Historical Significance or Value
This large brick building is associated with the history of failed glass manufacturing companies in New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th century. When the Southern Glass Company initiated its project in Ashburton the local people had high expectations that it would succeed and bring a major boost to the town's economy, complementing the farming based sources of income. The founding of such an enterprise was an example of the burgeoning secondary industries being established in New Zealand in this era. For this venture the timing proved unfortunate with the effects of the developing depression contributing to its demise.
Since 1928 the building and its tall chimney has been a key landmark in Ashburton. Its use as a military training facility for five years during World War II adds a further important historic dimension to its significance.
The use of brick for an industrial building was particularly apt in Ashburton as it was a common permanent building material here from the early years of settlement because excellent clay for brick making was readily available. At one time the town had the highest per capita use of bricks in New Zealand and this is one of Ashburton's finest brick buildings. Designed by Gabites, a local Ashburton architect, the building was planned for its special function, with advice from the Czechoslovakian glass manufacturing expert H. Schnurpfiel. The practical layout of the building has been developed by the architect into a lively structure of unified forms with character.
The machinery related to the technological production of glass of this period has all been removed except for the original crane mechanism in the roof of the main building. This is an interesting feature as it pre-dates the more common electric cranes. The subterranean channels that were constructed to conduct smoke from the furnaces to the chimney remain beneath the floor of the main building. Elements of the railway siding remain apparent at the eastern side of the building as an indication of the important transporting facility that served the factory.
With its simple but striking brick detailing the glass factory building is a handsome building that has a strong presence on Ashburton's northern outskirts. Despite its planned functional purpose, the building has special aesthetic qualities that make it an outstanding feature in the town.
This unsuccessful glass factory is symbolic of the type of secondary industrial enterprises undertaken in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by entrepreneurial businessmen and the
economic and technical difficulties they faced at this time. The building's history is a reflection of society's perceptions of achievable projects in the period preceding the impact of the Great Depression on the New Zealand economy.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The glassworks factory was built at a time when the New Zealand Government was encouraging the introduction of secondary industries beyond the by then well established primary agricultural and pastoral industries. It is representative of the type of enterprise that was begun as New Zealand endeavored to become less dependant on imported goods.
Its use as a World War II Camp training facility and barracks is illustrative of the way in which government was able to take use of available structures for the urgently needed accommodation during this emergency period.
The failure of this project coincided with the depression and the devastation that this wrought on many businesses.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
The glassworks is considered a landmark in the Ashburton region and has long been held in this regard. Because of the flat terrain of the town the chimney is visible from many places and is a focus for golfers on the local course. A hole named for the chimney has this large feature aligned behind the flag. During W.W .II when the Ashburton airport was an RAF base, it is reported that the control tower used the chimney as a guide to visibility in cloudy or foggy weather.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
Gabites, the architect of the glassworks, rose to the challenge of planning a large functional building that also suggested the status of both the company and the glass products the factory produced. Single storey wings flank the main block, creating an interesting grouping. The building presents a grandiose frontage to the street with the centralised form of the main block topped by the crowning clerestory. The shallow brick pilasters that define the façade, dividing it into bays, are the only minor hint of historicist forms in what is a modernist building that looks forward to later styles for industrial buildings. The scale and height of the well-lit interior is equally impressive.
In Ashburton brick was a favoured material and its use here demonstrates this factor and the skill of the local craftsmen who constructed the building. Overall, the design of the building is of special architectural significance.
It illustrates an aspect of the country's industrial development, the role of business entrepreneurs and the history of glass manufacture in New Zealand. The building's form and style was an interpretation of the 1920s concept of designing a functional building that shunned traditional historicist elements. It can be seen as a significant step in the development of architectural styles during the 20th century.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Glassworks are rare in New Zealand. Although several were established and functioned briefly to provide plate glass and hollow ware in the past, today only the Penrose factory continues this work and it retains no buildings that date from the earliest years of its establishment. To date, no surviving examples of the early buildings where such glassmaking took place have been identified. There are no glass works on the Trust's Register. The production of studio and art glass has been created in smaller studios.
The Ashburton factory building thus holds a unique place in the history of the glass industry's development in New Zealand.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Since the earliest days of settlement many Ashburton buildings were constructed of bricks that were made locally. This was because of the excellent source of clay, which encouraged brick manufacture, and the initial difficulty in obtaining building timber. Although the town has lost some of its notable examples a variety of fine brick structures remain and the glassworks building is the largest. It is also the most architecturally distinguished example of an industrial building in Ashburton, comparable in status to other New Zealand heritage complexes like nineteenth century flour mills, wool stores, breweries etc.
The glassworks has important historic values as a rare example of a building constructed for the specific purpose of producing plate and hollow ware glass. The fact that it only operated briefly adds to the interest and significance of its history.
The demise of the Southern Cross Glass Company was symptomatic of the Great Depression's impact and this building provides a distinctive reminder of this devastating economic crisis.
As a functional building it also has special architectural qualities which set it apart as a prime example of the evolution of modern architecture at the end of the nineteen twenties.
The history of the Southern Cross Glass Company in Ashburton is no different from other attempts to establish glass manufacture in New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was one in a series of company failures that were a feature of the early history of glass manufacture in this country.
In 1870 W. Wilthew set up a glassworks in Auckland with the aim of starting with lamp chimneys and later installing equipment to make bottles. The Auckland Glassworks struggled to survive, hampered by competition from glass importers, the expense of moulds, the need to import sand from Sydney and a failure to persuade any glassmakers to emigrate from Europe. The first bottles manufactured in New Zealand were made at the Auckland Glassworks in 1874 but the technical problems of bottle manufacture led Wilthew to withdraw from making them after only one year. The Auckland Glassworks had closed by 1880.
Between 1881 and 1903 there were at least seven glassworks in New Zealand which opened and failed. These included the New Zealand Glass & Pottery Company that operated in Dunedin (1881-1882); the Kaiapoi Glassworks built near Christchurch which never went into production (1885); the New Zealand Glassware Company in Wellington that made jars (1897-99); Chamberlain & Company in New North Road, Auckland which aimed to make bottles mechanically (1900); a glassworks factory in Christchurch that closed soon after set up (1902/3) and yet another Auckland glassworks that was set up and closed down (1903). All of these failed ventures faced the same pressures: very high set-up costs, very high costs of imported sand, no local skilled glassworkers, and fierce competition from importers. Enquiries have not revealed that any buildings associated with these early ventures have survived.
By 1902 there was a desperate shortage of glass bottles in New Zealand and Parliament took action in 1903 by putting bottles on the free import list. No longer restricted to buying from Britain, bottles and glassware poured into New Zealand from all over the world. No further interest was shown in setting up a glassworks in New Zealand until the 1920s, when the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company, who were exporting masses of bottles to New Zealand, saw an opportunity. They built a bottle works in Penrose, Auckland in 1922 which is still in operation today, though not accommodated in its original buildings. It was the same company that later established Crown Crystal Glass at Hornby in Christchurch. It operated from 1950 to 1987.
In the early 1920s in New Zealand the country was considered to be rapidly approaching its limit as far as agricultural and pastoral products were concerned. The prospect of developing secondary industries became a frequent topic of parliamentary discussion. The discovery of mineral wealth at Mt. Somers, just 26 kilometres from Ashburton, led Christchurch businessman William Tate to investigate the possibility of mining the silica rich sand deposits for glass manufacture. Only a limited glass industry was in existence in New Zealand at the time and it was estimated that the New Zealand market for glass was worth £700,000 each year with scope for rapid development especially in the area of glass bottle manufacture. Australia was also regarded as a future market, there being no plate glass manufacturer there.
The analysis that Tate sought of the Mt. Somers sand revealed it to be 99.41 per cent pure silica, a purity greater than any similar raw material in the world. The Mt Somers sand was also said to be in limitless supply. After some delays Tate secured a contract for supply of the sand and then engaged the expertise of Mr. H. Schnurpfeil, a Czeckoslovakian authority on glass manufacture as his advisor. He had interested a group of local businessmen in the project, including Robert Galbraith, then Mayor of Ashburton.
In April 1925 the Ashburton Guardian reported that a 'glass company formed in Australia about eighteen months ago has been reconstructed and is now a New Zealand company - the option over an excellent site of about six acres has been secured near the Ashburton railway station [for the erection of a glassworks.]' It was originally intended to erect the works about four miles up from the Mt. Somers township, close to the sand deposits but this proposal has now been definitely abandoned in favour in favour of the works being erected at Ashburton. It was on March 12, 1926 that the Southern Cross Glass Company was formally established.
Mining rights for both coal and silica sand were obtained at Mt. Somers and contracts entered into with Mr. Schnurpfeil for the supply and installation of plant and machinery and J. Smith and Sons were contracted to erect the factory buildings. Land was obtained for the factory on the northern outskirts of the town where there was a plantation of eucalypts, grown to provide firewood. There is no known usage of this area by Maori and the first European association began in 1886 with the Ashburton County Council gazetting the land under the Public Reserves Act, 1881 as a reserve for plantation purposes. Work began on clearing the trees from the factory site using gelignite on 19 March, 1926 and construction of the factory designed by local architect, E.M. Gabites, began shortly afterwards.
Gabites who lived and practised in Ashburton was a member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects from as early as 1915, his work covering both residential and commercial buildings. Brick was the primary construction material for the glassworks and Gabites' completed design for the glassworks was to become one of Ashburton's finest brick buildings. Clay for brick making was readily available in the Ashburton region so a number of brickworks were located there. At one time Ashburton had the highest per capita use of bricks in New Zealand. Early and somewhat ambitious statements estimated that the glassworks would be completed and fully operational by early in 1927. The Southern Cross Glass Company opened a temporary office at 197 Burnett Street in Ashburton and promoted the long lasting benefits of their future industry:
Ashburton and district will derive great and lasting benefit from having so important an industry in their midst, as several hundred men will be employed when the plant is in full operation. Another important feature will be the opportunity provided by the company for the training of young men in a very remunerative occupation. The public are also offered a safe and sound investment, while the Ashburton businessman is furnished with an opportunity to assist an industry that is going to materially help him and at the same time place his town on the map.
By May, 1926 construction of the factory buildings was underway. Approval was given for the company to incorporate a private railway siding into their building complex. Schnurpfeil designed the glass manufacturing plant that was planned to eventually consist of three main furnaces producing plate and window glass, glass hollow ware and 'high class' crystal ware. The plate and window glass furnace would be constructed first, followed by the hollow ware furnace and finally the crystal ware furnace. Schnurpfeil completed the drawings for the factory plant in June 1927 and made arrangements to ship the construction materials for the glassworks from Europe to New Zealand. All the materials for the plant were imported except red brick that was procured locally for the construction of smaller accessory furnaces. At this time, Schnurpfeil also specified the requirements for a tall chimney and 'subterranean channels' within the factory building to conduct smoke away from the furnaces. Schnurpfeil personally oversaw the construction of the glass plant, arriving at Ashburton in late 1927. A group of skilled workmen from Europe who would assist in the construction, assemblage and initial operation of the plant as well as the training of local workers joined him.
The main brick building and wing to the west, the adjoining iron building to the south and the brick and concrete chimney were all completed by March 1928. Schnurpfeil continued to oversee work on the plant until it was completed in June 1928. The number of furnaces completed at this time is unclear, though the plate and window glass furnace was certainly in place. The construction of the railway siding, the laying of tracks off the main line and construction of a wing to the east of the main brick building (incorporating the railway siding) all proceeded and were completed around November 1928. The final site for the chimney was decided after Schnurpfeil arrived in New Zealand.
Mining rights for both coal and silica sand were secured at Mt. Somers - silica would provide the raw material for glass making and coal would provide the fuel for firing the plant. On 28 March, 1928 the Southern Cross Glass Company issued a prospectus seeking capital of £250,000, with £125,000 paid up and the remainder on call. The prospectus explained that it had originally been intended to allot only 100,000 shares but the installation of three glass making plants had made an additional 30,000 shares available. A further 15,000 were allotted to Mr. Tate in recognition of the work he had done developing the company.
While the factory was standing by with the intention that manufacturing would commence at the end of 1928, a further 15 months passed before operation began. The exact reasons for this delay remain a mystery though according to some sources the directors had become distrustful of William Tate and of the involvement of Schnurpfeil. Production eventually began on 1 March 1930. However, despite the intensive planning, imported expertise and massive capital outlay (a total of £87,714 by this time) the glass making plant was destined for failure. Shortly after operation commenced, the specially imported firebricks in the main furnace failed and it was completely destroyed, resulting in molten glass being spilt all over the factory floor. There is evidence on the site today of glass having been poured into a hole in the ground while still hot and it is possible to find lumps of green glass with stone embedded in it. Following this disaster new directors were appointed and the factory resumed operation (presumably of the second, hollow ware furnace) producing large quantities of beer bottles and other hollow ware items of a reportedly high quality. When the shareholders gathered in Ashburton for the AGM of Southern Cross Glass Company in February 1931, they visited the factory to watch the plant in operation, manufacturing beer bottles.
While the period of production remains unclear, the plant only operated for about one year before the Great Depression became so acute that the company was forced to shut down the factory down. Orders were not being placed in sufficient volume to make production economically viable. The directors closed down the factory on 26 March 1931. At the time of closure, Southern Cross Glass intended to resume manufacturing in the spring when it was anticipated conditions would have improved sufficiently. However, as the economic situation throughout the country worsened, the prospect of reopening became less and less likely.
The company was held in abeyance by the directors who conserved their cash resources as much as possible with the intention of providing working capital in the event of reopening. The company was later forced to surrender their Mt. Somers coal lease but was allowed to retain their silica lease in view of the large amount of capital already expended on their glass works. As the years passed, the factory lay idle and shareholders grew frustrated. Several attempts were made to enable the reopening of the factory to no avail. In July 1937 the M.P. Hon. D. Sullivan became aware of the predicament of the Southern Cross Glass Company. Sullivan ordered an investigation into the causes of the factory closure and a survey of possibilities of markets in the South Island to enable the works to return to operation, to be conducted by the Department of Industries and Commerce. As late as 1939, the company directors held on to the hope that the factory might one day reopen .
During WWII between c.1940 and 1945 the glassworks complex was used as a military training facility attended by men from throughout New Zealand. In war time the government was able to make use of available structures like this one. The building was used during the earlier territorial manoeuvres for a period before it became a permanent camp.
The high ceilinged, partially partitioned building was warmed with coke braziers in an attempt to bring some warmth to the gloomy, cold interior. Soldiers were reported to have written their names in chalk over the walls of the building that they dubbed 'Crystal Palace'.
The Ashburton Guardian reported on a training manoeuvre undertaken by the soldiers based at the glassworks in 1942:
Some local soldiers may well remember a night in 1942 when the Japanese scare was ever present in their thoughts, and the alarm was given that the enemy was approaching the county coast or had actually landed. In the depths of that building the men dressed frantically in the darkness, pulling on respirators and tin helmets, colliding with each other and firm brick walls as they made their way outside to waiting vehicles, to help the 10th Independent Brigade repel the enemy. Happily it was only a 'try-out' but for those taking part it all had the air of reality.
At the end of and immediately after the war, the glassworks building was used as a navy storage facility.
Eventually in 1947, the Southern Cross Glass Company gave up on the possibility of ever reopening and sold their factory to the New Zealand Plywood Company Ltd. of Auckland, a subsidiary of Fletcher Holdings Ltd. which planned to convert the buildings for use as a plywood factory. It is unclear whether any or all of the glassworks plant remained in the building at the time of sale. By this time, the glassworks was locally ascribed status as 'something of a landmark about Ashburton'.
For various reasons, including high rail freight charges, the plywood project fell through and the building was subsequently sold to Dominion Industries Ltd. in 1948. Dominion Industries used the building for linseed storage and set the precedent for the ongoing use of the building as a grain storage facility. The building was sold to Fletcher Industries Ltd. in 1959 and to the Canterbury Malting Company Ltd. in 1966, New Zealand's main producer of lager malt. From the late 1960s the wider site on which the glassworks building stands has been developed in a number of ways including the erection of a weighbridge and pit office in 1968; construction of silos, towers and walkways in 1973-1977; erection of a bulk store in 1977; erection of a grain elevator and new silos in 1999-2000; the ongoing construction and update of telecommunications facilities (Vodafone and Television aerials) mounted on the original factory chimney (1991-2002); and the construction and installation of equipment and fittings for a rail load-out system for grain transportation (1999). Only minor alterations have been made to the original brick glassworks building. These include the taking up of the original rail tracks, alteration to the main entry door in the external north wall, the opening of a door way in the external south wall, the resealing of worn patches in the concrete floor and a small blockwork addition to an internal wall to create a narrower door space (1978). An original traveling crane mechanism in the roof of the main room of the brick building remains in place. This is an interesting surviving element, predating the later electrical systems.
In 2000 the International Malting Company acquired Canterbury (NZ) Malting Company Ltd., including the former glassworks site. International Malting is 60% owned by Lesaffre Malt Corporation of France and 40% by Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) of the USA. The building complex continues to be used primarily as a grain storage facility. The main room of the brick building is leased to Stapletons, an Ashburton grain and seed merchant's company and the corrugated iron building and part of the west wing of the brick building are used by the International Malting Company New Zealand Ltd. for the storage of malting barley. The building is not ideal as a barley storage facility due to a lack of aeration and the western portion of the brick building has inadequate forklift access. As a consequence, a significant proportion of the building remains vacant.
The town of Ashburton is sited on the Canterbury plains beside the Ashburton River, some 18 kilometres from the coast. The flat land rises gently to the distant Southern Alps which form a grand backdrop to the location. The former Southern Cross Glass Company building is on a large open site on the town's northern outskirts, adjacent to the main railway line. The tall chimney is visible from many parts of the town and the large building has a strong presence when viewed from Glassworks Road.
It is a double brick masonry structure with a concrete floor and corrugated iron roof. The principal section of the building has a steep pitched high roof supported on cross braced steel members. This roof culminates in a fenestrated clerestory section. The whole roof is clad with corrugated asbestos sheets. Attached to the principal section of the building are two brick wings to the east and west. The west wing is single storied with twin gabled roofs with timber cross bracing and an interior space divided into several smaller brick walled rooms. The narrow brick wing to the east was an unloading dock with the covered railway siding beyond it.
The architectural aesthetics of the building are restrained and decorative design is achieved through the use of architectural detail expressed through the modulation of the brickwork. The façade of the principal section of the building is divided into five bays separated by brick pilasters. The two outer bays culminate in stepped brick work which serves to emphasise the steep pitch of the roof and leads the eye to the culminating point of the central bay which supports the clerestory section.
On the lower level of the principal section there is a single round headed, multi-paned window in each bay. A steel roller door, a later addition that replaced an entrance and window, now breaks the original symmetry. The fenestration on the single storey wings is also multi-paned but square headed. Each end of the principal section has a magnificent multi-paned semi-circular window spread across the three central bays at the upper level and divided by the brick pilasters. Read internally, this pattern of fenestration combined with the height of this section gives an almost 'cathedral-like' quality to the internal space. The windows throughout the remainder of the building are multi-paned with a mix of round and square heads. The round headed fenestrations appear on the gabled sections and the square headed on the side sections presenting a simple hierarchy in the reading of this element.
The skyline at the glassworks site is dominated by a tall concrete, brick lined chimney located to the east. (This now has cellular phone and satellite attachments.) Subterranean channels were built into the main room of the brick building to conduct smoke away from the factory to the chimney. It is difficult to ascertain at this point the extent to which these remain in place. However one outlet, covered with a wooden trapdoor, is able to be viewed in the railway siding
A large corrugated iron shed adjoins the brick building to the south-east. The building is notable for its large scale and wide spanned (unjointed) oregon beams. The corrugated iron building and parts of the wings to the brick building have been re-roofed in iron.
There was little early success in achieving the manufacture of glass in New Zealand and the Ashburton glass works building is a unique surviving reminder of the efforts made to establish a thriving industry here. The factory at Penrose (1922), the first successful New Zealand glass works that continues in operation today, began in a large but undistinguished building. It uses more modern buildings that have been constructed since and has no buildings dating from its early days remaining intact. Other surviving buildings associated with this industry are of more recent origin, for example Crown Crystal Glass established in Christchurch in 1950.
The architectural quality and scale of the building gives it special distinction in the Ashburton where there are a number of fine brick structures. The design has prominence among with other industrial buildings of the period. It is the most architecturally distinguished example of an industrial building in Ashburton, comparable in status to other New Zealand heritage complexes like nineteenth century flour mills, wool stores, breweries etc.
While some other industrial buildings of this period, like Christchurch's Edmonds Factory (now demolished), were of similarly distinctive architectural character, the Ashburton Glassworks Factory has a special, individual form.
Glassworks (brick) building and traveling crane.
Corrugated iron building
Railway siding structure
1926 - 1928
Alterations to internal wall - minor concrete blockwork addition enclosing door space in west wall of main room, brick building; small block-work addition to an internal wall.
Door and door opening alteration to north facing external façade of main brick building - original multi-paned round-headed window and door removed and replaced with a steel roller door.
Brick, iron, timber, steel, concrete, asbestos corrugated roof sheeting.
19th April 2007
Report Written By
Pam Wilson & Helen Brown
A. M. Bowey, New Zealand Glass, CD-ROM, 1999 [Oar Publishing]
New Zealand Legacy
Hanrahan, M. 'Ashburton's Glassworks', vol. 7, no.2.
A fully referenced registration report on the Ashburton Glassworks is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.