The zigzag was once a road. You could see it swooping up from Oriental Bay. But that changed in the late nineteenth century, as more houses were built. Here are a few stories about the zigzag’s history, starting with the house that Joseph Richard Leadbetter built – Joe’s place, at 1 Oriental Terrace. That’s it, at the top of the page.
If you’re familiar with images of Wellington, you’ll have seen Joe’s place. It’s tucked up against St Gerard’s monastery and church, with reserve land on three sides.
Joe bought the land in 1897, from Mrs Fanny Fitzgerald, widow of ‘Fitz’, James Edward Fitzgerald (1818–1896, politician, orator, watercolorist and journalist – founder of the Christchurch Press). Born in Odessa, a multilingual musician and beautiful singer and very active in community organisations, Fanny was mother to 13 children, six of whom died between 1866–1888, aged between 4 and 35 and some of whom contributed to Wellington’s history, for instance Geraldine, who founded Chilton St James School for girls.
When her husband died, Fanny inherited their family home, ‘Clyde Cliff’, or ‘Fitzgerald’s Folly’ built 1872–1874.
Here’s Clyde Cliff in 1877, looking over from central Wellington. It’s up the top of Hawker Street, in the lower right quadrant at its top, towards the left.
In this next image, taken from the opposite direction, you can just see it among the trees, on the promontory in the top right quadrant.
Fanny subdivided some of Clyde Cliff’s seven acres and the section closest to the house became Joe’s place. Fanny also built a house next door to Joe’s, down at no 3 Oriental Terrace, around the same time Joe built his (1). But according to Fitz, a biography by their great-great-grand-daughter, Fanny lived at Clyde Cliff until her death (2). There’s now a house slotted between no 1 and no 3, no 1A, built around 1919.
Here are the plans for no 1.
Joe signed the specs for the house.
At first I thought he probably wrote them, too: the handwriting seems similar. But they refer to ‘Mr Leadbetter’, so maybe he didn’t. Maybe he didn’t even build the house. But I like to think he did (3).
Whoever built the house – let’s assume it was Joe – used lots of tōtara and red pine/rimu to build no 1; the floors are all 6 x 1″ mataī/black pine.The specs are very detailed. For example, the chimney’s brickwork was ‘to be executed with sound hard-burnt bricks laid in well-made mortar, the foundation to be laid on a solid hard surface. To chimney openings insert a wrought-iron chimney bar 2 1/2 wide by 3/8 of an inch thick, the bars to have 4 1/2″ bearing, and to be turned up and down at the ends’. Someone else, I think, added ‘Jambs & backs to be 9″ thick carried up from solid to a height of three feet above roof’.
The last time I visited no 1, around 1983, there seemed to have been very few changes made over almost 100 years.
Joe sold no 1 in 1902. After Fanny’s death in 1900, one of her daughters bought Clyde Cliff, and in 1906 sold it to the Redemptorist Fathers, who lived in the house. They built St Gerard’s Church in 1908.
St Gerard’s Church with Clyde Cliff in front. Joe’s place — obscured by trees — below. [Part 3 of a 3 part panorama overlooking Wellington City. Hinge, Leslie, 1868–1942 : Photographs, negatives and photo albums. Ref: 1/1–022022-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23015272 (detail) Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.]The year this photo was taken, there were lighting problems in Oriental Terrace. Joseph Charlton complained.
Mr Charlton wanted a light on the pole opposite the right-of-way leading to his house– …every year, as soon as the weather becomes a little warmer and when there is no moon, we have been very much annoyed by men and women sitting and lying about on this Right of Way and taking advantage of the shadows there…I may say too that the nuisance I have above mentioned unnerves the Ladies who have to pass up and down in the dark to and from the trams in Oriental Bay.
I know that right-of-way, leading off the bottom of the upper zigzag, leading to the houses further along the hillside. Thanks to some neighbours’ hard work, this is what it looks like 104 years later, now that the weather’s ‘a little warmer’.
In 1932 the Redemptorists demolished Clyde Cliff and built the monastery, funded by public donations. In 1951 they bought Joe’s place.
On Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s Register of Historic Places, St Gerard’s church and the monastery are classified as Category 1 — of ‘special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value’. The surrounding area — including Joe’s place — is within the Wellington City Council (WCC) Mount Victoria North Residential Character Area Rule, an area that’s ‘important to the city because it covers an area of high visual appeal, particularly when viewed from the city and harbour. It is a characteristic Wellington residential environment of closely packed hillside housing, enhanced by the prominence of St Gerard’s Monastery. The monastery building, in its setting at the top of the coastal escarpment above Oriental Bay, is the object of many of the central area viewshafts identified in the plan. This special composition is one which the Council seeks to protect and enhance.’
In this picture, you can see why, see the prominence of Joe’s place and, to the right, the reserve that once was part of the Fitzgerald garden and then the monastery garden, where the Redemptorists had their orchard, grew their vegetables and kept their chooks.
In 1993, when the Redemptorists subdivided the land and sold the monastery and the church to the present owners, the Institute for World Evangelisation — the International Catholic Programme of Evangelisation, (ICPE), the WCC bought the garden, ‘to prevent [the Monastery] being obscured by new buildings’. In 2013 the garden became classified as a ‘scenic reserve’, a park. Today, as a ‘suburban reserve’, it’s administered by WCC Parks & Reserves.
When they subdivided, the Redemptorists retained ownership of some of the land, where it adjoins MacFarlane Street. A right-of-way runs across the Redemptorists’ land, towards the park.
You can get to Joe’s place along the right-of-way, the St Gerard’s Walkway.
You walk past the cloisters.
Then on, past a well-tended garden.
And then at the end of the right-of-way you reach the reserve.
It’s a gorgeous wee park, with — as Fitz long ago noticed — the ‘most magnificent panoramic view’.
Sitting on that seat you see an old pear tree planted by the Fitzgeralds or the monks and, among the grass, traces of old brick paths and walls. And you can see Oriental Bay beach and your mates in the water down there.
And then, if you wander round the park you can admire the rest of the panorama.
Lots of sun here when it shines, all day.
Moving on, you reach the back of Joe’s place, and a view towards the green belt and Mount Victoria.
And then, if you walk further along the St Gerard’s Walkway, you pass a little strip of neglected reserve land on no 1’s third boundary. And reach a different kind of reserve, the Oriental Terrace public zigzag, a popular green corridor from Mount Victoria to Oriental Bay, the Freyberg Pool, Te Papa and the waterfront and city and back again. It’s known as a ‘road’ reserve because long ago it was part of Hawker Street that runs down the other side of the hill,.
The zigzag wasn’t always green. Here it is before no 1 was built.
When you reach the (upper) zigzag from the St Gerard’s Walkway, you see more Oriental Terrace houses.
That one with the grey roof and green front (no 6) and its neighbour on the left (no 8, not visible) pre-date Joe’s. The white one was built in early 1900.
All of the upper zigzag’s modest homes except no 1A were built before St Gerard’s Church, before the Monastery and before the Seven Sisters, the group of wooden houses along the shoreline at 188–200 Oriental Parade now protected by the WCC, among its other heritage sites.
Most of other the dwellings on the upper zigzag were also built before St Gerard’s. So were those above the Oriental Terrace side path, along hillside to the east (where men and women took advantage of the shadows and unnerved the Ladies who had to pass up and down in the dark) including the very earliest one at no 10.
Because the zigzag’s classified as a road reserve, the WCC’s care for it is very basic, far less than the Parks & Reserves’ care for the gardens that border the pathway from MacFarlane Street to the park. The WCC does provide some shrubs and fruit trees to plant and picks up organic and inorganic rubbish when necessary but its contractors responsible for road reserves visit the zigzag only now and then with a leaf blower and to spray weeds.
I live in one of the upper zigzag houses and because spraying makes me ill (4), our household cares for some of the zigzag in return for no sprays and especially to provide safe food for bees, also at risk from sprays. It’s also a joy to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables that humans and birds enjoy and to build up the soil.
We’ve planted lots of harakeke/flax in two areas, available to weavers (and last year a very successful no-water tomato crop among the flax bushes) and to many birds who, like pollinators, love its flowers. Olive trees. (They need another variety to fruit. Coming soon.)
Cape gooseberries for passersby (as I run the plant list in my head, I look out the window and see someone enjoying them). Heritage, self-seeding, cottage flowers and herbs. An apricot tree with some companion coriander.
For a decade or so we cared for two patches. And for the last eighteen months we’ve cared for a third one, in front of Joe’s place. Lots of clearing of surface and buried rubbish, nasty weeds and fallen branches and then experimentation, to see what will grow where among the trees, what can be grown successfully without much watering, what can provide a consistent food supply for bees and other pollinators. We’ve built two-and-a half hugelkultur (5), mounds of buried wood and compost that will help improve the soil and plant responses to lots of water or to drought. And we’ve responded to requests. Last year a parsley patch for one local. This year, parsley seeds for anyone who’d like some. Organic vegetables for a mate with cancer (and for us when she’s out-of-town).
I know now that cape gooseberries grow well on one side of the zigzag but not on the other, where a sorrel patch and other greens do well. I know now that borage, parsley, fennel, poppies, thyme, alyssum and calendula — all loved by bees — self-seed very easily. Bergamot’s back this year, a kind of mint. Bees love its flowers. Bee-loved perennials, lavender and rosemary are also underway. Bumble bees are also spreading clover, which fixes nitrogen.
I’ve learned to plant baby greens inside tin cans so the slugs and snails can’t reach them and to use wire cages to protect seeds and seedlings from birds. I’ve learned that the kale may be safe from white butterfly caterpillars because a volunteer landcress grows nearby. Bordoloi beans, descended from seeds brought back from Italy by a World War II soldier, are doing quite well this year on a hugelkultur. But it’ll take a few years to get this patch of the zigzag properly established.
Neighbours take responsibility for other areas. There’s one with new fruit trees — plums, feijoas — and pumpkins. That part has different sun, and pumpkins grow much more quickly there than the same varieties planted across the path.
Another area has some beautiful new natives, thoughtfully sited and lovingly cared for. Yet another has some potted plants that particularly appeal to some visitors.
And some areas are completely neglected except for the WCC spraying and leaf blowing.
Hundreds of people a day use the zigzag as a green corridor to other recreational pursuits, to get to the city and to get home. Individuals and teams use it to train, too. Up, down. Up, down, sometimes urged on by their trainers. A little less intensely, individuals and groups of all ages use it to exercise themselves, their children and their dogs and for conversations, both planned and serendipitous. The zigzag also has an open Facebook page, set up by a temporary resident and used now and then.
Some people come for special purposes because of what grows on the zigzag. In a couple of uncultivated areas, there are big elder trees. People gather the flowers for elderflower champagne.
Like this guy, who was happy for me to take a photo.
He told me that if we pick the elder flowers, more will come. In Wellington, he said, it’s not worth waiting for the elder berries because the birds get them first.
When I garden on the zigzag, people often pause to chat. In the last eighteen months, increasing numbers of these are tourists, from around the globe and within New Zealand. They ask directions to various destinations. They ask about the monastery. They ask about the houses and tell me that they enjoy their age and domestic scale. They ask where the denizens of the zigzag park their cars (up or down, on a ‘real’ road, usually). Sometimes I tell these visitors about the little park, show them the way. Sometimes they come back, to tell me how much they loved it.
They ask about the gardens, too. They notice the mix of natives and exotics, of food and flowers and they like the diversity. They take endless photos. On a calm day, people watch the bees — recently one guy spent over half an hour moving from flower to flower to photograph them. Visitors often leave with herbs or some heritage seeds, a cape gooseberry or two (last summer it was those tomatoes), though last week one child was far more excited by a bumble bee than the cape gooseberries.
Some locals tell me that they like the constant change in the patch outside Joe’s place.The other day, one of them suggested that I should have invited Prince Charles when he visited; he’d have enjoyed it, the almost-daily visitor said. Others would like greater order in the experimental garden outside Joe’s.
When I dig and weed, enjoying the tranquillity, I often see Joe’s place through the plants and then feel profoundly grateful for all those who ensured that the park beyond Joe’s is a reserve for us all to enjoy.
(1) I have seen the CT and the relevant WCC drainage file, from when no 3 was built in the late 1890s, as well as some specs that are undated.
(2) Jenifer Roberts Fitz; The Colonial Adventures of James Edward Fitzgerald (2014) Otago University Press. I also enjoyed Edmund Bohan’s ‘Blest Madman’; Fitzgerald of Canterbury (1998) Canterbury University Press.
(3) I’ve begun to look for more information about Joe. But so far haven’t yet found any.
The original of this article – which was much longer – includes all acknowledgements for the old photographs, from the Alexander Turnbull Library; and for the old documents, from the Wellington City Council Archives. Some of the captions have been lost in transfer, in particular–
St Gerard’s Church with Clyde Cliff in front. Joe’s place — obscured by trees — below. [Part 3 of a 3 part panorama overlooking Wellington City. Hinge, Leslie, 1868–1942 : Photographs, negatives and photo albums. Ref: 1/1–022022-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23015272 (detail) Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.]
I’ll track them down and add them. –Marian Evans