100 Years Of Pharmacy In Remuera
Remuera has become one of Auckland’s’ premium suburban shopping precincts.
Several quality pharmacies remain, and about double that number have shut down or been amalgamated.
The inspiration for this talk has been to coincide with the Centenary of the first Remuera pharmacy opening in 1909, by F.G.Blott, at 377 Remuera Road.
This shop has remained in its present position continuing to trade as a chemist for a full 100 years, and it is this feature that makes it truly historic and unique in New Zealand pharmacy retailing.
As we have all witnessed and continue to see, retail precincts are organic, subtly aligning their business use to current needs and fashions. This is seen by the subliminal decline of many of the service oriented shops, that have either relocated to large mall environments or into large chain store franchises or just cannot remain profitable in their original business use.
Whatever the reason, many of our earlier retail businesses in Remuera have vanished, although in most instances the shop remains. My purpose is to record with interest, tinged with nostalgia, the origin and development of retail pharmacy outlets in the greater Remuera district, the history of the shops and their owners. I also hope you enjoy the photos and visual material to support the story.
Street numbers referred to or relate to the period at which the numbers were assigned and over the years there has been a renumbering exercise undertaken to cater for the swelling residential population and increasing retail shops in the area.
The practice of pharmacy by the time of the opening of Blott’s shop in 1909 was quite refined and developed. The Pharmacy Act controlling pharmacists had been in place for 30 year, and Auckland had many well established pharmacy shops, some already open for 50 years prior to Blott’s. In fact it was one of these, Edsons, that Fred Blott served his apprenticeship.
The residents of Remuera had also enjoyed a long retailing relationship with Newmarket, and especially the patronizing of the highly-esteemed David Teed, for their pharmaceutical requirements. To get them to break from these allegiances would be difficult.
The business trading as F.G.Blott Chemist opened in 1909. It was in a two storied building at, what was then numbered as 117 Remuera Rd. The other half was shared by R.W.Hellaby, Butcher at 115 Remuera Road and on the other side was a vacant section. However, this was quickly built on and another new business started here. As fire regulations of the time required, the building was constructed of brick side walls. The building had horizontal weatherboards on the front of the first floor where there was a pair of casement windows. In conformity with the other businesses, a wide verandah extended the full width of the footpath, meeting the unsealed road. A gas light burned under his shop verandah at night, which created a meeting place for the people of Remuera village.
Fred was born in 1881 and came from a well to do family residing in Mt. Eden. He attended Mt Eden School and his secondary school education was undertaken at the Prince Albert College in Queen Street (close by to Partington’s Windmill). This school was founded originally as the Wesley College and reopened as the Prince Albert College in 1895.
Frederick George Blott, was registered No. 828 as a Pharmaceutical Chemist on the 11th June 1907. He served his apprenticeship with one of the earliest and most respected and successful Queen St, Auckland chemists, John Edson. This probably would have motivated the young Fred Blott’s enthusiasm for starting out on his own as a 29 year old.
Fred and his family lived at 47 Mont Le Grand Rd, Mt. Eden on about 2 acres. In the early days Fred would make the daily trip in a horse and trap to the Remuera pharmacy, and as technology changed he acquired a Buick motorcar. Fred was always impeccably dressed, wearing his hat whenever venturing outside. Fred had 2 daughters, Gwen and Muriel, the elder Gwen attended the Ladies College, Remuera and where she was to encounter Jean Batten, NZ’s famous aviatrix.
Fred’s pharmacy was quite small and most of his business initially was as a dispensing chemist. Fred worked very long hours in his early days, his shop open every week night until 9 o’clock, except on Saturday, when it shut at 10 p.m. On Sundays it opened in the mornings and evenings. There was a half-holiday on Wednesday, although when he first worked in Queen Street as an apprentice, a half-day was unknown in the profession.
Fred was one of the foundation subscribers of The Auckland All Night Dispensary, taking 3 shares at £5 each. In 1916 the first All Night Pharmacy opened in Khyber Pass Road. This was an experiment with an all night dispensary, after six o’clock closing was introduced in Auckland in 1915. The proven need for this resulted in the opening of all-night dispensaries to allow urgent dispensing after hours. Charles Tennent was appointed the first Manager living on the premises, allowing the Auckland Chemists to significantly reduce their working week. The All Night Pharmacy was moved to Newton Road in 1927, with a five bedroom house provided at the rear for the Manager.
The shop that Fred Blott opened I can imagine was of a reasonably good standard in its day. It was the only shop in this Remuera district that was to ever have its own personalized embossed medicine bottle manufactured. “F.G.BLOTT CHEMIST REMUERA” being printed sideways onto the bottle. These chemist bottles, along with many other requisite items, were predominantly made available through the American firm of Whitall Tatum Co. who had a branch office in Sydney, or else the English York Glass Co. A few high quality bottle labels have also survived, as illustrated.
One of the anecdotes that has been recounted about Fred’s trading days, was his entrepreneurial skills. If he had a request for an item he didn’t have in stock, he would phone through to the wholesaler, Kempthorne Prosser (at the bottom of Albert St in the city) and have one of their staff deliver the item to the motorman of the Remuera tram. The tram would bring it through to Remuera tram stop where it would be collected. The customer would come back later in the day to purchase the item and everyone was happy.
Fred was thrust fully into the rigours of the 1918 influenza epidemic. The first fruiterer in Remuera, Mr. Cato, died in 1918 from this epidemic. The epidemic left a vivid memory with Mr Blott. Under Lady Buckleton, whose husband was general manager of the Bank of New Zealand, a depot was set up in the council yard buildings in Remuera Road. For three weeks it meant day and night toil for Fred in dispensing. No charge was made to patients by doctors whenever those at the depot regarded the circumstances as poor. Fred Blott was specially thanked by the District Block Committee for ‘gratuitous medicine and advice’ during the flu epidemic.(1) Fred escaped the ‘flu himself.
Having gone through the hard work of establishing a new business, Fred’s monopoly on the local pharmacy market was finally challenged in 1924 when Roland Wylie opened his new purpose-built shop on the corner of Remuera Rd and Victoria Avenue. This was at a time when the residential catchment area numbered approximately 3,000 people and this astute businessman with new premises and ideas took a lot of business away from Fred, in his now fairly small pokey shop. (I shall return to Wylie’s Pharmacy later).
There is an interesting incident that was recorded by Fred in an article “Old Remuera”. He relates “Remuera once had a volunteer fire brigade. In what is now the City Council yard in Remuera Road stood a hand reel, ready for action. Fred tells how he and another man, neither members of the brigade, once answered a call to a fire at the bottom of Victoria Avenue. They rushed out the reel, and ran with it to the bottom of the avenue. Of course, they didn’t pull it all the way. Once it got under way on the slope, it pulled them. Alas, their mighty effort went for nothing. The fire was out when, out of breath, they arrived at the scene. By then, volunteer members of the brigade had also appeared. They pulled the reel back.”
As was not uncommon then and now in first line medical support, many accident cases were brought to him. One day two elderly women, crossing from the feeder bus service stop at the top of Victoria Avenue, to the then tram terminus near the present taxi stand in Remuera Road, where knocked down by a car. One died in Fred’s shop, the other after treatment was taken to hospital.
An article in the Remuera Round on 5th December 1945 records Fred’s senior statesman position as he presided at the events of the welcoming of the new Post Master, Mr. F.W.Rivers to the village. Fred Blott continued on in his business for 40 years until approximately 1949 when he sold it to Frank Sanft. Fred did not immediately retire but went on to do locum work in a pharmacy called Delaney and Menzies in Queen St and then at Dominion Road, close to his residence. Fred died in June 1957. His obituary in the Auckland Star of 15 June 1957 reads: Mr. Frederick George Blott a justice of the peace and a resident of Mt. Eden for more than 60 years, has died, aged 76. Educated at Mt. Eden School and Prince Albert College, Mr. Blott qualified as a chemist and started a business at Remuera, where he practiced for 40 years. He was a senior deacon and church secretary of the Mt. Congregational Church for 17 years. He played a prominent part in the formation of the Congregational College and was member of its council, and a committee member of the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society. Mr Blott is survived by his wife, two daughters and three grandchildren.
Frank Sanft was the youngest son of seven children, born in 1908 in Tonga, of German parentage. Two of Frank’s older brothers were NZ qualified pharmacists, being Baldwin and Ralph Sanft who both owned pharmacy shops in Auckland. Baldwin’s pharmacy was in Queen St, on the corner of Wakefield St, and Ralph’s pharmacy was in upper Symonds Street.
Ralph was very instrumental in the story behind Frank’s career in pharmacy, although Frank never fully qualified as a registered pharmacist. Ralph was a very bright and entrepreneurial person and he ran classes for pharmacy students in their practical skills. He formulated many of his own products, being advertised as “Ralph’s Reliable Remedies” which was emblazoned on the parapet of the 2 storied building in Symonds Street.
It was in this environment that Frank worked and studied, and Frank was very involved in the veterinary side of the business, and he conducted Saturday morning veterinary sessions in the shop. As time went by he requested for his brothers to set him up in business, but they refused as they wanted him to get qualified first.
Image: Remuera Pharmacy 1956 Hilary Monteith photographer
Frank moved away from Ralph and set up on his own as Frank Sanft’s Pharmacy Ltd buying his first and only business, F.G.Blott, Chemist, from Fred Blott in approximately 1949. As he was unqualified he was required to always employ a qualified pharmacist in the shop, and the longest serving was Samuel Henry Kerr.
A local doctor; Edmund Fitzgerald at 640 Remuera Road arranged for his daughter Maureen Isobel Fitzgerald to be the apprentice pharmacist under Mr. Kerr in October 1950. Maureen’s Articles of Apprenticeship were assigned to Bruce Culpan as the qualified pharmacist in May 1953, as Mr Kerr left Remuera.
It was in mid 1954 that Bruce Culpan went overseas in the NZ rowing team competing at the Commonwealth Game and through his absence Frank employed his young niece Ila Murray (nee Rowan) as a locum. Ila described this as a very special time working for her favorite uncle and living down Victoria Ave with the very cultivated and musical Burry family.
Frank was a very handsome and outgoing person who enjoyed his sport, and was loved by his customers. With the staff levels that he had he wasn’t actually involved much in either the dispensary or the retail side but was quite a character with the customers and always kept apprentices on show to keep the professional appearance of the business. Dorothy, his wife, appears to have worked continually in the shop. He had an untimely death in April 1956 as a 47 year old when he had a heart attack and his car crashed into the Symonds Street end of Grafton Bridge.
Bruce grew up in Westmere and went to Mt Albert Grammar School. This school proved to be a breeding ground for pharmacists at this stage. Bruce did his apprenticeship at Grafton Pharmacy, where he met his wife June Culpan who worked as a nurse at Auckland Hospital.
Bruce use to bike to Grafton Pharmacy, where he started his apprenticeship under A.B Downing in 1946. Bruce qualified after 4 years. He then took on the position of the relieving pharmacist at Frank Sanft’s pharmacy, which he did until Frank died in 1956. Bruce was then asked by Dorothy Sanft to continue on as the pharmacist, which Bruce did, and ultimately Bruce purchased the business from Frank’s Estate. He very quickly looked towards a new image, and changed the shop name to Remuera Pharmacy. This caused a stir amongst the other retail pharmacists in Remuera, as traditionally they had all traded by their personal names. Bruce was urged not to use this name, as all the local pharmacists were “Remuera pharmacies”, however Bruce saw the good marketing sense in this move. Photo: Bruce Culpan East and Bays Courier, 22 August 2003, page 5
Bruce was the first pharmacy owner to purchase the building, which gave him the flexibility to change the layout, and to create a passageway from the street down the side to access a doctor’s surgery upstairs. Bruce also gave the shop a complete overhaul and facelift, fitting a planter box outside the window. At this time he also had a heavy cast iron and enameled set of scales which remained outside the shop overnight, however they were stolen.
Bruce has won 2 silver medals for New Zealand in rowing at the Commonwealth Games, in 1950 and 1954. He was a founding member of the Westend Rowing Club and also a foundation member for the Auckland Joggers Club, Bruce could regularly be seen pounding the streets of Remuera until he had 2 hip replacements.
Bruce liked to dabble with chemicals, his main interest being explosives and at the end of the war, a new product on the market was Underwater Fuses. Bruce made a shell casing and mixed up the necessary chemicals. He took it down to the Westend Rowing Club and decided to give the boys some fun, it went off like a depth charger.
Over the years Bruce enjoyed family life with his wife, two sons and two daughters, living down Clonbern Road, within walking distance of the shop. Bruce Culpan is highly regarded in Remuera and it’s well known that he would go out of his way for anyone at anytime. Bruce sold the business to one of his former apprentices, David Gaseltine, on 16th July 2003.
Peter Horne / Don Hawke
To round out the chemists in the Remuera shops, Peter Horne opened up business in Hutchinsons Arcade in 1960. There were a few premises relocations, and was taken over by Don Hawke in 1970. Don ran this through to 2003 when he retired; so Remuera reverted back to 2 operating Chemist shops, Remuera Pharmacy & Wylie (Life) Pharmacy, (which I shall discuss shortly).
Upland Road Pharmacies
William Gabrial Gray
The 2nd longest serving pharmacy business in the Remuera area was that opened in 1923 by William Gabrial Gray at the Upland road shops.
“Bill” Gray registered as a pharmacist on 8th February 1922 being Registration No 1174 (the same date as Roland Wylie), where he was shown as residing at Devonport. As the Tramway network had recently extended to Upland Road, Bill took a lease of premises in the new building on the northwest corner of Remuera Rd and Upland Roads, being then 228 Remuera Rd. This was quite a small shop and the upstairs had another tenant. Bill was not only a pharmacist but an optician. These premises were newly fitted out and must have been impressive, as a photo was included in the British chemist and Druggist special issue of 26 June 1937.
Image: W Gray chemist Remuera Rd – Upland Rd corner Unknown photographer Auckland Museum PH-NEG-C18816
With long hours kept in the shop, and limited numbers of customers in the early days there was always time for a chat and Erica Cowan reminisces of her parents arriving in Remuera in 1923 and they would go to the open shop on Saturday night and have a chat. Erica as a girl remembers viewing the big coloured carboys in the shop. One of Bills past times was to stand on the curb and catch the sun, still dressed in his white coat. The trammies had an affinity for Bill, and they walked into his shop with a teapot; they mimicked his Scottish accent “Billy boiled Mr. Gray?” A lot of Bill’s joie de vivre disappeared when news of the death of his 22year old son Paul was received in 1949. Paul was studying pharmacy and was on the overnight express to Wellington to attend a pharmacy block course and was found dead on the train’s arrival. Bill was very consumed with this and a dourness entered his life.
Requiring larger premises and having an eye for investment in approximately in 1938, Bill purchased a large section diagonally across the road and next to A.M.C butcher shop on the corner of Minto St. On this site he built a 2 storied block of 3 shops, with his new chemist shop next to the butcher. The other 2 shops, he tenanted to a hairdresser and a baby’s clothing shop. His new pharmacy (at then 217 Remuera Rd) was carefully designed and customized with a beautiful clerestory skylight (which still remains in the shop at 565 Remuera) to enhance his optical work. The day of the move was real community event, when on a Saturday, many of the local children helped him shuttle his stock across the road (presumably a lot less traffic than trying to perform this task today.)
I have the good fortune of owing Bill’s recipe book, which gives a wonderful insight into the height of fine presentation and grooming for the gentlemen and ladies of Remuera in the 1930s. We have a recipe for Perfume for the ladies, and for the gentlemen we have the formula “Fixative Har Cream” – the greasy version. No wonder couches of old used anti-macassers to protect the fabric.
Bill Gray sold the business in 1958 to Ian Rossiter and Jean Lochore who worked the partnership for about 20 years.
1958 also saw Bevan Markwick open a second pharmacy in the Upland Road shops (ironically in the original premises of Bill Gray). This was the shop where Ruskin Cranwell locumed at.
When an opportunity to purchase the Rossiter and Lochore business presented itself, Ruskin formed a partnership with Maurice Williams and started up Williams & Cranwell Chemists Ltd in 1978.
Bevan Markwick sold to John Bockett and after losing the supply contract for the Caughey Preston Home to Ruskin Cranwell, John Bockett finally shut the shop. Ruskin Cranwell continues to trade in Upland Road.
The founder of Wylie’s Pharmacy, Roland Wylie became a chemist because he liked the smell of a chemist’s shop. Roland was the only son of a draper from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, who was brought up in Thames where he received his early education. His parents wanted him to become a draper, to following the footsteps of his father. However, his father died when Roland was aged 12 years.
Roland started his career as an apprentice chemist in Thames and finished his time with Shaw’s Pharmacy, Queens St, Auckland. He then took up relieving positions in Auckland and Dunedin before being persuaded by a friend to open his own pharmacy in Remuera on the corner of Remuera Road and Victoria Ave. A friend had told him there was “room for two chemists in Remuera.” This was in 1924 when (as mentioned) the area’s population was only 3000. Roland battled to make ends meet, and after two years his pharmacy started to show a small profit. The family initially lived on the premises, and in fact Peter Wylie had his early years here.
Mrs Wylie’s father also helped Roland Wylie with construction of the required shop fittings. Mr Wylie worked tremendously hard to establish the business. There was Saturday and Sunday work, and Mr Wylie often climbed from his bed to make up prescriptions in times of emergency.
Roland “took a gamble” in the early 1930s and bought the corner block of shops so that he could display a wider range of merchandise. A few years later, he built a further two shops on adjoining land.
“Black Day in Life of Pharmacy” reads the Herald’s headline. An explosion wrecked Wylie’s Pharmacy early on the morning of January 9, 1938, which injured five people and caused more than £2000 worth of damage. Three injured were from the Fire Brigade and two were locals. The worst inflicted was Mr. Lynch the local garage owner. He had walked from his garage premises a few doors further along Remuera Road and was standing near the intersection when he was thrown bodily to about the middle of the road. He managed to crawl a few yards, rose to his feet and then collapsed as occupants of shops on the southern side of Remuera Road rushed to his assistance. The explosion completely shattered the interior of the shop and the stock was reduced to a heap of useless litter, piled high on the floor and spilling our on to the footpath. Heavy cupboards and shelves partly torn from the walls, leaned over the counters, and the floor was knee-deep in wreckage. Photographs and wrappings floated in pools of mixed drugs and medicines, and the smell of chemicals was overpowering. Adjoining premises also suffered extensively. The rooms of Miss L. Burke, chiropodist, were completely disarranged. On the upper floor, instruments were scattered about in the rooms of Dr. Max Wagner. The windows of two shops on the southern side of Remuera Road were broken by flying debris.
Peter Wylie was at a loose end when he left Mt Albert Grammar School. He says it was only by a process of elimination that he decided to become a chemist. He joined J. C. Sharland, one of Auckland’s longest established pharmacies. After the first week, he was all prepared to “throw in the sponge.” Peter Wylie qualified at Sharlands and with his father now extensively involved in marketing – Wylie’s Fresh Dried Yeast and Wylie’s Brufax were two prominent lines – he decided to join his father at Remuera.
Roland never really retired. In spite of failing health towards the end of his career, he used to call into the shop after his eldest son, Peter Wylie, took over as manager.
Wylie’s Pharmacy was involved in some significant advancements, – the microfilming of prescriptions in 1948 and the introduction of computerised stock control in 1980. Both have led to a better appreciation of customer needs and improved customer service.
Scott Milne joined Peter Wylie in 1982, and became a partner in what Peter Wylie said was a very happy arrangement.
As Meadowbank developed an opportunity was seen by Harry Bartley to open his first and only shop in 1951. He identified his position by being at the Tram Terminus; and this shop still runs today, as well as another in the Meadowbank Mall.
THE GREAT SOUTH ROAD CHEMISTS
Only segregated 50 years ago by the incision of the Southern Motorway, this area was traditionally and integrally a part of Remuera.
These shops display one of the predictable suburban business patterns of the early 20th century, following the tram stops from the Market Road intersection, finally to the Harp of Erin.
Most notable was the pharmacy owned by Jack Dickey near the intersection of Greenlane Road. The shop was originally started by Wallace Anderson at 208 Great South Road in 1920. It was purchased by Jack Dickey in 1934, after he had completed his apprenticeship with Mr. Manning in K. Road (opposite Howe St.) and done a little relieving work.
Jack was a very high performing public figure, taking the Empire Games to Cardiff in 1958. He was also a representative on the Pharmaceutical Society of N.Z., as well as being the last Mayor of the former One Tree Hill Borough Council.
There was a very strong racing backbone to the area, residences, stables, paddocks, lots of horses ridden and led over to Ellerslie Racecourse.
Lots of trainers had their own secret formulae for horse tonics kept in the shop register and compounded up. One trainer didn’t trust anyone, bought one of each of the five compounds from five separate Pharmacies.
Tonics were performance enhancing for horses. Veterinarian Brands, such as “Bell Wonder Remedy”, from Canada was stocked.
WWII brought an added dimension to Jack’s business.
The 39th General Hospital in Cornwall Park, meant many invalided Americans and those in barracks on R&R would stroll into the pharmacy shop believing it to be a U.S. style Drug Store and asking for wallpaper, soft drinks, ice-cream, men’s cosmetics, Shick blades, etc. He found the Americans were always extremely polite.
A serviceman bought a local girl a large perfume box and he asked if it could be repackaged into separate pieces as he did not want the girls Mum to find out about their liaison.
Jack made friends with 19year old American down for his R&R in Auckland. He would regularly come into shop and have a large glass of New Zealand milk, being highly desired. He went off to Pacific Arena and was killed, Jack was very moved about this experience.
Once Joe McManemin (Jack’s stepson) qualified from his apprenticeship with Jack, he ran the shop, and after the war it was relocated along the road to 336 Great South Road.
Several other chemists came and went along Great South Road. The shop at 89 Great South Road/Market Road intersection in 1937 being run by P.G.Martin, then sold to Colin Mahon, then Stuart Hannigan and Owen Morris.
At the far end of the tram route was the Pharmacy run by David Harper and latterly Don Scorgie. A few other short-lived pharmacies have appeared in various positions between 1927 and 1932. These will need more research.
I have had a lot of pleasure in meeting a lot of the old time chemists that feature in my talk, and without exception, all obliging people. 100 years of Pharmacy in Remuera has elapsed, moving from effectively an isolated Auckland village, to a very chic shopping centre. The true achievement is that Remuera Pharmacy has operated continuously all that time, in the same location, contributing to this suburban evolution.
Chairman, Remuera Heritage Society, 2012.