Nelson's Dress Circle


The streets around Brougham Street and Upper Collingwood Street are often known as Nelson's Dress Circle, due to their elevated position and the number of large old houses sited there. This story is a walking tour of the area, complete with audio tour and map. The numbers in the story reference the numbers on the map.

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Dress Circle Walk map.
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Fairfield Park (1) was once a Cemetery and was known as Trafalgar Street Cemetery, Copenhagen Mount or Trafalgar Street South Cemetery. For more on the history of the Park, see the Fairfield Park story.

Fairfield House (2), nestled at the foot of the Grampians, is a Category One Heritage New Zealand listed house. It was built in two stages between 1872 and 1883 for Maria and Arthur Atkinson. For more information, see the Fairfield House story.

Melrose House (3) is a grand mansion of the late 1800's. The house was designed by architect John Scotland for Charles Fowell Willett Watts and his wife Elizabeth Nixon. For more about Melrose House and Garden, read the Prow story.

Brougham Street  was probably named after the Brougham,  a barque carrying immigrants which arrived in Nelson in March 1842. Lord Brougham was a Lord Chancellor of England in Grey's ministry of 1830. Although now a quiet residential street, an early map of Nelson had planned for army barracks at one end and a house of correction at the other.

19 Richmond Avenue (4) is an historic house with a Heritage New Zealand  List Category 2 rating, and is one of the earliest homes in Nelson. When this house was built, it was situated in Brougham Street on section 199 on the original town plan. Later, a two storey house was built next to it - nearer Brougham Street - and the entrance to the original house on this property had to be accessed from the Upper Richmond Avenue extension and given the street number 19.

Saxton, John. Dr Renwick's house with cacti. Watercolour. Nelson Provincial Museum, Bett Collection: AC811. Click image to enlarge
19 Richmond Avenue. Nelson. NZHPT

In the late 1850's Dr Thomas and Adeline Renwick made it their home, and a charming sketch of the house by J W Saxton is held by The Nelson Provincial Museum. Dr Thomas Renwick arrived in Nelson in October 1842 and apart from being a doctor he ventured into many fields, including an interest in a brewery which he sold to Mr J Dodson. In 1849 he was granted a lease to farm blocks in the Awatere district, although continuing to live in Nelson. When Adeline died in 1870 the doctor married Anne Smith and they moved out of the house in the late 1870's to a residence, which is now Renwick House, on part of Nelson Central School's land and accessed from Alton Street.

The Richmond Avenue house became known as Houlker House, when William Houlker and his family moved in after their arrival in New Zealand from Lancashire in 1886 on the ship Tongariro. William set to work to establish a vinegar factory in Waimea Rd, described in glowing detail in the Colonist in December 1887.1  Apparently he was quite inventive, and in his advertisement he notes his patented design for a fermenting vat for vinegar which ensured its clarity and quality. Another article2 in 1892 refers to a new industry when he erected a 'shot tower' to manufacture leaden shot of all sizes.  Son William junior was educated at Nelson Boys College and was a talented musician and became a well known architect in Nelson. Inventive like his father he invented "Decrete", which was a type of timber and concrete construction. A gifted painter, he studied art under H. W. Kirkwood [a student of John Gully], and his drawings can be found in the Nelson Provincial Museum archives. He designed a number of well known Nelson buildings - these included the Marsden Church House, the Hotel Nelson, the stonework for the Nelson College for Girls gates, and with Rix-Tritt, the original Nelson College Scriptorium. His brother James Houlker was a lawyer who died young at Gallipoli in 1915.

19 Richmond Avenue is a private residence not open to the public and can be viewed only from the footpath.

36 Brougham Street (5) is another private residence that once belonged to Sir Jack Newman and has an Heritage New Zealand List Category2 rating.

36 Brougham Street, Nelson

Sir Jack and Lady Myrtle lived for many years at 36 Brougham Street which was built in 1925. Sir Jack was born in July 1902 at the family farm, Naumai, at Brightwater, near Nelson, the eldest son of Christina and Tom Newman. His father Tom was a co-founder with his brother Harry of the Newman Brothers coaching firm. Jack started school at Spring Grove and later attended Nelson College. He married Myrtle Thomas in the Nelson Cathedral in 1926. He was an outstanding sportsman. He played rugby at full back for the Nelson Rugby Football Club and became chairman of the Nelson Rugby Union's management. His greatest achievement was in cricket where he played for New Zealand in three tests from 1931-33. He went on to become a national selector and manager, President and life member of the New Zealand Cricket Council, a founder and president of the New Zealand Cricket Foundation. Other sporting achievements include being a Nelson golf representative, a vice president of the Nelson Jockey Club and local champion in bowls.

Davis, Gordon : Photograph of the first mail plane from Nelson to Wellington, 20 January 1932 Reference Number: PAColl-4681[Jack Newman on right]
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As well as business and sporting talent, Jack was a public spirited man serving on the committee of the Nelson College Old Boys Association, a Nelson College governor for 21 years, founding member of the Rotary Club of Nelson, and a Nelson City Councillor from 1944 to 1953. He worked successfully for the creation of Founders Heritage Park, was a member of the Cathedral building appeal committee and active in many community organisations. He was awarded a CBE in 1963 and a Knight Bachelor in 1977 for his services to the country. His achievements are legendary and his business and sporting involvement took him to all parts of New Zealand and overseas; but Sir Jack seemed always so pleased to return to his wife and four daughters in their comfortable home here in Nelson.

224 Collingwood Street (6), a private residence, is a charming house designed by William Beatson and commissioned by William Moses Stanton in 1865. William Moses Stanton arrived in Nelson on the Clifford in 1842. He was aged 13 and came with his father William, mother Mary and four siblings. He went on to have many occupations including teacher, insurance salesman, storekeeper and publican. He became a clerk to the courts and during this time handled the Wairau massacre depositions. By 1848 he was a full time librarian and married Sarah Lee Hodgson in 1850, who sadly died giving birth to their twins.

224 Collingwood Street
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He remarried in 1853 to Ellen Elizabeth James, who had come to New Zealand with her mother on the Fifeshire. Stanton commissioned the house to accommodate his mother Mary and mother in law Sarah James, who were both widows. Each lady was to have their own sitting room and bedroom, but the kitchen was to be shared. It is believed Stanton himself lived at 214 Collingwood St, when the two properties had large sections that were adjacent. In 1899 the cottage was bought by Mr Percy Boland Adams the owner of Melrose House, for Joseph Busch, his manservant and gardener. Joseph Henry Busch was born in the Aniseed Valley and attended Hope School. At the age of 15 he left home and came to Nelson looking for work. Percy Adams gave him a home and employment at Melrose. Joseph became a keen and well respected gardener responsible for creating a wonderful garden at this cottage and also the tree plantings at Melrose.  He held this position until he died in 1937. He lived in this house with his first wife Sarah and baby Isobel but, as so often happened in those days, Sarah died in her early 20's. Joseph remarried and a family of four girls and two sons lived here. Joseph also served in a voluntary military unit, and his favourite pastimes were hunting and shooting.

In 1951, 224 Collingwood St. was purchased by Mrs Lucy Alborn, a young widow. The garden was smaller than the original as it had been subdivided, and the house had been renovated inside but it still retained many of the original exterior features admired by Mrs Alborn when she walked past as a child. Her daughter tells the story that her mother on hearing the cottage was for sale couldn't resist having a look at it and in spite of having already bought a section on a nearby hillside, fell in love with the cottage and consequently bought it to the delight of her two young children. Mrs Alborn looked after the cottage and garden lovingly for 54 years.

46 Brougham Street (7) is a private residence set well back on a sloping section. It has a Heritage New Zealand List Category 2 rating. The house was designed in 1930's for Charles Griffin and has an interesting slate covered roof. The architect was Arthur Griffin, who designed it for his cousin Charles and his family. Charles was the grandson of John Griffin  the founder of the successful Griffin Biscuit and Confectionery business, which was taken over by his sons when he died. A fire in the mid 1890's destroyed the factory but, in order to rebuild and keep the business going, the sons floated a public company called Griffin & Sons Ltd. This new factory also burnt down and a new brick building was constructed in 1903. Demand for Griffins biscuits became so great all biscuit making was moved to a brand new factory in Lower Hutt in 1937. This meant that Charles and his family moved from 46 Brougham Street to Wellington as he was the manager of the new enterprise. The Nelson Griffins factory continued to manufacture confectionery after 1937, employing many Nelsonians until it closed in 1988. The house has continued to be a well loved family home.

Warwick House (formerly Sunnyside and now also known as the Castle), 64 Brougham St (8) has huge wrought iron gates (still showing their makers' name from London). The property has a  Heritage New Zealand List Category 2 rating, is privately owned and now used as a boutique bed and breakfast. Architecturally, Warwick House is one of the finest and largest examples of early Victorian Gothic Revivalism still remaining in New Zealand and was built for Alfred Fell.

Fell arrived in Nelson in February 1842 on the third immigrant ship, The Lord Auckland. He was an enterprising and comparatively wealthy immigrant in the new colony, forming a land agency with Henry Seymour shortly after arriving ("Fell & Seymour"). Together they purchased 20 acres of land on the upper slopes of the city. This estate was bordered by the Brook stream to the East, the ‘Seymour Oak' and Bronte St. to the North and back up the Brook Valley and a significant part of the Northern Grampians. The same year, Fell married Fanny Seymour (Henry's daughter). The two men also owned the land on which Blenheim was later built and his son, and Fell's son, Alfred George born 1848, later became Mayor of Blenheim

Fell and Seymour both built homes on the 20 acre block in Nelson. In the 1850's a new house was being built on the Section. Originally known as ‘Sunnyside,' Warwick House was finished in 1854, by builder David Goodall. Only six months after completion, or possibly while it was still being built, the house was nearly burnt to the ground by a large fire that swept across the Grampian Mountains. It was only saved by the release of all nearby prison inmates to help with the water carrying. Fells' influence in the colony saw many sentences reduced as a reward for the prisoners' services. 

Warwick House in 2009

Before returning to England in 1859 Alfred Fell sold his  business to Nathaniel Edwards, a leading Nelson businessman and founder of the Anchor shipping line. Sunnyside was leased to David Monro, an MP and one of Nelson's leading early politicians, until 1862, before it too was sold to Nathaniel Edwards. Edwards then undertook two major expansions; firstly a new wing on the southern side encompassing fifteen rooms and two towers, then the three storey north wing with a Ballroom and four storey tower. Upon completion the house had approximately 50 rooms and still has over 30 today. Edwards died only a few years after making these additions. In 1880 his estate was valued at the incredible amount of eight hundred thousand Pound sterling, which would equate to around $90 million in today's terms.

Nathaniel Edwards died in 1880 and the house was administered by his sons as a  ‘Gentleman's boarding house' before being closed up for around 10 years. At about this time it changed its name to Warwick House. In 1910 Warwick House and Estate was sold by the Edwards family, and much of the land was subdivided off, while another part was donated to the Nelson City Council for the creation of Seymour Avenue, named after Alfred Fell's wife, Fanny. Charles Pharazyn purchased the property in 1915. He found that part of the house had been damaged whilst boarded up and so decided to remove the south wing.

In the late 1920's Warwick House was passed to the Rout family. They turned the gentleman's smoking rooms and the servants' quarters into apartments in about 1942. The original curved internal stairs were removed in 1945 and the ballroom was also turned into an apartment. Well known local artist Jane Evans lived in that ballroom flat for several years. Also during the late 1940's most of the exterior of the house was stuccoed over and the huge two level conservatory was mostly removed.

Since commencing renovations in early 2003, the new owners Nick and Jenny Ferrier have been inundated with visits by previous owners, their descendants and former tenants, who have read or heard about the renovations. Each has contributed to the information on the 150 year history; drawings, paintings, maps, titles, photos, letters and even some large and very ornate leadlight windows were returned after being stored at the Nelson Provincial Museum.

Major features of the house include two Oriel windows facing West, with their 15 rounds of decorative timber all held together by large hand-made nails, five large bay windows, the 1000 sq ft Grand Ballroom with a sprung 28mm Matai dancing floor and original Victorian walnut paintwork effects. Not to forget the four storey octagonal tower with a large peaked lead roof, six original fireplaces, numerous internal arches and scrolls, original dados, pictures rails, architraves and cornices.

The walls are all lathe and plaster, which took two years to fully cure; 7000 Welsh slate tiles were used for the roof and the cast iron gates and gateposts were also brought out from England in the 1840's.

Finds, so far, during the renovations over the past two years have included a hidden wine cellar, four grand archways, a set of internal stairs, the original bell-wire system, several antique doors (in an old garage), the original coal-gas piping system and also the blade of an old duelling sword was found in the base of the tower.

The Norfolk Pine in the front garden dates from 1850 and the large oak tree on Seymour Avenue was planted by Alfred Fell in 1842. One of the few people to remember the house as a grand residence is a Mrs. Daisy Jenner now 98 and living in a rest home near Nelson. She was the housekeeper at the house  from 1928-1935 and now has a room named after her.

2010 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

Want to find out more about the Nelson's Dress Circle ? View Further Sources here.

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  • I was told recently about other properties designed by William Houlker jnr. They include Houlkers own residence at 23 Richmond Ave that he built in 1922. ( see for images and detail of wall construction) A similar but more lavish house by Houlker ( with a ceiling leadlight window)was the town residence of the Bishop of Nelson. This is situated at 22 richmond Ave extension. Houlker's original plans for the Boathouse at 326 Wakefield Quay can be seen displayed at the Boathouse. Houlker also designed Dalton House at Nelson hospital.

    Posted by Debbie Daniell-Smith, 26/05/2014 5:04pm (10 years ago)

  • very pleased to read about Stanton house and the interesting
    info about the family. I am a descendant of William Moses' sister Mary who came out in 1842 on the Clifford

    Posted by marie woods, ()

  • very interesting - I am a descendant of a sister of W.M.Stanton and was pleased to read the info on him in your commentary

    Posted by marie woods, ()

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Further sources - Nelson's Dress Circle


  • Airey, E. (1979) Renwick: the story of a pioneer family. Wellington : Airey
  • Bowman, I. (2005) William Beatson: colonial architect. Auckland [N.Z.] : Balasoglou Books in association with Nelson Branch, New Zealand Historic Places Trust
  • Fell, A. (1973) A colonists voyage to New Zealand. Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press
  • Lash, M. D. (1992) Nelson Notables 1840-1940: a dictionary of regional biography. Dawn Smith (Ed). Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Historical Society [Alfred Fell, p. 60; Arthur Atkinson, p.12; Thomas Renwick, p. 121; William Beatson, p. 17; John Griffin, p.71; John Gully, P.71; Nathaniel Edwards, p. 53]


  • "Castle" dates back to 1854 (1996, June 22) Nelson Mail
  • Youngmeyer (1997, March 25) Castle for sale without ghosts. Nelson Mail

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