ladder! Fletcher Roberts retained offices in the building until his death in 1951, and these days Webb Farry Lawyers occupy his old rooms.

Gallery De Novo, art and framing, opened in the corner shop on 8 July 2005. Owned by Richelle Byers and Liz Fraser, this is one of Dunedin’s leading galleries representing an eclectic mix of New Zealand contemporary artists. The space gets good natural light and a mezzanine level has been incorporated to good effect. Original floorboards and plaster ceilings are attractive interior features, in a building which has seen many changes, but still retains much of its charm and appeal.

The building in the early 1960s, photographed by Hardwicke Knight.

A similar view in 2013.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 29 September 1903 p.6 (call for tenders), 14 May 1904 p.2 (description), 15 November 1915 p.7 (tent on site in the 1860s), 4 June 1919 p.12 (Reddell & Co.), 4 August 2005 p.9 (Gallery De Novo).

Other references:
Garden, Eoin R., ‘Roberts, Edward (1851-1925)’ in Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography (Dunedin: Longacre Press, 1998), p.424.
Pairman, Ian R. An Engineer Told Me: The Story of the First 50 Years pf Duffill Watts & King Ltd, Consulting Engneers (Dunedin: Duffill Watts King, 1997), pp.15-32.
Edward Roberts papers, Hocken Collections MS-0484/002.
Edward Fletcher Roberts papers, Hocken Collections ARC-0006.
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans