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Chelsea Cottages

My father was the Time Keeper and Paymaster at the Works. He worked at the Sugar Company for 26 years and when my brother left school he went to the Sugar Company and took over the same job. My brother, E.J. (Ted) Farrington worked there for 38 years, from 1941 to 1979.

We lived in the top half of the bottom house, the houses being numbered from the top of the hill down towards the refinery. The photos are of the house we lived in, the lounge in the front and my bedroom above looking out towards the bay. There was a lovely view from the window. We had lovely old casement windows with weights in them.

The photo at the top of the page is older, before we lived there. When we lived there they had verandas around. Originally when they were built they did not have verandahs but then the verandas were put on around the front.

The houses were divided into two units, two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. We lived in the house from 1922 to 1928. There was no electricity, it did not come until 1926 when the power was put in through Birkenhead and then we got it down there. Until then we had lamps for lights and we used candles upstairs.

The ceilings in all the rooms had a rosette of pressed steel. The electric lights were off-centre because when they were put up it was impossible to bring the cable through the pressed steel ceiling. The centre of the rosette is where the kerosene lamp hung. Of course they could not conceal the wires. The wiring did not go to the centre because the wiring was installed before electricity was available and there was still a need to use other lighting.

The little area out the back was what we called the washhouse. It had a copper in it and a tub for doing the dishes. We did not do the dishes in the kitchen, we carried them out into the washhouse and washed them there. We had to carry the hot water from the coal range in the living room area and everything was washed in the washhouse. We carried the water in kettles off the coal range.

We had to boil the water for our baths in the copper and my father had to carry it into the bath in 4 gallon kerosene tins which were made into buckets by a tin handle. Eventually the Company put a chip heater in next to the bath. Then we could boil the water to put it straight into the bath.

The coal range was in the main living area and it always had kettles of water on it. It went all the time.

They were quite cosy houses really, because they had the range going as we needed it for hot water.

My mother had a wooden clothes horse which she put in front of the range when we went to bed at night to air the washing. The only way of ironing was with the old Mrs. Potts irons that were heated up on the range.

We had a large walk-in pantry off the kitchen. We had a big cupboard storage space which had been blocked up which had been for storing coal. We never had coal delivered.

We had no such thing as ice boxes. We just had a little safe made out of galvanised iron. It hung in the little porch area out by the washhouse. I remember the time when we had a visit from Bailey, an escaped prisoner who hid out in the bush and we lost our Sunday roast and a leg of pork. He hung out in the bush for a long time and visited many of the houses and helped himself.

There were two bedrooms upstairs in our house. Some houses had three. Eventually, because one was such a big bedroom, the Company divided it into two. The people that moved in after us were dear friends.

When we lived there, you might be interested to know, the rent was 7/6d a week, which is equivalent to 75c today. I think it increased while we were there to 10 shillings. I know that after we went out the next people paid 12/6d per week. That was in 1928.

We only shifted from there because of my father's health. He had a chest problem and the doctor said that the fresh water from the ponds and the salt water were not good for him. The moist atmosphere affected his chest and lungs. That is why we shifted up the hill to Mokoia Road. We lived there because it was so close for my father to go backwards and forwards to work. The houses were only for sugar workers, employees of the Sugar Company.

My father had a little break from the Sugar Company. That was when they bought a farm with relations up in Warkworth. They found that the farm could not support more than one couple and so we came back and my father was lucky enough to get his old job back and that is when we went to live in the house. We were away for 6 months.

We always had flush toilets because the total area was the fresh water catchment area for the dams for the use of processing of sugar. Therefore they had to keep it a pure area, so they had a sewage system for these houses. They were quite advanced for their time, but it was necessary to do it that way.

We had curtains for some of the windows, but mostly blinds. The bricks for the construction of the houses had been made at the Sugar Works, made especially for the houses. The bricks for the original buildings at the refinery were made on site from the local clay also.

There was no wallpaper on the walls when we were there. They were just plastered with a coat of paint on them. We had a fireplace in the lounge and the upstairs fireplace was in my bedroom.

When we first went to live there there was only tank water. We had two 600 gallon tanks which were out the back.

I think it is a great pity that the houses have not been looked after. The cottages, in general, are something people would really appreciate today (1989).

We never had any problems with the people next door. There were fences down between the two. If you wanted to see the neighbours you had to go out your gate and in another and with the type of construction you could not even hear the people next door. There was really no noise at all.

There was a baker who used to come with his open basket of bread. They would say unhygienic today, but I don't think we ever suffered from it. My mother found it more convenient to go down to the ferry at the Chelsea wharf and go across to town to do the shopping. It was more convenient to catch the 10 o'clock ferry into the city and come home about 3 with all the shopping done. There was everything at the bottom of Queen Street. There were Hellaby's the butcher, Hutchinson's the grocer, and the greengrocers.

There weren't the shops at Highbury that there are now. The only butcher was down on the corner of Rugby Road in Birkenhead and many a time I had to walk down to the only chemist to get prescriptions for my father. There was no transport down to Birkenhead, the only way was to walk. When I started school I had to walk up to Birkenhead school, the walk was a lot steeper than it is now. There were never any school buses, they were unheard of in my day. When we walked down to the wharf I was scared stiff. You had to walk past piles of rusty old machinery and heaps of coke for the boilers. I always went down to meet my mother when she came from town to help push the pram and bring the shopping up the hill.

Of course, the road was not like it is now. It was just a rough formed path covered in Sugar Works' ash. The area around the cottages were the horse paddocks where the horses rested between working. There were a lot of horses. They were used to bring the sugar off the boats up to the raw store room.

We always had a vegetable garden. It was the thing to do in those days. Wages were not very much and it was one way of helping out.

We mostly had rugs on the floor but in the lounge we had a carpet square. The kitchen had linoleum. We never had any complaints about being cold. We were very cosy and we just put an extra layer of clothes on. The clothes line was just one line across the garden.

We hardly ever used the lounge. It was for high days and holidays and very special guests. You lived in the kitchen living area. It had a big table. It was a true living area. It was ideal for big families, not that we had a big family, there was only myself and my brother who is 7 years younger than me. He is the President of the Birkenhead Historic Society. My brother was born in the cottage at Chelsea. When he was born the midwife came to the house, and I remember it very vividly. We shifted out on his 3rd birthday. His only memory is of the day we shifted out.

We had a model T Ford, but we had to sell that when we left the village to pay for the new house.- My father got a loan through the Sugar Works.

I remember the beautiful wooden staircase very well, as about a week before my brother was born and I was 7 years old, my mother had been getting things ready and had put a comb on the bedside table. I had been ill with whooping cough and my mother had left a lit candle and a glass of water on the side table for me, saving her coming up and down the stairs each time I coughed. Of course, little beady eyes spotted the comb on the table and picked the comb up and took it to the candle to see what was written on it. The comb, which had nonflammable written on it, caught light and as I was very worried about dropping it and setting the house on fire, I can remember running down the stairs holding the burning comb. When I got to the bottom my father had to pull it out of my hand and then carry me from home almost down to the wharf at Birkenhead where the doctor lived. It took him 2 hours to cut the blisters off my hand. I believe that it was my mother's nursing knowledge and rubbing the scar with olive oil that saved me having trouble with the scar over the years. I was very scared of burning the house, and that is why I would not drop the burning comb.

I can remember the night when the oil tanks in Auckland caught fire. From my window we saw the tins of petrol exploding in the air and for the following week black smoke was coming from the petrol storage depot."

Chelsea Cottages, June 2006


Interview with Mrs. Joan Woodhams, née Joan Farrington, whose father Frederick George Farrington, worked as the Paymaster at the Sugar Company from 1912 to 1936. Consequently her childhood days were spent at No. 7 in the village.

Mrs Woodhams was interviewed in her home on Tuesday 5 September, 1989 by Natalie Lord.


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