Filleul Street appears on Charles Kettle’s street plan (National Archives, UK) as Albyn Place, one of many street names taken from Edinburgh. Its formation and development was slow, partly due to the swampy nature of the land, and it was ultimately given a different name. The earliest reference to Filleul Street in the Otago Witness dates from March 1859. Canon Edmund Nevill (1862-1933) was an historian of place names (a toponymist!), and the following extract is taken from one of his manuscripts held in the Hocken Collections. He refers to James Fulton, the prosperous Taieri farmer and parliamentarian, whose residence Lisburn House still stands at Caversham.
Here follow some place names embodying old stories. The late Dr Robert Fulton told me the first. He said ‘As the story of how Filleul St got its name has not so far appeared in print I detail it here, for I had it from my father James Fulton. In the fifties he and his brother Robert, who lived at Ravensbourne [sic] West Taieri used to walk into town at election times, record their votes, and return home – often with 50lb bags of flour on their backs. On one occasion they came to the Town Board office for some special reason and James Macandrew said “hullo, Jim, you are the very man we want” (Everyone was Jim and Bob and Harry in those days.) “We are naming some of the streets, you have chosen sections in this flag swamp, we’ll call them Fulton St.” “No you don’t Mac” said my father, laughing “here’s Dickey Filleul, call it after him”. The two Filleuls, William and Richard, were great friends of my father, nephews of the Valpys. They went to Oamaru and settled there but were very little in Dunedin. However, the name was given and has remained. The Filleuls were French Hugenots who came to England at the time of the massacre of St Bartholemew (1572).’
The FIlleul brothers , Richard Anthony Filleul and William Gabriel Filleul, were born in Jersey in the Channel Islands and came to Otago in 1849 when still in their teens. They went to the Victorian goldfields in 1852 and after their return were sheep farmers at Papakaio. They both went to England for a time, and Richard drowned when the Lord Raglan sank en route to New Zealand in 1863. William Gabriel Filleul gave up farming later in the 1860s and became Clerk of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in Oamaru. He retired to Nelson where he died in 1902. His wife, Louisa, was fond of riding and it was told in her obituary that she:
…covered great stretches of country on horseback. As a protection against bushrangers, who were haunting the country about Dunedin at the time, she and her cousin carried pots of pepper in their saddle-bags, and it was characteristic of Mrs Filleul that she expressed disappointment that the pepper never had to be used.
The Fulton story has a good provenance, but stories of origin are seldom straightforward and there is a bit more to this one too. Dr Hocken stated that William Filleul told him that he purchased a section at the corner of Moray Place and Filleul Street. Mr Abbott, the surveyor superintending the purchase, said ‘I see this street has got no name, we’ll call it Filleul Street’. Hocken’s information suggests that while the circumstances may have been approximately as Fulton described, the naming was not quite as haphazard as his story suggested. Further complicating things, Robin Mitchell (1954) wrote that the first landowner in the street was Philip Filleul. This would likely be Philip Valpy Mourant Filleul, the older brother of Richard and William, who settled in Tasmania but apparently spent very little time here. A search of land records held by Archives New Zealand would likely clarify which of the Filleuls bought the section.
In the 1860s, numerous small houses and modest commercial and buildings were built. The occupations of the residents named in Stone’s directory for 1884 included labourer, plasterer, clerk, storekeeper, artist, waiter, cook, baker, charwoman, photographer, music teacher, stocking knitter, signwriter, sailmaker, accountant, auctioneer, ironworker, butcher, draper, fruiterer, jobmaster, expressman, dealer, carter, glass engraver, plasterer, crockery merchant, and brewer. Not all of the homes were on the streetfront, with many of the humbler dwellings down little lanes and alleys.
The Liverpool Arms Hotel opened on the upper side of the street, between Moray Place and York Place, in 1869. It was kept by Edmund O’Keeffe, and later by his son Alfred Henry O’Keefe, who went on to became one of New Zealand’s most celebrated early painters and art teachers. The Liverpool Arms lost its license in 1894 and in 1909 became the Anglican Men’s Mission House, run by the Rev. V.G. Bryan King. A newspaper feature published in the Otago Witness gives insight into the lives of some of Dunedin’s most disadvantaged people, though it leaves many questions as to how it was from their own perspective. King told a reporter:
‘Well, yes I am somewhat busy at times, but the work never becomes monotonous. On Thursday afternoon, for instance, I had a man in the “D.T.’s” in here, a destitute woman and her child in the hall, a mad woman creating a disturbance at the front door, and a young man, with something in his eye, asking attention. I simply did not know what to do first, so I commenced operations by evicting the mad woman, and while I was attending to her the “D.T.” patient escaped, and caused me a lot of trouble…’
Mr King had long advocated such a place, and when it was finally decided to establish the mission he was at some pains to discover a suitable site for it. Eventually he decided on Filleul street, near a quarter where there were houses of a bad reputation. The house he took, indeed, had been one of the most unsavoury in the neighbourhood. It had been tenanted by rogues, vagabonds, gamblers, and half-caste Chinese girls. It was filthily dirty; when it was being cleaned the accumulations of years had to be scraped off the floor with a spade. In an upstairs room some 12 or 14 ferrets had been kept, and long after their removal there remained in the vicinity an odour that very forcibly reminded one of the polecat tribe. But soap, water, paint and paper presently rendered the half-dozen rooms clean and habitable…
Now, Mr King is tall and pale and slightly built. The reporter was curious to know how he fared in […] unwished-for encounters, and he put the question. Mr King smiled, and pointed to a couple of books lying handily. ‘Ju-jitsu?’ said the reporter. ‘Precisely,’ said the clergyman. ‘My best friend. I learned it long since, and have used it frequently’ […] ‘I have had some of the biggest wharf labourers in Dunedin tackle me at different times,’ he said, complacently; ‘but I survived. No – no damage.’
The building reverted to residential use in the 1920s and was eventually demolished around 1970.
Four churches were built on corner sites. The old Brethren Hall (later the Beneficiaries Hall) on the Hanover Street corner was designed by J.L. Salmond in 1894. It was Maude’s Fabric Barn for a time and is now the restaurant Miga. The Evangelical Church of Christ stood near the Moray Place intersection from 1910 to 1976. This is not to be confused with the St Andrew Street Church of Christ, designed by David Mowat and opened in 1926. It replaced the Tabernacle in Great King Street, and remains a landmark building with its Wrenesque tower and a classical styling unusual in Dunedin’s ecclesiastical architecture. On the diagonally opposite corner remains another church building, the former York Place Gospel Hall. It was much modified for re-use by Warwick Grimmer Ltd in 1990.
The Dunedin Brewery was established at the northern end of the street in 1861. It was taken over by Charles Keast in 1870 and he went into partnership with John McCarthy in 1871 to form Keast & McCarthy. The old wooden buildings were removed and a new brewery in brick and bluestone erected between 1873 and 1874. Later buildings included brick offices fronting Filleul Street designed by Louis Boldini (1878), a new malthouse and other buildings designed by T.B. Cameron (1880), and extensive additions fronting London Street designed by Drew & Lloyd (1882). The brewery closed in 1895 and the buildings were taken over by Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co., which also had factory premises in St Andrew Street and Moray Place. This large company was known for its ranges of jams, soups, preserved meats, and other canned food products. It eventually operated factories throughout New Zealand and continued to be based on the Filleul Street site until it closed in 1977. The buildings were demolished, but a remnant wall can be seen from London Street. Smiths City later developed a store on the site fronting Filleul Street. This closed in 2008 and the building is now partly occupied by Lincraft.
There were still many houses in the street in the 1960s but few remain today. The property became attractive to commercial developers and various new two-storey buildings were built in the 1970s. Three two-storey houses from around the turn of the century remain on the slope immediately below London Street, and a single-storey 1890s villa there was demolished only recently to make way for apartments.
The eastern side of Filleul Street is now dominated by multi-storey carparks. The first was built for Gardner Motors in 1969, together with a car sales yard on the corner of Moray Place. It was the first carpark of its type in Dunedin and the architects were Mason & Wales. The Golden Centre followed in 1979 and the Meridian mall in 1997. The mall carparks usefully service nearby shops and businesses, but their appearance and function dehumanise a large part of street. The Wall Street complex, opened in 2009, has a glass frontage at ground level.
The Gardner Motors building became Health Board House in 1989, when it was rebuilt with additional floors of office accommodation. It was transformed from a bland utilitarian structure into a striking example of postmodernism (‘pomo’), an architectural movement that peaked in Dunedin between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s (later than in some other cities). The architect was Ashley Muir of Mason & Wales, and the Otago Daily Times reported that he:
…believes buildings should not be fashionable and says the buildings people like in Dunedin have been there for 100 years […] He uses Greek and Roman influences because he believes they form part of people’s perceptions of what a public building should be. Public buildings must also have visual texture, like the Dunedin Railway Station, which is ‘full of visual texture’.
The continued role of revivalism in Dunedin architecture might be something good to follow up here another time. I had intended this post to be about a street name but have ended up writing about modern carparks! If nothing else, this shows how much one busy central city street can evolve in a relatively short space of time. No doubt Filleul Street will be further transformed in the future.
Otago Witness, 19 March 1859 p.2 (early reference to Filleul Street), 17 March 1898 p.35 (biography of W.G. Filleul), 10 November 1909 p.89 (mission house); Otago Daily Times, 1 October 1878 p.1 (Boldini additions to brewery), 3 February 1880 p.4 (T.B. Cameron additions to brewery), 18 July 1882 p.4 (Drew & Lloyd additions to brewery); 2 August 1989 p.24 (rebuilding of Gardner Motors) North Otago Times, 7 August 1902 p.3 (obituary for W.G. Filleul); New Zealand Herald, 7 September 1927 p.12 (obituary for Louisa Filleul).
Croot, Charles. Dunedin Churches: Past and Present (Dunedin: Otago Settlers Association, 1999).
Griffiths, George. Dunedin Street Names (Dunedin: the author, 1999).
Hocken, Thomas Morland: NZ Notes. Hocken Collections MS-0037.
Leckie, Frank G. Otago Breweries: Past and Present. (Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1997).
Nevill, Edmund Robert : Papers relating to European placenames in New Zealand. Hocken Collections MS-0160A.
Stevenson, Geoffrey W., The House of St George: A Centennial History 1864-1964 (Dunedin: Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd, ).