Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Woods' Store, Mt Eden Road

The phone rings before 8 am this morning. My friend Robert (Bob) Kinnear, whose ancestor Henry Woods built this store at 151 Mt Eden Road, corner of Esplanade, and operated it in the early 20th century, had seen bulldozers hard at work at the rear of the building, and was quite concerned. He asked if I'd got out there with him to take a look. I said, "Pick me up at 9 am," giving me enough time to pour some coffee down the throat, get myself up to a reasonably respectable standard of dress and dental hygiene, to meet him down by the letterbox (he offered me a lift.)

Grocer Henry Woods (left, courtesy Robert Kinnear) formally purchased the site at the corner of Mt Eden and Esplanade Roads in July 1906 for £350. He was, however, most likely to have already been operating his business there much earlier; he arrived in Auckland around 1899.

With mortgages obtained in 1906, he set about expanding and enlarging the original store to the iconic landmark it is today. Woods joined the Auckland Master Grocers’ Association after World War 1, later becoming chairman of the New Zealand Association. In 1925, he was first chairman for Foodstuffs Ltd, known as owners of the 4 Square chain of stores, His son Edward, who took over the Mt Eden store from his father with his brother George, also became a chairman of Foodstuffs for a period. The building remained in Woods family ownership until 1971, and has been adapted for various retail purposes, including a restaurant.

The original Woods store, pre 1906 ...

... and the post 1906 version, which is as it is today. Both photos, courtesy Robert Kinnear.

On arrival, I could see this wasn't wholesale demolition. Only the single storey addition at the end was gone. An internal door can be see on the left, but this apparently hadn't been in use for ages (the paper which had covered it over was still stuck to the panels). The chimney was being slowly and carefully dismantled, with bricks piled up neatly at the rear of the property.

Bob had been concerned that the whole thing was somehow under threat. He'd tried asking for info a day ago from the grocer's shop which was still operating on the corner, but hadn't had much luck.

I went in there as he was buying batteries this morning, and asked the owner of the store whether he was remaining there. Assured that yes, he was, I then asked, "Well, what's happening?"

It appears that, no, the demolition isn't going to affect the main part of the building. Some of the shops fronting Mt Eden Road look like repiling is being done, and when Bob and I chatted with a nice guy working for the company doing the work, Silk Construction, he was thrilled to meet Bob, learn that Bob was a descendant of Henry Woods, and had the historic photos. Off they went to copy them -- their intent, so we heard, was to build at the end to a design in keeping with the existing old building. They appreciated learning about the history, and seeing Bob's family photos, saying that would help them in the reconstruction. We were told that they were in contact with George Farrant, at Auckland Council, which was great news.

They even, quite happily, gave Bob three Glenburn bricks from the courtyard/driveway (possibly dating from 1920s-1930s).

So, Bob came away much relieved that his ancestor's store was not under threat. He went on to tell me that this house, across the road on Esplanade, was where the Woods family lived.

Compare with Bob's photos below.

So, at the end of the wee excursion to Mt Eden on a sunny Tuesday morning, I was dropped off back home, and now posting this. If I can, I'll head back later on to see what eventuates from the work there -- and to see just what they do put up at the back of a landmark.

13 August 2012: Latest update, via email from George Farrant, Auckland Council (thanks, George!)
"To update re Woods (as at 12 August): The old store has been jacked level around the decayed street perimeter and repiled; the street verandah has now been dismantled (see above), and the chimney (see above also) has now been accurately and stably re-erected using the saved original bricks - as it was outside the wall line of the original store being restored, it has been rebuilt on the first masonry part of the emerging new building beyond.

"The main brick party wall of the old store (facing Mt Eden) has now been structurally supported on a steel frame structure hidden inside the old building.

"The new building will shortly be out of the ground...

"More later."


  1. The house looks much nicer in the old photo. Maybe it fell into serious disrepair at some stage and lost much of its original decoration.

  2. The car above appears to be a 1915 Metz. These were made in Waltham, Mass. USA.I have seen at least two surviving Metz in NZ. Regards Stephen.

  3. I worked with Allan Matson, and the owners planner to work to protect this building - incredibly it had no protection! But owner needed to be able to build and live on the site - so we all got a win/win out of it. Sounds as though they're also working well with George, so the new should work with the historic.

  4. Thanks, Mark. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it. Cheers.

  5. Hi Lisa, et al

    I can confirm that in this important project there is an exemplary level of interaction and consultative discussion between myself for council. owner Dinesh Mistry, his family, various consultants, and contractors.

    This all the more creditable given that the owner had been given a perfectly valid demolition consent by council prior to the place being recognised and formally scheduled for protection, but has elected voluntarily to not do this but instead to go ahead (at considerable cost to him) to restore this key icon of Mt Eden, rather than (as he originally hoped) to demolish and rebuild over the entire site.

    Basically the old store on the corner is being restored - a task made more complex because of the rise over time of the surrounding footpaths - up to 500mm, burying the lower walls and causing their decay. This has caused in turn some subsidence, and the bulding has had to be jacked back to level.

    The new building around the rear, and up to both street frontages, will match the original in general form, scale, detail and look, but be in plastered masonry with chunky metal windows to gently distinguish it from the original.

    The over-footpath canopy has sadly (because of advanced decay and vehicle impacts) come to the end of its restorable life, and will need to be rebuilt. However this will be done to exactly the original detail, including once more the ornate verandah posts seen in the photo above (the B & W one with the flag). Auckland Transport are enthusiastic as well, and will soon do a footpath upgrade that will formalise a kerbline far enough out to avoid further truck impacts.

    I have recently done extensive paint scapings from the exterior, through many later layers of paint, to discover that the original colours (again as seen in the photo above) were apparently a dark green on trims and a light clay colour on the general weatherboarding. These will be used again on the restored section, and slightly different on the new bits.

    This is a very exciting project overall, with quite a way to go yet, so don't get worried when parts of the verandah start to disappear soon - all will be well in the end!

    Hopefully the usually negative press coverage on suburban heritage will eventually cotton on to this marvellously positive restoration and adaptation. Thanks for giving it profile on your blog...

    George Farrant

  6. Thank you very, very much for that info, George. I've forward it through to Bob Kinnear, who I'm sure will be pleased to hear about what's planned for his ancestor's store. Cheers!

  7. As a local it's great to finally get to know what's happening on that corner - we've all been wondering! Very refreshing to hear about this being a restoration project!

  8. Thank you all very much for a very interesting article about my ancestors. My name is Tracey Sykes (nee Woods). Great Granddaughter of Henry Woods. My father, Bruce Woods, also lived and worked in the shop with his father, Edward Woods. My brother, Tony Woods, was born there. We moved out shortly after that (just before I was born). I often drive passed the old shop and feel very attached to it. I can now look forward to seeing the old shop in its original glory!

  9. Good to hear from you, Tracey -- cheers!

  10. I am researching a David Hedley who was listed in the electoral roll of 1905 as residing in Mt Eden Road and was recorded as being a grocer.
    Are there any records that might confirm that he was employed in this business?

    If so, he could well be one of those standing outside the shop in the early photograph.
    Thank you

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Janet Brand Burns Hedley had a shop on the corner of Boston Road and Mt Eden Road. The shop became known as Janet Buchanan's grocery shop when she remarried. Her 1st husband James Hedley died when he fell of a ladder while doing extensions at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel. David Alexander Hedley was one of Janet and James 6 children. There is a picture in Janet standing out front of her store on the internet. I am very interested in the Hedley family and would be more than happy to share more info with you.

  11. There was more than one grocers shop in Mt Eden Road at the time that Wood's Store was flourishing, so David Hedley could just as easily have been working in the Mt Eden Village, or elsewhere along the road, up to Landscape Road in the south, and Symonds Street at the other end.

    As far as I know, any records of the business from the Woods famil haven't survived.

    Are the electoral rolls any help to you in determining where David lived exactly? He wouldn't have been living very far from his employment, hopefully.