Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wilkins and Field, Ironmongers, Manners St, Wellington, circa 1895

Wilkins & Field, Manners Street, Wellington.
litho by F W Niven & Co., Ballarat, Victoria, circa 1895

The ironmongers of Wilkins & Field located their New Zealand headquarters in Manners Street, Wellington in 1889. The business had started out in the early 1860s in Westport on the West Coast during the gold rush era under the ownership of Thomas Field. Around 1880 Field entered a partnership with W C Wilkins relocating the business to Nelson. Although Wilkins left the business because of ill health after just a few years, the firm continued to trade under the Wilkins & Field name.

The Wilkins & Field premises on Manners Street actually occupied the whole block bounded by the then named Manners, Farish, St Hill, and Customhouse streets, with a retail shop on the Manners street frontage with wholesale and manufacturing premises behind it. Some 50-60 employees were on the payroll in the mid 1890s.

The retail showroom premises were originally built to serve as an arcade but were modified by Wilkins & Field to provide some 20,000 square feet of retail space. The layout of the interior is shown below.

Interior of Wilkins & Field's retail showroom.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol. 1, 1897, p. 720.

The business manufactured spouting, ridging, wire mattresses, and prams, among other items, where it could compete with imported iron goods, acting as importer for many other items that it could then retail such as kitchenware, stoves, toys, firearms, and the like.

A representative range of items to be found at Wilkins & Field can be found in their classified ads run in the Evening Post during the 1890s:

Classified advertising in the Evening Post, 1895.
Source: Papers Past, Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897, reports that Wilkins & Field's business ranged throughout much of the country, although it appears much of the trade was concentrated in the lower North Island - as far as Taranaki, throughout Wellington province, and Hawkes Bay - and the upper South Island including Nelson, Marlborough, and Westland.

In April 1901 Wilkins & Field relinquished their business in Manners Street pending the retirement of Thomas Field. The premises were taken over by Craig & Co. importers by 1902.

Evening Post, 5 March, 1901.

Evening Post, 16 April, 1901.

Thus, as with so many owner-operated, family businesses lacking a line of succession or interest within the next generation, Wilkins & Field, despite a business history dating back as far as 1807 (see Evening Post business closure report above), disappeared from the Wellington landscape.

But do not despair, fair reader, for a remnant of Wilkins & Field lives on: a quick search online finds Wilkins & Field Ltd Mitre 10 at 232 Hardy Street in Nelson (though it may have been replaced by a MEGA Mitre 10 on Quarantine St). There is also a Wilkins & Field Mitre 10 in Motueka at 235 High Street.

The name lingers on in the hardware industry after more than a century since the Wellington closure.

Gone, but not quite forgotten.

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