Kelburn: midway between earth and sky

Wellington (New Zealand) journalist, Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), digs into his boyhood diary

February 1, 1906….. Went to the Kiosk and had fun in the cable car……

Vintage postcard of Kelburn Tea Kiosk and cable car c.1907

Kelburn (with an extra ‘e’) Kiosk around 1907 with cable car at right.

The place Wellingtonians know now as the Skyline was for many years identified as the Kiosk. It was a barn-like building where one could have tea and cakes for sixpence, with a fine view of the city and harbour thrown in for good measure. The young men of the city usually took their young ladies there by cable car and then wandered on down through the Botanical Gardens on the way home, or through the then-embowered Kelburn to the other end of the city. I do not know when the tea rooms ceased to be called the Kiosk.

I do know, however, that after World War II the name became unpopular. Anti-communists suggested ‘kiosk’ was of Russian origin, but this is not correct. The word is Turkish or Persian signifying…… banqueting amid trellised splendour with fair views. This, despite all the glamour that youthful memory may inspire, could hardly describe the Kiosk I wrote of in my diary of 1906.
‘More Wellington Days’. Pat Lawlor, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1962.

F. L. Irvine-Smith, in her book ‘The Streets of my City’ (1948), digs a little deeper

Kelburn, named after Viscount Kelburn, the eldest son of the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand (1892-1897), quickly became a favourite suburb, not only because of its proximity to the city, but because of the sheer beauty of its position poised high above the city and the shining waters below.

Kelburn ascent

The nucleus of settlement was the Upland Farm, acquired by the Upland Estate Co., in 1896, originally the property of Wm. Moxham, but every possible foothold was soon covered by the heavily basemented type of house which may be said to have become the characteristic of Wellington hill-side architecture…….

It was a sheer triumph of engineering that transformed the lower levels of Moxham Farm into habitable ground….. which emerged out of the levelling of the knolls that filled the valley, their soil being spread by means of an aerial wire tramway.

Kelburn is thus an essentially man-made suburb, from its cable tramway which transports passengers in ten minutes from the heart of the city, to its flights of soaring steps and bastions and retaining walls that transform the most inaccessible eyries into “desirable building lots,” but once safely ensconced within these buttressed edifices, midway between earth and sky, the panorama that meets the eye is truly heaven-made – an unsurpassable vista of city, sea and sky in the perfection of harmonious balance…….

Kelburn descent

Nearby is Kelburn Park, a verdant expanse of “the greenest grass that ever grew,” with scarce a trace of having been made to order by cutting off a hill-top and tipping it holus-bolus into the adjacent gully.
‘The Streets of My City’. F. L. Irvine-Smith, 1948. Reprinted 1974 by A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Overlooking the Oriental Bay area of Wellington from the suburb of Kelburn.

Kelburn Park, foreground, “made to order”.

The Skyline building was lost to two suspicious fires, three weeks apart, in 1982.

Landseer’s Lions

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Duchess of Abercorn and daughter by Landseer. Tate Gallery.

Sir Edwin Landseer, the painter…..was one of my father and mother’s oldest friends, and had been an equally close friend of my grandparents, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. He had painted three portraits of my father [the Duke of Abercorn], and five of my mother. Two of the latter had been engraved, and, under the titles of “Cottage Industry” and “The Mask,” had a very large sale in mid-Victorian days. His large picture of my two eldest sisters, which hung over our dining-room chimney-piece, had also been engraved, and was a great favourite, under the title of “The Abercorn Children.” Landseer was a most delightful person, and the best company that can be imagined. My father and mother were quite devoted to him, and both of them always addressed him as “Lanny.”

My mother going to call on him at his St. John’s Wood house, found “Lanny” in the garden, working from a ladder on a gigantic mass of clay. Turning the corner, she was somewhat alarmed at finding a full-grown lion stretched out on the lawn.

Trafalgar Square lion

Landseer had been commissioned by the Government to model the four lions for the base of Nelson’s pillar in Trafalgar Square. He had made some studies in the Zoological Gardens, but as he always preferred working from the live model, he arranged that an elderly and peculiarly docile lion should be brought to his house from the zoo in a furniture van attended by two keepers. Should anyone wish to know what that particular lion looked like, they have only to glance at the base of the Nelson pillar.

Vintage postcard of Trafalgar Square, London, by the Photochrom Company.

On paying an afternoon call, it is so unusual to find a live lion included amongst the guests, that my mother’s perturbation at finding herself in such close proximity to a huge loose carnivore is, perhaps, pardonable.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton, Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

The photograph of the captive lion was taken by Gambier Bolton, probably in the early 1890s, and published on a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons about 1905. This pioneering animal photographer was sometimes described as the Landseer of photography and his original prints fetch high prices from collectors today.

Spitfire memories

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

For a pilot, every plane has its own personality, which always reflects that of its designers and colours the mentality of those who take it into action.
The Spitfire, for instance, is typically British. Temperate, a perfect compromise of all the qualities required of a fighter, ideally suited to its task of defence. An essentially reasonable piece of machinery, conceived by cool, precise brains and built by conscientious hands. The Spitfire left such an imprint on those who flew it that when they changed to other types they found it very hard to get acclimatized.
Pierre Clostermann. ‘Flames in the Sky’. Chatto & Windus, 1952.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

The day I flew a Spitfire for the first time was one to remember. To begin with the instructor walked me round the lean fighter plane, drab in its war coat of grey and green camouflage paint, and explained the flight-control system. Afterwards I climbed into the cockpit while he stood on the wing root and explained the functions of the various controls. I was oppressed by the narrow cockpit, for I am reasonably wide across the shoulders and when I sat on the parachute each forearm rubbed uncomfortably on the metal sides.
“Bit tight across the shoulders for me?” I enquired.
“You’ll soon get used to it,” he replied. “Surprising how small you can get when one of those yellow-nosed brutes* is on your tail. You’ll keep your head down then! And get a stiff neck from looking behind. Otherwise you won’t last long!” – and with this boost to my morale we pressed on with the lesson…..

Four days later I made a mess of the approach, but this time with disastrous results. I had been instructed to land at Sealand and deliver a small parcel of maps which were stuffed into my flying-boot. The circuit at Sealand was crowded with [Miles] Masters and I weaved amongst them for a favourable into-wind position. There was a stiff wind across the short, grass airfield and I aimed to be down close to the boundary fence so that I had the maximum distance for the landing run. I came over the fence too high and too slow and the fully stalled Spitfire dropped like a bomb. We hit the ground with a mighty crash and I had a little too much slack in the harness straps, for I was thrown violently forward and pulled up with a nasty wrench across the shoulders. For a few yards we tore a deep groove in the ground, then she slithered to a standstill in a ground loop which tore off one undercarriage leg and forced the other through the top of the port mainplane. I switched off the petrol cocks and the ignition switches and stepped out.
Johnnie Johnson, ‘Wing Leader’, Chatto & Windus Ltd., 1956.
*Messerschmitt Bf 109s

Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX.

I can remember doing aerobatics in the Spitfire right from the start, perfect vertical rolls, straight as a die. It was a terrific thing. The Spitfire and Hurricane were austere inside. There weren’t many bits and pieces……

Someone showed us all the things you should do and shouldn’t do, and off we went. I can remember going off the ground, got the wheels up, came round parallel to the strip. I can remember doing a roll one way and a roll the other and it was just straight in. We’d never seen anything like them…..

[When a fuel supply problem called for an emergency landing] I was turning to go up the strip to land, and I could see I wasn’t going to make it. They’ve got the flying angle of a brick when you cut the motor back. I couldn’t land on the road. There were trucks and motorbikes, troops, all sorts of people were coming down the road. So I had to go to the side. There was a big row of trees and these bunkers for the rice. In the finish I just pushed it into the ground. I was doing about 140 mph, a wheels up landing and it went bump, bump, bump, then it stopped. Ruined the aeroplane, a bloody shame.
Vic Bargh quoted in ‘Ketchil’ by Neil Frances. Wairarapa Archive 2005.

The Spitfire Mk.IX was photographed at Wings Over Wairarapa airshow, New Zealand.

Artistic Licence

These two vintage postcards, published when London’s Admiralty Arch was still “new”, illustrate the liberties an artist could take with a scene compared to a photographer (in the days before Photoshop).

Admiralty Arch2

Tuck’s Oilette number 7975. One of a set of 12. First recorded use 1919.

In this view by H. B. Wimbush, Nelson’s Column has grown to a dizzying height and dwarfs the Arch. The domed tower on the right has not only been stretched but moved several hundred meters to the left. As you can see from the image below, it can’t actually be seen from this position at all. We can only speculate on why the artist put it there. It may have been simply to balance the composition. Digital photographers didn’t invent the art of bending reality – they were just catching up.

A vintage postcard of the new Admiralty Arch, London.

National Series. Published by M & L Ltd.

The truth is less exciting, although this image is so empty it must have been taken on a weekend in the off-season! Not much doubt about which card would have sold best. The message on the back of this one is more interesting than the front. The writer has dated it 16. 6. 16, although the last number has been over-written and could be 19. The message takes up all of the back so it must have been posted in an envelope, and we have no address for the recipient.

Dear Mrs Land,
Just had a note from Mabel to say she has settled down. Will try and get out to Richmond where she lives in a day or so. Everything went off just fine at the wedding and say – Tom Murray is a splendid fellow. Straight as you make them. Will see you soon as we are booked for U.S.A. on 28th this month. Have still the wee mascot so I’m safe.
Kind regards to Mr Land and self. A. R. Don.

It’s a tantalizing hint at the lives of several people and leaves more questions than answers. Was Mr. Don an American soldier being repatriated in 1919 after the war, or a private citizen braving the Atlantic U-boat menace in 1916? Whatever the case, he was superstitious enough to need a lucky charm. Did Mabel find it difficult to settle down and why, and was she the bride? Was the splendid Tom Murray the groom?

Maybe one of you fiction writers out there can exercise your own artistic licence, change the names, flesh out the characters, invent your own answers, and create a short story. I’m sure novels have been inspired by less.

A cast-iron lighthouse

From the ‘Wairarapa Age’, Masterton, New Zealand, 6 June 1912.

castle-point-buildMessrs S. Luke and Co. Ltd., Victoria Street, Wellington, are at present engaged in building the new cast-iron lighthouse for Castlepoint. The lighthouse, which is to be sixty feet in height, is being cast in ten rings of six feet each (each ring having twelve sections). The diameter of the lighthouse at the base is eighteen feet, and at the top ten feet. The cast-iron plates average about an inch in thickness, being slightly heavier at the bottom than at the top.
Instead of the edges of the plates being hand-chipped, they have been milled by machinery, interior platforms are to be built at intervals, with an iron stairway zig-zagging to the top. It is expected the lighthouse will be finished at the yard towards the end of the month. Then, after inspection, it will be taken to pieces, and re-erected at Castlepoint.

castle-point-wide

And here is the result – one of the most photographed and accessible lighthouses in the country. This is the cliché shot, no tourist leaves without it thanks to a convenient wooden stairway to a viewing platform on the headland.

castle-point-storm

These two images were taken about two and a half hours apart on a warm Spring day in October. Ten minutes later the temperature suddenly dropped and this southerly storm front was dumping hail and sleet on the beach.

Castle Point racing

North Island, New Zealand in the 1870s. George Meredith signed on “to help take a mob of cattle through to Napier, where there is a demand for store-cattle for fattening purposes.” The herd was driven north along the coast because, in the absence of inland roads, that was the easiest route available at the time. On his return, Meredith wrote to his family in Tasmania.

We had a great trip with the cattle. It was risky swimming them over the rivers. If the cattle fail to make for the opposite bank the leaders may turn back and start “ringing” in midstream, the cattle in the middle of the ring being forced under water and drowned. At first it is difficult to get a clean swim-over; but the mob soon gets used to it. One of the first camping-places was Castle Point. Here there is a wonderfully flat beach over a mile long, on which races are often held. It makes an ideal racecourse, but must be rather distressing for the horses, as there is no elasticity in sand.
‘Adventuring in Maoriland in the Seventies’. G.L. Meredith. Angus & Robertson Ltd, Sydney. 1935.

cp_races2

The tradition continues today, weather and beach conditions permitting. The Castlepoint Racing Club holds one meeting a year in March – this Saturday (11th) if you’re in the area. Meredith needn’t have worried about the horses’ welfare. Races are run on wet sand, between tides, and they show no more discomfort than on any other soft track as they come thundering down the beach.

cp_races

Follow the link to see more.

 

s.s. Great Britain

The historic s.s. Great Britain in dry dock at Bristol, England.

There are two main reasons why so much effort has been put into the salvage and restoration of the SS Great Britain. One is that she was the very first propeller-driven ocean-going vessel ever built. The other is that her salvage in 1970 when she was 127 years old became an epic of the sea. That she should have survived for so long in the circumstances that she did was very remarkable. But what added a whole new dimension was the timing and method of the operation itself. To be brought home on a huge pontoon, she was raised from her lonely beach in the Falkland Islands at very nearly the last possible moment, in view of her accelerating rate of disintegration. Thus, the fact that we have the Great Britain in Bristol today is something of a miracle.

The Great Britain was designed by the great Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built in Bristol between 1839 and 1843 in the very same dock in which she now lies. She was launched by the Prince Consort on 19 July 1843, and she completed her fitting out late in 1844. ………

The 'tween decks promenade on the s.s. Great Britain, Bristol, England.

‘tween decks promenade

When Brunel had turned from his railways and bridges to ships, trade on the Atlantic was dominated by the Americans with faster and better sailing ships than the world had ever seen before. So the second ship to be built by him* and his associates in the Great Western Steamship Company, the future Great Britain, was intended to be a big leap forward which would set a new standard for Atlantic travel. And it was conceived metaphorically as another extension from Bristol of the new Great Western Railway line from London. …….

As first planned, when her keel plates were laid down in her present dry dock on 19th July 1839, the big new ship was to be of 2936 gross registered tons, and a paddle steamer. She was expected to be called the City of New York. And it was only during her actual building that Brunel gained enough knowledge about the revolutionary new technique of screw propulsion to make the tremendous decision to adopt it for his great ship. Plans were switched, the existing engines were to be swung round at right angles to drive a propeller shaft – another piece of pioneering machinery – and the name was changed to that of the country itself: Great Britain.

propeller

Other features to make history included the first watertight bulkheads, first virtual double bottom, and first balanced rudder. This was in fact to be among the dozen most significant ships ever built by man, even to this day.

The Return of the Great Britain. Richard Goold-Adams** (1916-1995). Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 1976.

The dining room on the s.s. Great Britain, Bristol, England.

The dining saloon

*Brunel’s first ship was the wooden paddle steamer Great Western.

** Goold-Adams was the founder chairman of the s.s. Great Britain recovery project.

If your travels take you within 100 miles of Bristol, this is an attraction that should not be missed. Find a used copy of Goold-Adams’ book before you go and you’ll appreciate it that much more. It’s an incredible story of salvage and restoration.