Mt Cook – Today and Yesterday

Mt Cook – Today and Yesterday

© Carol Comber & Peter Cooke, 2007

The suburb of Mt Cook lies between Te Aro, Brooklyn and Newtown. Its eastern boundary meets the town belt adjacent to Government House and St Marks Church School, and runs from the Basin Reserve southwards along Adelaide Rd to John St, where Riddiford and Adelaide Roads fork at the entrance to Newtown. John St and Te Whaea, the School of Dance, formerly the Winter Show Buildings, delimit the roaded portion of the southern boundary of Mt Cook. To travel the northern limits of Mt Cook, head west from the Basin Reserve along the motorway bypass, following Buckle and Webb streets to Nairn St. The western side climbs Brooklyn Hill Rd, where the suburb of Mt Cook adjoins the lower reaches of Brooklyn. From Nairn Park at the top of Nairn St, cross Bidwill St and head back into the town belt, across Prince of Wales and lower Prince of Wales Parks to meet John St again.

The original long-abandoned pa at Pukeahu stood on the old Dominion Museum site which is now the main building of the Massey University campus. There was another pa further south. By 1840 most of the streets of Mt Cook, also called Cook’s Hill, had been surveyed and mapped by Capt Mein Smith RA for the New Zealand Company. Since then, development of the streets and amenities has been piecemeal, driven by the needs of the local population for commerce, transport, housing and public facilities. Some of the short streets were cut by the original landholders as private rights of way, providing access to subdivide their one acre plots. Local inhabitants would commonly lobby the Council to have their private street brought within the Council’s ambit, often agreeing to partially fund street improvements, such as street widening or kerbing work, as part of the negotiations. In other instances the Council determined that a street would be redesignated as a public street, for example if it provided access to the town belt.

Early development was shaped by the presence of streams originating in the Brooklyn foothills. The remnants of one stream can still be seen running from the sports changing rooms at the northern end of the lower Prince of Wales Park, behind the Village Production facility on Wright St. By the 1880s contractors were starting to drain and culvert the stream under Wright and Wallace Sts. The stream ran down through the Massey University site, across Tasman St to meet another branch coming down from Adelaide Rd, and then crossed the Basin Reserve. Local market gardens were sited around these streams. Wallace St ended near the stream, by Howard St, when it was first built. The Wallace St tram line was finally extended to meet John St in 1925.

By the 1890s Mt Cook had become well-known for its brick and pipe industry. The clay in the area was well-suited to brick-making. Brickworks were sited at the prison (now Wellington High School’s car park), the Hill brothers on Rolleston/Wallace Sts, Murphy’s on Taranaki, Tonks on Webb St and Back/Overend on Hanson/Tasman Sts. In 1895 Enoch Tonks was given the right to use the clay at the top of Nairn St in exchange for transforming the excavated site into a sports field (Nairn Park). The largest source of clay was the site of Pukeahu, where brick-making needs complemented the ground-leveling which the military was undertaking to create flat space. The hill lost 75ft (25m) in height and became dwarfed beside the Brooklyn foothills which form the western parts of Mt Cook.

By the 1890s the area along Adelaide Rd had become the commercial sector of Mt Cook. J Reed ran a 3-man dairy from Oxford St. The R Bell & Co Match Factory, later Bryant & May in Tory St, was behind Howell’s Corner (the corner of John St, Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St). The Empire Box Factory was in Douglas St and the 1920s TRJ Miller blacksmith shop at 55 Adelaide Rd was later reincarnated as a paint and panel shop. Adelaide Rd boasted a tailor, furniture makers, engineers, a bakery, curio museum, dance hall, costume hire shop, butchery and a doctor’s. Gordon & Gotch distributed magazines from the corner of Drummond and Adelaide Rds, Bond’s Hosiery Mills was at 181 Tasman St. The tradition of some of these businesses lives on in Adelaide Rd today. The Grosvenor Hotel is no longer on the corner of Wallace and Hankey Sts, but both the Caledonian and the Tramway (now the Adelaide) still feature on Adelaide Rd. The area has had a fire brigade, funeral director, post office, numerous police stations and the Mt View Lunatic Asylum which opened in 1875 and was closed in 1910 just as Government House was about to became its new neighbour.

Much of the housing stock that remains today dates from 1900–09, when there was much local industry. Workers needed close, affordable housing. In 2006, 85% of the buildings in Mt Cook were pre-1920, the highest proportion of pre-1920 buildings of any Wellington suburb. The Nairn and Thompson St area is the oldest part of the city after Mt Victoria. One of the oldest houses in the suburb, built in 1858 by the builder William Wallis, is now an Early Settlers Museum on Nairn St. The ornate houses at 56 – 64 Wright St were registered by the Historic Places Trust in 2005. The large 1871 homestead at 3–5 Papawai Cres, which stood on a full acre section, was replaced by thirteen compact dwellings in 2004. In the late 1950s the Council built affordable apartment blocks between Rolleston and Hargreaves Sts (Rolleston St Apartments), contributing further blocks by the late 1980s in Nairn St, Hopper St (George Porter Tower) and in the block bounded by Hankey, Taranaki, and Hopper Sts (Arlington Apartments). These apartment blocks are now owned by Housing NZ. With the advent of Massey University, student accommodation villages have sprung up by the Basin Reserve (Awhina) and in Taranaki St (217 Taranaki). The inhabitants of Mt Cook cover a wide cross-section of society, from resettled refugees to long-time elderly residents, from single-household beneficiaries to families, from students to academics, business professionals and government officials.

The former Police Barracks building on the corner of Buckle and Tasman Sts provides a reminder that Mt Cook was once the site of successive prisons, and a public hanging in 1850. Running up Tasman St on the eastern side of the Massey University property is an impressive wall built with bricks made by prison workers (look for the simple “broad arrow” stamp of the prison bricks). The current Massey University site was earmarked for a lunatic asylum, but after much debate the asylum was eventually built in Porirua. In the 1870s it was an Immigration Hostel and in the 1880s an Observatory.

The Military had a strong presence in Mt Cook from 1843 when troops were temporarily stationed there. Barracks were built on and below the hill, and in 1852 a stockade and military quarters were erected, bringing the size of the Mt Cook defences to between three-quarters and one mile round. Today the former General Headquarters (GHQ) building stands proudly on the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Sts, and next door the HMNZS Olphert is still in use as a naval training facility. In 1932 the National War Memorial and Carillon were built; around the neighbourhood the soft peals of the carillon can often be heard in the early afternoon. In 2004 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was ceremoniously unveiled beside the National War Memorial. Plans to develop a Memorial Park adjacent are being discussed.

Mt Cook School has a history of being re-sited. At the easternmost part of Buckle St is the Infants School designed by the architect John Swan, now preserved. In 1875 Mt Cook School for boys and girls opened on the northern side of Buckle St on the Tory St corner. In 1878 the Mt Cook Boys’ School moved to Taranaki St opposite Webb St, in the site now occupied by the student accommodation at 217 Taranaki St. The Tory St site became the girls’ school. In 1926 the boys and girls were co-located in new brick buildings in Buckle St. In the late 1970s Mt Cook School was moved to its present site, a little further north on Tory St. The old brick school, which also housed a Technical Correspondence Institute, was demolished. Mt Cook has a long history of serving the educational needs of the community. The foundation stone for the Technical College was laid by Governor-General Lord Jellicoe in 1921. Later educational institutions were the Polytechnic, Wellington High School, Polyhigh and Massey University.

The suburb has been shaped by the changing transport industry. In 1878 a tramway opened, running up Adelaide Rd, and by 1880 the tramways stabled up to 140 horses at the depot on the southern corner of King and Adelaide Roads. Horse-drawn trams were replacing the more expensive steam locomotives. By 1904 when another route opened running from Cuba St up Wallace St to Howard St, electric trams had replaced the horses. By the 1920s increased private motor car use was driving the demand for wider roads. A vestige of the tramways can be seen in the trolley bus network that operates today.

An unusual aspect of the roading development of Mt Cook has been the lack of east-west vehicular routes. In fact, the Buckle/Webb route is the only east-west through route for vehicles. By contrast, those on foot have access to many pleasant and varied paths, steps and tracks, which criss-cross Mt Cook, with entrances to the town belt on three sides of the suburb.

Mt Cook has facilities for rugby, football and cricket at Nairn Park, Prince of Wales Park and the Basin Reserve. At the Indoor Sports Centre off John St, there are indoor cricket and indoor hockey facilities and the Junglerama indoor play centre for younger children. The YMCA in Tasman St runs gymnastics classes and has a basketball gym. The YMCA runs an “at risk” youth programme, and its facilities can be hired for birthday parties or other events. Both the YMCA and Junglerama run school holiday programmes. Next door to the YMCA is the Boys Institute building which was built in 1914 and has the characteristic Mt Cook “brick” look. The Boys Institute was originally a foster home. In 1932 the old pool was closed, then in 1961 Wellington High School assisted with its conversion back to a swimming pool, as these facilities were in demand by the High School. Thousands of Wellington children have learnt to swim here at TSW, while their parents have caught up on local gossip or read the Sunday paper poolside. While neighbouring suburbs Mt Victoria and Brooklyn have good community house facilities available for local activities, Mt Cook lacks this facet of community life. The TSW and YMCA services go a small way towards filling this niche, although there are plans in place to demolish both of these facilities to make way for a supermarket.

9 Comments »

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  1. Hi, I got this weblog from the old brickworks in Wallace St and was wondering what was happneing about the cafe which was going to go in there a couple of years back? I live along the other end of Wallace St and walk past quite a lot.

    Best
    Sarah D

  2. Oh, by the way, this was a very informative blog! and most interesting.

  3. Hi Sarah, as far as I know the cafe is still going to open some time. They are looking for an operator who wants to use this premises. Cheers. Carol.

  4. Hi MCM readers, can anyone let me know the contact details for the Waitangi Stream restoration group as I am keen to be involved?
    Thanks
    Mary H

  5. I know this is johnny-come-lately, but thank you very much for your work on this Carol and Peter.
    Awesome.

  6. Hello,
    just wondering if you knew when the Hankey Street Stairs were built? The ones that go up through the trees with the white top rail? Or any other information about Hankey Street.
    Thanks
    Aimee

  7. I am later than johnny too – but thank you for this information. My Grandmother was one of the first pupils and I would give anything to have photos…

  8. I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This piece of writing
    posted at this web page is truly good.

  9. I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also visit this webpage on regular basis to take updated from latest reports.


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