Friday, December 19, 2008

Gentry Story

Image taken April 2002. Avondale-Waterview Historical Society collection.

I remember visiting this shop, The Gentry at 1685 Great North Road, on spotting it while researching for Heart of the Whau in late 2001, and looking inside. It was one of the last of the old-time barber shops then (a men's hairdresser, they call it these days). Now, I'm only going on memory here, but I'm fairly sure the proprietor, a very helpful person, told me that the place had legends attached to it. One was that it was built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries as a soft-drink stop for thirsty travellers who didn't want to use the more alcoholic facilities provided by the Avondale Hotel a mile or so further down the road (it's claimed that masses of bottles were found at the rear of the house to which the shop is attached), and the other was that it was haunted, and had apparently featured on the telly at some time.

Avondale, even though we're just a suburb of Auckland these days, has a number of ghost stories about the place handed down over the centuries.

Anyway ... come December 2008, and I wondered if the soft-drink part of the story might have meant that this place had an association with James Turton, "cordial manufacturer and hawker" living in Avondale 1895-1903. So, I went digging.

Benjamin Irwin Bollard (son of John Bollard, an early Avondale horseback postie, postal clerk in the city, and Whau storekeeper) purchased part of the former Gittos landholding near present-day Heron Park in 1904, 12½ acres between Great North Road and the Waitemata Harbour (now part of Motu Manawa Reserve.) Looking up the 1912 valuation roll for the Avondale Road Board at Auckland City Archives yesterday, I found that Ben Bollard had a handful of other land holdings in the Avondale area as well. When his father died in March 1915, it was Ben Bollard who took over his business.

In 1909, Bollard dedicated a road through his property at Allotment 69, and called it Seaview Road (excellent choice of name when selling property in Auckland). Today, after a number of changes over the years, the street is called Saltaire. In August 1909, he sold part of the property to an Avondale carpenter/builder named David John Habgood, the site of The Gentry. Habgood wasn't there for long -- just enough to possibly build a house on the site before selling it to Frederick Thomas Beazley, a labourer living in Avondale. By 1919, when Bollard was selling off his Seaview Road sections in earnest, the house was on the site -- but not lock-up shop at the front as yet. This was the year when Beazley sold the property in turn to Francis Ross Mackie, recorded as an attendant (given the proximity of the Mental Hospital, he may have worked there). Mackie named his home "Iona" (harking back to Scottish memories, perhaps).

The earliest certain documentation for the existence of the shop at the front is 1928 when the Auckland City Council's valuers described it as a "lock-up" type of business after the amalgamation with Avondale. Tracing back through the directories, which is also largely guesswork at this early stage, the names of Percy and Edward Sanderson show up alongside that of Mackie along Great North Road. Possibly (only possibly, mind you), Percy who was a boot importer and Edward who imported cutlery, may have operated from the small shop from a time, c.1924-1930.

From c.1930, Mackie's wife is listed in the directories alongside him, as a dressmaker. This may have denoted that she operated a dressmaking home business from the shop. This business appears have been carried on by the wife of the next owner of the property, Arthur Eli Sydney Butler originally from Pt Chevalier (from 1938-1954). Butler worked as a concrete worker and kerb layer.

Under Robert Millar Hay's ownership from 1954, the shop was rented out and became a hairdressers (in 1959, the proprietor was a Mrs. Jan E. Medwood). According to internet searches today, it still is, although there have been many changes of ownership since the 1950s.

So ... I have my doubts about the soft-drink-stop story, and the ghost story sounds a bit out of place as well, unless the ghost is one of Robert Chisholm's sheep from his farm (of which this site was a part) in the 19th century). The bottles found could have just been what Hapgood, Beazley, Mackie and Butler had gone through over the years.

Still, as I well know, interesting stories (even without a shred of truth to them) will always stick around.

LINZ records: certificates of title, DP 4736
Auckland postal directories, Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Central Library
Valuation field sheets (ACC 213/59d) and Avondale Road Board/Borough Council valuation records 1913 & 1924, AVB 004/2-6, Auckland City Archives


  1. I went there once for a haircut,about six years ago, when the proprietor was an elderly gent who had been featured in a Western Leader article. He was excited about a forthcoming trip back to England and said he was shutting up shop for six weeks or so. He never re-opened it although, some time later, a women's hairdresser briefly worked from there. I'm sorry I left it so late; the little shop was quite fascinating and I would have enjoyed talking with him about it.

    1. My grandfather is still a barber. The gentry is now in pt chevalier near the library

  2. Thanks for that, Phil. Yes, I agree -- it's a fascinating place, just one shop stuck out along Great North Road all by itself. It was great seeing an old-style barber's chair in there. Something else that time has sadly changed.

  3. HI there,i was wondering if you could tell me who owns this property at present?It seems empty and we were interested in renting it??

  4. This Anon comment was accidentally deleted.

    "Hi, My partner and I have recently moved into 1685 Great North Road. We did not know about its history or rumours that it was haunted before we moved in although we have heard about it a lot since. Although everyone seems to believe it is haunted nobody can tell me by who. And although lots of people mention they have seen it on tv or in print I can't find anything except this article on the internet. Does anyone out there know more? I would love to know!"

  5. This comment was accidentally deleted.

    Anonymous has left a new comment:

    "My grandparents lived in that house for many years. My poppa who owned the shop was on the front page of some news paper but had nothing to do with the hauntings i dont think but him and my aunty were on a ghost story docco ages ago. Dont know where you could find it now"

  6. Francis Mackie was my grandfather -
    Don't know too much about the history, my mother was Thora Mackie/Nee Olson ;
    My older sister would know more, Adriane Moody who still works at Greenlane hospital.