Sunday, June 19, 2011

Faith and rubber on Upper Symonds Street

Another one of the Timespanner-photos-taken-from-a-moving-bus. I should have alighted and done it properly, but schedules had to be kept recently.

Upper Symonds Street ends these days with the motorway tangle down in Grafton and Newton gullies, but at the edge is a building which, since I first spotted the old sign revealed two or three years or so ago, I thought would surely be renovated/replastered/demolished before I'd get a chance to get the interesting image I wanted, and try to find out a bit more.

Fortunately, that hasn't yet happened.

126 Symonds Street dates from around 1935, when the site was purchased by the Pioneer Rubber Company, with their name still surviving despite not being connected with the site since just after World War II. Can't say I know all that much about them. They may have been connected with an earlier Anglo-Australian firm from the late 19th century which dealt with rubber imports over there. Here, they seem to have been linked with the tyre importing trade.

NZ Truth, 4 December 1930

But, in looking into the story of the Pioneer Rubber Company building (also known as the Hektor Building, for the firm which purchased it from Pioneer in 1945), I came to the answer to a mystery I've pondered over a bit for a while -- the location of the old St Sepulchre's Church by the Symonds Street Cemetery. It was, up until around 1900, on the spot just where you see the white car waiting at the lights, to the left of the MWDI building, on what is now the Symonds Street off-ramp for State Highway 1.

The property diagram for NA37/270 (above, LINZ crown copyright) was the eye-opener for me. First time I'd ever seen a footprint on a 19th century document for the old church. There's a photo of St Sepulchre Church at Heritage Images Online. It was really the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but everyone has called it "St. Sep's" for over 150 years, so it's a hard habit to break.

 Layout of the Symonds Street Cemetery, SO 8 (LINZ crown copyright), unknown date.

It stood on Allotment 19, actually owned by Crown Grant from 1842 by one Ewan McLennan. At some point, though, the Church of England must have had the corner of that allotment allocated or transferred to them for church use. St Sepulchre's (an apt name, considering the location) opened on 25 August 1865, intended as a temporary cemetery chapel and schoolroom but designed by architect Richard Keals all the same. Local residents in the Newton area loaned money to the committee responsible for the church’s construction, “as it had been felt by many in the neighbourhood that another place of worship was necessary.” The building was not initially consecrated, as the main use was intended to be as a school.

By 1873, this had apparently changed; 67 baptisms and eight marriages were reported as taking place in the parish church. The building had been lined, a stone font from Caen, of Norman design, had been added, and two stained glass windows installed in 1871. By September 1872, the transepts had been lengthened, gas fittings installed, and internal positions of the choir and seating rearranged. In 1874, further extensions and additions were designed by architect Philip Herapath and tenders called later that year.

Still, a new St Sepulchre's was built on Khyber Pass at the Burleigh Street corner in  1881, and the old chapel relegated to being just a schoolroom. It was bought and shifted to Mt Eden sometime around 1898-1900. Income from the reserved site raised, apparently, £22 for the new church on Khyber Pass. (Auckland Star 1 May 1903)

At the chapel's new site, 132 Grange Road, it became part of the Mt Roskill Baptist Church, known as Grange Road Baptist Church by the 1920s. It was sold once more to the Boy Scouts Association in 1964, and gained a new name: St Albans Scout Hall. Through a fire in 1974, additions for a childcare centre later that decade and, from 1989, ownership by the Girl Guides Association, at least part of the old St Sep's may still remain.

Detail from DP 16995, 1923, LINZ crown copyright

The Anglican Diocese obtained title to the land including the future site of the Pioneer Rubber Company building, effectively just two doors south of where St Sepulchre's was, from 1885. They subdivided the land in 1923, and dedicated Glenside Crescent in 1924.

Detail from DP 17407, LINZ crown copyright

Along came the motorways in the 1960s to 1980s, however, and the reserve site of the old church became a roadway after gazetted proclamation.


  1. Love the building and the fact it's survived to this day.
    Found out a little about Pioneer Rubber Co here if it helps :)

  2. Sorry, I had included the link but it doesn't seem to come up unless you run the mouse over it.

    It's the bio of Barnet Glass who may or may not have been the bloke who got it cracking as the ins and outs of the business aren't fully clear.