New Regent Street in the 1930s: Theft, fire, and candy

Coming up soon, on Friday 1 April is the birthday of our local beauty, New Regent Street. It opened up on this day in 1932, 90 years ago!

At Tūranga we are hosting an exhibition about the history of the street, with images, activities and stories galore. We’re also looking further back into the past, investigating what the site was used for long before anyone proposed to turn it into a street of cute little Spanish Mission style shops. Spoiler: elephants and roller blades were involved (though sadly for our imaginations, not together…)

Come and visit us in Tūranga to see the exhibition which runs from 21 March 21 to 8 May.

This post is going to take a look at some of the locals, the businesses, the stories and the scandals from New Regent Street in the 1930s, all dug up by our local history librarians.

Thomas Hornsby, the rogue jeweller of New Regent Street?

Stepping onto New Regent Street from Gloucester Street, one of the first shops you would see was Thomas Hornsby’s jewellery shop at number 4 (where Gin Gin is today).

Thomas, a tall Englishman in his early thirties, with light brown hair and blue eyes, was a manufacturing jeweller who was known to work very late hours. One wintry night in June 1932, he left his shop at 11:30pm and forgot to take the diamond rings out of his window display as he usually did. During the night, a thief wrapped a stone in a sock and smashed the window, making off with two diamond rings and five watches, (valued at over £80 according to the newspaper, though the Police Gazette puts the price at £69 - adjusted for inflation this puts the value very roughly around $9000!) The thief left both stone, and sock, in the window. The Press reported this ‘Daring robbery’ and the New Zealand police gazette lists the stolen goods: 

This was not Thomas’s only brush with crime, either. A month later, he was charged for buying alluvial gold without a license, and in 1933 he was charged with breaching Coined Gold Regulations, quite a serious offence, though his counsel argued he hadn’t made any flagrant attempt to break the regulations.

In 1934, Thomas was in court again, this time charged with receiving a lady’s three-diamond ring (valued at £30 - about $4000). This ring had been stolen from the house of Henrietta Christina and Colonel James Murphy, who lived on Garden Road in Fendalton. The thief in question was a young man by the apt name of Ronald Dempsy Crook, who’d also been in trouble with the law before.

During the trial, Crook alleged that Thomas was his go-to man to sell stolen goods to, and that Thomas claimed ‘the police were no friends of his’. Thomas pleaded not guilty and was acquitted, and he carried on in the jewellery business for decades.

The "miraculous cures" of Madam Thora

Crossing the street and a little further down at number 13 was a very interesting clinic, the Salus Pad Company, with Madam Thora Galli.

In 1932, our Madam had left Timaru for Christchurch to take up the position of general secretary at their Head Office and Clinic on New Regent Street. The Salus Pad Company was a chain of clinics that offered ‘miraculous cures’ by way of 'electro-magnetic-therapic appliances, ultra-violet rays, infra-red rays' for a range of things like rheumatism and arthritis, all yours for ‘ridiculously moderate fees’! 

Thora Galli was probably a pseudonym for Arabella Ann Tate, born in Dunedin in 1884. 

Arabella’s third marriage was to Leon Clement Galli, an Italian born 'Electro, Magneto and Therapic Expert' of the Salus Pad Company. Though they didn’t officially get married till 1937, the name ‘Thora Galli’ appears in newspapers earlier than that suggesting she was going by this name for some time before their marriage.

Thora Galli was a ‘well known hair and skin specialist’ who lived and worked around Timaru and Ashburton before her move to New Regent Street. We think the Salus Pad Company was only on New Regent Street for a few years before the couple moved on. Thora/Arabella died in Devonport at age 80, in 1965.

'His and Hers' nextdoor businesses

Crossing back to the right side of the street, a few more shops down you’d find husband and wife duo running their businesses side by side. Amelia Jacob’s drapery ‘Junette’ (number 32) lasted until at least the 1940s but Harry Walter Benson Jacobs’ time on New Regent Street was not so successful.

Harry, born in Nelson in 1889 to Alice Susanna and Adnett John Jacobs, came from a huge family – his parents had fifteen children. Amelia, born in 1889 in Popotunoa, Otago to Jane and Albert Edward Hunt, came from a family of five. Harry and Amelia were married in 1913, and did not have any children. They were both in their early 40s when New Regent Street opened in 1932.

Harry was a signwriter by profession, and his shop was at number 30 sold "Neon signs, electric signs, day and night reflector signs” at “prices that defy competition”. 

From the 1st of April 1932 he also had the free use of shops 34 (now Over Ink) and 35 (now Rollicking Gelato) to use as showrooms for his signs. In 1933, a fire broke out in his display room at number 35. Harry claimed insurance on £479 of stock but the coroner, after a thorough investigation, was convinced that the value of stock lost did not exceed £100 and that the "valuation for insurance purposes had been grossly exaggerated. At the time, Jacobs was in financial difficulties. Although there is no direct evidence of the cause of the fire, the circumstances are highly suspicious..." 

A friendship sweeter than candy

Right next door to Amelia’s drapery was the delicious Kandy Kitchen, at number 34. This was run by girlpower duo Miss Aileen Agnes O’Donel and Miss Gwendoline Alice Aldred, and was opened on 11 April 1932, just a few days after the official opening of the street.

The ladies were the makers of ‘homemade sweets and novelties’ and were from quite different backgrounds. A confectioner and a cook, Aileen was born in Bengal, India in 1884, and Gwendoline was born in Wellington in 1895. They’d shifted their candy shop to number 21 by 1938, and after their time on New Regent Street they remained close until Aileen passed away in 1965. In her will, she left her money to Gwendoline. Gwendoline passed away in Christchurch 1983.

Find out more about New Regent Street

This is just a taste of what New Regent Street would have been like in 1932. For more stories, including tales of what came before, come and visit our exhibition on Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2 at Tūranga!

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