Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1, 1966
A town in Hampshire near Chawton, the home of Jane Austen and possibly given because one of the Company's labourers, Thomas Cresswell came from there. Cresswell died in November, 1841, and was buried on Fifeshire Island. Wakefield in a diary entry of November 22nd, 1841, records the death of Cresswell: "Thomas Cresswell departed this life at ½ past 8. He had been for some time in a hopeless state from a low fever. He was a well behaved, steady man and came from the neighbourhood of Alton near Hampshire."
The street is quite short but very interesting. It runs from page 20Manuka Street to Hardy Street and a short footbridge connects the two sides of the street but below this bridge is an old ford. If you look at Heaphy's painting of Nelson (1845) you will make out Alton Street in the distance by a line of posts which held up an elevated water race carrying water from the Brook at Manuka Street down the centre of the road to Hardy Street. The water was carried across Hardy Street to drop down into the Flour Mill and turn the water wheel. The mill occupied the site of the present Technical School, and the fluming carrying the water, keeping on the high side of Alton Street was elevated enough to allow traffic in Hardy Street to pass under it. The water then ran out the other side of the mill into the Eel Pond.
Judging by a letter in the Nelson Examiner of March 12th, 1853, the builders of the water race must have skimped a bit on the amount of clearance they allowed:
Would you allow me through the medium of your columns to advert what every person must look upon as a nuisance which exists in connexion with the Nelson Flour Mill. I allude to the lead which carries the water and in consequence the almost impassable state of the road under it. I say impassable, you certainly can get either over or under it, but if you chance to be riding or driving it is at your personal risk. The other day a young man was riding under the lead near the mill, and as he did not happen to lower his head in time, it came in contact with the timber work and he fell sensless from his horse….. Now this ought not to be. If private companies or individuals are allowed the privilege of constructing and keeping up such unsightly works as the one referred to they ought at least to be compelled to make them harmless to the inhabitants. Such things might be suffered some years ago, but in the advancing state of Nelson they should not.
Not a Constant Grumbler."
His letter had some effect for in 1862, after some litigation, the lead was lowered to street level when it was found that the working of the mill wheel was not much effected as it had always been a horizontal one.
As if this wasn't enough for Alton Street; the street had no sooner been cleared of this obstruction when another took its place—the Dun Mountain Railway line was constructed and ran down Alton Street from the Manuka Street Bridge into Hardy Street. The two constructions might even have overlapped in time.
After a false start in 1858 when an Act of the Provincial Council page 21permitted the building of a railway via Molesworth Street, Nile Street East, Tory Street and Milton Street from the Maitai Valley, the Dun Mountain Copper Company changed its mind and decided on a different route. They decided to go up Brook Street and were authorised to construct a railway from Albion Wharf, and running via Haven Road, Waimea, Hardy, Alton, Manuka and Brook Streets, across Manuka Road and then on to the Company's property.
The official oppening of this railway took place in February, 1862, when the first train left the Company's Yard in Brook Street and ran to the Port. The train consisted of eight wagons containing 16 tons of ore, the Nelson Brass Band and passengers, but we are not told how many horses were needed to pull it. The horse drawn trucks must have been a common sight in Nelson for the first year or so but after that the demand for chrome fell and the line was used to bring down only such mundane things as firewood, lime and slate. In 1866 all active operations ceased but the line was still there in Alton Street in 1872 when His Lordship the Bishop of Nelson in his buggy was in a serious collision with a wagon laden with iron rails for shipment.
There is a photograph in the Historical Society's collection showing a huge pile of firewood stacked in what I think is the playing grounds of the Central School in Alton Street. Probably this is firewood from the Dun as there is mention in the Jane Bond papers of the firewood being cut up in the School Grounds, by a saw worked by horse power.
The offices of the Dun Mountain Railway were in Alton Street and so also was the Nelson Observatory before it was shifted to the hill at Tahunanui above the Britannia Heights Domain.