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                                                                                      1.                            2.                  

1.  Ferndale House side angle
2.  Ferndale House front view
Photos courtesy of Lisa Truttman collection
 

  

"Ferndale"

The original part of the house we know as ‘Ferndale’, No. 830 New North Road, was built as a cottage by Mr. J.T. Garlick in 1865 and named ‘Fern Villa’. That was shortly before his marriage. His wife, Ann Elizabeth Jane Garlick was a teenager at the time of the marriage. It was she who planted the Norfolk pines which are now such an important feature of the property. In 1870, Mr. Garlick enlarged the cottage to its present size and appearance, and renamed it ‘Ferndale’. Mr. Garlick died in 1898 and his widow continued to live in ‘Ferndale’ until her death in April 1947, aged 99 years.

In December 1943, the Town Clerk to the Mt. Albert Borough Council reported to his Council that some time previously, the Council had formed the opinion that if favourable terms could be arrived at “it would be an acquisition to the Borough if this property could be acquired, and preserved as a public amenity or Park”. He went on to report that he and the Borough Engineer had had several meetings with the owner’s representatives and that he had now received a letter from Mrs. Garlick offering to sell on certain terms.

The matter of who first made the suggestion that ‘Ferndale’ should be acquired by the Council has not been researched. But only a year or two prior to 1943, Mrs. Garlick had subdivided 2 sections (fronting Alexis Avenue) from her property, leaving her with an area of a little over 2 acres (0.8 ha). Apparently the possibility that the property might be further subdivided had crossed the minds of the Mayor and Councillors. Was the suggestion that the property be acquired made by one of the ‘ABC’ triumvirate who guided the affairs of the council at that time? (A = Harry Anderson, the Mayor, B = Wilf Begbie, the Borough Engineer, C = Ralph Congalton, the Town Clerk.) Or by some-one else? We do not know.

Negotiations with Mrs. Garlick and her representatives proceeded in a leisurely fashion. (Was the council seeking public support for the proposal, which would involve it in a considerable financial commitment?) Community support must have started to appear, for in December 1944 the council decided to seek a 6 month option to buy the property for £4000. That was granted. At its March 1945 meeting it received a letter from the Mt. Albert Sub-branch of the Plunket Society urging it to buy ‘Ferndale’ as the Sub-branch was in urgent need of suitable premises. And at the same meeting it heard from a large deputation in support of the proposal. There were 8 women (representing 5 different community organisations) and 1 man in the deputation. The sole male person was Mr. W. Atwell, a local chemist who had his shop at (about) No. 833 New North Road. (In her letter, the Secretary of the Plunket Sub-branch had said that “Mr. Atwell has for many years placed a room at the rear of his shop at the disposal of the Plunket nurse. When it is realised that this nurse is seeing on average 500 mothers and babies a month ....”.)

Mrs. L.C. Dawson and Mr. Atwell spoke on behalf of the deputation. Mrs Dawson said that the rooms at the western side of the house would make an ideal Plunket room and the room on the Eastern side would be well suited for a kindergarten. “With the expansion likely to take place in the western end of the borough in the next few years [Owairaka] and with the returning servicemen setting up homes in Mt. Albert there is every possibility of Plunket work expanding.” (“Ideal .... on the tramline .....easy access for prams and pushchairs ....lovely grounds”.) Mr. Atwell said that he had discussed the matter with a number of ratepayers and he believed that “all ratepayers would be behind the proposal .... an ideal site to be acquired as open space ... development would mean the cutting down of the well developed trees and shrubs.”

The Council deferred the matter for later consideration and asked its Engineer to investigate “the possibilities of using the existing dwelling house for community purposes”. [It appears that the council wanted to know whether the property would produce an income.] He reported to the Council meeting held on 10th July 1945. His report discussed several possibilities and said that the building could be put to good use for community purposes. It is interesting that he went on to support the proposed acquisition in the light of the need for more ‘open space’ in the borough. But no mention was made of the fact that the property had significant historic value to the borough. At that meeting, on 10th July 1945, the Council agreed to purchase the Ferndale property for £4000, payment to be spread over 5 years, subject to consent being given under the Municipal Corporations Act.

At that time, no local body could borrow money or enter into long-term financial commitments without the consent of the Local Bodies Loans Board. That consent was duly given to the purchase of Ferndale, and a formal ‘agreement for sale and purchase’ was signed by the Council in November 1945. Under the agreement, Mrs. Garlick retained the right to occupy ‘Ferndale’ until her death; and only after her death would interest start to run on the balance of the purchase money.

At its May 1947 meeting, the Council received a letter from the solicitors acting for Mrs. Garlick’s estate informing the Council of her death on 30th April, “at the advanced age of 99 years”. The letter went on to suggest that the Council might consider purchasing “the Venetian blinds and detachable mirrors, overmantels etc which form part of the moveables but may be considered to add a distinctive finish to some of the rooms”.

Shortly afterwards, the Council duly took possession of the property, installed a caretaker, let the main rooms on the western side to the Plunket Society and let the main rooms on the eastern side to the Kindergarten. Legal title to the property was duly transferred into the name of the borough in 1950, payment in full having been made. The Plunket and Kindergarten continued to occupy the building for many years. Gradually the historic and architectural value of the house dawned on the community. It must have been early in the 1980s that the Council set about restoring the house, its architecture and furnishings, to what they would have been in much earlier times.

The restoration work was done in “co-operation between Council and the Historic Places Trust in advice and effort to restore in an honest reflection of yesteryear, but in practical fashion for intended use”. After that work had been completed, an ‘Open Day & Official Opening’ of Ferndale was held on 22nd June 1985. Speakers included Mr. W. Atwell (who spoke of the efforts made to encourage the Council to purchase the property) and Mr. J.M. Stacpoole (who spoke of the building’s architecture and furnishings).

In 2006, Mrs. E.A. Wylie, who had been a councillor and deputy-mayor for many years, arranged for research into the history of the efforts made to persuade the Council to purchase Ferndale, and in particular to obtain the names of the women involved in the 1945 deputation. The writer searched the former Mt Albert Council minute books held in the Auckland City Archives and obtained copies of the relevant minutes and other documents. Mrs. Wylie then arranged for a memorial plaque to be placed in the main room on the eastern side of Ferndale. It records that part of Ferndale’s history, and lists the names of the women in the deputation and the organisations they represented. 

We must be thankful for the far-sighted people who saw the desirability of bringing Ferndale into public ownership, and those who pressed for its purchase by the council. Once the 2 Alexis Avenue sections had been subdivided, some-one foresaw that further subdivision was a possibility on the death of the very elderly lady who occupied the property; and had the dream that the property should become a public park. But that occurred while the country was involved in a world war and shortly after the Great Depression. The Mt. Albert Borough had suffered severe financial difficulties during the depression which had not been entirely overcome by 1945. It is not surprising that councillors were not enthusiastic about entering into what was for the times a very significant financial burden. £4000 was a very large sum of money at that time. The average worker would have been earning about £350 per annum, and senior executives about £800 per annum. Again, it is not surprising that councillors took time to ascertain whether there was community support for the proposal and whether the property would produce an income for the council by letting to community organisations. Support may not have been universal. Mr. Anderson, the mayor at that time, told me several years later that Councillor Barnes (‘Jock Barnes’ of the 1951 waterfront strike fame) who represented D Ward (Kingsland) in some of those years, complained about the council being willing to spend money in the ‘two-and-sixpenny’ end of the borough and not in the ‘sixpenny’ end.

Arnold R. Turner CMG                                                                                                                                        March 2011

 

APPENDIX

The following people comprised the 1945 deputation to the Council:
Mrs. L.C. Dawson                           President, Mt. Albert Sub-branch of the Plunket Society
Mrs. Pearson                                  Honorary Honorary Secretary, Mt. Albert Sub-branch of the Plunket Society
Mrs. Wolfgram                                Women's Institute
Mrs. Brockett                                  King George V Memorial Health Camp Organisation
Mrs. Boyle                                      League of Mothers
Mrs. Worrall                                    Community Sunshine Association and Residential Nursery
Miss Doris Jenkin                            Kindergarten
Murse Carmichael                           Plunket Nurse for Mt. Albert
Mr. W. Atwell                                   Ratepayer and Businessman

 

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