Pine Ridge — the story of an old house

By Eileen (Eades) Rusden 1 August, 2004

Pine Ridge — the story of an old house

The story of an old house, presented to the meeting of Blockhouse Bay Historical Group on Wednesday, 4 August 2004, by Eileen (Eades) Rusden

We have been extremely fortunate to trace the history of a house and the families which lived in it, from 1888 to the present day. As to be expected, it has sustained extensive structural alterations in the course of over 100 years, as it was altered to sustain the lifestyles of the families.

The house is named ‘Pine Ridge ’ and is situated at No. 8 Mitchell Street.

The original Certificate of Title, dated 25 July 1888, records the block of land, of three acres, three roods and eighteen perches (more or less), being allotment 311 of the Parish of Waikomiti, in the town of South Whau.

The original property consisted of that land almost from the corner of Gilfillan Street, left along Mitchell Street, along to Barton Street east (previously Bartley Street) and back down the hill towards Endeavour Street.

It is shown on the surveyor’s (Mr S. Percy Smith) 1888 survey of Avondale South as Block 311.

On 6 December 1888 the land was acquired from the Crown by Henry Barton, a boarding house keeper of Avondale, although Avondale Historical Society has been unable to trace him. Unfortunately there is no way to find out what he paid, but I would suspect he was a land speculator who lived elsewhere. Early in the next decade, the 1890s, there was a scheme mooted to build a canal to connect the waters of the Manukau and Waitemata harbours along the old Maori portage route to the Whau river, and several large blocks of land were sold by the Crown from this particular piece down to Green Bay, attracting speculation of increase in values.

Although we do not think Mr Barton ever lived here and only held the land for about 6 years, he had the honour of having a street called after him. Shown on the original title as Bartley Street (T. H. Bartley in 1856 was deputy superintendent of the Auckland province,) it was changed to Barton Street and runs down towards Connell Street, and Barton Street East runs up from Endeavour Street to Mitchell Street. This last part now only goes half way up the very steep hill.

Mr Thomas James McIvor, a funeral director of Auckland, bought from Barton on 10 May 1894. The property had a mortgage recorded on the 1894 purchase date and another recorded in November 1897 which we could speculate would be to finance the erection of a dwelling. We do not know that McIvor ever lived here, as he was in business in the City, but may well have used it as a holiday home.

This original house was quite substantial, at least five rooms with a double fireplace, and we understand, verandahs at the front and back. Built of pit sawn kauri weatherboards with wide kauri floorboards, this kauri timber is still in perfect condition today.

After 9 years McIvor discharged his mortgages, and transferred the property in October 1901 to Jane Isabella Davison, a spinster lady of Auckland. She is also a mystery lady and we know nothing about her, except she also held the property for 9 years. In the 1905 Rate Book the property was valued at 160 pounds and she was stated to be the “Occupier”.

In January 1911, Frank Kellaway an upholsterer, of Blockhouse Bay, became the owner, again with a mortgage registered. The Kellaway families were well known in the Bay — Frank’s son, Herbert, enrolled at school in 1910 and another son, Leonard, in 1912. Frank’s cousin, James, lived across the road at No. 9 Mitchell Street.

Frank Kellaway only kept it a couple of years and in December 1913 the next owner was the Reverend Harold Robertson Jecks, a clerk in Holy Orders, who came from Mt Albert. Jecks enrolled a son, Cyril, in our school in October 1914. He was well known in the West as ”Jockey Jecks”, because to cover his huge parish with its very poor roads he either rode his horse or went by buggy around his parochial district. As well as officiating at St Lukes (Mt Albert) and St Judes (Avondale) on a Sunday, he also had services at Blockhouse Bay and Waterview, and additionally covered New Lynn and Titirangi in his ministry.

There is speculation that at this time the house was referred to as a “Vicarage”, but it was never owned by the Church, only by the Reverend Jecks. Later he appears in Directories as living in Station Road, Avondale, and in 1919 became the vicar of St Judes.

Meanwhile, the house was not left empty with Reverend Jeck’s departure. It became a home to Mr and Mrs John Linton and their daughters Adeline and Evelyn, who rented it from Reverend Jecks from 1915 to 1920, until they bought their own property on the corner of Endeavour and Gilfillan Street, running down to Kinross Street.

The first subdivisions of Pine Ridge occurred in 1917 and then again in 1920, when the Reverend Jecks sold small pieces of his land bordering on Barton Street East and Mitchell Street to Mr Herbert Tiarks, who built the two-storey wooden house, still today a landmark with its bright blue roof.

In 1920, when Reverend Jecks was established in St Judes, the residue of his land, which was still a large property of exactly three acres, was sold to Mr Egerton and Mrs Constance Gill and their daughter, Hilda. Unfortunately we do not have a picture of the original building, but this was to be the era for major changes to the house.

Mr Egerton Gill was a professional man, an accountant in the City working in the Hellabys building, and obviously had the capital to improve the property. And he really went to work making it into a gracious family home. He extended at the front by removing the original front verandah and raising the roof height, and adding six feet in width to the original two front rooms. The front today still looks the same. On the side, on the left looking from the front, a verandah was built — the coloured glass window installed at the end of the verandah can still be seen today. Mr Gill installed gracious half-glazed French doors from each room on that side (which today have been removed), and on the other side of the house he installed two French doors, which are still there today. These lovely doors were recycled and came from the old Nathan home in Herne Bay.

The west front of Pine Ridge
The front (west) of Pine Ridge as seen in 2004. It is unchanged from the time of Mr Gill's 1920 alterations.

Mr Gill obviously did not believe in wasting money as much of the timber he used came from a building demolished in Karangahape Road but, unfortunately, over the years, some of this timber had borer infestation or rotted, whereas the original timber is still sound.

Three fireplaces were installed, and at the back, the old verandah running right across the cottage was closed in to make a small bathroom, a small kitchen and an extension to the lounge.

Now Pine Ridge boasted seven rooms, but the original part could still be discerned in the entry hall ceiling and two front room ceilings which are kauri boards, while the later ceilings are plaster with wood battens.

I imagine they were the only family in the district boasting a live-in gardener. Mr Gill erected a small building at the rear of the house of which one part was the wash-house with the copper, the other the living quarters for their gardener. This building still stands but is just one room now.

The Gill family entertained frequently with dances and garden parties in their lovely property, their guests driving in through large wooden gates up the circular driveway. Mr Gill was prominent in our local community affairs. He was Chairman of the School Committee for many years, and the road behind the school was named Gill Crescent after him. Their daughter Hilda did not attend school locally. She was educated at a Quaker boarding school in the country and she never married.

The sweeping driveway as seen in the Gill era.

In 1923 the first shared party phone lines were installed in Blockhouse Bay — the old ones where you turned the handle and the ring was in morse code, and all conversations could be listened in to. This line was shared by six households — Abels in Heaphy Street (Hilltop School now); J. Kealy (City book store owner) and farmer Hubert Lees, both in Taunton Terrace; and the Gills, Tiarks and Turner families, all in Mitchell Street.

In the summer, Egerton Gill also allowed campers to use that steep part of the land at the rear of the property, going down towards Endeavour Street.

In 1924, Mr Thistle, using a large touring car as a sort of minibus, ran a bus service from Salisbury House to Dominion Road and garaged his car on Pine Ridge.

After Mr Gill died in 1938, an Englishman, Victor Atkinson, a publisher, his wife and son David lived here, renting from the Gill Estate, until they returned to England in 1942. They kept a horse on the land. David Atkinson recently returned to visit his boyhood home and told of the happy times he had here.

Mrs Atkinson at the entrance gates to Pine Ridge
1940 — Mrs Atkinson at the entrance gates. Note the copper name plate made by Miss Hilda Gill. The gates were demolished in 1945 when the property was subdivided.

The property was bought from the Gill Estate by James and Sallie Knight in October 1942. The house and 3 acres of land cost one thousand, two hundred pounds.

James and Sallie settled in during World II, with their daughters Coralie and May and sons Brian and Dennis. They made some further minor alterations to the house, but as they did not have the services of a gardener, they maintained the extensive flower gardens and huge vegetable gardens themselves. They kept two cows and had a vast orchard with huge plum trees. The property had its own well which provided their water.

In 1944, their daughter, Coralie Knight, wed Graham Tait in the garden, and took over the old house and garden. In 1945 their other daughter, Mary Knight (Mrs Strachan), took the half acre on the left of Pine Ridge at No. 4 Mitchell Street, and built a new home, taking her parents with her, and here James died on 4 June 1945 and Sallie on 3 March 1947. This property has now four huge home units on it and is where the old gates were.

Also at this time, 1945, five other sections were subdivided from the property for one Thousand pounds each. This price was quite cheap, but the steep land down the back towards Endeavour Street had no road access.

Between 1945 and 1965 many changes were made to the house by the Taits. The leftside verandah built in 1921 was glassed in, making an extra room, and then later this room was incorporated into the bedroom behind.

The Gill 1921 bathroom and kitchen across the back were converted into one large kitchen and dining room, and lined with kauri panelling (as it is today). There was a little porch on the back, and one of the original bedrooms became a bathroom, with the original dining room being converted into a bedroom. So the house was changed around quite a bit, but extensions were sensitively done and in keeping with the old style. The 1921 sliding windows in the lounge had rotted and these were replaced with a large picture window and a French door.

The old multi-party-line telephone system was replaced and the Taits were one of the first families in the Bay to get a new style telephone with a line shared with only two others.

In 1965 a further three pieces of land were sold — 2 large sections down behind the house with right-of-way access to Mitchell Street, and a small parcel right at the rear bought by the Endeavour Street neighbour to enable them to have enough land to build on.

The land where Herbert Tiarks built his two-storey home was, of course, part of the original Pine Ridge estate, and in 1965 he bought from the Taits another piece of land bordering on Barton Street East.

Again the Pine Ridge owners were dedicated gardeners. Coralie and Graham had 500 to 600 roses growing at the rear of the property, which they sold in 10 dozen lots to city florists Hope Delahunty and to Spiros. The local carrier, Punch Piper, took them into the city.

Coralie and Graham Tait built a new house at the right of the old place, moving in December 1965 with their children Peter and Bronwyn. Peter was active in the yacht club, entering the Olympic Trials in the Flying Dutchman class with another local lad, Gordon Miller.

Bronwyn and views of the rear of Pine Ridge
1960 photographs from the Knight/Tait era. On the left is Bronwyn Tait on a tricycle, showing the closed-in side verandah, with the side of the old gardener's cottage to the rear. On the right is a view of the back of the house, with the back porch and the double entrance to the gardener's cottage and the wash-house.

Graham Tait was a journalist and photographer, and we have him to thank for recording some wonderful photos of the Bay he knew during his years here.

Pine Ridge now consisted of only 1085 square metres of land, but the gracious old house still had some land around it, with lovely mature trees.

Pine Ridge house was rented out for six years, with a variety of tenants, including Mrs Thelma Tarver who owned the local shoe shop in the Village.

In 1971 Knight’s granddaughter, Bronwyn Tait married Charles Cox and they moved back into the old family home, where their children, Sarah, Charlotte and Benjamin were raised. Again dances and parties were held in the old house and gardens, and the three Cox children celebrated their 21st birthdays here.

In 1985 the little porch was demolished, and a verandah was again built across the back of the house from where there is a lovely view of the Bay. Mrs Bronwyn Cox and her daughters still live in the house.

This must be one of the earliest houses in the Bay which still retains some of its original features, scrim wall lining, original windows and ceilings, along with the 1920 style alterations.

After over 100 years, it is a cherished family home, suitably furnished with gracious old pieces and antiques, and a lovely old fashioned garden with trees which have now grown to their full maturity.

Verandah at the back of Pine Ridge as seen in 2004
The little porch was demolished and this verandah added in 1985.

The French windows installed in the 1920s at Pine Ridge
View of the south side of Pine Ridge as seen in 2004, showing the two French doors installed by Mr Gill in the 1920s in the original part of the house.

We have to thank Mrs Bronwyn Cox and her children, for allowing us access to her home and sharing with us her photographs and memories.