High drama at Alberton
Behind one of Auckland’s best known historic houses is a little known love story with all of the trimmings of a classic.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alberton.
The Mt Albert house was built in 1863 by businessman Allan Kerr Taylor who once owned vast tracts of Auckland land.
His wife Sophia Kerr Taylor was a well-known women’s rights advocate.
Despite their prominence, the family history is still new to their great-granddaughter Margaret Guyver.
Her grandmother Violet Kerr Taylor was cut off by Sophia when she married. As a schoolgirl Violet attracted the attention of working class English shipping clerk Alfred Gilmore.
‘‘Family tradition has it that he would meet her walking home from school and carry her books,’’ Mrs Guyver says.
Mr Gilmore was invited to parties at Alberton which was famous for its balls and hunts, but it was clear he’d never be welcomed by Sophia as Violet’s husband.
‘‘Sophia was against any of her daughters marrying,’’ Mrs Guyver says. ‘‘We’re not sure why she was such a party pooper. She might have wanted to be the queen bee with all her daughters around her but it’s more likely that she thought her daughter’s admirers weren’t suitable.’’
One morning in 1894 20-yearold Violet put on her hat and coat, told her mother she was going shopping and instead went and married Alfred.
The original story is that the couple headed straight for the docks and fled to England.
In fact they lived in Mt Eden for a few years where Mrs Guyver’s father Maurice was born.
In 1899 the second Boer War broke out and Mr Gilmore decided to move the family back to England so he could join up with his old regiment and head to South Africa to fight.
‘‘He rushed down and booked apparently the worst possible cabin on the next ship sailing to England. My grandmother, who was expecting another baby, was loaded on with my father and never returned to New Zealand.
‘‘We don’t know if she and Sophia ever made up,’’ she says. Mr Gilmore died in the 1940s. Mrs Guyver lives in England and only started to learn about Alberton as an adult from cousins visiting the UK.
‘‘Violet had a picture of Alberton in her living room and she sometimes mentioned her sisters but that was about it.
‘‘She had a light touch though. I could tell she’d been somewhere where there had been parties and horses and things.’’
Mrs Guyver first visited Alberton in 2005.
‘‘I was quite taken with the dining room. When I first walked into it, it was almost exactly like my grandmother’s,’’ she says.
‘‘Her house was a little ordinary English house, and although she left with nothing it had a lot of Alberton style things in it.’’
This year Mrs Guyver returned to celebrate the 150th anniversary.
She’s now well acquainted with family folklore including a story that could explain the naming of Morningside. Edinburgh in Scotland also has a suburb called Morningside. In the 1800s it was home to a mental institution.
Many of Allan Kerr Taylor’s brother also owned land around Auckland.
‘‘They thought he was mad to buy this part of land so they started calling it Morningside,’’ Mrs Guyver says. . Alberton was gifted to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1972.
Returning home: Margaret Guyver returns to Alberton to celebrate its 150th anniversary. She is the greatgranddaughter of Allan Kerr Taylor who built the house.
Family portrait: Mildred, Muriel, Sophia, Winifred and Violet Kerr Taylor in 1893.