Lampstands (3)

Drake Street And Vernon Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland

  • Lampstands (3).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4495 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes part of the road reserve at the northern end of Vernon Street and the eastern end of Drake Street, adjoining Pt Lot 4 Deed Red Z (as shown on Map C in Appendix 4 of this registration report), the three lampstands, their fittings and fixtures, thereon.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Part of road reserve at the northern end of Vernon Street and the eastern end of Drake Street adjoining Pt Lot 4 Deed Red Z, North Auckland


Electric street lighting in Auckland

The Lampstands are remnants of early electric street lighting in Auckland, relocated to their current position from elsewhere in the city. They exhibit incandescent bulb lighting technology, which replaced carbon arc lights during the 1920s or 1930s. Carbon arc lights had been introduced to Auckland from the 1910s as the earliest form of electric street lighting, in place of gas, first used in Auckland in 1863. Electric lighting was cleaner than gas and more readily automated, but was initially a more expensive source of energy. The cost of electricity was reduced once it could be generated and supplied in bulk, and after incandescent bulbs were produced in quantities from the 1880s.

Incandescent bulb technology was an improvement on electric arc lighting, being effective with smaller bulbs and at a lesser height above the ground. Incandescent light was initially produced by the glow of an electrically-charged (then carbon) filament, enclosed in a vacuum. In 1877-78, Thomas Edison was the first to experiment with such lighting, after which the process was refined and given commercial application by the British inventor, Joseph Swan. Swan's company merged with Edison's, to form the Edison-Swan United Electric Light Company in 1883. The subsequent mass production of 100w or 150w glass bulbs, mounted on poles or standards made them, by the 1910s, a serious competitor with arc lights for street lighting, especially once metallic (including osmium, later tungsten) filaments replaced less efficient carbon ones. Between 1912 and 1917 the number of incandescent filament lamps for street lighting in the US increased from 682,000 to 1,389,000, while the number of electric arc lamps decreased from 348,600 to 256,000.

Numerous cities, including Wellington, were partly served by electric street lighting by 1900, with the global leaders being Berlin ('Elektropolis') and Chicago. Auckland remained exclusively reliant on gas for longer than many. The passage of the Auckland Electric Lighting Act in 1900, however, signalled a change in intent, with the Auckland Electric Tramways Company Ltd. supplying both street and private electric lighting. In 1908, the Auckland City Council set up its own Electricity Department and began generating thermal electricity from the Patteson Street rubbish destructor in Freemans Bay. A yet greater volume of energy was produced by the King's Wharf coal-powered Thermal Station from 1913, followed by additional power from hydro-electric sources in the 1920s. In 1922, the Auckland City Council and other local bodies agreed to establish the Auckland Electric Power Board (AEPB), by which time ten miles of city streets had been converted from gas to electric lighting. The electrical supply system then only extended through the central city area and small parts of the suburb of Mt. Eden.

The Lampstands

The Lampstands currently located on the corner of Drake and Vernon Streets are likely to have first been erected in Tamaki Drive, on Auckland's foreshore to the east of the CBD. Their erection was probably part of an expansion of electric street lighting beyond the city centre, which was carried out during the 1920s and 1930s. During this period improved lighting for pavements was considered desirable, with pedestrians increasingly sharing the highways with motorised vehicles rather than horse-drawn vehicles. There was also a general emphasis on urban cleanliness and safety, which sometimes involved street widening and slum clearance, particularly in inner city districts. Located immediately alongside the waterfront, Tamaki Drive is likely to have presented particular safety issues. The City Director of Works and Engineer from 1906-1929, when considerable expansion took place, was W.E. Bush. His successor from 1929 to 1944 was J. Tyler.

The lampstands appear to have been removed from their initial location in the 1950s, when incandescent technology was replaced by gas discharge (mercury vapour and sodium) lighting. The latter was devised by British engineers in the early 1930s and became widespread in New Zealand two decades later. Some 220 new concrete standards were set for installation along Tamaki Drive, which was part of the first group of thoroughfares to be targeted for change.

The installation of new standards in Tamaki Drive coincided with a request to improve lighting in Albert Park, which had previously continued to rely on gas lamps. The demand for better lighting in the city park was sparked by attacks on women at night in the early 1950s, pressure from the Auckland University College's student union for better lighting on the park's eastern (Princes Street) side and a desire for Christmas illumination of the band rotunda and other central areas of the reserve. It appears that some of the incandescent electric lights from Tamaki Drive were transferred to the park at this time. In 1967, seven standards of the type now surviving on the corner of Drake and Vernon Streets existed within the park boundaries.

The lampstands stood in Albert Park until early 1968, when 29 lights considered obsolete by the Council were removed. Protests were voiced at the loss of heritage items, including from the chair of the Auckland branch of the Institute of Architects, Mr V.A. Yule. Perhaps as a result of the publicity, three of the lamps were relocated to the corner of Drake and Vernon Streets prior to March 1971. The context for their transfer appears to have been the remodelling of the 1886 Freemans Hotel (then known as the Leopard Tavern), which was internally refurbished to a perceived 'Victorian-era' design in 1968-1971. There is some evidence that the lamps were installed in more than one stage during the renovations. It may have been felt that the street lights added to the nostalgic atmosphere, while providing an additional aspect of safety outside the public house which - as other New Zealand pubs - had traditionally been required to be well lit. As the standards appear to have been misidentified as gas lamps in contemporary newspaper reports, it is unclear if decisions also took account of their relocation close to an important early source of electricity generation in the city - the adjacent City Destructor building in Drake Street.

Today, the Lampstands remain in working order, and have been part of the local streetscape for approximately 35 years. They are considered to form a comparatively rare group of electric street lights of early twentieth-century design. Other examples of NZHPT registered lights include the Canterbury Club Gas Light (NZHPT Registration # 1838, Category II historic place) dating to circa 1900 and relocated in the 1970s, and the William Rolleston Memorial Light, Temuka (NZHPT Registration # 2039, Category II historic place). By contrast, a larger number of structures concerned with electricity production and administration have been registered, including the Arapuni Dam (NZHPT Registration # 4154, Category I historic place) dating to 1929, and the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 4470, Category I historic place), constructed in 1928-1930. Two gas lamps still survive in Auckland, one outside the former Auckland Savings Bank in Khyber Pass Road, and another in Albert Park.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

They have historical value for their connection with the installation of electric street lighting in Auckland.

The Lampstands have aesthetic significance as a group of visually unusual and distinctive, free-standing structures, located in front of a well-preserved nineteenth-century public house.

They have technological significance as apparently uncommon surviving examples of early twentieth-century electric streetlight furniture associated with incandescent bulb technology.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Lampstands reflect aspects of New Zealand history such as the development of electric street lighting, concerns for public safety and attitudes to heritage in the late 1960s.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Located in a public place in the centre of Auckland and close to a major source of electricity supply in the early twentieth century, the Lampstands have considerable potential for public education about the history of electricity and street lighting in Auckland.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The Lampstands are believed to represent an unusual survival of electric street light furniture of early twentieth-century design in the Auckland region, and an uncommon survival in New Zealand more generally.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Lampstands are located in the historically important Freemans Bay industrial zone, which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contained a heavy concentration of working class housing, public utilities and factories. Many elements of this landscape survive, including the Municipal Destructor, Depot and Electricity Generation site (incorporating the Victoria Park Market Chimney, NZHPT Registration # 4482, Category I historic place), the former Campbell Free Kindergarten (NZHPT Registration # 7537, Category I historic place), the Gas Works buildings and several public houses. The latter include the former Freemans Hotel, which forms the immediate physical backdrop to the Lampstands. The Lampstands lie within the Auckland City Council's Victoria Park Market Precinct, a proposed heritage precinct area.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bush, Walter E. (1875-1950)

Walter Ernest Bush -

Bush (1875-1950) was born in Kingston, Surrey. He became an engineering cadet at age 16 and qualified for the diplomas of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Sanitary Institute. He then became the Borough and Waterworks Engineer at Sudbury in Suffolk.

Bush was appointed City Engineer at Auckland City Council in 1906. In his position as City Engineer from 1906 to 1929, Bush played a leading part in modernising the physical infrastructure of Auckland, overseeing the construction of a sewerage system into the Waitemata Harbour and the construction of three water-supply dams in the Waitakere Ranges. He was national president of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers from 1927 to 1928.

Following his resignation in 1929, Bush worked in Brisbane City Council and as a consultant engineer. He died in Brisbane in 1950.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The three lampstands are located on the footpath at the corner of Vernon and Drake Streets in Freemans Bay. Freemans Bay is an inner suburb of Auckland, immediately to the west of the Auckland Central Business District (CBD). The Lampstands are positioned immediately outside the former Freemans Hotel (currently known as The Drake), which was constructed in 1886. On the opposite side of Drake Street are the historic Municipal Destructor, Depot and Electricity Generation buildings, now operating as the Victoria Park Market.

The Lampstands are freestanding structures, erected some 14 to 18 metres apart from each other, parallel to the hotel frontage. One lampstand [A] is in Drake Street, positioned about 100 mm from the kerb and level with the western end of the hotel. A second stand [B] is at the corner of Drake and Vernon Streets, approximately the same distance from the kerb. The third lampstand [C] is some 14 metres further south along Vernon Street, towards the southern end of the hotel building.

The Lampstands all have incandescent- bulb streetlights and 'swan-neck' brackets. Each shade is fluted and set at an approximate 20-30 angle, directing light towards the street. The brackets are fixed on top of cast-iron, octagonally-fluted standards or columns, forming lampstands about 5-6 metres tall. The base of each column includes an octagonally-fluted, outward-sloping mounting, approximately 500 mm tall, set on an octagon about half this height. The whole is set in a white concrete square, protruding about 10 mm above the level of the footpath.

All of the lampstands are currently painted dark blue, although evidence from photographs of the hotel taken in the 1980s and 1995 indicate that they have in the recent past been painted grey and bright blue respectively, to match the then prevailing colour of the hotel's front doors and other features. All of the lampstands have small, if varying, amounts of rust, mainly on their lower portions. Lamp A has two small blue (east-facing) parking signs on it, and lamp B, one red 'No Entry' sign. Lamp C has no signage.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1920 - 1940
Probably erected on Tamaki Drive, Auckland

1955 -
Relocated to Albert Park

1968 -
Removed from Albert Park

1968 - 1971
Relocated to the corner of Vernon and Drake Streets

Construction Details

Cast-iron streetlamps, including standard, bracket and lampshade, set in a concrete base

Information Sources

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

neg. nos W276; A14520; A14607; & A1322, Special Collections.

Bush, 1971

G .W. A. Bush, 'Decently and In Order: The Government of the City of Auckland 1840-1971', Auckland, 1971

Hughes, 1983

Thomas P. Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society 1880-1930, Baltimore, 1983

Jakle, 2001

John A. Jakle, City Lights Illuminating the American Night, Baltimore, 2001

King, 1972

J King, Sign of Service: A History of the Auckland Electric Power Board, 1922 - 1972, Auckland, 1972

Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd, 2002

Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd, 'Freeman's Hotel Heritage Assessment', [Auckland], 2002

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

3 May 1968

New Zealand Licensee

New Zealand Licensee

20 March 1971, p.27

O'Dea, 1958

William T. O'Dea, The Social History of Lighting, London, 1958

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Series ACC 219 (Works Depart., file 17/161, pt 1); and Series ACC 266 (Parks and Reserves, Box 1, Items 5 and 6)

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.