The architectural drawings collection of W. Philcox and Sons provides a unique insight into the activities of an Auckland building firm from around the turn of the 20th century and its associations with many prominent architects.1
Long list of successes
William Philcox (1838-1917) emigrated from England to Auckland in 1856 and began work as a builder. By the time he formed W. Philcox and Sons Builders in 1884, his reputation was already well established. The Auckland Evening Star reported: “Mr Philcox may add the new Star offices to the long list of successes which have marked his career as a builder in Auckland. Some of the handsomest edifices in the city have risen under his hands.”2The collection contains more than 1,260 drawings for around 85 building projects. It shows the firm worked with many of Auckland’s leading architects of the late 19th – early 20th century, including Edward Bartley, Gummer and Ford, Edward Mahoney and Son, Daniel B. Patterson, and Alexander Wiseman. Several significant and well-known buildings are represented, including the Remuera Public Library, the Auckland Ferry building, and the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind’s Jubilee building, all now protected by Heritage New Zealand.3
Unlike most collections held in the Architecture Archive, which are generally centred around one architect or architectural practice, this collection contains the work of many architects, representing a wide range of projects.
The city’s wider social and business connections can also be traced through the collection, including that of William Philcox and Edward Bartley, who worked as a builder alongside Philcox before training as an architect. Their building partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in 1876, but they continued to collaborate on projects, including on the design and construction of Devonport’s Holy Trinity Church. That project also illustrates the close social relationships the two men and their families enjoyed as Devonport residents and active members of the church congregation.
W. Philcox and Sons also independently designed and constructed significant industrial buildings, including numerous processing plants for Auckland Farmers’ Freezing Company and large warehouses in Parnell for the New Zealand Shipping Company, Farmer’s Auctioneering Company, and North Auckland Farmers’ Co-operative. The latter three buildings now have Auckland Council Heritage protection and their industrial past is a distant memory following their transformation into prestigious character offices.4
Enhanced archive records
A detailed listing of the W. Philcox and Sons Builders architectural drawings collection has now been added to the Manuscripts and Archives catalogue.
Special Collections display
- Visit the display of selected drawings from the collection until 15 January 2021 at Special Collections, General Library Level G.
Sarah Cox, Special Collections
Featured image: Milne and Choyce department store extensions (sheet 3 detail), W. Philcox and Sons Builders architectural drawings collection (PX11).
1 W. Philcox and Sons Builders architectural drawings collection. MSS & Archives Arch 2020/13.
2 Opening of the new offices of the “Auckland Evening Star”. (1884, November 29). Auckland Evening Star, p.4.
3 Search the list. (2020, November 12).