Topic: Brighton House - an era of grandeur by Lois Ann Fox

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Brighton House: an era of grandeur, early 1900s by Lois Ann Fox is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here. 

Grandfather Frederick Williams was born in 1881. He died 18th March 1940 aged 57 years. Frederick came from a family of shopkeepers and later owned his own first store, a grocery business in the hill suburb of Mornington, Dunedin, New Zealand.

His father was William Floyd Williams, a settler from Essex, and his mother Caroline, nee Hensley. The Hensley family records show that a Harriet Ann HALES married Lewis HENSLEY on 11th April 1822 at St Marylebone, Middlesex, England, the daughter of Michael and Ann Hales.

Harriet was born 24th October 1798 in Bath, Somerset, England and died on 30th May 1827, aged 27years. She is buried in St James, Pentonville, London.

Lewis Hensley was born in 1795 and died in 1846.

Among the children of Harriet and Lewis is listed the name of Frederick John Hensley, MD. He was born in 1823 and was married on 10th September 1850 to Mary Jane Valpy, my great, great grandmother. She was born on 13th May 1826 in St Brelade, Jersey, Channel Islands. Mary Jane died on 1st March 1882 at Colherne Road, Kensington, Middlesex, England.

Her daughter, Caroline Valpy Hensley, was born on 2nd May 1855 in Montague Place, Russell Square, London, Middlesex. Caroline married Frederick Floyd Williams on 14th November 1871 in Manhattan, New York. She died in 1927 in Essex, England.

Their son Frederick Williams was my grandfather, and his sister Helen (Aunt Nell) married Charles Hobbs. Frederick first met my grandmother, Jennie May Smith, when he was 24 years old, and married her on 12th July 1905 in the little brick Kaikorai Baptist Church, Dunedin.

Jennie May died at Dunedin on 16th September, 1938.

Jennie May’s parents were Arthur Smith, a post office clerk, and Hannah, nee Arundel, born 1853. Family history records the arrival of the Arundel family on the ship Forfarshire 1879 N.Z bound. The family travelled steerage, a cramped and stifling experience for this family of six. They had already left their home in Southwark, residing in Nether Hallam, a township and  a sub-district in Sheffield parish and the Ecclesall-Bierlow district of the West Riding, Yorkshire.

Frederick and Charles later bought a bed and breakfast establishment in partnership. This was originally ‘Connors Guest House’ situated at Brighton, on the Otago coast. The two families were co-owners of the boarding house in Brighton, south of Dunedin from 1912 to 1921. Wise’s Post Office Directory states only the name Hobbs entry in 1922.

The original boarding house was added to by moving a large, double-storied mansion from Roslyn, Dunedin.

Grandfather Frederick William Williams and his brother-in-law Charles Hobbs managed this enterprise in the early 1900s. Charles Hobbs married Frederick’s sister Helen (Aunty Nell.) In later years the couple lived above the bluff at Brighton, where I remember visiting as a small child and being tormented by Pekinese dogs.

Together the two brothers-in-law with their wives Jennie and Helen built up a desirable boarding home. The original home stood above the banks of the lazy Brighton River estuary, on the scenic coast route 30 kms south of Dunedin. In the year 1915, according to Wise’s Directory, the two partners bought a ‘grande mansion’ from Roslyn, Dunedin, and added to and extended the original bungalow type homestead. It turned the building into an imposing edifice, towering above the picturesque settings of the bush-clothed estuary.

The two ladies added finishing touches to the elegant décor, and their popularity grew with the  town’s residents, arriving in droves at their guest house.

Full coachloads of ladies and gentleman in early 1900s garb of long elegant dresses, and finely-attired gentlemen complete with waistcoat and hat, descended on Brighton House for a weekend of rest and leisure by the sea. At the height of their business the Mansion staff and the two sisters-in-law catered for up to seventy guests, a daunting undertaking.

The guests strolled about the gardens surrounding Brighton House, or descended to the white sand bathing beach with its adjoining domain, children’s entertainment area and popular picnic ground. The river with a fleet of spacious rowing boats and canoes was a popular source of relaxation and pleasure. Ladies and children shaded by parasols were rowed or punted up the lazy river by their menfolk or hired boat-men.

Grandfather Williams and Uncle Charles Hobbs ventured even further into business Together they owned teams of horse drawn coaches, including ‘Williams-Hobbs,’ which transported the Royal Mail and passengers to and from Dunedin to Brighton and other destinations….

(This is recorded in a cousin’s book, Transport South by Hubert Hobbs, now out of print. )

The coaching business later acquired motor vehicles, and in 1912 Messrs Williams and Hobbs bought a Model T Ford, formerly owned by Mr T.K Sidey - later Sir Thomas - remembered as a pioneer of daylight saving.

Other vehicles were added to the fleet over the next few years. In 1918 the partners had a bus built, a 26-seater Republic with solid tyres. The rows of seats all faced inwards. The brothers-in-law transported thousands of passengers in safety throughout the years.

In 1914 World War I broke, out followed by the 1918 influenza epidemic, an extremely difficult time to operate the business. At about this time my grandfather sold out his share of the partnership to my Uncle Charles Hobbs. The service now operated as ‘Hobbs Brighton Motors.’

My grandparents returned to live in Mornington, Dunedin, and it was there that my mother Phyllis most probably met my father, Eric Aitchison, at church youth socials and outings.

The era my Mother grew up in, and the Manor called Brighton House has vanished. Brighton House was destroyed by fire, but I am unable to pinpoint a date.

This was the setting my mother and her brother grew up in. Old photographs in the family archives portray a little of that gracious time. Some enlargements of the old photographs of the horse and coaches were displayed on the interior walls of the small Brighton dairy when I last viewed them in 2001.



HOBBS, H. Transport South.


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