History Marvon Downs

A historic homestead in Pakuranga

Marvon Downs was built in 1931 as the farm homestead for Archie and Gladys (nee Armitage) Millen on their 100-acre town supply dairy farm. At the time, it was considered to be one of Auckland’s most modern houses. 

Archie had a herd of Friesian cows as well as a few Jersey cows. There was a shell driveway, made from cockle shells from Eastern Beach, which swept up to and beneath a pergola that extended out from the front door over wide front steps and the entrance way. The driveway was later concreted. Two large phoenix palm trees dominated the front lawn and there were colourful flower beds around the house.

The Marvon Downs homestead was designed by Norman Wade, an architect who was also president of the Auckland Trotting Club, where Archie Millen was an active member. Norman was a relative of Archie Millen.

The homestead was completed in 1931 and cost £1200, which was during the Great Depression and built with heart kauri weatherboard. Mr Abernethy was the builder.

Marvon Downs was named after a prominent trotting horse owned by Robert Millen in the early 1930s. Robert was very keen on trotting horses but Archie Millen was keen on the racehorses (gallopers).

Part of the Marvon Downs farm included the dammed creek that flows under Pakuranga Road, parallel to Gossamer Drive, of today. The dam of fresh water was for the cattle and it had a concrete and stone spillway at about the end of Pixie Place, of today. The dam may have been built by the Qualtroughs (who moved the old Methodist Church to a corner of their farm circa 1865) or probably Robert Millen who used to own both sides of the creek in early years.

Archie Millen loved horses and horse racing. He owned a champion galloper, “Somerset Fair”. His father and his grandfather were blacksmith farmers. Archie used to wag school to watch the Pakuranga Hunt and he captained the Auckland Polo Club even at A and P shows giving demonstrations of chariot and sledge racings. Archie bought a promising colt called “Fair’s Fair” from his cousin, Norman Wade for 350 guineas. The horse was then called Somerset Fair and was raced in New Zealand and Australia having 10 wins in the 1954-55 season. He also raced other horses such as Somerset Shah, Somerset Pride, Somerset Sheik. The Millen’s kept using horses on their farms longer than other farmers who bought tractors, as they loved horses.

The farmhouse had a large barn and cowshed for milking the cows behind the farmhouse. There were rooms here for a farm worker.

The farm was sold in 1971 for residential subdivision. Some roads have commemorated Marvon Downs, such as Archmillen Avenue, Tupaki Place and Pixie Place (after their daughter’s pony), Marvon Downs Avenue and Walworth Avenue. 

Archie’s wife, Gladys Millen (nee Armitage) had money from her father’s business (Pullan, Armitage & Co, a horse-bus and taxi business in Auckland) to help buy the farm.

They baked their hay using a square stationary baker and later used a baker that was hauled through the windows. Draught horses used to haul a hayrake through the 1950s and earlier.

Marvon Downs had heavy crops of mushrooms during autumn. Harvesters could fill a basket in minutes. The mushrooms had pink under the white cap. They also gathered horse mushrooms from under the trees.

Archie Millen grazed his cattle on the Pakuranga flats, between Roberts Road down to Millen Avenue and the Tamaki River. They were driven down the Pakuranga Road after morning milking and return between 2.30pm to 3pm. The bus drivers of Howick buses cursed the herds of cattle on the road, holding up traffic. In winter, the Pakuranga Flats were puggy with cows up to their udders in mud, a good run off but impossible to make hay on the rough surface. The Millens leased about 40 acres on Pakuranga Flats. 

Archie was Benjamin Archibald Logan Millen (called Archie), but Woolf Fisher (another Pakuranga farmer) called him Ben.  Archie was born in a Catholic priest’s home but was anti-Catholic and a strong Orangeman. Robert Millen was a blacksmith. 

As a boy, Archie rode his horse to Pakuranga School, then on William Green Domain. (It is now in Howick Historical Village).

When Pakuranga Road was widened in the 1970s one of the large Phoenix Palms was replanted opposite the Pakuranga Plaza shopping centre, near one of the entrances to the Rotary walkway.

By Alan La Roche (14/5/2015)