Merrilands Garden Suburb

We have to announce that the Merrilands Garden Suburb, Auckland’s most glorious heritage, situated on the green, grassy slopes of One Tree Hill is at last thrown open to the public and the choice of this, the finest and largest subdivision, ever offered in Auckland is now to be yours.” (Advertisement, Auckland Star, 7 December 1923)

Merrilands! It was the name given to a 500-section subdivision on the slopes of Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill, that ran down towards Mt Smart Road, and was promoted by its developers as a Garden Suburb. With visions of green spaces and healthy living it would have tapped into the awareness of overcrowding and unsatisfactory housing conditions that were ripe not only in Auckland but in other parts of the country, too. 

Image: Backyard of the same houses at the head of Blind Lane, Wellington, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19110719-0021-02

In the 1920s, Merrilands wasn’t the only new subdivision to be promoted as a garden suburb. In 1922 advertisements appeared for the Marine Garden Suburb in Beachlands and closer to Merrilands was the Orakei Garden suburb. But where Beachlands and Merrilands appeared to be nothing more than a promotional campaign from developers, Orakei was in fact a government-backed urban plan. Inspired by the garden suburb and city movement overseas, the idea of a city environment with abundant plantings and open spaces had great appeal. Town planning had emerged as a profession, and the Department of Lands and Survey invited the public to submit a plan for a formal garden suburb in Ōrākei in a competition. The winning entry came from architect and town planner, Reginald Hammond, who incorporated curvy streets and cul-de-sacs, public reserves and green spaces into his design. Elements of Hammond’s entry were indeed used in Ōrākei, but it was never fully implemented, due in part to the difficulties of the depression years. Some elements did, however, form the basis of the first Labour government’s state housing programme, one of the most notable being Palmerston North’s Savage Crescent development.

Image: Locality plan Orakei Garden Suburb, 1929. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Map 9261

But back to Merrilands. While it didn’t possess the features of the garden suburb that Reginald Hammond designed, it did bring some very useful amenities. Transport options included the trams at the Harp of Erin and Royal Oak, to the train stations at Ellerslie, Te Papapa and Penrose, and even a bus service in the pipeline. For the motorist, there were concrete roads that ran straight to the estate. All the must-have conveniences were laid on from gas, water, electric lighting, and a shopping centre within a few minutes’ walk, although advertising didn’t specify where exactly the shops were. But not to worry, because the stores at Newmarket and Queen Street weren’t all that far away by tram.  To entice homeowners even more, the passing of the State Advances Amendment Act 1923 meant more money could be borrowed to put towards home ownership.

Image: Advertisement for Merrilands, Auckland Star, 14 May 1924.

As the community grew, new shops opened for business, and a hall was built. The Merrilands Hall (now Fergusson Hall) was a project of the Merrilands Ratepayers and Residents Association, and the Onehunga Borough Council. With the advent of rock and roll in the 1950s, the Merrilands Hall was known for its dances and being the home of the local rock’n’roll club. It even hosted local heartthrob Johnny Devlin, who performed for the teenage fans.

Image: Fergusson Hall, Fergusson Domain, Oranga, 2021, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1763-0055. Photographer: Blair Hastings

A Merrilands Sunday School for the children began at the hall but in 1939, the Baptist church built its own Merrilands Church. This was significant. Locals had been traveling into town to the Baptist Tabernacle on Queen Street, or to the Epsom and Royal Oak churches. With the growing popularity of the Boys and Girls Brigade movement, a church hall was added. 

Image: Aerial view of Oranga and Penrose, 1948, Whites Aviation, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 957-286

The local shops on the corner of Oranga Avenue and Rawhiti Road became known as the Merrilands Shopping Centre, and it was a good little centre to cater for family needs. There was a Merriland’s Hardware and Electrical Centre at 33 Oranga Avenue for your Masport Motor Mower, radiogram, paint, and leather goods, and down near the hall, Merrilands Motors for your mechanical repairs.

A Southern Leader advertising supplement for Christmas 1970 promoted Merrilands as the “complete shopping centre” offering the Merrilands Fruit Centre, Merrilands Fish Shop, Merrilands Dairy, and Merrilands Meats. There was also a craft shop, clothing shop, and newsagent, but change was soon afoot. The following year, advertising referred not to the Merrilands Shops, but the Oranga shops, and when the Chinese Baptist Fellowship bought the church hall, Merrilands Baptist amalgamated to became Onehunga-One Tree Hill Baptist Church. The church building itself was subsequently sold, and the suburb of Merrilands was a step closer to being a name of the past. 

Today, in what was once Merrilands, many of those early twentieth century bungalows are still around, although perhaps now on half-sections rather than the full-sized piece of land offered in the Garden Suburb, where one could plant fruit trees, and grow vegetables and rhubarb up the back yard. There is little left for anyone to know that there once existed a place called Merrilands that promised healthy living right on the slopes of Maungakiekie – except, perhaps, for those who remember growing up there, a long time ago.

Further reading: 

In the state of Merriland, Dorothy Murray, North & South, November 1989, p.41.

Author: Joanne Graves, Research and Heritage Services.



  1. Wonderful blog Joanne about a wonderful neighbourhood - my cat Licorice used to visit and bask in the sun in the windows of the shops you mention, he was famous on that corner. Lots of changes recently, but much loved area for those that know and love it. Arohanui.


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