Potter – Stanton the start of the Courtville Years

William Walter STANTON (b.1872 d.1944) and

Ernest Herbert POTTER (b.1866 d.1951)(45)

William Stanton and Ernest Potter were prominent Auckland businessmen and building developers.

The china and cutlery merchants Boyle and Tanfield opened their shop at 142 Queen Street in 1861. In 1895 Potter bought the shop, and by 1912 Stanton was not only the shop’s manager but also a shareholder.

The shop, known since 1895 as Tanfield Potter & Co, was in 1995 Queen Street’s oldest surviving merchant. The business moved to the old Queen Street address in 1929 but is now housed on the corner of Elliot and Darby Streets and more recently was managed by Potter’s grandson Rowland Potter.

Potter and Stanton’s business association dated from around 1912. Companies in which the partners were associated included (dates approximate):

Tanfield Potter & Co. 1912

Courtville Securities Limited 1914

Civic House Ltd. 1928

Courtville Limited 1935

The long-term relationship of the two men was complex – Potter was a public figure heavily involved in local government, while Stanton appears to have managed their various enterprises.

William Stanton’s parents came out from England on the Lancaster Witch in 1865. William was born in 1872 in Alten Road in central Auckland. The death of his father at the early age of 46 obliged Stanton to provide for his family; for the rest of his life hard work and devotion to his family characterised his behaviour.

In 1898 Stanton married Elizabeth Jane McIntosh (born 1873 in Arch Hill, died 6 th October 1966). The couple produced six children, Ivy, Rhena, William Laurence (Laurie), Edna, Vida and John Rowland (Jack). The family home was 47 Pleasant St, Onehunga. In 1928 a new five double bedroom, rimu-panelled bungalow was built to Sinclair O’Connor’s design. The house (since demolished) stood in 5 acre grounds, and had garages, stables, a tennis court (in which a small aeroplane once landed) and extensive gardens.

In Jack Stanton’s recollection his father was “short and stout and always in a hurry. He liked jokes and loved flowers.” Every morning he would awake at 5 o’clock, take a cup of tea to the children, and sit on the verandah until dawn. Then he would tend to his flower garden until it was time to take the train to work. He would first go to Courtville to collect rents and meet with Miss Annie Clements, the manageress. From 10am to 5pm he worked in the china shop.

William Stanton was a close friend of Arthur Sinclair O’Connor (the architect of Middle and Corner Courtvilles). In later years they lunched together daily, either at Cookes Restaurant or John Courts. They often lunched with their friend and solicitor George Sanders, of the firm Jackson Russell. Years later Stanton arranged a flat in Courtville for Sanders whose health had deteriorated. After William Stanton’s death on 12 December 1944, the friendship was maintained by his son Jack,(by then a director of Courtville Securities Ltd), who would visit Sanders every Friday, both for company and to discuss business.

Jack Stanton recalls being taken as a child from Onehunga to the Courtville site by gig and Euclid the pony, and paid 6d to cut thistles while his father cut firewood.

After leaving Grammar School, Jack became a ‘chinaman’ at Tanfield Potter & Co. At this time, Jack and his brother Laurie, who was a carpenter, did all the routine maintenance on the buildings.

Jack tells of doing painting and papering upstairs in Braemar (or “Little Courtville” as it was known) for one of the tenants, Fred Batten, whose daughter Jean, the famous aviator, was coming to stay.

Ernest Potter was born in Hamilton in 1866, one of nine sons. He and two of his brothers are featured in the New Zealand Who’s Who of 1931; Colonel Harold Rowland Potter was commandant of Trentham Military Camp and Vivian Harold Potter was a Member of Parliament.

Ernest Potter was very active in civic life, in addition to being a director of the family business and being involved in a speculative partnership with Stanton. His association with local government dated from 1906. Potter was a member of the Mount Eden Borough Council from its formation, and mayor of Mount Eden from 1923-31. He was a member of the Auckland Electric Power Board from its inception, a member of the Auckland Hospital Board for 32 years, a member of the Transport Board, Chairman of the provisional committee of the Provincial Water Board, life member and past President of the Auckland Swimming Association and life member of the Auckland Sailor’s Home. His attempt to enter Parliament as Reform candidate for Mount Roskill was, however, unsuccessful.

In the recollection of his and Stanton’s sons Potter was always at meetings. However, every Saturday night he took his sons to the Astor Cinema, and on Sundays he took his family to the Mount Eden Congregational Church in Valley Rd. Potter went to church three times on Sundays. Sundays were a time of recreation for the family; in summer the whole family and a wide circle of friends would gather at the Potter house, Abley, in Valley Road, and play tennis. E.H., as he was known to his grand-children, would watch, wearing a three-piece suit with gold watch-chain and a homburg hat – the image of the Victorian patriarch.

Potter and Stanton speculated in building development for almost three decades. Their projects ranged from single house to land subdivisions, but they specialised in multistorey inner-city housing. The inter-war period saw great changes in the nature of New Zealand society. According to researcher Peter Shaw, increased demand for office workers and a need to house single people led to the construction of apartments to provide dwellings close to the workplace. Potter and Stanton recognised the opportunity and were in the forefront of the developments. They were successful enough to remain in business throughout the depression; unlike modern developers, Stanton and Potter often retained ownership of the buildings and set up management companies to administer their properties.

They acquired the land for Middle Courtville in 1914 and completed the building in 1915. In 1917 they purchased Braemar, converting it into apartments, removing the plaster name and painting “Courtville” in its place. At some stage a design for a 20-apartment building on the site was considered but this project never went ahead. In 1919 they commenced building the Corner Courtville and in the mid 30′s the final Courtville (now known as Westminster Court) was built.

The Potter and Stanton families owned and administered the Courtville complex until 1972. In this year Philip Potter had a heart attack. On recovering from this his attitude to Courtville had changed: until this time he had believed in maintaining the family assets, but after this illness it became imperative for him to sell. Both his brothers and the Stanton family agreed to sell, and the long association of the two families with the Courtville buildings ended.

Some of the tenants during the Courtville years have provided colourful recollections of a time long since past. One of those tenants was Bill Sanders of Milford who on 19 th January 1987 wrote this letter to the Courtville Residents Association:

Dear Mr Burgess,

It was with great interest and some nostalgia that I read about Courtville in recent articles in the NZ Women’s Weekly and the NZ Herald.

I lived in the old Courtville House in 1916 at the age of two until we moved to Remuera in 1923. My sister was born there in 1920. My parents , Mr and Mrs S Franklin Sanders lived in the back flat on the ground floor and an aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs P Bruford occupied the basement flat. We shared a bathroom on that floor and one of my childhood delights was to watch my mother light a huge hot water gas califont over the bath. Invariably this contraption went off with a loud bang that could be heard throughout the building.

In those days the tenants of Courtville were mostly professional people with offices in the City and naturally all walked to work down Shortland St. or Bowen Ave. They looked rather an elegant lot in their bowler hats and walking canes. There were very few children in the flats and my playmates were Mary and Coates Milsom, whose father Dr Milsom, resided around the corner in Waterloo Quadrant. We children attended Miss Partridge’s kindergarten in Parnell and were met each morning at the bottom of Constitution Hill and were taken by tram up Parnell rise to the old St Mary’s church hall. After returning from kindergarten our only play area was in the Supreme Court grounds or the small park opposite and outside the fence of Government House on the corner of Waterloo Quadrant and Symonds St. It was here that I was taught to ride a bike. Another vivid memory of that time was of Mrs Radcliffe who was the efficient caretaker of the buildings and she lived on the ground floor of the new Corner Courtville. The entrance halls of the building all had brass footplates which she kept brilliantly polished and anyone, particularly children , was severely punished if they dared to put a footprint on her gleaming doorsteps.

It was a pleasant and peaceful area in which to live and as a schoolboy everything seemed to be there. A well stocked little shop on the corner of Princes St and Waterloo Quadrant where the Hotel International now stands and further along opposite the Grand Hotel and next to Whites Services cars was the Auckland Museum. I knew that museum backwards as it was a good and free place to go on wet days. I remember spending hours staring at a fierce Island warrior bedecked in coconut matting armour with a spiny shell helmet. A chilling sight which I had the pleasure of seeing again last year at the War Memorial Museum in the Domain. After 70 years he is still looking as fierce as ever in his glass box.

Saturday mornings offered a rewarding interlude as this was when Bycroft’s Biscuit factory in Shortland St would sell you a sugar sack full of broken biscuits for six pence.

Many an interesting dessert my mother would serve made from these as the main ingredients.

Both my father and uncle had motor cars and ours was a 1914 Hupmobile with 3 bucket seats. It had an old gate gear box change and this required a lot of skill to engage the hole in the gear handle with the right stud in the gear box. The handbrake was on the outside. The cars were garaged in some wood sheds, the access being a driveway running past Grey & Menzies soft drink factory in Eden Crescent.

Another uncle of mine, Mr George Sanders of Jackson Russell Tunks & West lived as a widower for many years in the fourth Courtville building where he died some years before Mainzeal purchased the block.

Last year my wife and I seriously considered an apartment in Westminster Court but for various reasons decided against it. One of these reasons was that to my mind the new refurbishment set up seemed to sit most uncomfortably in surroundings so steeped in early Auckland history.

Yours Sincerely

Bill Sanders.(46)


(45) Extracted from “Corner Courtville Conservation Plan” , prepared at the request of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for Courtville Apartments Limited by Graeme Burgess. Copies held by Courtville Apartments Limited and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
(46) Transcription of a letter written by Bill Sanders of Milford 19 th January 1987. Copy held by author.