The China Shop
David Langley - China and Glass Importers, Dunedin, New Zealand
The Shop in the Arcade
David Ottolangui's China Shop figured prominently in the life of the New Zealand Langley family. However, surprisingly little details remains of the story of the Dunedin business which was central to the fortunes of the family for 55 years. The following has been reconstructed on the basis of what information we have been able to find in the historical record and from the memories of David and Agnes's surviving grandchildren and great grandchildren.
When David actually arrived in New Zealand is still unclear. However, 1875 was for David a very special year - on 18th March he married Agnes Dossett and later in the year, on 25th October, his business opened with great fanfare in Dunedin's newly refurbished 'Royal Arcade'. The Royal Arcade was the brainchild of one Henry Farley - one of Dunedin's most enterprising businessmen1. The early Arcade, built in the early 1860's, was a row of shanty-styled shops and street stalls erected to catch the trade of the gold miners as they rushed to Central Otago to 'try their luck' in the goldfields.
Maclaggan Street in the early 1860's. The picture shows the wooden structure of the first Royal Arcade (centre of picture) under construction running from Maclaggan St in the foreground through private land to High St (right of picture).
The arcade was so commercially successful that it became the main shopping area of Dunedin for the next 50 years. The original Arcade was divided into 50 small shops each measuring on 13ft 6in deep. Built on private land, it was dubbed 'Fleet Street', although the name never seemed to have been popular with the locals.
By 1886, the wooden lean-to buildings were torn down and the first block of two-story buildings were built. In 1875, the leases of the old shops had expired and the Arcade's developer, Henry Farley completely renovated it, adding a grand and lofty roof which connected the two rows of brick buildings.
This was David Langley's big chance. His timing was impeccable. The shops were again available for lease, and David managed to secure Shop No. 3 to establish his business. In a series of advertisements in the city's newspapers, the announcement was made that the Royal Arcade was to be re-opened on October 25 with a grand promenade concert. Tickets to the opening could be obtained for 1 shilling from all the principal Dunedin hotels - there were 103 in Dunedin at the time - or in the Arcade itself. The proceeds were to be donated to the Benevolent Institution. The full band of the Royal Artillery was present at the grand opening and played a number of popular numbers.
The Arcade was now a very up-market place to shop. The finest imported goods and materials of the world were available to the local townspeople who could promenade through the Arcade under the lofty glass roof which was illuminated on late shopping nights and on special occasions by gas jets. An overhead gallery built on iron posts formed a platform for brass band concerts and organ recitals.
Interior of the Arcade 1905 looking through towards High Street. David's shop is located at the end of the Arcade on the far left, beyond the band gallery which can be seen in the centre of the picture.
Located in Dunedin's most prestigious and busiest shopping centre, the china and glass shop was obviously a great success. From 1875 to 1879, the Langley family household (and their warehouse) was located on lower Maclaggan St, somewhere between the Arcade and Clark St. In the early 1880's the family moved to Cannongate, situated on the side of the steep hill which looks down on Maclaggan St. By 1884, they had returned to lower Maclaggan St but within the next three years they had moved a block further up the street to number 77, just above Clark St.
The business had obviously been so successful that David had been able to purchase section 47 which contained a row of tenement houses - numbers 71, 73, 75 and 77 2. It appears that the other houses were rented out, although family tradition has it the Agnes was completely unaware of the fact that David owned valuable property in the central commercial district until after he died
In 1905, David commissioned Dunedin Builders C. W Wilkinson, to design and build a new shop with living quarters for the family above it at 71 Maclaggan St. In about 1906-7, David must have given up the shop at the Arcade3, and opened the shop in the new building at number 71. The family moved into the new house above the shop and remained there until David's death in November 1907.
Front elevation and plans of the new two storied shop and house at 71 Maclaggan St, taken from the blueprint held at Dunedin City Council. Built in 1905, the building was eventually demolished in 1964.
What the reasons were for quitting the shop in the Arcade are unknown, but we may speculate. By 1907, the business had been established for over 30 years - well enough established perhaps for it not to be reliant on the foot traffic in the Arcade. In any case, the importance of the shops in the Arcade had begun to dwindle from about the turn of the century as the centre of Dunedin's commercial activity began to move away from the area to what are now the city's main streets - Princes and George Streets. As the century wore on, this process accelerated and by the middle of the 1920's this once proud area was commonly regarded as the haunt of undesirables, many of whom were believed to live in Maclaggan Street and in the surrounding older residential district. Undoubtedly the savings in rent, which in the Arcade were purportedly rather high, would have been considerable.
Perhaps it was this deterioration in the commercial viability of area that prompted David to consider moving his family to Melbourne. He apparently made a trip to Australia 4, where he had a number of relatives, to scout for opportunities. However, the move was never made. In November 1907, shortly after his return home to Dunedin, David died suddenly and unexpectedly.
The Royal Arcade about 1886 - the High Street entrance. David's shop was next to the bookshop (Joseph Braithwaite), on the right hand side just inside the roofed area. The closest we got to finding a photo of the shop.
Nothing remains of the old shop today - in 2001, Cousin Sue Wesley and I went looking. In 1929 the Arcade was torn down and eventually ownership of the land passed to Dunedin City. Where the Arcade once stood, the new street of Broadway emerged.
Pieces of china from the shop undoubtedly survive in the households of the descendants of the Langley family. My family has several pieces of Royal Doulton "Dickensware", and a large "Poppyware" meat dish which came originally from the shop. Rona Slater (daughter of Ethel) has a large Royal Doulton bulldog with a Union Jack on its back. There were apparently a number of these bulldogs which may yet be found in some Langley households. Few recollections of the shop appear to have survived however. Ethel remembered that when the "children were good" they were allowed to go to the shop to help dust the wares5.
The New Business - Langley & Son
After David died (1907), a new chapter in the history of the business opened. The shop at 71 Maclaggan Street continued to be listed for a few years under David's name in the local Trade Directory 6 as "David Langley (Mrs. Agnes Langley) China and Glass Importer" and the family continued to live above the shop. However, by 1909, Agnes had moved away from the area and had taken up residence in the more fashionable residential area in St. Kilda at Queen's Drive. Agnes's second son, Albert Victor David (known as Victor) worked in the shop as a salesman for a few years and in about 1912 must have taken a financial stake in the business as the business name changed to "Langley and Son". Whether Victor's older brother Maurice had an interest in the shop is not clear, but in any case, by 1910 he had already established his own "Coal and Wood Merchant" business in Frederick St.
'Langley and Son' continued to trade from 71 Maclaggan St, and between 1922 and 1926, had an additional warehouse across the road at number 36. In 1925-6, Langley and Son had a stall at the famous Dunedin Exhibition. It is probable that this stall is the origin of a number of small red cut-glass cups which can still be found in the china cabinets of some of the Langley descendants 7. My father can remember being taken to the Exhibition when he was about 8 by his Grandmother Agnes, and getting the little red glass cup which he kept as a souvenir all his life.
Glasses such as these were etched with commemorative messages
and sold at the Dunedin Exhibition of 1925-26, probably from the Langley and Son stall.
With the approaching depression of the 30's, the business began to run into trouble. The story is told of how the family lawyer arrived at the Queen's Drive residence to inform Agnes that her business was insolvent8, (the date of this incident is unknown). After Agnes's death in December 1930, the business closed9. Victor remained in Dunedin for another 3-4 years, but then finally made the trip that his father had planned in 1907, and in about 1934 left with his family for Australia seeking greener pastures. At some point the buildings in Maclaggan St would have been sold, and the story that Victor left for Australia with 60,000 pounds in his pocket, remains a tradition handed down in his older brother's (Maurice's) family.
Paul Sulzberger, 2001.
1. Most of the information about the Arcade comes from "A Fading Era from Dunedin's Hectic past", Evening Star, Dunedin, 6th April 1963.
2. Dunedin City Council records.
3. No further mention of David's shop in the Arcade in Stone's Directory after 1906. By 1907, Shop 3 was occupied by an Umbrella Maker.
4. Private communication from Florence Johnson (daughter of Frances) 2001.
5. Recollection of Ethel's daughter Rona Slater 2001.
6. Stones Otago and Southland Directory 1909.
7. The Sulzberger (descendants of Cissy) household has one, etched with "To Jack from Grandma". Rona Slater (daughter of Ethel) has one, and Florence Johnson (daughter of Frances) also has one.
8. Personal communication from Florence Johnson (daughter of Frances).
9. The last mention of 'Langley and Son' in Stones Directory is in the 1930 edition.