More Shirley Stories
Elizabeth Ogilve lived where The Palms Mall is now located between 1930 - 60. She writes about a child's response to the memorable village style of those earlier years.
This was printed in The Press, Saturday, December 26, 1981.
Older folk called it "Craddocks Corner" and to some it was a minor main North Road. To most it was "Marshland Road corner" a whistle stop of interest on the long journey by trolley bus from the square to North Beach.
To the children of Shirley who lived there in the 1930s and the 1940s it was the 'corner' a complete village. Like any village it had shops, church, and garage. It had regular retainers, gentlemen, residents, eccentrics, and remarkable happenings centred on the corner.
To the north-west Marshland Road stretched straight away and disappeared into the swampy lands from which it took its name. Paved only in a rough fashion, it was bordered by two ditches which were covered with cress and banked by buttercups. It led to an isolated dairy and onion farms with wooden houses whose verandahs wobbled where piles had gradually sunk.
"The Corner" was quiet. A block of shops on the north-west built by Charles August in the 1920's faced gloomily south, backed by a garage. On the north-east corner grew a vast macrocarpa hedge, with a gap at the corner where an iron railing provided a primitive jungle gym and a good view of occasional proceedings.
Behind the hedge, on a sandy rise, stood an old stuccoed house with orange marseilles tiles, intriguing stables, and sheds. These belonged to William Craddock the real estate agents, Craddock and McCrostie, hence the old name for the corner.
On the south-east corner, faintly Norman in design and solidly godly, had stood since 1919 the Shirley Methodist Church. This church, on its third site in the district since 1866, was named after Mrs John Buxton, (nee Shirley), whose son had given the original land. William Craddock was an early lay preacher.
From the church the district later took its name. The Methodists emulated their great founder, John Wesley, each Sunday morning by singing so loudly they could be heard all over the area.
Opposite them were sandhills covered with lupins, on which rose that controversial experiment in pre-war education the first Intermediate school in Canterbury. Shirley Intermediate opened in 1934.
The block of shops resembled "Happy Families", with Mr Salt the garage owner, Mr Baggs the grocer, Mr Rule the tobacconist, and Miss Lockyer in the library. Tenancies were long in the Depression. In the 1930s the corner grocer store was owned by Charles Jessep. You entered the shop from a diagonal corner door. Cardboard cut-outs in the window advertised Edmonds "Sure to Rise" and "Bournville" cocoa.
Inside the shop, the floor of scrubbed boards was very clean and a handsome kauri counter ran down one side. Behind was a line of bins and above that, shelves reached to the roof. From the ceiling, dimly, hung gumboots, ropes, buckets, and other equipment for small farms. The smell was delicious - an indefinable aroma of good things.
Mr Jessop wore a white apron with the top turned down and the strings tied round the middle. He was always weighing . . . flour, tea, sugar, dried fruit, coconut, and rice. Sometimes he made paper cones but mainly he weighed into brown paper bags. In the morning the shop was sunny but by mid-day it was dark and the east wind howled round
From 1939 at the back of Jessop's, W. H. Robinson's grain store began to expand. Bill Robinson has watched the growth of his corner from a village to a multi-million dollar emporium. He and Ted Salt, of the garage, were members of the Home Guard's petrol section from 1940 and their objective was to secure all service stations.
The little dairy was run by Miss Ruth Emmett, a strong supporter of the Methodist church and an identity of the district for 30 years. The dairy sold 1d and 3d ice creams and that forerunner of the "drink on a stick" the icy delight. Miss Emmett displayed her vegetables in a glass case. Cauliflowers were one shilling and sixpence for years.
Next to the dairy was a lending library. In the days before plastic covers the library was not a very colourful place; all the books were covered with brown paper. Our Butcher's shop with its sawdust covered floor, fan and large chopping block was dragged into the refrigeration age by R. L. McMeekin in the 1940s.
Beyond him, willow trees framed the road all the way to the Shirley school and the few houses were reached by wooden plank bridges over the ditch.
A feature of our corner was the junction of two trolley bus routes, No 10 Marshland Road and No 19 North Beach. The trolley bus was an amazing machine and a very individual species. At 6-30am on a winter morning I was often woken by the crackling of the bus labouring down Shirley Road in a heavy frost.
Would it make it over the corner? Nearly always a crash as the poles came off and the freezing driver had to leap out and balance them on again. As they went by the blue flashes round the walls were a brilliant display. I wonder if the drivers got frost money
Our district was noted for its beautiful gardens. My parent's home at 11 New Brighton Road had been a show garden when owned by the Catherwood family in the 1920s. Some of its beautiful trees remain beside the Woolworth building.
Gardens had orchards, raspberry and asparagus beds, shrubberies, and formal plots with roses, hydrangeas, irises, etc. The light sandy soil dried out in the Summer and watering was done by Heath Robinson devices made with roof guttering and boxes. Every house had a ram pump and the rhythmic clunk-clunk of the device was the background to our lives.
In the summer the ram box was a cool delight as it was covered with moss and surrounded with mint. Jellies and Spanish cream were set there and the milk in a can kept cool. Milk was delivered from McEwan's dairy farm on New Brighton Road, now one of the oldest houses in the district. We had fowl houses, a tank stand, and during the war a splendid air-raid shelter that only a veteran of the Somme could have devised.
Along the south bank of the Dudley Creek was a long line of houses with large well tended gardens. Local children carried their canoes to the landing stage in Banks Avenue. From there we canoed down the creek to the Avon, with a privileged view behind the old hedges of these houses.
What a splendid play area it was. Today there is little water in Dudley creek. Where Pete, the Chinese vegetable grower had his land stands the Banks Avenue School and small houses proliferate on the banks of the creek.
We had many memorable men and women in our district who contributed to its life as the city gradually spread out and surrounded us. Three I particularly remember. Steffano Webb, doyen of city photographers in his time, lived nearby. He was a pioneer member of the compost society, an organisation greeted with some hilarity at first. Perhaps it was the forerunner of the great health food revival. Mr Webb was a vigorous walker and like many others enjoyed the "Golf Links" walks.
In the old house with the wrought iron verandah, now 15 Ajax Street, lived George Frizzel. A robust and lively character, he argued politics and economics in a voice grown huge as an auctioneer at Pyne's. He was for a long time owner of Castle Hill station and his Shirley house was surrounded by paddocks which in post war years were to become State housing blocks.
Ernest Adams lived in New Brighton Road, and on the next corner was the poultry farm which supplied his cake making business. He was an agreeable and extrovert member of the community. The poultry farm was later given by Mr Adams to the Aged People's Welfare Council for Windsor House.
There were many more who lived and worked in this thriving, balanced community. Then suddenly the change came. After the quiet war years the paddocks were sold to the Government for State housing.
A local builder Geoff Walker, began a long ribbon of houses up Marshland Road. The Stevenson family opened shops on the north-east corner.
Looking back I can remember a day that marked the change like a watershed. The New Brighton Trotting Club held its first meeting after the war at its Travis Road course, now Queen Elizabeth II Park. We watched the amazing steam of cars go by and we agreed we had never seen so many cars.
We cannot turn the clock back as cities engulf villages all over the world. But we can retain the village centre within a city, by fostering and encouraging those elements within it that give a feeling of community and neighbourliness.