Saturday, 6 July 2013

Who’s Been Sleeping in My House?



The popularity of the television series of this name shows how keen many of us are discover the human dramas that might have played out in the house we now occupy.


One of the quests of this blog is to find out much more about the history and the secrets of the land, the buildings and the people around my home in Hamilton.


The front page article in The Post  about this blog resulted in a surprising flurry of emails and phone calls. One day, as I was enjoying the afternoon sun warming my office, I opened one of those emails. It was quite long, and to be honest, I was a bit drowsy. I began to learn about my correspondent, who had grown up in a house on Denison Street, between Webster and Crompton Streets.


As I read on, an address leapt off the screen. It was mine!


The writer of the email, Brian Agland, was describing how his aunt and uncle, Syd and Val Taylor, had lived “just around the corner” from where he had lived as a young boy from 1952 to 1965. They had become his much loved de facto grandparents, and their place his second home.

Now, it was ours.

I met up with Brian, and his wife Anita, to learn more.


Brian had left Newcastle as a young man, to pursue a career in the Air Force. As he and Anita planned their retirement, Newcastle kept up its persistent call. Irresistibly, they were drawn back. “If we couldn’t live in Hamilton, we weren’t going to come back”, Brian told me.


Brian’s aunt and uncle and their three sons never actually slept in our house. Their two bedroom weatherboard home was demolished in 2006 and the following year, the house that was eventually to become ours, was built.


Front of Val and Syd's home, Crompton Street, Hamilton
(Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland)


The only trace of past occupants is a sun-seeking olive tree, squeezed into the tiny back courtyard of the modern house that now stands here.




I fantasised that the tree had been planted by a long gone Greek or Italian resident, yearning for the scrabbly limestone hills where olives flourish in Mediterranean Europe.


Brian tells me his relatives would have owned the block probably from the 1940s, so perhaps it was Val and Syd (as they were known) who planted our solitary tree.


I’m happy to replace my little fantasy with Brian’s memories as a kid, racing down the narrow alley at the side of the house to visit Aunty Val (“we never used the front door”). As soon as she heard their footsteps, she’d put the kettle on and he’d hear its familiar hiss.


This simple home was the family hub on special occasions such as Christmas, with everyone welcome to pack into the lounge room and spill out the back. Although the weatherboards, the cockatoo in its cage and the front brick pillars have all gone, I hope we continue to be blessed by the spirit of those happy times.



Uncle Syd’s claim to fame, says Brian, was his risky sideline as an SP bookie, illegal at that time. He would occupy the same spot in the Hamilton Hotel, and Brian remembers the thrill of being sent to call him for the evening meal – surreptitiously catching his eye from the door, as children were not allowed inside.


For his day job, Uncle Syd worked for Dark’s Ice Works, delivering ice to BHP very early in the morning, and in the afternoon. He must have been a strong, fit man, hefting the huge blocks on his shoulder. Brian remembers the intense excitement of occasionally, being allowed to go with Uncle Syd on his afternoon delivery.





Unloading ice From Dark’s Ice Works
 (Maritime Newcastle collection of Ralph Snowball images, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia)


Syd and Val Taylor owned a vacant block of land across the street from their Crompton Street home. Fronted by a long brick wall (loved by the boys to practice balancing), the block was known as “The Stables”. An old horse stable at the back was a favorite play area, no doubt dark and musty. Val grew vegetables on the spare land and Brian’s father used it as a car park. Villas were built there in the 1980s – and so the built landscape changes.


Streetscape Crompton Street, showing villas
that replaced "The Stables"

On the corner of Crompton and Denison Streets, at 102 Denison Street, was Blatchford’s Bakery. We know this sturdy building today as Denison Street Automotive Services. It was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake.







The warm, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread is apparently one of the most universally loved aromas in the world. Recent research has found it even makes us kinder to strangers! [1] I love the idea that over time, there have been two bakeries so close to where I live.


The mother of Brian’s school friend worked at Blatchford’s. “It was a real treat to have a free cream horn after school”, Brian recalls.


Who else remembers cream horns?





(Photograph courtesy Natashaskitchen.com)


Years later, Susan Henderson remembers Blatchford’s mouth watering pies, bought from this shop.


Brian believes that Susan’s great grandfather’s bakery in Webster Street,  Pearce's Bakery  was sold to Allen’s Sweets (“I can still smell the peppermint!”). Around the corner on Tudor Street, Jim’s Dairy Delites produced HOT milkshakes!


Even more vividly, Brian remembers the cockroaches that shared his childhood home at what was then 108 Denison Street. [2]  Their descendants visit us, too.

The land on which Brian’s childhood home used to be the grounds of the Sportsman's Arms Hotel .






108 Denison Street, Hamilton (centre)
(Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland)


 In the family for over 100 years, the house was finally sold, then demolished in 2006.





Demolition of 108 Denison Street, Hamilton (2006)
(Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland)


As shown on the streetscape below, it was replaced with a modern, two story structure.






There are many more fascinating threads to Brian and Anita’s story, which is theirs to tell. But for now, they have helped people the spaces and streets around my home.


I see two little mates, leaving Blatchford’s Bakery, luscious cream horns cradled in hands grubby from a day at school. Later, I hear their voices, taunting each other as, step by careful step, they inch along the high brick wall fencing off “The Stables”.  Then, I imagine Aunty Val, listening for the dash of boyish feet down the side of the house, their small owner bursting in breathless, with his news of the day.




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[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/02/the-smell-of-fresh-baked-_n_2058480.html
[2] Early last century, the house numbers were changed – originally it was 100 Denison Street.

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