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8-14 Coleman Place & 33 George Street - Norfolk House

Norfolk -House

Building Details

Building Name: Norfolk House
Address: 8-14 Coleman Place & 33 George Street
Construction date:  1915-16
Architect:  HL Hickson & AR Allen
Builder:  Unknown
District Plan Category: 2
Building number: 58
NZHPT Classification:  Nil

Physical and Social History 

This building was designed as four small ground floor shops, with office space upstairs that was accessed through a front door and staircase inside the adjoining Rosco Tearooms building. When buildings in the vicinity were adapted to suit the new library, a new entrance to the first floor was opened up at the back of the building, leading up from the library's alleyway. This floor now has a George Street address.

Prior History
This building was part of the CM Ross cluster of buildings for its first decade. The site was the former back garden of the Union Bank of Australia - which included a residence for bank managers and their families - and CM Ross Co Ltd purchased the site in late 1925. The Union Bank had been enlarged to its present form in 1925, and thus the garden was already surrounded by buildings at least two stories in height. CT WN329/71 reveals that the bank even provided the CM Ross Ltd with a mortgage for it.

In her book The House that Quality and Value Built, on the history of CM Ross Co Ltd, Lesley Courtney notes a memo from the ailing Charles Ross that was read at a Director's meeting in August 1924. This suggested that the firm purchase adjoining properties and that it plan a further rebuilding programme. The architects HL Hickson and AR Allen were appointed to be part of the programme. This building was the first project they were to work on, and it was intended to be leased out to commercial tenants, rather than become part of the main department store.[1]

The Building

CM Ross Ltd applied for a permit to erect this building in August 1925, and the new building was to cost £6,000.[2] HL Hickson & AR Allen duly published the tender notice relating it in the Manawatu Evening Standard of 1 August 1925. It was described as being built of concrete, steel and brick.[3]

Norfolk House overshadows by its neighbours in about 1950. Photo: Whites Aviation Ltd, Palmerston North & District, New Zealand (Auckland, 1950), p2

The building was sold in 1933, which might have been an economy measure during the Depression, as the firm was also cutting salaries around that time.[4] The new owner was Edith Sylvia Relling, a married woman of Palmerston North.

Mrs Relling was the wife of Thorsten Frederick Relling, a local solicitor. He died on 29 August 1939, aged 59, and his obituary reveals that he had been a solicitor in Blenheim until moving to Palmerston North around 1922, where he also worked as a barrister and solicitor. His fellow legal practitioners thought highly of him. He had served in the New Zealand Forces in the South African War, and had been keen on athletics, rifle shooting and racing. He had also been the honorary solicitor to the Plunket Society for some years. Amongst his pallbearers were JA Nash MP and LA Collinson (owner of Collinson & Sons). Edith Relling died on 22 July 1963, and nothing more was traced on her during this study.

CT WN329/71 reveals that in 1963, the building was transmitted to Alexander Thorsten Relling, a solicitor, and Robert Hamilton Grey Connal, a retired bank manager, both of Wellington. In 1964, it passed to the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. The next owner was Westmark Holdings Ltd of Whangarei, who bought it in 1986. The present owner, Donald Justin Pescini, a local stock agent, bought it in 1989.

The Name - Norfolk House
Early post-1928 photos of the building (ie. showing the present main Rosco/library building in place) show no apparent signage on the building's façade, while its western neighbour is clearly identified as a Rosco building. Similarly, neither photo Sq267 (c1932) nor Bc200 (1937) from the PN City Library's photographic collection, show anything apparent in the spot where the building's name now is. However, Photo St69, taken in February 1973, does show the name, which inspection reveals is metal and is bolted to the building. Therefore the name almost certainly relates to the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society's ownership of the building, as the city of Norwich, where the society (now part of Aviva) was founded in 1808, is in the English county of Norfolk.

A Geo-guide version of Norfolk House with the library alleyway now behind it, from the PNCC website.

Additions & Alterations
PNCC Building Permit file C70/10-16 includes plans of the offices for the Norwich Union Insurance Society, drawn up by architect David Taylor and dated 5 February 1965. Architectural firm Gillman Garry Clapp & Sayers drew up more floor plans dated October 1980, showing the existing and new (relatively open plan) layout on the first floor.

The permit file contains plans of the new layout at the time of the floor's conversion to the art gallery, including the new access from the area of the library's main entrance, including occupants in the downstairs shops that coincide with 1995 phonebook entriesThe file also contains a permit application for the strengthening and upgrading of the building, dated 20 December 1995 - coinciding with the new library's development behind the building.


Due to repeated numbering changes in this vicinity - and often no street numbers used at all in the Wises and Stones Directories - it is not possible to conclude with any certainty who was in which shop, and which might have been empty (or using two shops at the same time) at any given time. Also, upstairs occupants of both this building and the former Rosco Tearooms building next door, all used the same street access and therefore all shared the same street number.  Contributing to this is the Union Bank extension that also dates to 1925, and the occupants of one of its shops are not certainties either. It is, however, possible to conclude that one shop in this building was a stationery shop, while the others included a jewellery shop and a florist, during the period 1933 to 1960.

The 1933 Stones Directory lists Colin McTurk's stationery shop; John King, watchmaker etc; and Miss Joan Bradfield's Bradfield's Florist Studios, while Grover & Whithead sold pram and seagrass furniture somewhere in the vicinity of the building. By the 1936 Wises Directory, CM Hastings had the stationery shop, while the other three remain (also though the florist shop is now AC Bradfield's). By 1939, Ronald K Beale had the stationery shop; and ED Bennett is now the florist, but King the jeweller remains. In the 1944 Directory, only Beale remains. However, Salon Marlene' beauty specialist, has arrived. By the 1950-51 Directory, Thomas Devine has the stationery shop, and while G Simes, chiropodist is new, the salon remains. By 1953-4, W Knight & Son Ltd, jewellers & watchmakers, have joined Devine and Simes. By 1957, Heaphys (PN) Ltd, have the stationery shop, while Simes and Knight remain, and the three are still there in the 1959-60 Directory. It is also possibly that one of the two shop occupants attributed in this study to the neighbouring Union Bank building, might instead have been in this building. It is certain, however, that the Scotch Wool Shop was in the Union Bank, as its advertising appears there on signage shown in photos.

Shop 1 - 14 Coleman Pl - The Square end of building
Plan c1995 - 18 Coleman Pl - Playthings Toy Shop
Now - 8 Coleman Pl - Your Top Drawer- Lingerie on Coleman

Shop 2 - 12 Coleman Pl
Plan c1995 - 16 Coleman Pl - Cable Reskery Company (?)
Now - Generate

Shop 3- 14 Coleman Pl
Plan c1995 - 4 Coleman Pl - Empty
Now - Bruce McKenzie Booksellers, Discounted Books

Shop 4 - 8 Coleman Pl - George Street end of building
Plan c1995 - 12 Coleman Pl - Glassworks
Now - 14 Coleman Pl - Personage clothing shop

Upstairs - Now 33 George Street
1964-86 - Norwich Union Life Insurance Society
1980 plans - LW Pirie, registered surveyor (office at back left corner of building)
Now - Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts

Architectural Description 

The style of the building is Edwardian Stripped Classical, which has stylistic references to the main CM Ross building including swags and triangular pediments.   This was a popular style for commercial buildings in the Edwardian and Inter-War periods.  The characteristics of the style as seen in the building include symmetry, shallow triangular pediment, parapet, cornice, and subtle steps in the façade breaking it into three bays with implied pilasters.

The ground floor plans show four shops with the two central shops being of equal size and smaller than the two outer shops.  The central shops have a square ingo, while the outer shops have angled ingos.  Toilets are at the rear of the two central shops in a light well.  The shop fronts appear to be original with granite spandrels and steel window frames.

Most of the partitions to the upper floor have now been demolished and the original stair access has been blocked off.  Access to the upper floor is now by way of an external stair from the George Street entry to the library.

Statement of Significance

This building has high local significance for historical and design values, representivity of building style and level of external authenticity. 

This building has highhistoric values in its historic association with the CM Ross and Co department store.  The store was regarded as an institution in the city and has high emotional values for residents.  Their 1927 building was the firm's crowning achievement and at the time the grandest department store yet erected in Palmerston North.  Following its sale in 1933 the building has been associated with the Relling family.

The building is also historically associated with its original architect, AR Allen, a Palmerston North architect of the mid twentieth century who designed buildings in Napier, Gisborne and Palmerston North.  HL Hickson, with whom Allen designed the building, practised for a period up until 1935 with Rotorua architect HE Goodwin.  

The original and later ownership and tenants reflects a moderate level of continuity as a typical pattern of similar commercial buildings throughout the city.

The building has high design values as one of a number of buildings in the Cuba Street, George Street, Coleman Place, and The Square area which, when considered collectively, form a coherent group of buildings of a similar age, general style, form, use, and scale.

The building's street façade design has a high level of external authenticity, particularly the shopfronts.

[1] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built: The CM Ross Co Ltd story (PN, 2008), p12

[2] Building Permit Register, Vol 3, p381, PNCC 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[3] Pam Phillips Papers, PN Architects 1900-1950, Vol 5, p32. Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[4] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built, p21