Saturday, July 11, 2020

Smoothing Coburg Street in the late 1880s

Image from Webbs Auction site, accessed July 2020

The image above came online, and I found it intriguing.

The caption said it was the site of the "library and art gallery," and that it is -- it's where today's Auckland Art Gallery sits, just below Albert Park. It also provides an interesting view of how parts of central Auckland's hilly landscape was cut down for the formation of streets and (in this case) buildings in the late 19th century.

Before the 1870s, what is now Kitchener Street was then Coburg Street (the name of the Royal House  of Queen Victoria being Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). It was a straight paper road, running from Victoria Quadrant in the north to the termination of Wellesley Street East. See this detail from the 1866 Vercoe & Harding map.

Then, from 1873, came changes as the City Improvement Commissioners who regained control of Albert Park began to make changes in order to develop the fringes, providing income for the City Council's much needed infrastructural developments. This included extending Wellesley Street East up to Symonds Street, and altering the angle of Coburg Street where it joined the new extension.

“A correspondent writes : — " The contractor who has the making of the new street in continuation of Wellesley-street East appears to be progressing well with his work, but should he not he expected to protect the public in passing up or down the same— to pass into Coburg-street, or over the hill, as they may desire? Something should also be done to protect the tenants in the cottages next to the cutting. No lights have been affixed to the boundarv rail put across the cutting. The rail makes the danger worse than if there were none. A child leaning against the rail would push it down, and be precipitated eight or ten feet to the bottom of the cutting below. If the cutting is thus unprotected by a light, kept burning between sunset and sun up, the police authorities should pay attention to the matter without delay.” (Southern Cross, 1 March 1873, p. 2)

 “To enable the said Commissioners to stop Coburg-street, between the northerly boundary of Dr Philson's property and its junction with Wellesley-street East, and to enable the Governor to grant to the said Dr Philson a triangular piece of land adjoining his said property, at present part of Wellesley street, and to make the abandoned portion of Coburg street land subject to the control of the said Commissioners.” (Southern Cross, 21 April 1873, p. 1)
So, around 1874, Coburg Street suddenly looked like this (foreground, Albert Park left, looking toward Wellesley Street and Rutland Street junction just beyond, Avey's Park Hotel in the centre, site of today's AUT):

4-148, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

In 1876, it looked like this. View from a bit further north, looking toward Wellesley Street. Crowther's new stables now on today's Auckland Central Library site, corner Wellesley and Lorne Streets.

4-776, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

In 1882, with Hickson's map of the city, we see the way Coburg Street had been angled by the work of the Commissioners in the previous decade.

The City Council's Streets Committee  at the time weren't in a great hurry to sorting out the still-hilly nature of that end of Coburg Street.

“Streets Committee,— Re Mr. Graham's letter as to works in Coburg-street, the committee report that the Surveyor's report be adopted ; viz., that the cutting of Coburg-place and triangle should be dealt with at the same time, so that it would be better to leave it as it is for the present.” (NZ Herald, 16 June 1882, p.6)
Then -- along came the plans for the city's new public library and art gallery. Part of the site of which would be that hilly bit of Coburg Street.

“It may interest the public generally to know what and where this site is. It is on a long and very irregularly shaped triangular piece of ground between the footpath below Albert Park (or of what is now Coburg-street), Wellesley-street, and what is to be Coburg-street. The street along the Park is to be shut up, and a street opened up lower down, the present street being part, and the best part too, of the site. The extreme width of the ground, on the square, is only 137 feet from the footpath to the junction of Wellesley and Coburg Streets; at the other end it is about 80 feet on the square; and at the junction of Wellesley-street and the footpath it is simply a point. The base, or longest part of the triangle is next the footpath, and from about the middle of the site on this line to the junction of Wellesley and Coburg Streets there is a fall of about 24 feet. I believe my design covers more ground, and therefore has more accommodation than any of the others reported on; and I assure you it caused me a great deal of labour and study to find room for it on the site. The building is close to the base line, or footpath, is within ten feet of Wellesley-street, and touches Coburg-street, so where the waste comes in I do not know. If the ground were perfectly level there would be a considerable vacant space at the junction of the two streets in front, but seeing that there is a fall of over 20 feet there, this space is occupied by the steps and landings getting up to the floor level. I consider this anything but wasted, as it must be allowed that a noble flight of steps with terraces such as are shown would do more to give dignity to the building than any number of little pinnacles, turrets, and such like.” (Letter to the editor, NZ Herald 6 February 1884, p. 3, on plans for the Library & Art Gallery)

And so, we come to that image at the start of this article.

This must date from c.1886-1887, as the site for the new building was prepared by the cutting down of the Coburg Street hillock. What was then Coburg Street in the foreground is now part of the Art Gallery's site. This would be looking across to the junction of Wellesley and Lorne Streets.

Here's is part of a map from 1889, showing the new alignment, one that survives to today.

Map 2661, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

As it looked in 1900, looking up at the Art Gallery and Library.

Auckland Weekly News, 16 March 1900, AWNS-19000316-2-1, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

And in 1964, the empty ground all smoothed out by the contractors in the late 1880s, now site of more buildings.

7-A11013, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections

No comments:

Post a Comment