Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Street Stories 20: the Ladies Mile

(left) Robert Graham, from the Observer, 21 January 1882

From 1848 through the 1850s, Robert Graham bought up a patchwork of landholdings, and created a farm called Ellerslie (approximately named after a boyhood home back in the old country). At the beginning, he intended for the massive farm to simply be a sheep run, but on returning from a trip to California in 1853, he decided to turn it into a true farm, built  a farmhouse at the top near Remuera Road, and set aside an area at the bottom for a racecourse by 1855. The Auckland Racing Club held their first meeting on Graham's land two years later.

In the early 1870s, he decided to create Ellerslie Gardens, in conjunction with an Ellerslie Hotel, and the coming of the railway from Newmarket through to Onehunga. The main reason for the gardens, with its orchards, and sports fields, and nice drives on which the ladies could stroll past the menagerie -- was to sell land. The Ellerslie Gardens was a grand advertisement in Victorian style.

So -- what of the Ladies Mile?

There are two main theories abroad in local history texts as to the origins of the Ladies Mile, the road stemming from off Remuera Road, heading down towards Ellerslie, veering at Peach Parade to skirt around the Ellerslie Racecourse, before heading straight through to link up with the Main Highway which heads towards Panmure.

The main theory, the one I most often see popping up its head, is the one Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow used on page 50 on their book, A fine prospect: A History of Remuera, Meadowbank and St John (2011) -- that the Ladies Mile was formed  as as a track to connect the properties of  David and Robert Graham. David Graham's house was "The Tower", on Remuera Road; Robert Graham's house, the farmhouse later grander mansion called Ellerslie House, is on Mainston Road, just off Remuera Road. Developing the Ladies Mile as a connection would have been pointless -- both brothers had Remuera Road frontage, and the slight line of Ladies Mile from Remuera Road perhaps leading to Ellerslie House can hardly be called a "mile". The name Ladies Mile, for a connecting road like that, had it truly existed, would make little sense. Carlyon and Morrow simply repeated the tale of the brothers' connection -- and looked no further into the logic of it.

Theory number two appears on the Wikipedia page for Ellerslie:
Adjacent to his home, 'Ellerslie House', was a track along which Mrs Graham was in the habit of riding her horse every morning, now a street called Ladies Mile.
Has anyone ever asked why Mrs Graham would ride her horse from Ellerslie House down a track towards a racecourse every morning? Was she hoping, perhaps, to be New Zealand's first woman jockey? Robert Graham ceased living on his land around 1868, pursuing a career in politics, and land deals at Waiwera and Rotorua. The racecourse was just about the only thing Mrs Graham would have been riding towards. Again, this theory, while as picturesque as the other one, just doesn't appear to make sense -- and is an attempt, on the face of it, to try to explain the "Ladies Mile" name.

What was a "Ladies Mile" in late Victorian times? I think, primarily, the "Ladies Mile" most at the time would think of was that at Hyde Park, in London. The following from W.S.Gilbert, London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, c.1870, via Victorian London.
But we now enter the great Hyde Park itself, assuredly the most brilliant spectacle of the kind which the world can show... the splendid mounts and the splendid comparisons, between fine carriages and fine horses---fine carriages where perhaps the cattle are lean and poor, or fine horses where the carriages are old and worn; the carriages and horses absolutely gorgeous, but with too great a display; and, again, where the perfection is absolute, but with as much quietude as possible, the style that chiefly invites admiration by the apparent desire to elude it. In St. James's Park you may lounge and be listless if you like; but in Hyde Park, though you may lounge, you must still be alert ... I sometimes think that the Ladies' Mile is a veritable female Tattersall's, where feminine charms are on view and the price may be appraised---the infinite gambols and curvettings of high-spirited maidenhood. But I declare on my conscience that I believe the Girl of the Period has a heart, and that the Girl of the Period is not so much to blame as her mamma or her chaperone.
In late 1874, as Graham's Ellerslie Gardens began to take shape, details of the layout appeared in the press, including the first description of the as-then unnamed road.

We should advise all who wish to build a suburban residence, or who wish to speculate for the rise in land, to go out and take a look at these allotments. The plan of the township shows great taste in the arrangement of the streets, crescents, and thoroughfares. One broad roadway a chain wide strikes off from the station past the Gardens, and is carried right across to the Remuera road, affording a series of beautiful frontages.
Auckland Star 7 November 1874 

So, the Ladies Mile dates from late 1874, at least on paper.  The road "striking off from the (Ellerslie) train station" was Bella Street, now part of the line of Ladies Mile. Even on an 1885 plan for the gardens and the subdivision, Bella Street still went by that name.

 NZ Map 4537, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Library

But then, by 1878, came speculation in the Auckland Star, and the first instance of the name "Ladies Mile":
It was stated some time ago that Mr Robert Graham was about to lay out a road at the back of the Ellerslie Hotel, leading through a portion of his estate at Remuera, so as to form a splendid carriage drive. We understand, however, that he has now so planned the carriage drive as to run right through the Ellerslie Gardens to the grand-stand on the race-course, opening up the Onehunga road via the Harp of Erin, and running through the race-course and gardens. This road, when completed, will be a great convenience to sportsmen and, forming a picturesque and easy drive, will probably be much used in fine weather. It has been proposed to call it “The Ladies' Mile." The alteration will also render many valuable building sites available, which will doubtless be in demand. Altogether the proposal is one that reflects much credit on Mr. Graham's forethought and enterprise. 
Auckland Star 16 November 1878

Detail from NZ Map 4537. Note the diagonal drive through the original layout of drives and paths of the gardens, before the overlay of later streets as part of the subdivision -- something which may have reminded the Auckland Star in 1878 of the "Ladies Mile" through Hyde Park in London.

It would seem that Robert Graham didn't take too kindly to the use name "Ladies Mile" for his Ellerslie Carriage Drive at all. His response came a few days later.
Mr Robert Graham writes as follows on the subject of the proposed Ladies' Mile at Ellerslie. 

"Sir, —In announcing my intention, in your issue of Saturday last, of laying out a public carriage drive through Ellerslie, you were not quite correct in describing the course “The Ladies' Mile," as you facetiously style it, will take. From Onehunga, passing the Harp of Erin, the carriage drive will be formed straight down to near the grand-stand; thence through the Ellerslie Gardens to near the artesian well, taking the rise of the hill behind Ellerslie Hotel.—ROBT. GRAHAM." 
 Auckland Star 21 November 1878
The name stuck, however. James Baber, engineer for the Remuera Road Board, advertised tenders for "forming part of the Ladies Mile Road, in the Remuera District", in December 1882. Bella Street at the Ellerslie end would have become known as part of Ladies Mile by early in the 20th century at the latest.

Ladies Mile: a road with picturesque myths around its origins and its naming, or a road so-named possibly because of an unknown journalist's comparison between it and a place in a famous London park where the ladies put themselves on display (in the nicest of ways, of course). I'll leave it for the reader to decide.


  1. This comment was accidentally deleted. From Ash:

    "Great stuff! This is my local area of the last 15 years. I'm still trying to work out which house on Ladies Mile belonged to my Great Aunt. "

  2. Have you checked the directories, Ash?

  3. That is a amazing piece of research! I too wondered whether the name really could've come from Robert Graham's wife and its prominence along the ridge with vistas to Maungakiekie make it an important vantage point. Fascinating history.

  4. Is Ellerslie House still there?