Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Workshop (Former)

8 George Street And Parnell Road, Parnell, Auckland

  • Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Workshop (Former).
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Workshop (Former).
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Workshop (Former).
    Copyright: Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4353 Date Entered 10th September 1987


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 362696 (CT 255815), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Workshop (Former) thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage New Zealand Board meeting on 3 September 2015.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 362696 (CT 255815), North Auckland Land District


Opened in 1927, the former Royal Foundation for the Blind Workshop, on Parnell Road extending along George Street, is a rare example of a purpose-built workshop for blind men and women. It was part of a larger complex run by the Jubilee Institute for the Blind, founded in 1890 (later the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind) and the only organisation of its kind in the country. The brick neo-Georgian building is a skilled design applied to a utilitarian building by one of the country’s top architectural firms, Gummer and Ford. The building is a reminder of the breadth of activities carried out on the site, the perceived benefits of employment for the blind, and the focus on the blind residents bringing a financial return to the Institute. It also reflects change in the lives of the blind throughout the twentieth century. As well as deriving significance from its connections with notable institutions and individuals, it is additionally of value for its associations with the many men and women, from throughout the country, for whom this building was a place of work and training.

The Institute first acquired land in this area in 1892, and built its first permanent building in 1909. From its earliest days, a modest income was raised from the work of the blind residents. In the 1920s, the Institute was run by Sir Clutha Mackenzie (1895-1966) who had been blinded at Gallipoli and became a pivotal figure in the development of a universal Braille system. Mackenzie believed strongly that the blind should take an active role in their own welfare and spearheaded a major fundraising drive, which resulted in two buildings, both by Gummer and Ford - a men's hostel and this workshop.

The new workshop contained two wings, at a 60-degree angle, with a colonnade acting as a corridor on its main façade, facing into the complex’s courtyard. A fleche or small spire marked the meeting point of the two wings. Internally, the building was very simple with large open spaces, designed for easier use by the blind; the spaces were divided by gender. Shortly after they opened, the workshops were expanded to the west (again by Gummer Ford) with a three-storey brick addition which further emphasised the Georgian nature of the design.

Building on traditions that went back to 1890s, the blind workers made products from cane, willow and coir, including many domestic objects sold in the Parnell Road shop, and products such as ship’s fenders and cargo nets. Others were engaged in making strawberry chips, and the women were involved in ‘fancy basketmaking’. The income from the workshops became increasingly important to the Institute.

Although the Institute congratulated itself on the workshop’s ‘congenial employment’, not all was happy for the workers. Indeed, concerns over a lack of proper facilities, poor food and bad rates of pay there have been credited with the formation of New Zealand’s first blind advocacy group in 1945. The enclosure of part of the verandah, making a tearoom for the workers, in the 1940s, was a major concession by the Institute. The changing philosophy behind the care for the blind, towards living within the community, meant that the workshop’s operations were scaled down in the 1970s and closed in 1992. In 1993-5 a conservatory was constructed against the southeast side of the building and was converted into retail and hospitality units, for which it is currently (2015) used.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

Gummer & Ford

The architectural partnership of Gummer and Ford was established in 1923, and became one of national importance.

William Henry Gummer (1884-1966) was articled to W.A. Holman, an Auckland architect, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. In the period 1908-1913 he travelled in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. During this time he worked for Sir Edwin Lutyens, leading English architect of the time, and for Daniel Burnham in Chicago. Burnham was a major American architect and one of the founders of the influential Chicago School of Architecture. Gummer joined the firm of Hoggard and Prouse of Auckland and Wellington in 1913. In 1914 he was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, was president of the Institute from 1933-34 and was later elected a life member.

Charles Reginald Ford (1880- 1972) was born in England and served in the Royal Navy. He was later with Captain Scott's 1901-1904 expedition to Antarctica. He trained as an architect working in Wanganui as an engineer. In 1926 he wrote the first treatise on earthquake and

building construction in the English language. Ford was president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects from 1921-22.

Buildings designed by the partnership include the State Insurance Building Wellington, (1940) the Dilworth Building (1926), the Guardian Trust Building and the Domain Wintergardens (1921 and 1928), all in Auckland, and the Dominion Museum (1936) in Wellington. Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals from the New Zealand Institute of Architects for the designs of Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library.

Gummer was one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of this century and was responsible for the stylistically and structurally advanced Tauroa (1916), Craggy Range (1919), Arden (1926), and Te Mata (1935) homesteads at Havelock North.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1926 - 1927

Addition - at west end of the building

1967 -
Archway enclosed

Addition - Conservatory

Completion Date

29th June 2015

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Tennant, 2007

Margaret Tennant, The Fabric of Social Welfare: Voluntary Organisations, Government and Welfare in New Zealand, 1840-2005, Wellington, 2007

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Hansen, Penelope, 'Mackenzie, Clutha Nantes', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Nov-2013 URL:

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Lochhead, Ian J., 'Gummer, William Henry', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 2-Oct-2013


Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Lowe, Peter, 'Ford, Charles Reginald', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 24-Sep-2013


Catran & Hansen, 1992

Catran, Ken and Penny Hansen, Pioneering a Vision: A History of the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind 1890-1990, Auckland, 1992.

Newbold, 2008

Newbold, Greg, Quest For Equity, A History of Blindness Advocacy in New Zealand, Palmerton North, 2008

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 20 June 1927, pp.6 & 11.

Oldham, 1999

Oldham, Denys, ‘‘The Foundation’, 8-14 George Street, Parnell, Auckland Conservation Report’, unpublished report, Auckland, 1999 (revised edn.).

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand