Heritage: Rendells Dept Store

RENDELLS Department Store




Rendells was a major retailer of clothing and flourished throughout most of the 20th century supplying ready-to-wear clothes to the people of Auckland.

Although they opened many suburban branches Rendell's maintained a presence in K Road until very recently when the Rendells chain was sold to Postie Plus.




John Rendell and his wife Emily emigrated from Britain in the 1880s. Rendell had worked in various Drapery establishments in London and Brighton but intended a new life in the antipodes.

He bought a dairy farm in the Waikato but being unsuccessful in that line of work he eventually moved back to Auckland and returned to his old trade.

The Rendells opened a clothing shop on the corner of Pitt and Grey Streets. (Grey Street was renamed Greys Avenue in 1927.) When occupied by the Rendells the building was called Brighton House; the Rendells had lived in Brighton, England and several of their children (six daughters and two sons) had been born there.

m..ost drapery shops of the period sold fabrics rather than actual made up garments, most people at this time made their own clothing at home or employed a dressmaker or tailor.

There was very little in the way of ready to wear clothing available until the Parisian Department Stores of the 1890s ventured into selling Ready-to-wear [or Pret-au-porter] garments.

.“Where the Baby Outfit Parcels come from"


“Where the Baby Outfit Parcels come from"

Rendells specialised in Baby and children's wear and initally were the only specialist babywear retailer in the Colony.

They became very successful because of their standardised "Baby Parcels" (as seen in the advertisement above).

This was a standard set of items which could be ordered by expectant mothers and easily mailed to anywhere in the country (money refunded if unsatisfactory).


Advertisement for a babycare demonstration.

By 1900 Rendells had moved to larger premises on the corner of K Road and Upper Pitt St. (now Mercury Lane).


Rendells second shop circa 1900 [extreme left]

In 1904 they commissioned the architect William Holman to design a new building especially for them on Karangahape road between Queen Street and Pitt Street.

This was a three storied brick building seen in the postcard below, which stood out from the other buildings on the ridge (most of which were only one or two stories high and constructed of wood).


The new Building


1904 Building 1911 [left] 1904 [right]

Their business obviously flourished because in 1911 they got Holman back to double the size of the building.

If you look at the front of the old Rendells shop you can see that the brick work is slightly different in colour; the portion to the right is the original 1904 building, the façade to the left the 1911 addition.


The newly completed Facade

The doubling of the K road façade left William Holman with a problem. Had such a large building been wanted to begin with he would have designed it symmetrically with a window in the middle, instead he was left with the problem of a structural wall on the interior and double pilasters (engaged columns) sitting in the middle of the exterior façade.

To get around this he placed the small pediment in the middle of the cornice and surmounted the building with a domed cupola to draw the eye upwards so it doesn't dwell on the double pilasters.

Even with the dome no longer extant this architectural trick still works.



The Splendid new building on the ridge


The completed building around 1911.

The cupola was probably removed after the Napier earthquake in 1931 when many buildings throughout New Zealand had architectural detailing removed.

Auckland isn't really susceptible to earthquakes but they were probably not very clear on that at the time.


The entrance around 1920.

Part of the new look was a splendid new entrance foyer to entice shoppers off the street - extra window frontage was created by this area - which was paved in porcelain mosaic tiles.

The windows were framed with stained and bevelled glass panels to add sparkle.


The new Modern way of Shopping.


One of the new developments in retailing at the end of the 19th century was making the experience of shopping more enjoyable for customers. One of the most important improvements was the provision of toilets and tearooms.


The Kensington Tearooms

The newly extended Rendells included a refreshment room called "the Kensington Tearooms" (obviously an allusion to the genteel London Suburb, which was the location of Harrods Department Store, amongst other things).

Facilities such as tearooms (and toilets) encouraged women to spend more time shopping, especially in pairs or groups.

It is now such a standard habit for ladies to meet for lunch and go shopping as a group that it seems improbable that there was ever a time when this didn't happen, but apparently this was a new development.

(See this article on how different shopping was before the 20th century).

1912 Christmas Card

Rendell's stayed open until 11.00 pm. on Saturday nights and all six of their daughters worked in the store.

“On more than one occasion after 17 hours on the job, there would be a slim, childish figure draped over a sample box, with dozens of men's stiff collars, ladies' kid gloves and scarves of all shapes and sizes surrounding her."


.The Rendell's department store was a distinctive presence on K Road. The copper roofed cupola with its brass weathervane glinting in the sun was visible all the way down Queen street.


Telephoto view from the harbour 1924 Rendells Ltd [centre] Baptist Tabernacle [left] and Pitt Street Church [right]

Auckland's Oxford Street


Rendells as the centre of K Road in the early 1920s

When John Rendell died in 1938 the business was taken over by John Rendell jnr, then Owen Rendell [son of Frank Rendell], who expanded the business with suburban branches.

In 1980 John Rendell's great-grandson Geoff Rendell took over running the family firm.


“Where You Can Be Smart and Thrifty"

“There's A Good Deal More"

During the 20th century Rendells Ltd opened several suburban branches.

The Karangahape Road branch remained the flagship store and headquarters until the first decade of the 21st century.

Unlike many other businesses of its age Rendells Ltd had never become a Public Business with shares on the stockmarket.

It had remained a private family business until it was sold to Postie Plus around 2006.

Postie Plus initially intended to retain a Karangahape Road presence but moved the shop to a location nearby and sold the Rendells building. The new Postie Plus shop was closed a couple of years later.

Rendells is remembered fondly by many former customers and employees.

Late 1920s advertisement for ladies Hats

Edward Bennett