The reason this industrial street in the Waiwhakaiho Valley carries the name Constance remains elusive. Was it named after a migrant ship sailing from Plymouth to Adelaide in 1850? Did the location evoke an association with the city of Constance at the border between Germany and Switzerland? Could it be that New Plymouth residents wished to commemorate non-British royalty, for example, Queen Constance of Sicily?
More likely, however, is that it was the choice of the land owner, well-known New Plymouth lawyer Robert Clinton Hughes. We know that nearby Burton Street was named after his wife’s family. Perhaps, Hughes wished to immortalise the name of another woman who played an important role, not necessarily in his personal, but in New Plymouth’s cultural life?
Constance Helen Leatham, born in New Plymouth on 3 March 1891, was a well-known New Zealand pianist and violinist. She was one of the three daughters of Dr H. B. Leatham, then medical superintendent of New Plymouth Hospital.
Constance studied music in New Plymouth and England. As early as 1915, she enchanted audiences in New Plymouth and throughout New Zealand with her solo pianoforte recitals.
She also played first violin in the Wellington Choral Society Orchestra. During the two World Wars, she performed at charity concerts and later gave many broadcast recitals. The New Zealand composer, Larry Pruden (1925-1982), was one of her many piano pupils.
Constance Leatham gave her last public performance at age 87, raising funds for the Ironside Vehicle Society of New Plymouth. The audience of more than 350 showed their respect and affection for her with a standing ovation. She died the following year on 30 May 1979.
Until someone comes forward with more evidence about the origin of the street’s name, why not celebrate Constance Leatham, the remarkable piano virtuoso from New Plymouth.
This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.