Mosgiel Woollen Factory

Factory Road, Mosgiel

  • Mosgiel Woollen Factory. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Jock Phillips - (Te Ara). Flickr. Taken By: Jock Phillips.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 351 Date Entered 19th March 1986


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

All DP 6857, All DP 911


The Mosgiel Woollen Factory was one of the earliest mills in New Zealand to produce machine-woven cloth, second only to the woollen factory established in Nelson in 1858. Before the advent of woollen mills in New Zealand all woollen cloth and clothing had to be imported. Given the outside occupations of most Pakeha at the time, strong cloth that could withstand the trials and tribulations of farming, mining and sawmilling was vital.

The Mosgiel Woollen Factory was the brain child of Arthur John Burns (1830-1901), the only son of Thomas Burns (1796? - 1871), the religious leader of the Free Church settlement of Otago. Burns emigrated to Otago with his father in 1848, age seventeen, and established himself as a successful farmer, both at Grant Braes (located at the beginning of the Otago Peninsula) and then later on the property 'Mossgiel" on the Taieri Plains. Burns erected a flour mill and a large house there and by 1862 was selling his 'best colonial flour' to the hordes of goldminers then flooding into Central Otago. The flour mill Burns built around 1860-1862 was later utilised as part of the woollen mill and is the oldest remaining building on-site.

After the main wave of the goldrushes had moved to the West Coast from 1865, the Otago Provincial Council began to explore other industries that could help maintain the province's economic growth. In 1868 the council offered a bonus of £1,500 to be given to the manufacturer of the first 5,000 yards of woollen cloth within the Otago Province. At the time, when the number of sheep in the province was estimated to be around 1,800,000, it seemed sensible to encourage an industry that used such a major resource.

Encouraged by this, Burns travelled back to Britain in 1870 to purchase mill equipment and hire skilled staff. He also entered into a partnership with John Smail, who emigrated to Otago with the machinery and staff on the Helenslee in 1871. Cottages were built at Mosgiel to house the workers and construction on the factory began in early 1871. Based on plans and specifications which Burns had brought back from Scotland, the factory buildings soon rose around the old floor mill. While most of the first buildings were constructed in timber, the engine and boiler room was of brick, with a 54 ft (approximately 16.5m) chimney stack. The factory opened in September 1871 with 180 tons of machinery having been successfully installed and was the first woollen mill in New Zealand to use steam to power the machinery. By the end of November A.J. Burns & Co advertised that 'Mosgiel tweed' was now available for purchase. The factory had successfully begun to produce tweeds, plaiding, blankets, hosiery and knitting yarn and collected the £1,500 award from the Provincial Council.

In 1873 A.J. Burns & Co became a public company, the Mosgiel Woollen Factory Company Ltd. In the same year Burns ordered more machinery, and new buildings and additions were constructed at the Mosgiel site under the supervision of architect Henry Frederick Hardy (1831-1904), also a director of the factory. While Hardy's additions of 1873 appear not to have survived, his additions erected around 1886 remain and provide the factory with a group of dignified buildings situated around three sides of a courtyard. These buildings consisted of offices, a dyehouse, engine room and archway, (which features the firm's name in concrete lettering) and were designed in a formal classical style, featuring stepped gable ends and round headed windows. The former flour mill building was situated at the south-west corner of the group and later had parapets added to its gables to match the ones on the newer buildings opposite. Used as a dye house for many years, the former flour mill later became the engineering workshop. It is this group of buildings that is registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga. Hardy also designed large brick workshops with saw-toothed gables that provided an even light for the workers below. (See plan below for layout of factory).The factory was also the first in New Zealand to use electric lighting when this was installed in October 1885.

A detailed history of the mill is available in Peter J. Stewart's 'Patterns on the Plain: A Centennial History of Mosgiel Woollens Limited'. In brief however, the Mosgiel Woollen Factory continued to expand during the twentieth century, continually updating and expanding the plant and buildings at Mosgiel as well as acquiring the Roslyn Mill (1969) and Kaiapoi Textiles Limited (1972). The factory also played an important role in the surrounding town, being the major reason the town developed in the first place, and remaining the major employer in the area for most of the twentieth century. In 1948 for example, more than one-third of the town's working population was employed in the factory. Particularly in the early days there was a close relationship between the mill and its employees, with many of them housed in workers' cottages built by the company.

Mosgiel Ltd, as the company had been known since 1974, collapsed in 1980, under pressure from the restructuring of the textile industry and its recent purchases of Kaiapoi and Ashburton mills. Alliance Textiles, who, before the collapse, had been talking about a merger with Mosgiel, offered to buy the company. Although its first offer collapsed after the government initially refused to provide financial support, a second offer for the Mosgiel factory was accepted in August 1980. Alliance sold the Mosgiel factory in 1993 to Caspex, who in 1997 combined with Coates Viyella to create Coats Spencer Crafts, based in the Mosgiel factory. The mill finally closed in February 2000 with the loss of 141 jobs. The property developer who purchased the mill and grounds has developed the factory site into the Mill Park Industrial Estate and a variety of businesses have moved into the old factory buildings.

The courtyard buildings of the Mosgiel Woollen Factory are a significant example of late nineteenth century industrial buildings. As was typical of textile mills in Britain, the buildings were relatively plain but substantial and distinguished by some classical features. Together they form a distinctive grouping within the factory grounds. The Mosgiel Woollen Factory was the first woollen mill in Otago, the second to open in New Zealand and the first steam-driven one. The Mosgiel factory buildings were the flagship of what became one of New Zealand's major woollen manufacturers and a company which provided work for numerous New Zealanders for over one hundred years.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hardy, H.F.

Henry Frederick Hardy (1831-1904).See

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the former flour mill, archway, former boilerhouse, engine room and offices all situated around the couryard.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1860 - 1862
Flour mill

Original Construction
1871 -
Engine and boiler room

Original Construction
1886 -
Remainder of courtyard buildings

Many internal alterations over the years. Brick chimney removed (n.d.)

Completion Date

3rd June 2003

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

McLean, 1981

Gavin McLean, Spinning yarns: a centennial history of Alliance Textiles Ltd and its predecessors, 1881-1981, Dunedin, 1981

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

Saturday, 5 February, 2000

Stewart, 1975

Peter J Stewart, Patterns on the Plain: a centennial history of Mosgiel Woollens Limited, Dunedin, 1975

Thornton, 1982

Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982


Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.