Braemar History

Braemar on Parliament Street History Auckland New Zealand

Photograph by Doree and Sache, Auckland, 1925, courtesy Rowland Potter

The name “Braemar” is a nostalgic reference to Braemar in Scotland where, in September every year, the clans meet for the gathering of The Braemar Royal Highland Society in a century old tradition.

The house was named by the first owner, Mr. John Russell Gray, who came to New Zealand from Rutherglen, Scotland. More about the Gray family later.

It was 1989 when my husband John and I first became involved with the Courtville project, as we called it. An action group had been formed some years before by the tenants of the day and the battle to save the Courtville buildings had been waging since the first indications in 1972 by the Government that they intended to demolish the lovely old buildings to make way for a new High Court. John had moved into Courtville in 1988 and I followed when we were married in 1989. From that time on, we were hooked.

We didn’t know much about old buildings but we knew that Courtville was special. We had read about the “Courtville battle” in the papers, in fact over the years there had been a lot of publicity on TV and in the print media. It seemed to us that “putting our money where our mouth was” by investing our savings and preserving the buildings was the right thing to do. So, by joining up with 13 other investors, Courtville Apartments Ltd was born and it purchased Corner, Middle and Little Courtvilles from the government and (so far) saved them from the demolition men.

It wasn’t until late 1994, when Braemar (Little Courtville) was offered for sale to the general public, that John and I decided we wanted to take on the preservation project by ourselves, and bid successfully at the auction to become the proud owners of Braemar.

The preservation project that we have undertaken consumes heaps of time and energy, but the rewards are there to see. To all the doubters who said how “brave” we were taking on this project, (and we just knew you were horrified), thanks for making us all the more determined to succeed. To all those who saw the potential in this lovely old building, thanks for your encouragement. To all those who were involved in the “save the Courtville campaigns” in one way or another over the years, thank you for your vision and persistence.

Braemar had a life of its own before Courtville came into existence, but it is doubtful whether it would have survived as a stand-alone building. Without the support that was engendered by the residents of all the Courtville buildings it is highly likely that this house would have gone the way of No.1 Parliament Street and now be a carpark.

This document has been put together as a record of the history of the house. There are large gaps – we still don’t know if there was an architect involved in the design – but we felt we had to start somewhere and this is, after all a Work in Progress. We will add to it if and when we find out significant facts or we do significant restoration on the house.

I was surprised that when I started researching the house I discovered that just about everything that had ever been written about the house was incorrect. Arthur Sinclair O’Connor did not design Braemar, and it was not built in the 1880’s for a Mr Wrightson. Arthur Sinclair O’Connor was born in Freemantle in 1884 and was only 16 when the house was built in 1901. There is no record of a Mr Wrightson in any of the land valuation or land transfer records. His name appears to have been an error made in reading the name Bridson.

Most of the information that is included has been gleaned from public records, but there are some personal documents included from people now deceased. Thanks to the Ziman family for making so many documents available. In particular I would also like to thank Graham Burgess, Courtville’s conservation architect, who assisted with all the technical stuff to do with the fabric of the building. Thanks to the Auckland City Council who have now included Braemar as a listed building and as part of the Historic Residential 1 Precinct; grateful thanks to the library staff at the Auckland Public Library, the Auckland Institute and Museum Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library and the National Archives in Mt Wellington. Lastly, I would like to thank all those people who answered questions, helped with research or pointed me in the right direction.