Saturday, June 18, 2011

Street Stories 16: Joan Stumbles Ave, Sandy Bay

Updated and edited 18 February 2021

A comment received this week to this post on a sign at Constitution Hill set me on another exploration path:
This reminds me of the mysterious Joan Stumbles Avenue in Blockhouse Bay. Today it is a wide beach access walkway but it is listed on maps as a road and the fence alongside it implies there were once properties adjacent to it. 

Detail from Roll 46, c.1890, LINZ crown copyright

The accessway known today as Joan Stumbles Avenue (circled) is actually quite old, originating from the survey of the Parish of Waikomiti from the 1850s, and possibly laid out on paper around the time of the first enthusiastic plans were similarly prepared for the Whau River Canal projects which never came to be. The government had plans for what is now the suburb of Blockhouse Bay to be a grand settlement and port on the Manukau Harbour, a sister perhaps to the already established Onehunga at the other end. But, the canal never happened, and the Manukau Harbour's treacherous entrance which destroyed the HMS Orpheus, put paid to a lot of such grand schemes.

Detail from NA 5/37, LINZ crown copyright

The 1872 title by which the Crown passed the land overlooking Sandy Bay over to the Auckland Provincial Council tells us that, back then, Sandy Bay was called Whau Bay -- another example of the almost confusing way the names of the bays, coves and inlets along the northern foreshore of the Manukau Harbour have changed over time. It was granted as a public reserve, but of course, the Provincial System came to an end in this country in 1876. The commissioners of the Auckland Education District took over from 1905, and leased out sections for income.

Joan Stumbles Avenue is a sole survivor out of three other "roads" which have been legally stopped and transformed into reserve land over the years. Powditch Street was once drawn as coming off Gilfillan Street and heading as an angle down towards the beach, where it ran, unofficially, along the foreshore and then connected with Joan Stumbles Ave. That ceased to be, along with much of the eastern end of Boylan Street. The western end of Boylan survives as Wade, but the rest is now just part of the Gittos Domain, apart from the extreme eastern end, now forming part of the lower curve of Gill Street.

Detail from DP 20399, LINZ crown copyright

In 1927, the Education authorities must have had the notion to try subdividing the land between Joan Stumbles Avenue, then still basically an unnamed beach accessway, and what remained of Powditch Street. Those subdivisions still exist on paper -- but today, all this is part of the Domain. Note the now vanished public road at the shoreline, and the accessway from Blockhouse Bay Road, our Joan Stumbles Avenue. This was described in 1937 by W S Flaxman of the Blockhouse Bay branch of the NZ Labour Party in a letter to Auckland City Council as "a steep clay track with a covering of scoria, which has the tendency to roll underfoot." The Council, then, promised that they would reseal the accessway with bitumen. The footpath was formed from August 1944.

When Ernest H R Cross approached the Council, then in charge of the reserve land remaining, if he could lease 3 acres in September 1948, his letter described the land thus: "Scattered pines, scrub and a large area of gorse with a large clearance for grazing ... has been the condition of the past 30 years ... 2 years ago the property was almost swept by fire."

A J Dickson, the City Engineer, reported on 12 March 1948 that the area was then called Sandy Bay Reserve, a little over 3 acres, comprising 12 lots (the 1927 subdivision). By gazette notice on 7 August 1940, lots 6-12 formed part of Avondale South Domain, while lots 1-5 were dealt with under Section 9 (1) of the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Act 1941, cancelling reservation as Education endowment, and bringing them under Part 2 of the Public Reserves, Domains and National Parks Act, 1928 -- adding them to the Domain. An unformed road intervened between the reserve and the foreshore, and a sea wall had been erected. Conveniences and dressing sheds existed, the area at the sea wall was planted with pohutukawas, the rest pines. During the winter, hauling of small boats was allowed onto the foreshore for a fee. He advised against leasing the area to Cross. (See file on Sandy Bay, Auckland Council Archives, ACC 219/31-329)

So, the eastern side of Joan Stumbles Avenue has always been reserve land.

What about the western side?

Detail from DP 18889, LINZ crown copyright

Lots 324 and 279 of the old Parish of Waikomiti survey form the western side.

Lot 324 was sold by the Crown to Avondale builder Robert Dakin in December 1885. He was around that time the owner of the Avondale Hotel. He died 29 June 1894, and his widow Amy inherited the land, transferring to her daughter Louisa Bollard, the wife of Richard Bollard, that year. Following the general pattern in that area, Louisa leased out the land to others: Henry John Burnham in 1896. Walter Henry King, an Auckland bootmaker, bought the property from Louisa in 1902. His widow Eliza inherited what remained of the land in 1926, and sold to Audrey Edith Cross in 1933. Eventually, after a few more transactions, a schoolteacher named Joan Dicea Lloyd purchased part of the land in 1952. She obtained title to Lots 278 and 279 in 1953 (the original Crown grantee being Ernest Cross), giving her property right down to the foreshore. In 1960 she married Colin Victor Clarence Stumbles, and died in 1987, aged 66. Her husband predeceased her in 1964, but the two of them campaigned against plans by the Electricity Department to put high tension lines and pylons across the Manukau Harbour. Their campaign and public meetings eventually forced a Commission of Inquiry in 1963. The pylons went ahead, but according to her obituary at least the Titirangi end of the harbour was preserved. Joan Stumbles taught at Avondale College. She worked with the local Progressive Association, spent 14 years on the Blockhouse Bay Community Committee, and concentrated her efforts on issues such as sewage spillages from Lewis Street, traffic safety, and harbour pollution. (Western Leader, 3 October 1987)

When Auckland Council went looking for a name for the mysterious accessway beside her home, Joan Stumble's name made an apt choice. The land is still owned by her family.

(I appreciate all the help from Eileen Rusden of the Blockhouse Bay Historical Society while researching this post.)


  1. It's wonderfully detailed research like this that makes me want to actually GO to Blockhouse Bay, to find Joan Stumbles Avenue!
    Done good, gal!

  2. Cheers and thank you, kind sir! :-)

  3. Great post and well done on the research :)
    Glad they chose to name the thoroughfare after Joan considering her hard efforts to protect the area.

  4. Thanks, Jayne. I agree -- very, very cool to name streets after locals in the area, so that the names actually refers to the history of the place.

  5. I’m very glad it wasn’t named after a bad fall by someone called Joan! This inspired me to look up one of the West Auckland street names I find most intriguing, Faith Bullock Place in New Lynn. It turned out not to be named after sacrifices and/or pioneers as I had imagined, but the first woman councillor of the area.

  6. Wonderful what you find out when you look, isn't it? By the way, love your blog, Claire -- your recent post on Glenfield was fabulous.

  7. Joan Stumbles Ave is worthwhile visiting, Sage.

    I had no idea Blockhouse Bay's street layout was preplanned so long ago and implemented by half measure, as exemplified by Barton Street East which has to be one of the strangest streets on the isthmus. It explains why the the layout is so quixotic and illogical. Was the rest of BHB's layout preplanned like the southern point? I wonder how much idea of the topography of the terrain the person who drew those lines had.

    According to the Auckland Museum's streets database Jone Sumbles Ave was named that in 1988.

    It does seem illogical that Wade Street was separated from Blockhouse Bay Road. 380 metres of car travel distance to and from the beach would be saved and most beachbound traffic would be off the busier Gilfillan Street if they weren't disconnected.

    Another abberration I've noticed marked in Google Earth is a northward-pointing extension to Tauton Tce. I presume it's an accessway to the pylons.

    Darian Zam is correct to think the name of a place influences how people perceive it. Land values in Green Bay and BHB would probably respectively be lower and higher if their names were today Karaka Bay and Green Bay.

    Myself, I am tired of the geographically challenged media calling Blockhouse Bay variations of "Avondale in west Auckland". They once did a live cross to "Blockhouse Bay" while standing in front of the Lynfield shops.

  8. Good heavens, did they do that? Lynfield lost the battle to have a library to Blockhouse Bay in the 1990s -- that's unfortunate that folks from outside can't tell them apart.

    If you look at the Auckland Council Library's streets database, it says that Joan Stumbles Ave was so named from 16 May 1988, described as: "Unformed footpath only, from intersection Gill Crescent and Blockhouse Bay Road to coastline." They must mean the part of gill Crescent that has been stopped (the old Boylan Street). Not quite correct these days, but -- oh well.

  9. Sage - I walked up it this avo. It connects to the Avondale South Domain which has a series of well looked after tracks. Be prepared for some hill work, though!

    This research is brilliant - thank you Timespanner.

  10. Know the Stumbles whanau, and those tracks like the back of my hand. Thanks for filling in some gaps in my knowledge. Meitaki maata