Historic Place Category 2
Secs 1-2, Secs 21-22. Blk XLVII Town of Dunedin, (CTs OT288/74, OT288/61), Otago Land District
The New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Co. Ltd. Building, originally known as the Otago Wool Stores, was built in 1872 for stock and station agents Driver Stewart and Co. The site was close to the harbour and the developing transport networks.
American Henry Driver (1831-1893), a merchant and businessman who settled in Dunedin in 1861, established the company with a partner in 1871. The building was known as Otago Wool Stores and provided storage for wool. Next to the Store there were stables and other outbuildings associated with the business.
Construction was well underway by December 1872. The Otago Witness recorded that the foundations had been excavated to the level of the old sea bottom, between six and nine feet, and that there was concern about the stability of the ground. The walls were not up to their full height at this date.
An 1873 photograph shows the newly completed structure. The two-storey building is built from stone, with contrasting facings. The building is rectangular in plan, with three parallel single gables running the length of the structure, with its formal façade facing toward the railway lines. The service area is located at the north end of the building, and is marked by a series of small ancillary buildings.
The Otago Witness describes 'probably the finest building of the kind in New Zealand':
'The area of the allotment on which it is situated is 264 feet in length, fronting Castle Street, 103 feet in width, fronting Rattray Street, extending back and having a frontage at the rear of 103 feet to the continuation of Dowling Street. The building is 164 x 103 feet, and is placed sixty feet from Rattray Street and forty feet from the line of Dowling street, thus leaving space behind for engine house, stables, and other outhouses necessary to such a large establishment; and sufficient space at the Rattray street end to form another large warehouse - ends of the walls being toothed to receive the new work.'
The Otago Witness goes on to describe the Otago Wool Store's stone work and detailing. The main building stone was from quarries at the Water of Leith and the Town Belt, while the stone for piers, door and window openings and corners was from Port Chalmers. The stonework on the front was squared and snecked rubble, a difficult and expensive technique but which made for a 'most handsome front indeed, and is very appropriate and well-adapted for buildings of this class.' The upper storey was ten feet six inches in height, and the ground floor twelve feet. The cellar was arranged for seven feet between the storey-post stones and the joists. The clear storage space was one hundred and sixty feet in length, and ninety nine feet in width, making 467,280 cubic feet. The beams were kauri at 11 foot centres. The roof was divided into three equal spans, formed with king trusses, and with the ends tied making a continual tie beam for the width of the building. The roof was lined with tongue and groove kauri with slate battens laid over. There were 39 skylights of rolled plate glass, with lead capping and gutters. The roof was of Bangor slates, with ventilators evenly placed along each ridge line.
The arrangement of offices was yet to be confirmed, but the stair was five feet wide, with a moulded hand-rail and turned banisters. A railway gauge ran through the centre of the building, the line on the south extending to Rattray Street jetty and to the Port Chalmers rail line on the other side. Hoists were to link trapdoors in the top floor with the ground floor rail lines. A lift was positioned opposite the front door, the cage sized to allow a number of bales of wool to be moved at one time. The cellar floor was asphalted and a tramway ran the length of the cellar.
It is unclear who was responsible for the design. The Otago Witness records that '[t]he plans, in the first instance, were made by Messrs. Mason and Wales, when the building was intended to be one storey only; but the whole of the works, plans, specifications, and workmanship, have been carried out for the proprietors by Mr. Walter Bell, of this city.' William Mason's biographer John Stacpoole, writes that builder Walter Bell expanded the design from one to two stories and then claimed credit. Stacpoole writes '[w]hether the bold detailing of parts of this building is attributable to architect or builder it is therefore impossible to say. Mason and Wales were notable Dunedin architects, and are the oldest architectural practice in the country. They were responsible for many notable warehouse designs, including those for Cargill McLean & Co., Ross & Glendining, and John Edmond & Co., notable for their decorative street fronts, with commercial buildings the mainstay of the practice.
Walter Bell emigrated from Victoria in 1861, setting up as a timber merchant, trading as Bell, Rae & Co., and later as Walter Bell & Co. on Princes Street, becoming one of the largest such businesses in Dunedin. Bell oversaw the construction of other buildings including the Princess Theatre, before moving to Sydney and carrying on business there. He died in 1888.
In 1874 the Otago Wool Stores were taken over by the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. Ltd. with Henry Driver as manager of the Dunedin branch. The Company was a prominent London-based pastoral finance concern, sharing directors with the Bank of New Zealand. It was one of the largest companies of its kind in New Zealand (and Australasia) and a prominent player in the stock and station agencies until the 1960s, selling stock, wool, grain and other produce on behalf of farmers on commission, as well as dealing in land.
Wool brokers were significant players in the wool trade, with premises often close to transport routes. Wool brokers received the bales of wool from the farm, and recorded, weighed, and stacked the bales. On the show floor selected bales were valued by wool buyers, who then bid for them at auction. Following selection they were dumped (compressed into smaller volume) with Harbour Boards or shipping companies usually providing dumping facilities, ready for shipping. Many local merchants developed their business buying wool, sorting and amalgamating it, scouring it and exporting it at a profit to the London sales or merchants directly (providing competition for commission wool buyers who represented single English or European merchants).
In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century half the wool was being shipped by its producers to sales in London, with the balance owned at the time of export by local merchants, scourers and fellmongers. A woolbuyers association was formed in 1893. After this period there were an increasing number of wool buyers representing large firms (including wool buying agencies that were part of stock and station firms), travelling around attending sales at various centres. During the years of the First World War the wool clip was commandeered by the Imperial Government, and the New Zealand government controlled the wool exports, and set up a license system for wool brokers.
The New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. added to Driver's original building in 1885, with a substantial addition to the south elevation of the original building. The addition was designed, according to a local architectural history, by local architectural partnership Mason and Wales. Historian Stephen Deed found that the architect is not recorded in the Company's minutes, the original plans are not held by Mason and Wales, and that architect Robert Arthur Lawson is mentioned as responsible for the tracings sent to Auckland for the design of the new offices. Peter Entwistle's search of the Otago Daily Times found Lawson calling for tenders for additions to the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. Rattray Street on 11 December 1880. The addition was handsome, classically-styled, intricately-detailed, and housed the offices of the Company. Lawson prepared an estimate for the costs of the addition of £6,700. This brought the Company's warehousing and offices under one roof.
A further addition was made in 1915. An additional storey was added in 1929. A saw-tooth roof form adopted, replacing the parallel gables, and uniting the 1873 and 1885 portions.
There were a number of interior alterations in subsequent years, including provision of an air raid shelter in 1942. The New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. occupied the building until the 1960s. Around the 1960s multi-storey warehouses such as this one fell from favour, and were replaced by large single-storey buildings away from the centre of cities.
From the 1960s the building was occupied by Stewart's Transport which purchased the building. Stewart's Transport undertook alterations costing $31,000. An office block was built into the building, giving 6,000 ft. of office space, some rented by companies for which Stewart's acted as agents. A board room was built on the second floor. Behind the offices was the warehouse space, some 100,000 square feet over two floors. The upper storey was let to clothing manufacturers Sew Hoy and Sons Ltd. Indoor go-karting was added in 1991. In 2007 the building is still used for go-karting.
- Original Construction: 1872 (circa)
- Addition: 1885 (circa)
- Addition: 1915 (circa)
- Addition: 1929 (circa)
- Addition: 1942 (circa)
- Other - From the 1960s the building was purchased and occupied by Stewart's Transport.: 1960s
- Modification - An office block was built into the building, giving 6,000 ft. of office space, some 100,000 square feet over two floors. The upper storey was let to clothing manufacturers Sew Hoy and Sons Ltd.: 1960s
- Other: 1991 (circa)
Information added to the listing from the Registration Report: Heather Bauchop, Dunedin Harbourside Historic Area Components (Vol II), 9 November 2007, pp. 7-11. (Chris Horwell NZHPT 08/04/08)
A fully referenced registration report from the Dunedin Harbourside Historic Area is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office
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