The Coal Yard & other stories (Part 1)

Contributed to Kaikorai – Then & Now by David Still

At 31 Kaikorai Valley Road stood a large two storey dwelling where William Ellis (My Grand Father, and known as Bill) brought up his family, ran his coal yard, shop and the carrying business. Built as a Hotel, it is believed that it never obtained a licence, but was put to other use. Bill bought the property in 1906 from Mathew Morton and sons who, like several others back to 1885 at least, ran a grocery store there. Bill had previously had a small shop in Swanson Street, which is now known as County Road. Behind the big house were the out buildings, essential to the running of the home and business.

31 Kaikorai Valley Road

31 Kaikorai Valley Road

As well as the wash house with the big copper for heating the washing water, there was the toilet with the pull chain water closet that made every visit an adventure. The toilet bowl was proudly labelled with the brand name ‘Edina’ which seemed to me to be strange title as it sounded the same name as one of my aunts. Perhaps the expression of ‘visiting auntie’ had some reason after all?

The north corner of the house had an entrance into a shop where mainly basics were sold. These were things like matches, candles, clothes pegs, soap powder etc. Of interest to us children were the small bottles of fizzy soft drink. Either Thompson’s or Lanes.

Included in the complex were the stables for the horses, when they were not turned out in the paddock down the road. The floor of the stable was paved with big stones for many years, but new regulations forced the laying of smooth, hygienic concrete. On one occasion Kel went to fetch ‘Glen’ the favourite horse from in the loose box. Glen’s iron shod hooves slipped on the concrete floor. Poor Glen landed on the floor with his back against the stall division and hurt his back quite badly. It took some time for the horse to recover. Further down the valley at the corner of Brockville road was a wool scour that belonged to Sandy Ness and Sons, and Bill Ellis grazed his horses there in the weekends. Young Norman Ellis often had the job of taking the horses to the paddock and bringing them back to the yard on a Monday morning. Here old Glen the horse had another fall and was past help and had to be killed with an axe. Frederick James Still who lived in Greenock Street nearby was trained as a fellmonger and skinned the old horse. The hide was hung on a fence to dry and the carcass was towed up Fraser’s Gully and buried.

Norman Ellis at the yard

Norman Ellis at the yard

Kelso and Glen

Kelso and Glen

At one time there was a sickness for horses going around called strangles disease. To overcome this, all water in troughs for horses were to be treated with condies crystals. The trough at the coal yard was not treated and visiting horses would welcome the pure water. No harm came from this except that there was a water meter on the supply from the council, and the extra horses were using too much water. A visitor suggested to let the tap quietly drip and fill the trough slowly, then the meter did not change. In the early days there were two wells at the yard (one inside the house near the shop and the other up by the drying green) but their use was discontinued.

The yard as we all called it had one of the first telephones in the district. With its big batteries and wind up handle it was always a fascination to the young visitors. The phone was used by all of the neighbours including the Police Station next door, Robertson the butcher and many others. Many calls came in for Constable (George Eric) Williamson who would be sent for, by means of whatever kid was handy at the time. Calls would come in from the Abattoir at Burnside with requests to fetch Robertson the Butcher who often ordered a body and four. (One bullock and four sheep) However, when the post office wanted business rates for the phone Bill Ellis had to start charging for its use and a wee box went up on the wall to take payments. Butcher Robertson objected to this and stopped using the phone but soon after got on a party line with ‘Doughy Taylor’ the baker across the road.

Wall Telephone

Wall Telephone

In the kitchen, the coal range, with it’s big cast iron kettle steaming away, and the glow of embers through the front grate, lent a cosy atmosphere to the busy room. As the men came in for a cuppa and a dip into the biscuit barrel at smoko time, the visiting children would slide on to the long form behind the table. Hoping for a chocolate biscuit hidden deep in the barrel, the kids would enjoy the gossip plead to be taken out for a ride on one of the trucks. Overhead a clothes rack hung from the high ceiling to get good value from the rising coal range heat.

In one corner, a couch with a rolled end and little turned wooden dowels along the back, yielded a pile of Evening Star, Otago Daily Times and Auckland Weekly, papers under a cushion. Was it real horsehair used to stuff the seat? We wondered. Set through the outside wall was the meat safe keeping the butter, dripping and meat cool and away from flies. Near the door was, the sand soap scrubbed, wooden topped sink bench.

Our Auntie Annie Ellis would often ask out loud as she left the room, I wonder if the fairies will do the dishes while I’m away? We children were sucked in every time but would enjoy the sweets or soft drink that followed our labours. An item we found intriguing was the egg timer (hourglass) from on the mantle piece, and it certainly kept us quiet for a few minutes at least. Under the stairs was an Aladdin’s Cave (the broom cupboard), that yielded straw boaters and bowler hats, among other exciting things. Little kids would love to try on the hats and swagger about with an old walking stick. A flower, fitted to your lapel, which a worm popped out of, when a bulb of air on a tube was secretly squeezed, was a popular item. The kind adults would suffer the ‘smell our flowers’ cry on almost every visit. Of course the big sitting room was also fun. The brass alligator nutcrackers on the hearth, tested many fingers. How hard can you stand it before you yell out? The pair of pink glass kerosene lamps with chandelier type glass crystals hanging down was another fascination. Not used since electricity was installed, the crystals tinkled merrily when little fingers gently touched. The ‘Humpty Dumpty’ footstool was great fun not only for a child’s seat, but when rolled along on it’s side, it made a hefty weapon. High on the wall were our grand parent’s portraits that kept a stern eye on mischievous little folk, and made the room feel like it was ‘special’ rather than a place for high jinks.

Also in this room the piano that Aunts Hazel and Elsie had learned to play on was given a hard time by little fingers. Calls from the adults to stop thumping and to be gentle were heard nearly every visiting day. There are two good things about two storey houses. The view from high up and sliding down the banisters. What fun!
The only accident that I know of was when Miss Sara Cross, an elderly boarder, missed her grip while walking down the stairs. She was black and blue and took some time to recover. Nola Still was at the foot of the stairs and got quite a fright. Harriet Conway and her sister Sue came out to NZ. Sue was first to marry and Harriet not long after. At the coal yard there were rooms for lodgers and Harriet lived there. She had a heart condition. Sugar was rationed during the 1st World War and Harriet remembered how it had been in England and so bought a huge 50lb bag and stored it in the linen room upstairs. Dave Still (compiler of these notes) new it as the dark room as it had no windows and stored old boxes of stuff and was also called a box room. (There is three names now for this place). The sugar was forgotten until Fred Ellis found it and the family used up the loose stuff from the centre of the bag. The outside was hard and may be what Old Miss Cross (mentioned above) broke into pieces and gave to Dave and his sister Heather as ‘sweets’. Anyway Harriet married a bloke Dreaver who worked in a Dunedin Drapery. Conway’s had no accommodation when they came and Grandad Ellis (William) took them in. A Conway girl became Mrs. Rollinson and lived on a farm on the Whare Flat Road. A walking track to the Silver Peaks started near their gate and was called the Rollinson’s track. Now there is a road over it leading to Wireless transmitters on top of the ‘Swampy’ summit.

One of the dairy farmers in the district was Don Cameron who had 15 or so cows. For many years he used a horse and cart for deliveries, until he bought an old Ford truck. The advantage of the truck was that you had a warm cab to get into when you went home. The horse and cart however also had it’s advantages. While making deliveries the horse could follow along the road, and wait at corners while deliveries were made up lanes and side streets.
High up on Rudd’s Road on the side of (Mount) Flagstaff was another dairy farm, which, was caught out by a big slip on the road. The farmer telephoned to Bill Ellis and asked him to bring the truck to the slip and collect the milk. They carried the milk cans across the slip to the one ton Chevy truck. Once the milk cans were loaded, Bill had to reverse the truck a long way down the road before he could turn a round.

W. Ellis Advertisement

W. Ellis Advertisement

The Sonntag family who came from Bavaria lived in Brockville Road, down the valley. There was old Tom and Charlie. Charlie’s wife Edith was a soccer coach. Charlie used to go to the wharf for fish offal for the garden. There was an Ettrick Sonntag, who Ettrick street was probably named after. Herman was the oldest and then Ettrick followed by Reinah Herman got tuberculosis and was nursed at home. Reinah was a tall bony sort of a girl, but died three months after being married. She died in hospital. On this steep part of Brockville Road, near a big bluegum was a horse trough nearby. The horses found this refreshment stop partway up the hill, very welcome.

(Original Article by Alan Gilchrist)

Ross

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