Monday, 23 January 2017

The Evolution of a Country Blacksmithing Business


"Heenan's General Blacksmith", circa 1937-38
Note the blackened forge chimney.
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

In my past career working in a professional  archive, it was very interesting to see collections of old accounts and invoices which enabled us to see how these businesses had evolved over time and how they related to local areas. One such collection later made the subject of a very interesting public talk. Such documents illustrate the products and types of services offered to the local community, business expansion, inclusion of younger family members, expanded product ranges and services, diversification, and sale of the business to subsequent owners. This blog charts one such rural country business over a period of close to 80 years, but primarily using a fairly extensive and unique collection of invoices, records and photographs from my own family collections. As we shall see, these records clearly illustrate all of the above.

In my recent blog featuring the South Hillend Dairy Co-Operative Factory at the corner of State Highway 96 and the Hundred Line in Central Southland, New Zealand, I mentioned a blacksmithing business over the road. It is this business that forms the basis of this blog and charts the evolution over no less than four owners from a country Horseshoer, Blacksmith and Wheelright business in 1901 to an Engineering firm and full service garage operating through to the early 1980's. While technically located in the rural district of Heddon Bush, it also straddles the northern boundary of South Hillend.

Invoice from "P. Sheedy, Blacksmith",
Dated  31st January 1904

The first evidence of a Blacksmith at Heddon Bush is Mr Patrick (Paddy) Sheedy from July 1903 (as per the above invoice). Prior to this date my Grandfather used smithies in Drummond, Isla Bank, and Wrey's Bush which were all some distance away so it appears there was then no resident or qualified blacksmith at Heddon Bush prior to at least this date. Sheedy's work will have been based wholly around his forge, from making and fitting horse shoes to waggon tyres to repairing agricultural machinery and any manufacturing or repair work relating to metalworking in general. It was from this time that the strategic crossroads location became commonly known as "Sheedy's corner".

Long-time Heddon Bush resident as well as being our old neighbour, the late George Catto (1893-1990), recalled in 1981; "The blacksmith was an important person in any farming district, his work including shoeing horses, setting up ploughs, and repairing the agricultural implements. The blacksmith's forge where intense heat was generated by blowing into the fire with a huge bellows with a long handle, was always a fascinating sight as the cold iron was raised to a red hot condition before the blacksmith transferred it with his tongs to the anvil, there to hammer it into the desired shape with uncanny skill."  

Obviously a talented and bright man, Sheedy's 'claim to fame' while at Heddon Bush appears to have been the invention and patent of a "turnip topping and slicing machine". In September 1908 a group of around 70 farmers came to see the machine in operation, cutting the tops off a dray load of turnips as well as slicing them in a matter of just four minutes. "The operation was watched with great interest by a large body of farmers present who backed up their appreciation of the machine by placing numerous orders with the inventor."

In September 1912 we now find Sheedy advertising to new and existing clients that he has removed to new premises in the Main Street of Otautau, advertising himself as a "Horseshoer and General Blacksmith". By this time there were apparently three blacksmiths working around the Heddon Bush district.


Invoice from "Heddon Bush Shoeing Forge -
General Blacksmith & Horseshoer",
Dated 24 Feb 1922

The purchaser of his old Heddon Bush premises would be Mr Andrew (Andy) Melrose who marketed his business as the "Heddon Bush Shoeing Forge". I can find no record of where he may have worked previously nor the business being advertised for sale so it is certainly possible that he had been working for and qualified as an apprentice Blacksmith under Sheedy.


Receipt from the "Heddon Bush Shoeing Forge", 25th March 1922
Note the requisite stamps in payment of transactional stamp duty.

As with his predecessor, the breadth of his work and skills is impressive. I note on the invoice to my Grandfather that Melrose made and removed horse shoes, repaired bridle bits, manufactured bolts, cut notches in a "rack", repaired spokes of a mill, cut two waggon tyres, and bushed two wheels. And this is but one invoice.

It was during this period that Melrose purchased the cottage previously built for the South Hillend Co-operative Dairy Company manager and shifted it over the road next to his premises. You can see it in the first photo below.

I find it interesting that during these early years my Gt. Gt. Uncle, William Watson, and living no more than two kilometers away just down Boyle Road, went to the great expense of having a small forge building built on his farm where he installed a portable forge in the form of a large iron table with upturned sides, cast iron legs, and the requisite forced air operated by (from memory) a hand turned blower. As he had fully "tractorised" his farm from around 1913 there wasn't a lot of shoeing to be done! My father obtained this portable forge from my Gt. Uncle in 1955 and recalled the "great fun" we children had seeing it in use (I remember this occasion) and the red hot metalwork being hammered over a large anvil. In the earlier years, as in my Father's day, it probably didn't make economic sense to use your own forge just for occasional use so it was probably more of a hobby activity as my Watson family continued to regularly use the local smithing and engineering business.

In early 1924 Melrose issued his last invoice to my Grandfather. In June 1924, a qualified Blacksmith, Mr Alfred (Alf) Heenan, bought out the business, having worked for Melrose since earlier that year. Alf (whom I remember very well) and then just in his early twenties, had from 1922 previously served his apprenticeship in blacksmithing at Clifden in Western Southland. Part of his work involved shoeing the six horse teams which pulled the heavy waggon loads of supplies up to 15 times a day to the Monowai hydro-electric plant.


Invoice from "A.G. Heenan, General Blacksmith",
dated 3rd Oct 1924

The smithy was, when purchased, just 18ft by 24ft with no electricity, hanging kerosene brass lanterns with enamel or white painted reflectors then being in common use. This old weatherboard and corrugated iron roofed building was soon extended. During this earlier period of sole charge,  Alf initially worked the smithy alone. Desiring to go on his honeymoon, he simply left the door of the smithy unlocked and a note on the door, "Anyone who needs tools, please help yourself". Upon his return only one spanner was missing. "Alf declared until the day he died that it would not have been a local who took it". Otherwise when he was away, locals were always "free to come and go as they wished", entering any purchases in a charge notebook. No other items were ever unaccounted for.

Invoice from "A.G. Heenan, General Blacksmith",
Dated 6th Sept 1928

His wife Nellie recalled that in these early years even she was called in on occasion to work the bellows, their home being alongside the smithy (or "The Smiddy" as my Scottish born Gt. Grandmother down the road always referred to it). It was not uncommon to receive part or full "payment in kind", such as meat, during the depression years as it suited them and thus avoided embarrassment on the part of seasonally cash strapped farmers. I note my Grandfather often used this convenient method of payment, even for his Dentist. I perceive the tax man would have something to say about that now!

It took Alf a day to shoe five horses, the busy times being December through to February so that the horses were well shod before harvest time and for the carting of the requisite coal for the thrashing mills from the mine at Nightcaps. The gravel roads were then exceedingly smooth, "the steel-shod tyres of the wagons rolled the stones into a smooth surface".


"Heenan's General Blacksmith", circa 1938-39
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

Alf witnessed the slow decline from horse power to motorized transport in the district, aided himself by the installation of a petrol pump to cater for this new demand. The first petrol sold was "Tydol Motor Spirit" until bought out by the "Shell" company. Mrs Heenan recalled that they got threepence a gallon on selling "Tydol", the underground tank being refilled by the company from four gallon cans. By the late 1930's there were now three pumps. You can make out the "Shell" name and emblem on one of the pumps as well as on an advertising sign. A "Firestone" tyre advertising sign can also be discerned at the apex of the roof.

As my Grandfather's 1938 Ford V8 sedan is parked next to the pumps the photo would have been take after on or after 1938 but before the new house was built in 1939. I can in fact recall Mrs Heenan saying that the new house had been built a little too close to the workshop and garage for her liking, convenient maybe but noisy being just next door. I believe the new concrete and corrugated iron garage and workshop building probably also dates to 1939. By the 1930's this intersection of two busy roads was now known in the district as "Heenan's corner", a name that would remain for the next half century.

Licence for AG Heenan to Issue Fuel & Oil during the
Second World War / Immediate Post War Period.   

Heenan's Engineering & Garage, circa 1954
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

Slowly the nature of the business changed and diversified from a smithy to that of "a country garage" and the nature of the business adapted accordingly. One part of this changeover to servicing mechanized equipment included adapting a multitude of horse-drawn farm implements for use behind tractors. This was a task apparently more challenging than it sounds as he spent many a night thinking about the various "and [often] very odd" suggestions made to him as to how this might be achieved from a practical perspective. My own paternal family did not purchase their first tractor until 1942 so the regular shoeing and servicing of horse teams continued for some years.


Heenan's Engineering & Garage including the owner's House, circa 1954
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

By the 1950's, practically all the work appears to have been related to vehicle servicing, engineering / welding, and fuel sales. The name "Heenan Engineering Company Ltd" was first registered in 1950 and appears on the side of the building and the porch. The business also held the agencies for "Booth MacDonald" pumps and other machinery items. To facilitate and encourage orders for the former the family built and operated a well-drilling machine fitted to the back of an old Ford Truck.


Heenan's Engineering, circa 1956
Note the men sitting chatting, a common occurrence.
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

By the late 1950's Alf's two sons were brought into the business. By 1962 Alf, and at the age of 60, "retired" and turned his hand to farming, leasing a nearby farm from my family. One of his sons, Robert (Bob) Heenan, continued to run the garage and engineering business. A popular product made by the firm were "sheep handlers" constructed of sheetmetal, around 1,700 being sold over the following eight years and keeping three men busy.

Heenan's Engineering, circa 1956
[Photo taken by William Dykes]

I can recall the garage and workshop area through the 1960's, an area that members of the general public, let alone curious children, would not be able to wander around in today's safety conscious age. I always found the large welding goggles somewhat creepy. From memory the pumps were for "regular", "super" and kerosene, with oil and tins of grease also being available. I note in the colour image that, surprisingly, the garage had pumps for Shell, Europa and BP fuels.

On the 30th November 1964 this intersection of two strategic roads unfortunately claimed the life of Otautau Watchmaker and Jeweller, Mr WJ Wesney and his wife Mrs GL Wesney, who both died together in a motor accident aged 76 and 64 years respectively. The angular nature of the intersection may have been a contributing factor although visibility is not unduly obstructed by the garage building. The Heenan's were probably one of the first on the scene to witness this dreadful carnage.


A skilfully made miniature armchair made from
a tin beer can by retired engineer Mr Alf Heenan
in the 1970's and presented to my parents.
[From my own collection]

From the late 1960's the construction of portable farm buildings and hay barns now became a large part of their business. One of Heenan's welded steel truss and corrugated iron sheds blew down in a storm on my Uncle's farm in the late 1960's due to inadequate foundations and had to be totally rebuilt by the company. This was also an acknowledged problem with their removable but handy farm sheds build on skids when faced with a strong Southland westerly storm and "quite a few became airborne". Building sheds suitable for Southland conditions no doubt proved to be somewhat of a learning curve for Mr Heenan and his team of engineers.

The site of Heenan's Former Premises, 2010
[Source : Google Maps]

Further diversification and expansion in the 1970's saw the business move in the early 1980's to larger premises at Winton in order to accommodate an enlarged workforce, "leaving the [old] workshop to the starlings".  The old building is now well kept but in private ownership with the adjoining house and grounds attractively landscaped.


Copyright of Images :

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own family collection and may be used for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- Dykes family papers and photographs (from my own collection)
- Cochrane family papers (from my own collection)
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "The Southland Times"
- "Looking Back 100 Years - Heddon Bush School 1881-1981" (from my own collection)
- "Tales of the Turi : South Hillend Centenary 1884-1984", by Marjorie Cairns & Frank Plunkett
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library


Monday, 16 January 2017

An 1860's Scottish Grandfather Clock by James Peat, Carluke


Grandfather Clock by James Peat,
Carluke, Lanarkshire, Scotland, c.1860's

Having already featured two Grandfather [longcase] Clocks in my possession this is the third and final one, being sold by Watchmaker and Jeweller James Peat of Chapel Street, Carluke in Lanarkshire Scotland around the 1860's. This blog features not only a video of the clock and melodious bell chime [at the bottom of this page] but also a delightful poem which I stumbled across quite by accident in a local paper and dates, rather appropriately, from 1861. "The Old Eight Day Clock" very aptly reflects how I feel about this lovely old timepiece (which has an eight-day brass mechanism) so I am pleased to bring the clock and poem together in this blog.

This clock, which is now around 150 years old, has probably been in family ownership since 1872 when my Gt. Grandfather took out a nineteen year lease on the farm of 'Candermains' near Stonehouse in Lanarkshire. While I note a family loan of £250.0.0 to James Peat "Watchmaker of Carluke" and his wife Agnes Shirlaw in November 1875 I cannot make any direct link with the clock so can only assume that my family purchased it second hand. Whether the connection to James Peat (also possibly a family connection by marriage) played any part in my family choosing this clock I could not say. 

Although James Peat is known to have been in business in Carluke from at least July 1871 we cannot, from surviving records, accurately determine an earlier date. The style of this clock would however strongly indicate that it dates from the 1860’s. The mechanism and enamelled face plate, most likely both made in Birmingham, would have been bought in with the mahogany and veneer case being manufactured by or for the Watchmaker in Carluke. Peat died in Carluke on the 24th April 1910 aged 62 years so working on his own by the mid 1860's is certainly plausible. Peat's wife Agnes died on the 29th August 1894 aged 42 years.


A "Watchpaper" from James Peat of Carluke
placed inside a double-pair case pocket watch
for cushioning and as advertising
[From my own collection]

My late Great Aunt knew at the very least that this clock was in her parent's possession at "Candermains" by 1883. But an accurate timepiece such as a Grandfather clock was then practically a necessity which leads me to believe that it would most likely have been purchased nearer the start of the tenancy. The clock eventually came to New Zealand in early 1911 when my family emigrated from Scotland and it passed into my ownership upon my Scottish born Great Aunt's death in 1978. I am now the fourth generation in my family to own this clock.

I find the sound of a grandfather clock chiming a comforting sound, especially during the night. The plate glass on the face door, being slightly wavy, is certainly original and very thin. Considering the moves the clock has witnessed (around seven), plus additionally being shipped half way around the world, it is probably a miracle that it has not been broken. The enamel painting could be considered somewhat näive in style, especially in the arch, and no doubt reflects the mass produced nature of such items in the mid Victorian era, but is nonetheless charming. With an annual clean, oil and occasional full service by a qualified horologist this clock will easily see out another 150 years and spare parts are even now fairly readily available. 

Here is the poem I referred to (I have omitted one verse), being published as "Original Poetry" in the "Otago Witness", Dunedin, New Zealand on the 17th August 1861, the author being "Robin" which is possibly a non de plume. I will add detail relating to the painted enamel clock face under each image (click images for full size) :  

"The Old Eight-Day Clock

The old eight day clock
That stands by the wall,
Proclaiming the hours
From morn to nightfall,
With its gentle click, click,
And musical strike,
Cheering the gloom
Of the shadowy night. 


The theme is "Commerce" showing "Britannia"
with a Trident Surveying the Continents.

The old eight-day clock
Is a family heir-loom;
It witnessed our birth,
And youth's rosy bloom;
It has clicked while fond hearts 
Did in wedlock unite;
It has clicked while the spirit
Has taken its flight.


"Britannia" with her Trident and Laurel headdress in a
Harbour Scene representing Commerce and World 
Trade Incl. a world globe, an anchor, a sailing vessel, 
steamship, bales of cotton, coconuts(?),
 a barrel, and a Steam Locomotive.

The old eight-day clock
It heralds the morn,
Invites us to labour,
And calls our return;
With its homely click, click,
And bell sounding clear,
Bids our toil-wearied spirits
Take comfort and cheer. 


The East(?) with a Camel and Headdress

The old eight-day clock,
In youth's early day,
Fixed the hours for the task
And the hours for our play -
When we frolicked about,
Like a kit on the earth,
Till it chimed the late hour,
Bade us cease from our mirth,


The Middle East (?)

The old eight-day clock,
When with sickness oppressed,
How I longed for the click
That lulled me to rest!
Or if sleep was denied,
How I longed for the morn
In beauty sublime!


The Americas (?)
with headdress, bow, and alligator

The old eight-day clock
Like a sentinel stands
Keeping watch over time
With its spear-arm'd hands
No hour can go past,
No seconds can slip,
But it rings out a challenge
And warning click, click.

Africa (?) with a black woman and Elephant

The old eight-day clock,
Its beauty doth fade,
It's gilding is dim
And its varnish decayed;
But (like old age in man, 
Tho' beauty doth wane
The pulse still keeps time)
Its click is the same.

Grandfather Clock by James Peat,
Carluke, Lanarkshire, Scotland,
The door is "flame" mahogany
circa 1860's

The old eight-day clock
That stands by the wall
may teach us a lesson,
A moral for all,
To improve fleeting time
As its minutes fly past,
And live every hour
As if it were but our last

(By "Robin")


A three Minute Video of the Clock 
Working and Bell Striking

Copyright : All images are from my own personal collection and maybe freely copied for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. 

Sources :

- Robert S. McLeish, Carluke Parish Historical Society 
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- The "Otago Witness", Dunedin, New Zealand, 1861
- "Scottish Clockmakers" by Felix Hudson
- Edinburgh City Central Library Reference Reading Room
- Scotland's People website

Video produced with Windows Live Movie Maker, Virtual Dub cropping and Xvid Codec compression.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Full Circle - The Rise, Demise, and Return of Dairying to Central Southland


An Ayrshire Dairy Cow and Calf at "Meadowbank",
Heddon Bush, Southland, New Zealand, circa 1914
[From my own collection]

Over the last couple of decades the change-over from sheep farming to intensive dairying for milk production in Southland New Zealand (and many other districts) has been quite dramatic. This has been driven by high dairy milk solid prices and falling, and sometimes negligible or non-existent, returns for mutton, lamb and wool. This blog charts the story of the rise then sudden demise, and quite surprising return of dairying to the highly productive pastoral plains of Central Southland in New Zealand. This is of particular interest to me in that my family were heavily involved in this initial dairy "boom". 

As I noted in my last blog about butter stamps, when my maternal Scottish born Watson family arrived at Heddon Bush in Southland New Zealand at the beginning of 1911 they brought with them two generations of dairying experience which they intended to put to good use here. Their previous experience in dairying and the setting up of a local dairy factory with the support of a family member already in New Zealand was a major drawcard in convincing them to emigrate.

My Grandfather, William Dykes, who accompanied the Watson family over from Scotland to New Zealand at the end of 1910, wrote in his memoirs:

As a Dairy Factory had been established in the district at the cross roads, Hundred Line - Ohai [at the corner of the Hundred Line and State Highway 96], it appeared that the new arrivals with their dairying experience in the old land and having the requisite labour of their own family, would be well suited for this activity, accordingly a herd of cows, a new cow bail and milking machine were obtained and milking for the factory was undertaken..."


The South Hillend Dairy Factory Building
as it appeared in 1957
[Photo by William Dykes from my own collection]

"The Southland Times" of the 1st October 1910 records that; “Farmers in the South Hillend and Heddon Bush districts, who intend supplying the new factory now nearing completion at Sheedy’s corner are busy building byres and getting ready for the opening of the factory…”

My Great Great Uncle, William Watson, of "Mayfield" Heddon Bush, who had already been resident in the district for quite a number of years, had been appointed a Director of the so named "South Hillend Dairy Factory" when the company was formed in December 1909. He gave this new enterprise his full support, both financially in terms of becoming a shareholder (and almost certainly also a guarantor), and in helping set up his own brother and his family in dairying to supply the factory when they arrived in New Zealand in 1911.


The Ground Plan of the South Hillend Dairy
Co-Operative Factory, drawn April 1910

The cost to built and equip the factory would amount to £1,300 [around NZD$213,000 in today's values), the building being constructed of "camerated concrete" (a first in Southland) by Nightcaps builder Donald Sinclair after obtaining advice from an Auckland Architect. The concrete walls were built "twice as thick as normal" and have definitely stood the test of time. The location chosen was on the Hundred Line, being right on the boundary of Heddon Bush and South Hillend. The tender of J.B. McEwan  & Co. of Dunedin was accepted for the supply and installation of the necessary equipment and machinery but no cost is given.

The factory was duly opened to receive the first delivery of 600 gallons of milk on the 29th October 1910, co-incidentally being twelve months to the day after the first meeting had been held to gauge support for a local factory. Within the first month the daily intake of milk was around 900 gallons. By the following year the intake appears to have stabilised at around 800 gallons.

The South Hillend Dairy Factory Building
as it appeared in July 1960
[Photo by William Dykes from my own collection]

The sole product of the factory was to be cheese (I assume cheddar) for the overseas market. When promoting the idea of a dairy factory at a meeting in October 1909 William Watson had made a specific point of emphasizing "that New Zealand cheese was extremely well thought of at home [i.e., in Great Britain], and could be found in ever so many farm-houses". In November 1910 the Dept. of Agriculture approved the name "Turi" as the registered brand for the company's cheese. "Turi" being an abbreviated Māori word, was the name by which the district of South Hillend ["The 'Turi"] was generally known. If anyone has an image of the "Turi" brand used for the cheese wrappers or the stencil image that would have appeared on the wooden cases I would love to see it, and if possible, reproduce it here.

An application for an extension of the telephone line from South Hillend to the factory was granted in December 1910 upon a guarantee of £9 p.a. being given by the local County Council, the new office to be known as "Turi". This would also be their telegraphic address, businesses paying for a single word address for ease of identification and to reduce telegram charges.

Amusingly (although I doubt for them), two local and un-named South Hillend based Directors of the company, and in an effort to dispose of the surplus whey from the factory, "experimented with it as a Canadian thistle exterminator as some purely 'theoretical farmers' have pronounced it". Unfortunately the grass died but the thistles "evidently enjoyed the drenching for they are looking almost at their best. Another 'theoretical' cure for the pest exploded...".

William Watson and his nephew (whom he had 'summoned' from Scotland in 1907 as he had no children of his own) now commenced to build a 16 bay corrugated iron milking shed on the family farm and the purchase of a herd of forty Ayrshire dairy cows (the same breed as they had used in Scotland), a milk waggon, a mechanical milking machine, dairy untensils, a dehorner, and a 'Babcock' milk tester for 6 bottles. This was to be a modern, labour saving, and cost effective operation commensurate with William Watson's belief in using the latest technology and methods.


The Watson Milking Shed at "The Mains", Heddon Bush
"Aristo" Studios photo, circa 1912
[Photo by EA Phillips from my own collection] 

Unfortunately, while I cannot confirm the brand of the milking machine (I do note the "Storrie's Patent Milking Plant" being advertised at this time) we actually know what the milking apparatus looked like because, quite unusually, a professional photographer took a photo of it. It is very rare to actually see the interior of a milking shed taken just over one hundred years ago, especially by a professional photographer. The photographer was Mr E.A. Phillips of the "Aristo Studio" in Esk Street, Invercargill. This was no easy task considering the low lighting and many dark shadows involved. Mr Phillips, who was active until the early 1950's, became very well known for his long panorama group photos (4 ½ or 5 inches deep and anything up to 36 inches long) taken using a novel Kodak "Cirkut" panoramic camera .

The milking machine would have been operated by a small oil engine and pump to create the necessary vacuum. It is unfortunate that I do not have a photo of this. Perhaps an enthusiast in such things can enlighten me as to the name of the milking apparatus and any other details so that I can update this blog accordingly.

My Grandfather further records that :

"Eventually it was found that the farm was not suitable for carrying dairy cows and a change was made over to sheep, a successful venture over the years since support for the Factory gradually declined and had to be closed down.”


Sale of Dairy Cattle & Utensils from
"The Mains", Heddon Bush Aug 1914
[Source : Papers Past]

We know from the above published account that the sale of the cows, all the milking apparatus, and the milk waggon took place on the 19th August 1914. From what I can gather, sheep farming was just simply found to be more profitable without the "drudgeries" inherent in dairying. I cannot confirm why the land "was not suitable for carrying dairy cows" because this is not the case today although top dressing was yet to be fully perfected (and incidentally, who would do that but the same above-named William Watson, being noted in his obituary as "Southland's most progressive farmer"!). 

And by now few farmers were prepared to make the shift from pastoral farming to dairying "as it was not more remunerative from a financial view-point". 1912 had proven to be a very poor season for dairying in the district, and in regards to my own family position, the sudden death in 1912 of the senior Mr John Watson (William's brother), and of John's son Wullie in a farm accident in April 1914, no doubt all contributed to this decision. 

By this time support for the local dairy factory had in any case virtually collapsed. As early as January 1913 the Wallace County Council (who were the guarantors for the telephone line) agreed to the decision of the G.P.O. to "hold over" the construction of the line to the factory office "as there was a possibility of the factory being closed up owing to a number of suppliers giving up dairying". "The Southland Times" for November 1914 confirms that the South Hillend Dairy Factory "has never opened this season, all the dairy herds having been sold and there is now no supply of milk to go on with and for the time being dairying is not in favour amongst the farmers here."

At a meeting of the the Co-operative in June 1915 "...held for the purpose of considering the advisability of going into liquidation, it was decided to make another attempt to revive the factory, a canvass of the district is to be made to ascertain what support will be forthcoming. Considering the bright prospects for dairy produce it seems a pity if the factory should be closed for want of support".  
A commentator noted in August 1915; "It is regrettable that sufficient support was not forthcoming to re-open the South Hillend Dairy Factory. There is not a better equipped factory in Southland". Thus the factory also remained closed for the whole 1915 season.

In December 1911 the company had shipped 70 cases of cheese from the Bluff to the west of England, the first of the season. This quantity compared reasonably well with other smaller factories. For the year ended 31st May 1913 the company shipped a total of 381 cases of cheese from the Bluff for export to Britain, now actually rather low in comparison to many other factories being 50th in quantity shipped out of a total of 57. So while other factories were obviously increasing production the South Hillend Co-operative Dairy Company were quickly being left behind.


The old South Hillend Dairy Factory House
(shown around 1938-39 after being shifted over the road)
[Photo by William Dykes from my own collection]

In February 1916, with re-opening obviously deemed financially inadvisable due to lack of supply the factory building and manager's house were then offered for sale by auction; "The amount given for the factory was £50 and £100 for the house. The factory originally cost £800 and the house £200." The house was later shifted over the road, then being used by the local blacksmith. On the 4th March 1916 the Liquidator wrote to the Awarua Dairy Factory (located at the "Racecourse Corner", Winton) offering them the dairy plant comprising of the boiler, engine, pump, and cheese presses for the knock down price of £150 which, no doubt with great glee on the part of the purchaser, was accepted. On the 3rd July 1916 a tender of £47 was accepted for shifting the plant which further added to the total loss. Overall, only £253 (NZD$33,000 in current values) was able to be recouped from the sale of assets but this figure would have been further eroded by incidentals and legal costs.

More than just my own family would have had their fingers badly burnt in this short lived financial fiasco. Archives New Zealand hold a record for "The South Hillend Co-operative Dairy Factory Company Limited" under "Company Files" (Ref R1027013) from 1910 to 1920 but I have not attempted to access these documents as they will primarily be of a legal nature, This will include the registration of the company under the Company's Act 1908 and other company information including when the company was liquidated, wound up, and removed from the register. I may look at it at a later convenient date just out of curiosity.

What I find surprising is that other districts maintained their dairy factories for many more years. It is an interesting question requiring a lot more in-depth research as to why so many other rural based Southland factories with solid local support managed to continue operating for quite some years later but this one, despite it having modern industry standard processing equipment and machinery, had collapsed so very quickly with the seemingly abrupt move by the local populace, back to pastoral sheep farming - including my own family. As one writer put it, "the district did not manage to adjust to dairying, and the operations ceased".

That all had originally been so supportive and invested quite some money in equipment, dairy herds and milking sheds but bailed out after only two to three years is hard to fathom. Sheep farming also has a very seasonal return and is subject to the vagaries of fluctuating prices and good and bad growing seasons. The increasing lack of available labour after the start of World War One will have been a factor but again, why not so many other districts? The company definitely had shareholders and was registered as a "co-operative" so did pulling out as a supplier mean not only a personal loss in plant but also a loss in their shareholding in the company and share of future profits? It was certainly not a merger as with so many other rural dairy factories in the years after 1920.


Brother and Sister James and Helen Watson of "Meadowbank",
Heddon Bush with their "Ayrshire" Cows and calf.
Heddon Bush, taken circa 1912
[From my own collection]

Family members thereafter each maintained a dairy cow which they hand milked. This provided them with milk, butter and cheese with the occasional gift of a block of cheese. My Great Great Aunt, resident at "Meadowbank" in Heddon Bush, and who is shown in the above picture, milked at least a couple of Ayrshire cows. The late Mr Hugh Anderson of "Brookdale" Hokonui (a son of Sir Robert Anderson), who was a regular visitor to "Meadowbank" in his youth, recalled in 1974 that  "I can still see in Miss [Helen] Watson's large outside dairy the row of large milk basins where she used to churn the butter and also make cheese in a home made press." 

As to the old factory building at Sheedy's Corner [named after Paddy Sheedy who had set up his blacksmithing premises on the opposite corner but later known as Heenan's Corner after the latter took over the business in 1924], "The Winton Record" reported in 1917; "That the South Hillend dairy factory is as dead as a dead duck is the opinion freely expressed by many broad minded men, but it is quite evident that the thought never occured to those people that this splendid building could be used for theatrical purposes. Those who were present on a recent evening and witnessed the staging of a play 'The Rising Floods',... are quite sanguine that the good money spent on this building has not been fired in the air."

But the building would then languish for many years, lying semi-derelict but partially occupied, at least from 1951, as living quarters with the rest used for the owner's bee keeping business. It has also been used by a local transport operator, and now serves in an extended form as the premises of a pet food and abattoir business. The brick chimney is now half the original height, no doubt to alleviate earthquake risk. While much of the district has converted back to intensive dairying, tankers now carry the milk daily to considerably larger and more economical automated processing plants at Edendale (Fonterra), Blue River Dairy located south of Invercargill, and with a new plant yet to be built with Chinese investment.

But around Southland you can still see many of the earlier rural dairy factories which, over many years, slowly closed down as economies of scale eventually came into play and the need to renew dated but expensive processing equipment, machinery and boilers became necessary. Often around these buildings could also be seen old steam boilers and the rusting detritus of milk processing and cheese & butter making equipment removed to make way for internal storage. The last small cheese factory I can personally recall is Tisbury just on the outskirts of Invercargill which closed in 1978 (it was actually quite popular and even had a small cheese shop which we visited) although the Mataura factory lingered on until 1981.


Copyright of Images :

Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own family collection and may be used for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Tales of the Turi : South Hillend Centenary 1884-1984", by Marjorie Cairns & Frank Plunkett
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library
- Watson family papers and photographs (held by the writer)
- Dykes family papers and photographs (held by the writer)

Monday, 2 January 2017

Two 19th Century Scottish Carved Butter Stamps


Mirror image of the Butter Stamp of John Watson of 'Candermains Farm',
Dalserf, Scotland, The design features a sheaf of wheat, circa 1870's

I recently discovered that 19th century butter stamps have become very collectable and those with more decorative patterns now command a reasonable price at sale. I have two such Victorian era examples, which thankfully have a known provenance, along with a companion oval moulding / working board, and a couple of period and more common butter pats. The larger stamp bears the name of the dairy and cropping farm of "Candermains", a farm owned by the Dukes of Hamilton and tenanted by my maternal Scottish Great Grandparents in the Parish of Dalserf (near Stonehouse) in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Their tenancy of two consecutive periods of 19 years lasted from 1872 to 1910 so the stamps should date to the earlier period.

Butter stamps and oval working tray from the farm of John Watson
of 'Candermains', Dalserf, Scotland, circa 1870's

These carved wooden butter stamps, one being 10cm in diameter and the other being 4cm in diameter, are both fitted with handles, and were used to stamp home made butter. Both examples would have been used to stamp larger and smaller quantities of butter prior to commercial sale although the smaller one could also have been used for domestic use. I do not know how common it was to include the name of the producer and / or farm on the butter stamp as I have found very few such examples. And in fact I have not found one example of the well used oval shaped working board which accompanies the smaller stamp.

But I do rather think that stamping the butter was a useful way of promoting and identifying a locally made product from producer to consumer. This is something that would be very much encouraged today if current and very stringent food safety requirements made the public sale of domestically produced home butter or milk products even possible without now obtaining an expensive permit, inspection of an approved place of manufacture, and enough regulations to discourage all but the most dedicated semi-commercial producers.

With public health in mind, I note that the first comprehensive legislation on the production and sale of milk did not occur in the United Kingdom until the "Milk and Dairies Act" of 1914 (including a Scottish Bill introduced simultaneously) which superseded less stringent acts passed in 1885 and 1901. But still, it appears not to have been the intention of making "...these necessary safeguards unduly vexatious or burdensome to the rural communities engaged in providing milk".

Ayshire cows at 'Candermains' farm, Dalserf, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Photo taken by John Watson Jnr. around 1904 and
scanned from the original glass plate negative

Surviving period records confirm that my family owned and milked up to 20 Ayrshire cows. During winter the cows were normally kept under cover and hand fed with hay (you can see the hay ricks in the above photograph) and "Bibby's" commercially made oil cake. I can confirm the latter from the late 19th century bound copies of the "Bibby's Quarterly" I hold, including the subsequent gift of the annual "Bibby's Magazine" (and one year a sycamore wood art nouveau style jewellery box), from Mr Adam Grierson the local "Bibby's" supplier, all of which I still hold. I have also myself visited the farm I refer to and was kindly shown, by the then elderly owner (curiously also with the surname of Watson), the shed where the cows were wintered over. Cows would, I assume be hand milked to the last as no mechanical milking apparatus of any description was subsequently sold. A "Dairymaid" appears in census records until the beginning of the 20th century when the younger members of my family would have been old enough to assume that task.

A coloured advertisement for "Bibby" Feeding Cake,
from "Bibby's Quarterly", August 1898 

My Great Aunt, being born at "Candermains" in 1898, spoke about the milk churns that would daily be sent off for sale by horse and cart. I assume this would either be delivered locally or taken to the Caledonian Railway Station to be taken to a larger town such as Hamilton. Refrigeration was not possible and the milk would be sent off as quickly as possible and most likely sold raw, ie, unpasteurized. Each churn would be stamped with the name of the producer so that it could be returned to the owner. Once, when the churns came back, a decorative silver plate teaspoon was found in the bottom of one, I still hold it and also wonder how it got there, a child playing perhaps? So now, it is just a curious souvenir.

Butter Pats from 'Candermains farm', being used to work butter
into set quantities for sale and / or small balls for the dinner table

But prior to sale all or some of the milk would be placed in large milk basins and "skimmed" to remove much of the cream which would naturally rise, over a period of time, to the top of the milk. The cream, which would generally be left for as long as possible to improved the flavour, would then be placed in a wooden hand churn, salted, and churned until it formed into butter and butter milk. My family were also proficient in cheese making, continuing this skill for many years thereafter including, I note, as a local district fundraiser during World War One.


The smaller butter stamp with an engraving of a Scotch Thistle.
From the farm of John Watson, 'Candermains', Dalserf,
Lanarkshire, Scotland. Circa 1870's

 "Hand churns", including "butter workers", "Milk pails and tins" and a "cheese press" were all sold by public roup (auction) on the 25th October 1910 prior to my family emigrating to New Zealand. But sentiment obviously meant that the butter stamps were retained but probably not used again. I believe the butter pats continued to be used by my family as the butter would be worked into small balls for the meal table. Setting up a dairying operation in Southland New Zealand my family wisely invested in an expensive but decidedly less labour intensive milking machine and associated equipment only to sell it all four years later when sheep farming became the norm and support for the local dairy factory collapsed. Thereafter a cow was only retained for home supply of milk, being hand milked. It is ironic that much of my former family owned land has reverted once again to more profitable intensive dairy use.

Butter stamped with the Scotch Thistle pattern

As a point of interest I have attempted to use these stamps to mould shortbread but have been relatively unsuccessful. A modern moulded ceramic "petticoat" baking pan, which I also own, held the pattern far better.

Copyright of Images :

All images are from my own family collection and may be used for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged.

Sources :

- "Cheated Not Poisoned? : Food Regulation in the United Kingdom, 1875-1938", by Michael French and Jim Phillips
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- Watson family papers, photographs and artefacts (held by the writer)
- "Bibby's Quarterly" and "Bibby's Annual" (from my own collection)

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