Emilia Nixon Lane at the Stonefields development in the shadow of Mt Wellington (Maungarei) is named after Emilia Maud Nixon who bequeathed Howick’s Garden of Memories. Construction of a new whare in the garden has been at the centre of a war of words for years.
Many of Stonefields’ street names are derived from early settlers who came to south-east Auckland as part of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps. They established themselves in Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure and Howick. What would Emilia think, we wonder, driving through rows of modern properties.
In stark contrast with the quarter-acre paradise that she made her home in, these houses demonstrate a sameness that’s typical of the intensive developments springing up in urban Aotearoa – the sameness that many British immigrants came to New Zealand to escape from.
However, Emilia Nixon Lane is a revelation. It is lined with buff brick terraced houses which, rather than representing a 21st-century version of “Coro” Street, exude the nostalgia of a graceful London.
Wrought-iron guard rails in front of the upstairs window are reminiscent of the London house balcony floor.
Especially pleasing is the symmetry of the box structures housing upper windows and lower floor doors. Emilia, however, would probably be less pleased with the placement of the WC and accompanying frosted windows next to some front doors.
Smaller houses on the other side of the lane reflect the traditional English custom of providing garage access off a rear lane.
One of the most attractive features of this corner of the development is a modern Kiwi take on the London garden square. The squares, prevalent in the centre of England’s capital city, traditionally contain private communal gardens for use by those living in surrounding houses. But not all are squares and the general requirement for new squares in London is that they be rectangular and, to some extent, open.
The Kiwi equivalent in Emilia Nixon Lane is termed a “landscaped reserve”. It features the New Zealand cabbage tree and, appropriately, stone walls. Yet, surrounded by the terraced houses, it exudes a hint of old London.
Emilia, however, was not a British immigrant. She was born in 1870 at Kuranui, 30km north-east of Hamilton. In 1919, after 33 years of teaching, she retired from Hamilton West School. She came to Howick in 1925 and lived at the Prospect of Howick Hotel until she bought her property in Uxbridge Road and set about creating the Emilia Maud Nixon Garden of Memories from an open paddock.
The garden was developed between 1935 and 1962. It was regarded as a testimony to her own life and values, and to those of the tangata whenua – the Ngai Tai people – and to pioneer women and early European settlers of the Howick area.
She felt that New Zealanders of European origin should have a greater appreciation of the history and lore of the areas in which they live. She researched Maori and European history of the area from Umupuia to the Tamaki Estuary.
The area, between St Johns, Remuera and Mt Wellington, is also the site of the former Mt Wellington quarry. It became a quarry reserve, vested in the former Auckland City Council, and from 1936 until 2001 was mined by Winstones.
The one-square kilometre development is expected to house about 6500 people when completed. It includes a new primary school, a town centre, lakes, parks, walking trails and open spaces.
Other streets at Stonefields include Briody Terrace, named after a Fencible, John, who arrived in 1847 and lived in a raupo hut in Jellicoe Road, Panmure, before his cottage was built. The original hut is preserved at Howick Historical Village.
Donnelly Street is named after a member of an old Fencible family, who was one of the trustees of the Panmure Township Roads Board that administered Panmure. Robert Sale Rise takes its name from a ship that brought some of the first settlers to Auckland from London.
A name of a lieutenant who commanded the Clifton, the first ship to arrive in Panmure with Fencibles, lives on in Wynne Gray Avenue, while Barbarich Drive is an homage to an early Croatian who opened the Bluestone Quarry.
Bluegrey Avenue is a quarry term used to describe hard, dense stone, Searle Street is named after an early geologist, Kauriki Terrace means “smoke” and Tihi Street – the Maori name for summit – refers to Mt Wellington, while Papango Street is named after the New Zealand scaup, a protected bird that lives in the quarry.