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The Avondale

Historical Journal
September—October 2014 Volume 14 Issue 79
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical
Society Incorporated
When the Avondale Racecourse was enlarged and realigned in 1901, the club commissioned architect Edward
Bartley to design an impressive structure from which patrons could watch their picks gallop around the track, along
with a large lawn area in front. Come the 1920s work began on redesigning the course and its buildings, but the de-
pression later that decade and into the 1930s stalled work.
Come November 1936, the club again made a start, and by early December readers of the NZ Herald opened their
newspapers to view a rather extraordinary sight: a photo of a grandstand cut in half, so that each section could be
gradually shifted forward onto that old lawn area, bringing them closer to the track.
From the NZ Herald, 9 December 1936: “Long-projected improvements to the racecourse at Avondale are now be-
ing made. One half of the grandstand has been shifted forward 160 feet and when the other half has been brought
into alignment concrete terraces 34 feet wide will run along the length of the stand. The stewards' stand will be
aligned with the other, but will be re-erected on an angle and extended about 40 feet. Up-to-date accommodation
will be provided and a balcony running the length of the building will be another improvement. The work is to be
finished before the Avondale Jockey Club's meeting' in April.”
The Auckland Star, 1 April 1937, was able to report on the completion of the project: “The grandstand has been
drawn forward about 175 ft, and is now within 75ft of the course. Spacious terraces lead up to this building, and it is
estimated that accommodation will be provided here for
about 3000 people. The stewards' stand has been drawn
forward about a similar distance, and is set on an angle
which will allow a better view of the straight. This building
has been extended 40ft, and in front there is a large bal-
cony 12ft by 170 ft, with four tiers, which will greatly in-
crease the accommodation. The trainers' stand is at the
end, while there is an apartment for ladies. The members'
accommodation has also been considerably added to, as

Next meeting of the
Avondale-Waterview Historical
At St Ninians, St Georges Road
(opp. Hollywood Cinema)

SATURDAY, 4 October 2014, 2.00 pm

Shifting the old Grandstand: 1936
The Avondale Historical Journal

Volume 14 Issue 79
Page 2
has the administrative offices. The club intend to install two totalisator windows in the stewards' stand for the forth-
coming meeting. As soon as these alterations are completed it is the intention of the club to cover the outside stand,
and some terraces will be constructed in front of it. At present a jockeys' board has been placed between the inside
and outside enclosures, and over-weights and other information will be put up on it.”
The stands were replaced from the 1960s.
Old Avondale Unveiled — captions for image (right) by Don Gwilliam
The Avondale Historical Journal

Volume 14 Issue 79
Page 3
On the land bounded today by Patiki and Rosebank
Roads, with State Highway 16 cutting along the Waite-
mata forshore – there was once a farm associated with
bells for twenty years at the beginning of the 20
tury: a family named Bell, and a horse named Gold
Bell, completely not connected.

Henry James Bell, born in London in 1845, came to
settle in Avondale with his family in the late 1860s.
From 1878, he and a chap named R Gemmell operated
the Riversdale Tannery in conjunction with local land-
owner and Presbyterian Church elder John Buchanan
just upriver from the Whau Bridge, until around 1885.
He may have taken up work with the Ireland Brothers
tannery at Panmure for a time, then moved down coun-
try to Mangapiko near Pirongia.

His first wife died, and Henry returned to Auckland in
1905, remarried, and came back to Avondale, buying
part of Daniel Pollen’s estate in 1907. There he farmed
until he died in 1915.

The Bells of Rosebank
More from Don, in response to the last issue of the

“The tall shed overlapped by your code “8” was the
steam-roller shed. I think the black shaft near the picture
join is the shed chimney which aligned with the engine
chimney, the engine always being parked facing out to
the road. How would I know? The steam-roller was in
service well into my childhood and I had a love/hate re-
lationship with it. So long as the thing was out in the
streets crunching to and fro on some roadworks it was an
unmissable sight which I had to be dragged away from
Not so if the hot and steaming ogre was simmering in its
St Jude St hed. I simply wouldn’t walk past the thing and
crossed the road or even went another way to avoid the
darkly brooding machine. These days of course I can’t
resist traction engines and steam rollers. Sometime near
the end of steam, the large classic roller was supple-
mented by a small diesel one. Just a toy to be despised.”

Don asked: Did Atkinsons really last into the 1950s?
(Yes, I believe so. Atkinson himself died in the early

The Avondale Historical Journal

Volume 14 Issue 79
Page 4
The Avondale Historical Journal

Published by:
the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc.
Editor: Lisa J. Truttman
Society contact:
19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600
Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804
Society information:
Subscriptions: $15 individual
$20 couple/family
$30 corporate

Copies of Avondale Historical Journal and AWHS
Newsletter produced for us by
Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road,
Blockhouse Bay.

The Society and AHJ editorial staff thank

Avondale Business
for their continued support and sponsorship of this
Here’s the text of an email I received from Nicola Bell,
his descendant, back in 2010:

I have been researching my family and have just stum-
bled across a post you wrote on Sunday October 26th
2008. I knew my great great grandfather Henry James
Bell had worked in a leather tannery in Whau Creek
and I had also been told by family that they owned their
own tannery there too. So it seems it could be them you
are talking about. This is what I know about him and
his family. There was a history of curriers, leather-
workers and shoemakers in the Bell family going back
several generations in London and earlier in Lincoln,
England to at least the late 1700s.

Henry James was born in London to James (a currier)
& Elizabeth Bell in 1845. He trained as a currier and
emigrated to NZ probably in January 1867 on the ship
"Maori". He married a Sarah Ann Absolum in Parnell
in 1872 and settled in Whau Creek. His parents emi-
grated to NZ later (probably on the 'Fernglen" in 1880
and I understand his father also worked with him in the
tannery although James having been born in 1814 he
would have been around 65 by this stage. Henry and
Sarah had 5 sons and 3 daughters between 1873 and
1887. My uncle talked about them drying hides in later
years around Panmure basin so whether they worked
there at some stage I don’t know. Eventually Henry and
Sarah, James & Elizabeth and probably some of their
now grown children moved to Mangapiko near Pi-
rongia (Alexandra) and farmed in the area. One of the
sons owned a general store there with his father in law.
I'm not sure why they went farming. Possibly it was to
follow one of their sons to the area. James & Elizabeth
are buried at Pirongia where they both died in 1901.
Henry returned to Avondale after his wife Sarah died in
1905 and married again but was eventually buried with
Sarah in Pirongia when he died in 1915. As far as I
know nobody in the family continued in the leather in-
dustry. Henry painted many oil paintings of landscapes
and country scenes in the 1870s (rather English
looking) and they are scattered around his many descen-
dants. I hope this may be of some interest to you.

I don’t know the exact date that Henry moved down to
Mangapiko so maybe by then he was retired and his chil-
dren were the only ones farming. I dont know. And like I
said the way I worded my email made it sound like they
worked at Panmure later but I'm not 100% sure on that
later so it could have been earlier ...And one more point
(but its not really relevant to the tannery side of things
but may be of interest to any Absolums out there),
Henry's wife Sarah was the daughter of William Absolum
who was a whaler who arrived in Auckland around 1848
but later farmed at Otahuhu. And her mother was Cath-
erine Leslie who came out on the Ship "Ann" with her
parents to Auckland from Northern Ireland. Her father
was William Leslie one of the fencible soldiers at

His Avondale farm, there at the end of Rosebank, was
bought by a farmer from the Hawkes Bay named
Thomas Roe in 1918. Roe however was not just a
farmer. Since the 1880s, he had been involved with train-
ing and breeding trotting horses in the Poverty Bay and
Gisborne areas, and from 1907 became associated with a
horse in particular – Gold Bell. Up to 1913, Roe raced
Gold Bell, with considerable success, and in 1914 stood
the horse for stud at Sylvia Park. By 1920, Roe had es-
tablished “Bell Farm” at his Rosebank Peninsula land in
Avondale, standing Gold Bell there and establishing a
lineage that extended through the rest of the century
among Standardbreds. He subdivided and sold the farm
in 1927, moving to Mangere to train and breed horses,
and become part of Auckland trotting history. The land
became market gardens up to the coming of the motor-
way and the change in land-use.

Today what was Bell Farm is covered by industrial and
commercial buildings.
— Lisa J Truttman