Onehunga Woollen Mills (19th Century Portion)

273 Neilson Street, Te Papapa, Auckland

  • Onehunga Woollen Mills (19th Century Portion) , from Neilson Street looking southwest.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Joan McKenzie. Date: 19/06/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 524 Date Entered 7th April 1983


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lot 1 DP 99052 (CT 327562), North Auckland Land District, and the buildings and structures known as Onehunga Woollen Mills (19th Century Portion) thereon, and their fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Lot 1 DP 99052 (CT 327562), North Auckland Land District


The former Onehunga Woollen Mills were established at Te Papapa in 1886 to manufacture woollen goods for the colony's domestic market, and reinforced Onehunga's early importance as Auckland's west coast port and a centre of heavy industry. Extended and redeveloped over the intervening 140 years, the place survives as one of few nineteenth century mills nationally remaining in use for the processing and manufacturing of woollen products.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Onehunga was occupied by Maori tribes including Te Waiohua and Ngati Whatua. Within seven years of Auckland's founding as colonial capital in 1840, Onehunga became the first of four military 'fencible' settlements established around the southern side of the Auckland isthmus. The availability of foreshore land and plentiful spring water encouraged the founding of some of Auckland's largest industrial enterprises at the west coast port.

The North New Zealand Woollen Manufacturing Company was incorporated in late 1885, an earlier meeting to discuss the establishment of a mill in Auckland in the early 1870s having come to nothing. A 4.5-hectare site known as 'Pumpkin Flat' in Onehunga's Slaughterhouse Road was selected as the site for a woollen mill to produce goods for the colony's northern market. The land adjoined a spring affording fresh water for wool processing; and the Manukau Harbour, where Onehunga vessels serviced ports as far afield as the South Island as well as a developing agricultural hinterland in South Auckland and the Waikato.

The brick buildings erected in 1886-7 by Auckland-based contractors Keyes Brothers were largely single-storey in height and included a tall octagonal chimney. The building design was finalised by William Henry Skinner (1838-1915) an Auckland architect whose surviving works include Auckland's St Paul's Anglican Church, the Freemason's Hall and the Grand Hotel.

The exterior incorporated simple detailing including polychromatic brickwork and corbelling, louvred bulls-eye windows in gable ends, and bargeboards with simple fretwork and finials. The complex held mill machinery imported from the United Kingdom and was officially opened in October 1887. However Auckland's economic depression in the late 1880s, declining demand, growing competition between suppliers, and low prices contributed to the company's collapse in 1888 with heavy losses to shareholders which included sheep farmers, working men and local residents. The liquidators operated the venture until its sale to the Onehunga Wool Company syndicate in 1891.

By 1898 the plant had doubled in size and was lit by electricity. In 1903 the venture became Onehunga Woollen Mills Limited under new ownership. Changing hands again in 1919, Australasian warehouse and importing firm Sargood Son and Ewen modernised the premises. In addition to ‘Princess' brand blankets, tweeds, worsteds and furnishing fabric, production extended to piece goods for the dress and coat trade. During the Second World War (1939-1945) the manufacture of blankets for the Armed Forces and fabric for Army and Air Force uniforms made the mill a vital industry to the war effort.

As late as the 1940s and 1950s, workers were recruited from the United Kingdom for ‘Onehunga Woollen Mills by-the-sea'. The mill, a major employer of women from its inception, enhanced Onehunga's social life through events including an annual staff picnic and annual ball, and had its own basketball team.

Extensive additions occurred in 1960, a decade when many New Zealand woollen mills merged or closed. By this time the mill chimney had been demolished, and the polychromatic brickwork of the buildings facing Neilson Road appears to have been painted. Commencing in the 1970s, parts of the site were subdivided for sale. Reflecting the separation of New Zealand's woollen manufacturing sector into two discrete streams (apparel or carpet) the mill was extensively redeveloped in 1985 as a single-site yarn spinning and carpet manufacturing operation serving an Australasian market.

The nineteenth-century portion of the Onehunga Woollen mills retains some of its interesting industrial form and simple decorative elements. The place has architectural significance for the survival of elements of a nineteenth-century, purpose-built woollen mill, and as an industrial work by William Skinner an Auckland architect of note. The place illustrates the development and importance of woollen manufacturing in colonial New Zealand. It also reinforces Onehunga's important role in the economic and industrial development of colonial Auckland, and the ongoing contribution of the Onehunga woollen mills to the economic and social well-being of the local community for over one hundred and forty years.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Skinner, William Henry

Skinner (1838-1915) grew up in England, the son of a builder. A student in the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, he was awarded a bronze medal for success in art in 1859. He came to New Zealand that same year, working as a contractor and builder in Auckland. He remained in Auckland and practised as an architect from 1880 until his death in 1915.

His buildings include the "Star" Printing Office; the Onehunga Woollen Mills, the Freemason's Hall and the Grand Hotel, Princes Street. His ecclesiastical buildings include St Paul's Anglican Church, Symonds Street (1894-95), St James Presbyterian Church, Thames, and the Holy Sepulchre Church Hall, Khyber Pass. The latter was built as a temporary church for St Paul's parish and was later relocated.

William Skinner

William Henry Skinner (1838-1915), the son of a builder, was born in Newport, Wales. He studied in the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, and was awarded a bronze medal for 'success in art' in 1859. Skinner came to New Zealand that same year, subsequently working as a contractor and builder in Auckland. In this capacity he erected a parsonage associated with the earlier Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Symonds Street in 1869. After enlisting in the Royal Rifle Volunteers during the New Zealand Wars, he rose to the rank of major. He remained in Auckland and practised as an architect from 1880 until his death in 1915.

Skinner's designs as an architect included the 'Star' printing office (demolished); the Onehunga Woollen Works; and the Freemasons' Hall (now a façade) on Princes Street, Auckland. His ecclesiastical buildings included the St James Presbyterian Church, Thames; St Paul's Anglican Church, Symonds Street, Auckland (1894-1895); and the temporary St Paul's Church, Eden Crescent, Auckland (1885) which is now part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre complex on Khyber Pass Road.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 - 1887
Construction of woollen mills

1891 - 1898
Plant doubled in size

Premises modernised

1960 -
Mill chimney demolished

Demolished - additional building on site
Dry stone walls, front boundary

Brick exterior painted, Neilson Street facades

1985 -
Mills redeveloped the manufacture carpet yarn and carpet

1985 -

Completion Date

21st June 2010

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

28 September 1886, p.4; 17 October 1887, p.2; 9 May 1961, (n.p.)

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

28 September 1886, p.6; 17 October 1887, p.5

Stone, 1973

R. C. J. Stone, Makers of Fortune: A Colonial Business Community and its Fall, Auckland, 1973

Thornton, 1982

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

Wanganui Herald

Wanganui Herald

6 November 1885, p.2

Mogford, 1989

J. Mogford, The Onehunga Heritage, Wellington, 1989.

Alderton, 1898

G E Alderton, Resources of New Zealand, Whangarei, 1898.

Central Leader

Central Leader

29 July 1992, p.21

New Zealand Geographer

New Zealand Geographer

G.J.R. Linge, 'Manufacturing in Auckland: Its Origins and Growth 1840-1936', pp.47-64, Volume 14, Issue 1

Borchard, 2004

Norine Borchard, Untold Stories of Onehunga: Vol. 2, Auckland, 2004

Carter, 2003

Bill Carter and John MacGibbon, Wool: A history of New Zealand's Wool Industry, Wellington, 2003

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region office

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.