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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2000

Stoke in the 1920s through the Eyes of an English Child

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Stoke in the 1920s through the Eyes of an English Child

A young boy moving from Norfolk, England, to Nelson, New Zealand, in 1923 experienced a great difference in life styles. Geoffrey Gates, now nearly 90 years of age, can remember this contrast. When Geoffrey was aged 10 and living on a Norfolk farm with his parents and seven year old sister Joan, his mother responded to an advertisement by Mrs Perrine Moncrieff of The Cliffs, Nelson, who was wanting a cook. As a result the parents and their two children left the London docks in 1923 on the P & O emigrant ship Bellona. Despite paying extra money for two deck cabins, they found the food was very poor, with fruit rationed to one apple a week and Welsh rarebit served rather too frequently.

The voyage to Australia took six weeks and was boring, except for the visit to the engine room where men, stripped to the waist and clutching oil cans and cotton waste, seemed to be climbing all over the engines. In the stokehold the half dozen stokers were working in terrific heat, with perspiration rolling off them as they toiled to keep the coal-burning ship going. The ship stopped at the Canary Islands for fresh fruit, and then at Cape Town for two or three days to allow for re-coaling. Geoffrey celebrated his eleventh birthday during the voyage.

The ship docked at Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney for the emigrants to disembark and only a few were left to continue to New Zealand. At Sydney the Gates family trans-shipped to cross the Tasman, and would have enjoyed the fabulous meals if they had not been seasick during the four day trip. From Wellington they took the overnight ferry, Ngaio, to Nelson where Captain Moncrieff was waiting for them on the wharf on a bright and sunny morning.

After six weeks with the Moncrieffs the Gates family left to find their own home in Stoke, buying a house with three acres of land on the Main Road for 1250 Pounds. They named it The Havens and it was to be their home for the next 19 years. Today the name is unchanged, but the house is on the market for $850,000.

Mrs Gates took a job cooking for Mrs Rosemary Marsden, the wife of James Marsden of Isel, and worked there three days a week from 9.30 am to page 51
Stoke from View Mount (c1940). (Dudgeon Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum).

Stoke from View Mount (c1940). (Dudgeon Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum).

page 526.30 p.m. for 10 shillings a day for four years. Mr Marsden was opposed to newfangled inventions such as the telephone, and it was Mrs Gates who had to ring the lawyer and carry out his business, such as instructions for investments. He also refused to accept electricity in his house when Mr Price further up Poormans Valley wanted them to share a line. The girl who did the ironing had a very hot job, working with about half a dozen irons which were heated on the kitchen stove and used in turn. The handles were not removable and became very hot.

Stoke at this time had orchards everywhere, with hawthorn hedges on the boundaries, or occasionally gorse or macrocarpa. The population was sparse, so everyone knew everyone. Stoke was a separate entity from Richmond or Tahunanui and people did not often go far from home. Orchard owners were Monopoli, Gilbert, Neale, who was where Whareama is now, Harry Chisnall in Songer Street, Pitts-Brown, Cyril Dee, Wallie Wilson, who was next door to The Havens, Robinson Brothers on their present site, H. E. Stevens, and Marshall at Hayes Corner, where he also made cider. There were a few other farms, such as that of James Marsden which occupied 950 acres from Songer Street to Marsden Road, and George Manson in the area of Manson Avenue.

Roads were gravel and the main road, which was only about a third of the present width, had to be graded regularly. Horse-drawn vehicles were common, and one lady regularly tied her horse to the big macrocarpa in front of St Barnabas while she went to church. The roads were nearly empty, with few cars or vehicles of any kind to be seen. There was no electricity, water supply or sewerage, and the telephone, if a home had one, would be on the party line with possibly ten subscribers able to listen in.

Some houses, including The Havens, had windmills. There was a 20-foot well and the windmill lifted water into a tank, which was augmented by rain water collected from the roof. Care had to be taken in hot weather in case the supply dried up. Toilets were outside, with either a long-drop, or a bucket which had to be emptied regularly onto the farm. Tahunanui had a nightcart but this luxury did not extend to Stoke. Lighting in the house was by kerosene and gas lamps.

Electricity was on the verge of arriving in Nelson, as the Power House at the Port was built in the 1920s and soon came to Stoke [through the newly established Waimea Electric Power Board as Stoke and Tahuna were in the Waimea County]. Not everyone was able to afford it on account of its high cost and the expense of house wiring. There was no home delivery of mail page 53which had to be collected from the Post Office, on the present site, although the building itself has been replaced. The Nelson Evening Mail was either thrown from the train or from the Newmans service car, so the Gates either found it at the back of their house, where their section adjoined the railway line, or at the front.

Groceries were delivered by Mr Rodley from Nelson in a horse-drawn vehicle. Mr Gledhill cycled from Nelson to Richmond collecting the orders for groceries, and his call at Isel could take half an hour. The order for the following week could be given when goods were delivered. Bird and Coleman sent their butcher's van from Richmond, and the bread came from at least three different sources, including Anstice and Croucher from Richmond who had horse-drawn services, and Freemans from Nelson. Milk came from the family cow or could be obtained from a neighbour, but was not delivered. There was no doctor in Stoke and mothers may have gone to Hillcrest Hospital in Richmond to have their babies delivered.

When Geoffrey and his sister started school at Stoke early in 1924 there were only three rooms and Mr A. Trevella was the headmaster. The subjects taught seemed to be much the same as in England. They had a hard time for a while because their clothes and manner of speech were different from the other children. Despite this Joan became Dux of Stoke School and Nelson College for Girls. They were surprised to find that most of the children went to school bare foot.

The village of Stoke consisted of the Turf Hotel, the Methodist church, the Anglican church and the blacksmith W. B. Heath opposite the Turf, who shoed the horses and also had one petrol pump. Robinsons had a grocery store and Vincent Dee had a second small store down Songer Street, near the railway station. The Turf burned down in about 1927, leaving only the chimneys, and had to be rebuilt. The Rev Rogers was the minister of St Barnabas', which at that time was a small church with only a handful of people. Identities were Alice Ching the organist and her sister Lucy.

Opportunities for work were not great and Geoffrey, like many others, went to work in an orchard when he left school. He worked for Gilberts, who had the orchard opposite his home, for eight shillings a day. Gilbert came from the West Coast and had bought the farm in 1910. The hoses used for spraying were about 80 feet long, and horses and carts were used for the hard work of dragging them round the trees. The spray was in 150 gallon containers and two men walked behind the horse and cart to spray the trees.

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Apples were packed on individual farms and inspected for quality at the port. Orchardists were able to select their own buyers in England. Geoffrey also worked for Ted Saxton, milking his cows with Mr McMurtry. At first 20 or so cows were milked by hand, but when the milking machine arrived the number of cows increased to about 30. A stationary engine was used to provide power and when it broke down they reverted to hand milking. They still had to strip by hand after machine milking.

An industry of the area was the cider factory run by the Roil family, of whom there were six brothers and a sister, all unmarried and in one household. Buses or service cars such as Newmans, Gibbs and Bums passed through Stoke. The Russell's Green Bus service left from the Empire Theatre in Bridge Street for Stoke or Richmond, and the driver could be relied on to wait for the late comers because he knew them all, and when they should be on the bus. Otherwise there was the train service, but some people still walked to town or to Richmond.

The main winter sport was hockey, which was played on the ground adjacent to the present hall, and in summer the tennis courts in the same grounds were used. Alice Ching was secretary of the Tennis Club. Rugby football was not played at Stoke in those times. Silent movies were shown once a week in the old hall, with a truck outside to provide the power. Old-time dances were held there and there was a dancing class every week for boys and girls. Mr Hector and Mrs Pearl Ching, very accomplished dancers, ran the sixpenny hop once a week for sixpence a lesson, and taught anyone who wanted to learn. They were very keen, and Mrs Ching might have just come from packing apples when the lessons started. The Ching home was the site of the present Brook Green, and Mrs Ching continued to live there after the first residents' cottages were built.

Children did not get many treats, but one special event occurred when Mrs Marsden hired a Newman's bus to take a group of children, including her own young relatives, for a picnic up Wairoa Gorge about 1926. Geoffrey went and had the job of opening the numerous gates along the road.

Editorial footnote:

The Nelson-Wellington ferry, Ngaio, in Mr Gates' account was the first Nelson Anchor Company ferry of that name and will be remembered by some as the earlier Mapourika of the Union Company.

The Ngaio was followed in service by the Anchor Company's Nelson- Wellington ferries: Matangi formerly the Marilyan from Australia, and the page 55 Arahura from the Union Company. These two had taken passengers to and from the West Coast river ports until rail and road transport improved to make them redundant there.

When age forced their withdrawal from the Nelson-Wellington overnight run, the second Ngaio, previously the Hualalai from Hawaii, plied between Nelson and Wellington from 1950 to 1955 as the last Anchor Company and Nelson-Wellington ferry.