Bridgers' Ltd (Former)

122 Church Street And Elliott Street, Opotiki

  • Bridgers' Ltd (Former). The Elliott Street frontage..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: K Pfeiffer. Date: 2/12/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7764 Date Entered 27th June 2008


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 48 Sec 1 Town of Opotiki, Gisborne Land District, and the buildings known as Bridgers' Ltd (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Opotiki District


Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Lot 48 Sec 1 Town of Opotiki (GS2C/1119), Gisborne Land District

Location description

The building is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Church Street and Elliott Street, extending along Elliott Street.


Bridgers' Ltd (Former), on the corner of Church Street and Elliott Street, opened in 1915 as Opotiki's first department store.

The department store is an assemblage of six contiguous buildings from different eras, the earliest of which date from the late 1890s-early 1900s. The department store incorporated the earlier structures and the whole complex operated as one business for several decades. The new store was a major retail outlet with large floor space for displays and a mail order service for rural customers.

The new department store was probably designed by Bay of Plenty architect Harry Lesley Daniel West, who played a prominent role in the development of towns such as Opotiki, Whakatane and Tauranga in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Around 1920 the Bridgers' Ltd department store was purchased by the Farmers' Union Trading Company Limited as one of their chain of department stores. The Farmers' served Opotiki for nearly 70 years. As well as supplying merchandise and produce, Farmers' provided employment opportunities for local people either in the shop or furniture factory. In 1950 the Farmers' helped establish a clothing factory especially for Maori workers, a major initiative at that time.

The main part of the building has an ornate, two-storey façade facing the intersection of two of Opotiki's principal streets. This building retains much of its original significant fabric and has not been greatly modified although its ornate parapets were removed in the mid-1950s. Its façade extends along Church Street to include a single-storey shop that was built for Bridgers' Ltd around 1900. Along Elliott Street, the department store incorporated an earlier shop and extended into another single-storey building which has structural elements reflecting the main building and is also presumed to have been built around 1915. Adjoining that 'extension' is a building that, although heavily modified in around 1954-55, is believed to date from the 1920s or earlier, and may have been the Northern Steam Ship Company offices. Elliott Street was intended by the town's planners to be the main thoroughfare and the design of the principal building reflects this emphasis.

The department store continues in its original purpose as a retail store despite changes in ownership. The rooms on the upper storey have seen additional uses as medical rooms, a dance hall, tea rooms, a club room for returned servicemen, a betting agency and residential accommodation. At times this has enabled public access and enjoyment of the building, activities which fostered cultural and community life in Opotiki. The easternmost building of the complex has been a restaurant and is now a bar, thus continuing this social aspect of the building's history.

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Historical Significance or Value

Bridgers' Ltd (Former) is evidence of the consolidation of Opotiki Township as an important service centre in the late 1890s through to the 1920s. At the height of its development Opotiki commercial centre provided for practically all of the supply, service, entertainment and social needs of the community and surrounding district.

Bridgers' Ltd (Former) was the first department store in Opotiki, built and enlarged at a time when the department store concept was becoming well-established in New Zealand, reflecting a nationwide trend. Its role was continued with the purchase of the property by the Farmers' Union Trading Co. Ltd in 1920, as part of that company's expansion throughout the North Island. Both Bridgers' Ltd and the Farmers' operated mail order services which were vital for rural customers.

Bridgers' Ltd and the Farmers' each operated their own factories producing goods for sale and providing employment for local people. Local produce was also distributed through the Farmers' retail outlet.

The easternmost building in the complex is of significance as the location of one of the first Maori employment initiatives in the district when many rural Maori moved to town after the Second World War and during the 1950s. The successful clothing factory that operated with Maori staff was supervised by Norman Perry, later Sir Norman Perry, who was initially Maori Welfare Officer for the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board and then its Secretary for many years. The initiative became interwoven with other business enterprises for Te Whakatohea as the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board consolidated its work.

Part of the property was the site of the Northern Steam Ship Co. office which played a major role in the development and management of Opotiki's passenger and freight service during the decades the town was dependent on sea access.

The property encompasses a wide array of Opotiki's history from being near to the large nineteenth century Whakatohea village Pakowhai; adjacent to the first Christian church in the district and the site of inter-racial conflict and military activities in the mid 1860s; and the site of some of the earliest militiamen-settler businesses. It retains a mixture of late nineteenth century wooden structures and more substantial, durable buildings erected as the prosperity of the town and its businesses increased.


The ornate façade of the main corner building, enhanced by its prominence on a major intersection, attracts attention and acts as a landmark. The building is a significant part of the streetscape and helps define the character of the main street. Its marked similarity in style, features and colour scheme to Rostgard's building, in view south along the street, gives cohesiveness to the streetscape. It is a strong contributor to the community's sense of place and identity both physically and emotively as an important aspect of the town in more vibrant times.

It is considered by Kingston Morrison Ltd, architects, urban designers and planners, to exhibit fine decorative detail and to be well-proportioned, a professional opinion reinforced by conservation architects Matthews & Matthews.

When new, Bridgers' Ltd (Former) was promoted in Bradbury's popular travel guides as being one of the finest buildings in Opotiki.


The main part of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) is a substantial two-storey building that defines the northeast corner of the junction of Church and Elliott Streets. It incorporates two remodelled earlier wooden buildings from the turn of the 20th century, one of which retains its verandah and verandah support posts, and exhibits skilful re-use of structures and structural elements while presenting a cohesive whole in the interior. On the exterior, linear features have been aligned or repeated to add consistency to its streetscape.

It is one of a group of buildings in Opotiki believed to have been designed by architect Harry Lesley Daniel West or the practice of Whincup and West who practised in the town from circa 1914 through into the 1920s and whose work contributes a distinctive style to several main buildings in the commercial centre. Their work has possibly had more impact on Opotiki than on any other small town, as they were designing at a time of maximum expansion in the town centre and a high proportion of extant buildings can be attributed to them.


The upstairs rooms were used by social groups or for social functions such as weddings, dances and meetings. The tea rooms served a role in the social life through being a meeting place for exchanging news and reinforcing relationships, especially important for the rural community when visiting town. Some of the upstairs rooms were used as a servicemen's club during the Second World War.

The place was well-known to residents of the town and district whether through their work, through shopping, having refreshments or through the social functions held there. Although it has been occupied by Hickeys Sportsworld for 18 years, it is still referred to by locals as the Farmers', such was the strength of that company's role in Opotiki. Families associated with the building and business, such as Bridger, Dawson, Potts, Newell, Larmer, Oakes, Perry and McKay have contributed hugely to the district. Bridgers' and the Farmers employed many people over the years and served a wide community through mail order services, and as such were highly influential in the social history of Opotiki.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

Bridgers' Ltd (Former) reflects the role of small coastal towns in the development of districts away from the main centres of population, and the importance of the port to such areas. The district's produce was exported through the port facilities and coastal shipping, goods and passengers arrived via the port. The building is an example of one of the earlier department stores, albeit on a scale commensurate with the population size of the district it served.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

The clothing factory established by the Farmers' through the initiative of the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board and Norman Perry was a founding business enterprise for tangata whenua.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

Former businesses within the building are remembered by members of the local and wider community as being part of the cultural identity of the town. The main businesses of Bridgers' Ltd, the Farmers' and the clothing factory have strong associations for local people as a place of employment, access to a wide variety of goods and a social meting place. The longevity of the Farmers' occupation of the building has meant it has a marked impact on the community.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The building defines the corner of Church and Elliott Streets as being a significant location in the mercantile development of Opotiki. It is part of an intact group of significant historic buildings on Church Street between Elliott and Kelly Streets that include on the east St Stephen's Church Hall, Hiona St Stephen's Church, the former Bay of Plenty Power Board Building (H.T. Torrens') and the Opotiki Hotel, and on the west Shalfoon's stores, the Masonic Hotel, the De Luxe Theatre and the former Hospital and Charitable Aid Society's building (now Kowhai Takeaways). These and other substantial buildings, mostly in permanent materials and/or two-storey, reflect Opotiki's consolidation during the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries as the main service centre for the rural and coastal districts of the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Within its own fabric, Bridgers' Ltd (Former) incorporates stages in the town's built development, with small wooden buildings and more substantial brick and concrete structures.


This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, d, e, k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The site and location of Opotiki close to rivers, sea and productive alluvial plains was significant in Maori and later European settlement, with abundant resources and easy access. By the early 19th century the iwi Te Whakatohea had established a large village called Pakowhai [Pa Kowhai] at the north end of what is now Opotiki township close to the junction of the Waioeka and Otara Rivers and their common outlet to the sea. The property on which the Bridgers' Ltd (Former) building was built is within the general rohe of Pakowhai. After the alienation of the Whakatohea people through the confiscation of their land and property by the colonial government in January 1866, Opotiki was surveyed and laid out to enable allocation of land to militiamen (mostly of the 1st Regiment of Waikato Militia) in return for service. Each militiaman received a one-acre town section as well as a rural plot of a size relative to his rank.

The military settlement provided the impetus for the establishment of a resident European population and growth of the commercial town centre that developed to service the growing agricultural industry in the wider district. Increases in the local economy led to the steady consolidation of the town centre, replacement of simple early buildings with more substantial ones in more durable materials, and by the late 1890s the central shopping and commercial precinct was well established. The remote location of Opotiki with access primarily by sea initially also created the need for self-sufficiency and provision of a strong service base.

The parcel of land on which Bridgers' Ltd (Former) is situated, Allotment 48, was not allocated to militiamen but was subdivided into smaller plots to allow for commercial development. Bridgers' Ltd (Former) was on a principal street corner, the intersection of the two main thoroughfares Elliott Street and Church Street. By 1895 the other corner sites at the intersection of Elliott and Church Streets were occupied by the two-storey Masonic Hotel, the Opotiki Courthouse and the Bank of New Zealand. Immediately adjacent to the north on Church Street, was Hiona St Stephen's Church with the rest of the block occupied by shops and the large Opotiki Hotel. This block and the block opposite, that includes Shalfoon Bros. store, were the main retail areas in the late 19th century, with some business premises also in Elliott Street. To the south on Church Street, beside the Courthouse, was the Opotiki Post Office.

The first known colonial occupant of the site was William Kelly, who had one of the first shops on the site, with a bakehouse behind, by the late 1860s. . The shop may have been the one that burnt down in June 1867. The subsequent occupant of the site was Bates and Walmsley's general store, listed in the Opotiki street directory for 1880 as the only building between the Bank of New Zealand and St Stephen's church. In 1891 Mrs Kirkham, a draper, milliner and dressmaker, advertised her business as on the corner of Elliott and Church Streets, presumably in what had been Bates and Walmsley's building. Mrs Kirkham was bought out and in 1895 the Bridgers family established their business, initially called Bridgers' Northern Drapery & Clothing Company, on the site.

Bridgers' consisted of its founder, Thomas Bridger, and his sons Len, Percy and Fred. Thomas Bridger and his family came from Auckland. In 1896 the Bridgers registered on the Opotiki roll are Walter E. (draper), Thomas (storekeeper) and Mary (domestic duties). The Bridger family remained in the district for many years. The Electoral Roll for 1910-11 has the following entries for Bridger: Mary, Thomas, Leonard (cabinet maker), Violet, Walter E. (draper), Agnes and Thomas Percy (upholsterer). In 1910 Arthur, Leonard, Percy, Thomas and Walter are all listed as being part of Bridgers' Ltd. Members of the Bridger family participated in local sports groups, for instance Fred and C. [Charles] Bridger in the Opotiki Junior Football Club in 1906, Percy in the Opotiki Bowling Club c.1915, and Percy and Charles in the rowing team 1912. Thomas retired in 1907 and died in November 1919 aged 74 years. He is buried in the Opotiki cemetery with his wife Mary who died in 1931. Thomas Bridger's grave is marked with a marble column topped with an urn, an indication of the prosperity enjoyed by the family by this time.

The earliest known photograph of the corner shop shows a simple gable-roof wooden building with a verandah over the Church Street footpath and window displays; next along Elliott Street is another building set back from the footpath and a wooden shop with deep verandah. The latter bears the sign 'P. Bridger, General Agent New Zealand J.J. Furnishers, Mattress Maker'. The corner shop is identified on its parapet as Bridgers' Northern Drapery & Clothing Company, selling boots and shoes.

On 6 August 1897 Thomas Bridger bought the adjoining Allotment 47 to the east on Elliott Street; it was transferred to his wife Mary on 19 January 1906. The changes in ownership on this title may reflect those for Allotment 48, the full title records for which have not been accessed. Bridgers' Ltd was incorporated as a private company on 9 July 1907. On 19 May 1908 ownership of Allotment 48 was transferred from Mary Bridger to Bridgers' Limited. By the early 1900s the success of the business allowed the Bridgers to replace the corner store with a larger, more impressive, single-storey, hipped-roof wooden building with ornate parapets around the edges of the verandahs. The building was situated with the Church Street frontage set slightly back from the boundary and was 97.2 links (19.55 metres) wide. It is possible that this building comprised two separate structures, the wider hipped-roof building on the corner with an adjoining gable-roofed building to the north [extant building A]. There were window displays along the Church Street frontage.

Adjacent (and apparently adjoining) on Elliott Street was a small wooden shop [extant building B] possibly dating from the late 1890s-early 1900s. This small shop initially had no verandah, but later had a verandah with a plain parapet. Structural evidence suggests that the northern part of the Church Street building was extended behind this shop ['A Extension' on sketch plan, Appendix 2] and merged with it by the removal of walls. The Elliott Street shop's verandah was changed to match the new ornate parapet of Bridgers'. To the east of the Elliott Street shop was a fenced section, and east of that the wooden Northern Steam Ship Co. building and another small wooden shop with verandah, earlier identified as Percy Bridger's mattress agency. The Northern Steam Ship Co. [aka Northern Steamship Co.] was providing an essential weekly service from Opotiki to Auckland from 1881 plus other services connecting Opotiki with Whakatane, Te Puke, Gisborne and Tauranga. Opotiki was highly dependent on coastal shipping for freight and transport, until better roads and a railway were constructed.

Bridgers' Ltd sold drapery, clothing, millinery, boots and shoes, crockery and general house furnishings. A published diary by G.F. Joblin recording farming activities includes the entries '20.12.07 ... I also bought a tie at Bridgers for 1/6. ... 21.8.15: I went to town and bought a coat, boots and riding pants at Bridgers... '. Joblin bought farming supplies and household items at other shops or through Laidlaw Leeds mail order. In the early 1900s, there were no bookshops in Opotiki but one family newly-arrived from Auckland '...found one or two old-fashioned novels' at Bridgers'. In the early 1900s ‘the Town Clerk, Mr Merry, had his offices in Elliott St on a site now occupied by the Farmers' buildings'; exactly which part of the building complex referred to here has not been clarified. Norman Potts, a solicitor, also had premises within the Bridgers' complex, in the small building (now demolished) at the east end of the property.

The business grew sufficiently for a branch to be opened in Whakatane in 1914; this was run by Arthur E. Bridger.

The wooden building had a floor space of 630 square feet (58.5 square metres) but the growth of the business necessitated the erection of a larger building; this was a more substantial brick and concrete building [building C] built between August 1914 and February 1916. Further east again, and adjoining the small shop on Elliott Street, is another building [D] with design elements in common with the main c.1915 building; it is not known when this was built but is presumed to be part of the new construction in c.1915. An architect's perspective, published in 1915, shows the building as much larger than what was built, with all of the Church Street façade being two-storey, i.e. symmetrical about the corner, whereas the north half of the Church Street frontage was built as only single-storey. The architect's perspective shows the Elliott Street frontage to be all in the same style, whereas a single-storey shop was incorporated into the structure and the new buildings [C and D] added on each side, and while the façade of the Church Street single-storey section was altered to reflect the new style, the Elliott Street earlier shop retained many features of its façade.

The original architectural drawings for the new building have not been located, but on stylistic grounds the main building and the extension are believed to have been designed by architect Harry Lesley Daniel West (c.1887-1937). West designed a large number of buildings in the Bay of Plenty with many extant buildings in Opotiki, Whakatane and Tauranga left as a record of his work. Initially in practice with his father Daniel West in Timaru, West shifted to Opotiki in c.1914. In 1915 and 1916 he was in partnership with R.S. Todd Whincup with an office in Rostgard's Building which they designed. Rostgard's Building is one of a number of buildings in central Opotiki which are stylistically similar and are thus thought to have been designed by West or Whincup and West. West designed the Patterson's Buildings in Church Street in 1922-3 when he was based at Whakatane. West shifted to Whakatane c.1921, where he continued to practice as an architect but in sole practice, and to Tauranga in c.1934 where he was the Tauranga Borough Architect until his sudden death on the 29th May 1937, aged just 50. His designs included shops, offices, the Whakatane Plunket Rooms, the Tauranga Rest Rooms and houses as well as new blocks for Whakatane Hospital and probably the Whakatane Bridgers' Building. West embraced the use of concrete and his styles included Edwardian Baroque, Stripped Classical and Art Deco. West's Opotiki buildings feature a very similar detail around the windows and most have a distinctive curved detail with dentils applied to the façade or to parapets.

The new building was promoted as having a floor space of over 17,000 sq. ft (1579 sq.m.), a considerable expansion for the business and a window frontage of 208 feet (63.4 metres). It was advertised as having departments: drapery, clothing, millinery, boots and shoes, crockery, and general household furnishings. This terminology shows that Bridgers' aligned themselves with the new ‘department store' concept that was achieving great popularity in New Zealand at the time. Department stores generally followed the same course of development as Bridgers': a family drapery business that expanded the range of goods available and the size of the retail premises. In comparison to those in the main cities, however, Bridgers' was on a much smaller, more modest scale, but with the assignment of different people, in Bridgers' case members of the family, to the charge of different departments it followed the organisational structure of the larger stores. Bridgers' advertised as ‘the stores that save you money', another characteristic of department stores which provided ‘the widest possible variety of goods available ... [and] ... with efficiency in stock turnover ...goods could usually be sold at cheaper prices than in specialist shops'.

Two other Opotiki retail businesses, H.T. Torrens and Shalfoon Bros, advertised a similar range of goods, but their premises were not as large and could not have been departmentalised in the same way.

The edge of the verandah roof was utilised for advertising the various commodities for sale, as well as the business's name. The corner of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) facing into the intersection was cut off on a diagonal that mirrors the similar feature on the Bank of New Zealand across the road. The exterior has strong similarities to that of the Rostgard's Building facing into the next intersection south on Church Street. Soon after it was built Bridgers' Ltd (Former) was described as ‘one of the finest blocks in Opotiki'.

By 1919 Bridgers' Limited described themselves as ‘The leading house of the Bay of Plenty'. Bridgers' also offered a mail order service, with ‘all orders despatched same day as received'. They had an up-to-date furniture factory with a staff of first-class workmen and the ‘latest labour-saving machinery'.

On 31 March 1920 Allotment 47 transferred to Farmers Union Trading Company (Auckland) Limited (FUTC); it is presumed that Allotment 48 and the business of Bridgers' Limited were sold to the FUTC at the same time. On 28 January 1920 the FUTC also bought the Torrens building nearby on Church Street. After the sale of the Opotiki business to the Farmers', most of the Bridgers' family shifted to Whakatane, but Fred Bridger established the ‘Economic' with two shops in Church Street and Percy and Len continued working in the furniture factory for the Farmers' as manager and cabinetmaker respectively.

By 1920 the FUTC was a fast-developing retail and manufacturing company, the forerunner of which was the Farmers' Union Indenting and Trading Association, established in 1910 as a trading arm of the New Zealand Farmers' Union. The business was based on co-operative trading and mutual support for its farmer members and proved so successful that a limited liability company, the Farmers' Union Trading Company, Limited, was formed in 1916. In 1918 the FUTC merged with Robert Laidlaw's Laidlaw Leeds highly successful mail order business, the name changing to Farmers' Union Trading Company (Auckland) Ltd.

By the end of 1920 the FUTC was based in Auckland, but with 29 branch stores in the Auckland, Waikato, King Country and Bay of Plenty; twelve of these had been purchased from Green & Colebrook in 1919. In 1926 the company changed its name to the Farmers' Trading Company (FTC) but was commonly known as the Farmers'. The Farmers' continued to emphasise its affinity with the working and rural classes, marketing its products and services to these groups and supplying regular catalogues and newsletters. Their mail order business was ‘the largest mail order business in the Dominion', with a money-back guarantee if the customer was dissatisfied with their purchase. These practices were very appropriate to the rural Opotiki district, as was their ‘family-friendly' staff policy which included giving Christmas presents to the children of staff members.

On 21 March 1927 Allotments 47 and 48 came under the Farmers' new name, Farmers Trading Company Limited. Bridgers' Limited held a mortgage on both properties until 27 December 1927.

The Farmers' in Opotiki had a similar line of merchandise to Bridgers', but with more dairying, hardware and saddlery goods. These latter products were sold from the H.T. Torrens building that the Farmers' purchased at much the same time as the Bridgers' building. A major part of their business was by mail order, and this expanded to include groceries after the grocery department was established. A 1928 advertisement includes produce, seeds and groceries amongst the wares available.

The Farmers' continued with the furniture manufacture established by Bridgers' Ltd, in a building on Allotment 47 set back from the road. Long-serving staff member E.C.C. (Teddy) Walker's first job for Farmers' was stuffing kapok into mattresses in the factory, in 1933. The factory closed in approximately 1934 and after a period of use as a storeroom, the building was demolished.

The Farmers' provided employment opportunities for local people, in retail, administration, accountancy, display work and manufacturing. In 1937 they had at least fifteen staff. By the early 1950s the number had increased to at least 21.

The upper storey saw many uses. Initially a tearoom and a show room for high fashion garments, in the early 1920s it was let as a social room, and was the venue for the local jazz club, high school dances, 21st birthday parties and other events. In 1928 Hazel Larmer held her school of dancing there and Epi Shalfoon's Melody Boys practised their jazz music in a room upstairs. The first meetings of the Caledonian Society were held upstairs and the first Plunket Society clinics were held in the cloakroom.

In 1937 Winnie Newell ran the Wattle Tearooms in the whole of the top floor above the Farmers'. Her business partner was Betty Walker, and later, Addie Black. The tearooms are remembered fondly by Opotiki resident Harold Bridge, who used to go there after the movies for dinner, which consisted of ‘a quick feed - steak, eggs, sausages and chips'. Before the Second World War the Wattle Tearooms catered for wedding receptions also. The tearoom closed during the war and the space was used as a servicemen's club run by Mrs Burgess. In c.1947 Dr Don Meredith established his medical practice upstairs, and since then the rooms have been used by accountants, other businesses, the Department of Agriculture and by Mr De Latour for a dental surgery. It was used again as a showroom by the Farmers' and also for storage. According to Mick McKay, the upstairs room closest to the stairs on the north side once functioned as the TAB with a teller's grille window in the diagonal wall facing the stairs. Prospective betters would queue on the landing.

The narrow, gable-roofed building at the east end of Allotment 48 was Guthrie's bakery in the early 1940s. The bakery was run by ‘Doughy' Parkinson. The building was then taken over by Lindsay Clark who operated a second-hand shop in it for a few years. One informant believed it burnt down, but this was disputed by a near neighbour, who thinks it was demolished. The building was still in existence in April 1951.

By the 1940s the square building [building E] on the site formerly occupied by the Northern Steam Ship Company offices was in use as the Farmers' warehouse. A large wooden door in the façade was sufficiently large for delivery trucks, which could back in and offload onto a raised concrete pad. A carrier who delivered cream in cans to the creamery would go on to the Farmers' and collect orders for his rural customers. The storeman would weigh up grain and maize from the bulk containers and prepare orders for delivery to customers.

The Farmers' established clothing factories or workrooms in Auckland but in 1950 at Opotiki:

... an entirely different sort of factory was opened... Following the trend at that time of creating factories in the country where labour was available, Mr. R. Busfield, then Production Manager, converted a motor garage in Opotiki into a small factory for the manufacture of Oiled Canvas Coats, Motor Jackets, Leggings, Sou'westers, etc. The staff, consisting of Maoris, was supervised by Mr. D.N. Perry, late Maori Welfare officer for the East Coast district. Although inexperienced, the staff soon became proficient and the production of this factory, both in quality and quantity, is now very satisfactory.

According to Norm Perry's daughter, the impetus for this factory came from Perry, who had been to Auckland seeking a backer to set up a factory in Opotiki to provide work opportunities for Maori. In 1956 approximately 47 per cent of the population of Opotiki County was Maori and 90 per cent of Coastal Opotiki (to the east of Opotiki Borough) was Maori; Inland Opotiki was predominantly Maori. Between 1945 and 1956 the population of Opotiki Borough increased dramatically by 49.3 per cent while the population of Inland Opotiki decreased by 26.4 per cent and Coastal Opotiki only increased by 6.4 per cent: these figures suggest that a large proportion of rural Maori were migrating, either to Opotiki or to other areas. This migration was part of what has become known as the ‘urban drift' of rural Maori throughout New Zealand from immediately after World War II to the early 1960s. At that time New Zealand ‘was experiencing prosperity and there was a growing demand for labour in the towns and cities'. Young Maori, especially, moved in search of work, money and pleasure. As the Maori Welfare Officer for the Whakatohea Trust Board, a post he had held from the late 1940s, Perry was aware of the need for more local jobs.

The FTC and the Maori Affairs Department funded the first clothing factory in a garage behind shops in Church Street but the need for larger premises soon arose and in 1954-55 the warehouse [building E] at the eastern end of the Bridgers' Buildings complex was converted into a factory. Perry was responsible for the major renovations required; these included constructing a wooden tongue and groove (t and g) floor that concealed the concrete loading platform. The renovations included. Some of the work was undertaken in 1954, part of a large modification programme affecting all parts of the ground floor buildings. The work was undertaken by local builder G.E. Schdroski. At some stage, possibly at this time, a flight of stairs was installed down from the stair landing to the back storeroom.

The new ‘Opotiki Canvas Factory' was opened with much fanfare by the Farmers' with the managing director and three other senior managers coming from Auckland and with the mayor, the county chairman, a representative of the Maori Affairs Department and over 70 people attending. Norm Perry, then Manager of the factory, arranged the proceedings along Marae protocol, a ‘novel', ‘most interesting and unique' evening ensuing. Speakers praised the Farmers' for providing the local Maori people with an interesting occupation and praised the leadership of Norman Perry and the forewoman, Tangi Oakes.

In 1950 the Farmers' department store in Auckland was held to be ‘the only one in Australasia combining retailing, country mail order and wholesaling to branches within one building'. By 1953 the Farmers' Trading Company had a staff of 2,145, with 532 of those in the branches and 264 in its factories. Already in a leading role in merchandising in New Zealand, the company planned a programme of modernisation of its buildings in Auckland and the branches to make them more attractive to customers and anticipated even greater success. In Opotiki the corner bay window upstairs and the ornate parapets were removed, presumably in accordance with this modernisation policy, although the parapets were seen as an earthquake risk also. They were removed by R.J. (Bob) Booth of Booth and Pyke.

Accountant Ken Skelton, of Perry & Skelton, had two small offices in the Elliott Street frontage of the clothing factory, one for Skelton and one for Perry's secretary Kura Taia who was there from 1958. Also facing Elliott Street was the staffroom. The factory moved in c.1964 to premises in the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile building but work may have continued at both sites for a while. Building E later became a boot factory.

With the closing of the warehouse (building E) a new loading platform was built on the east side of the building with common access to the rear of building E and to the produce store in F. Building F may have been remodelled at this time as well, including incorporating the toilets at the northeast corner of the building. The renovations in 1954 included remodelling the access through to the grocery store, which was on the north side of the building, in the rear of building D. Access was through the extant pair of narrow timber and glazed doors from the Elliott Street footpath and also through doors in the partition wall in building B. The Farmers' collected local produce for sale, one example being eggs supplied by the Perry family during the 1950s. The grocery department closed in the early 1970s after 40 years service.

Council building records show that during 1956, 1960 and 1997 the building underwent minor alterations, improvements to plumbing and drainage, and interior remodelling as usage of particular rooms changed.

The property was transferred to F.T.C. Properties Limited in July 1981. Farmers' Trading Co. was purchased by Chase Corporation but the stock market crash of 1986-87 resulted in many small branches being sold. The Opotiki property was sold on 13 December 1989 to Michael (Mick) Barry McKay and Bernice Marie McKay, prominent local farmers and property owners, and Farmers' closed the store. One resident saw this as a major loss to the town:

‘Everyone was devastated when it closed down. It was a big shop and catered to all people. It really was the hub of Opotiki. When we lost that the town sort of died - Opotiki lost the bread factory, the dairy factory, the shoe factory and the Farmers' all at a similar time.'

This sentiment was echoed in a local newspaper, which stated that Opotiki people believe ‘it was the end of an era'.

In 1990 the ground floor of the main part of the building complex [buildings A, B, C and half of D] was occupied by Hickeys Sportsworld Opotiki. The eastern half of D was vacant and P.F. Olsen & Co., which was involved with the forestry industry, occupied building E.

Alterations in 1990 involved the conversion of the upper floor to accommodation and in 1993 the east end of the ground floor [building E] was altered to a restaurant. The current owner removed the back stairs and their access door and filled in the wall with wallboard. In 1996 the owners applied for a building consent to upgrade the conference/recreation room. This involved an extension to the building. Fire safety concerns were raised from time to time. These concerns were realised in early 1999 when the building, then including a brassiere as well as the restaurant, was damaged by fire. The repairs were undertaken and the bar and brassiere became ‘Ju Bayleys' by the end of 1999. Recently a verandah and an access ramp have been added and the windows altered.

Physical Description


Architect: c.1915 H.L.D. West [presumed]

1990 modifications upper floor: Rainford Patterson Kane Ltd, Whakatane

Builder: 1954 modifications: G.E. Schdroski

Builder: 1990 modifications upper floor: Martin Hoskins

Bridgers' Ltd is situated in the commercial centre of Opotiki on the corner of a major intersection, with the Bank of New Zealand, the Masonic Hotel and the Opotiki Courthouse occupying the other corners. Adjacent to its north are the St Stephen's Parish Hall and Hiona St Stephen's church; further north in the same block are the H.T. Torrens building and the Opotiki Hotel. Across the road on the west side of Church Street are Shalfoon's stores, the De Luxe Theatre and the former Hospital and Charitable Aid Society's building (now Kowhai Takeaways). In Elliott Street are a butchery, a large warehouse, boarding house and shops dating from the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. The Torrens' building and the Masonic Hotel are also substantial, two-storey buildings with similar design elements to Bridgers' and are believed to be by the same architect.

Bridgers' Ltd (Former) is a complex of adjoining buildings from different periods and of different styles.


Originally a wooden building, dating from the late 1890s-very early 1900s, this structure was considerably altered to form the north side of building C, when the latter was constructed in approximately 1915. Its exterior west elevation is continuous with the façade of building C in a similar but plainer style and is single-storied. The concrete and brick façade continues beyond the structure to adjoin to the neighbouring Parish Hall, thereby concealing from the street a narrow void between the two buildings. The suspended verandah over the Church Street footpath is continuous with that of building C. Part of its exterior wall, the north side, is of large concrete blocks and part is clad in corrugated iron. At the eastern end, the north wall is concealed by a freestanding brick wall which is continuous with the exterior wall of building D. The corrugated iron roof forms a gable end against the concrete parapet at the western end but is hipped at the eastern end, possibly due to an extension between c.1900 and c.1915. The building is approximately 9m x 27m on the interior, with an additional 1.5 m on the facade.

The interior of building A is incorporated into the open shop space of buildings B, C and sometimes D. It is possible that the building was extended towards the east, as the ceiling is t and g timber matchlining over the western space but is of wide wooden boards with moulded battens at the eastern end; a beam separates the two ceilings. These boards run at right-angles to those of the matchlining ceiling and is lower than the ceiling in the earlier part of A. The northeast corner of the ceiling is in the same style as buildings C and D. This corner appears to have undergone more than one modification as there are small roofed additions as well, possibly from c.1915. There is little or no remaining interior walling.


Originally a wooden building, dating from the very early 1900s, this structure was considerably altered to form the east side of building C, when the latter was constructed in approximately 1915. At that time or earlier its interior was opened to form a common space with the east end of A. No interior walls remain, the structure being supported by beams and posts. The wall between B and D is a partition that has been moved more than once. The shop's pressed-metal ceiling survives. A skylight has been covered over flush with the ceiling. The structure has a verandah with a deep fascia, supported on timber posts. The underside of this verandah has diagonal t and g boards and sheet linings. The corrugated iron verandah roof is an extension to the main roof which forms a gable with the ridge line aligned west-east. The frontage to Elliott Street is 9.4 m wide and retains some of the appearance of the original glazed shop windows, stall board and door (now blocked off).


The main structure built in c.1915 comprises a two-storey concrete and brick building on a street corner. This is based on an Edwardian Baroque style with an eclectic range of decorative detail including parapets with swags and scrolls, arched and rectangular windows. It originally featured high curved parapets and a projecting bay window at the upper floor on the corner; these elements have been removed. The facing detail around the windows matches that found on the Masonic Hotel opposite. Historic photos show that the façade was originally banded with brick and plaster work, now concealed by paint.

Kingston Morrison Ltd considered the façade of the corner building to be 'well proportioned and features well detailed arched and rectangular double-hung sash windows, stringline, 'Keystone' and tied bow motif mouldings in cement and pronounced piers to form bays in the façade'.

The shop fronts have been modified but retain some original timber frames, a tiled stall board and tiled pilasters. On the Elliott Street frontage there are some encaustic tiles to a side entry way opening to the stairs (the door is modern), original timber shop front joinery, tiled pilasters, and textured plaster to the base. Verandahs over the footpaths protect the ground floor window displays and provide shelter for shop users.

The upper floor is supported with steel posts and beams visible inside the ground level shop. The ceiling has sheet linings (approximately 0.9 m square) with plain battens. The walls are lined with gib or shop fittings.

The upper floor is accessed from a door on Elliott Street and a flight of stairs with a landing part-way up. Double doors at the top of the stairs open into a wide foyer and hallways. The partition wall between the recreation room and the hallway was installed by McKay. The west wall of the recreation room is also not original as it crosses one of the windows, but this change was undertaken prior to McKay's ownership. A walk-in cupboard/pantry off the kitchen has its original ceiling and some of the brickwork of the outer (east) wall is visible.

The walls and ceiling of the toilet, which is a lean-to on the east elevation, are matchlined t and g timber. All cupboards and fittings in the bathroom are new. The original wooden skirtings with moulded upper edges can be seen in the recreation room; other skirting boards are shallower and have a plain profile. The original square-panel and batten ceilings are visible in the three bedrooms but in the other rooms McKay installed fireproof ceiling panels and lowered the ceiling height by approximately 15 cm. New doors have been installed for the bedrooms opening off the hall. The upper storey windows are double-hung sash windows with four-light top lights and moulded wooden framing.

The exterior wall cladding outside the bathroom-toilet was corrugated iron sheeting but was replaced by McKay with steel wall panelling.

The roof is hipped with a west-east ridge and is corrugated iron.


Facing Elliott Street is a single level structure which matches the detail of the corner building (C) and is presumed to have been contemporaneous with it. It adjoins building B to the west and E to the east and has a continuous frontage with B, C and E. The 13.3 m wide façade shows some alterations with a tilting garage door at the east end and non-matching doors at the west and middle. The shop windows have been covered over. On the interior, the remains of a shop front display window are in the southwest corner. The previous doorway is traceable on the floor through remains of decorative mosaic tiles and a line in the concrete. The floor has been coated with a thin screed, disintegrating at the edges. The ceiling is similar to that in building C, and has two skylights now roofed over. The space is used by the current owner and community groups for storage.

The roof is saw-toothed pitched down to the north in two steps with no vertical glazing. A concrete and brick parapet on all sides conceals the roof from the ground. The north, south and east walls (there is no west wall) are brick or brick and concrete. The parapet is divided into five bays by pilasters and has decorative dentils similar to the corner building.


In appearance the building is 1950s in style with plain facades. The building is plastered on its east and south elevations; the west wall adjoins the brick wall of building D; the north wall was not inspected but adjoins building F. The roof is new following the 1999 fire and is corrugated iron pitched down to the north, with raised parapets on the south and east.

On the Elliott Street façade the building has four sets of casement aluminium-framed windows with a central door. A short steep flight of stairs leads up to the kitchen and staff area. Other doors on the east side open onto a recently-installed wooden decking accessed from the ground via a ramp.

The floor is narrow t and g planking floor and dates from the mid-1950s. It shows some scorch marks from the fire but was otherwise undamaged. Set into the floor is a 3 ft-square (0.9 m sq.) concrete pad with the remains of bolts in each corner, believed to be a machinery mount dating from the clothing or boot factory. All walls and ceiling were rebuilt after the fire.


The two exterior walls (north and east) of the northeast building are clad in corrugated iron. The corrugated iron roof is a gable with the ridge aligned west-east. The age and history of this building is not known, nor its original connection with the toilet block which now has a roof in common.

At the north end of the deck a concrete pad, formerly a loading platform with a door through to building F, gives access to the toilets which are in the northeast corner of the complex, offset from E and at the end of F. A t and g timber door opens into the women's area; a two-pane door opens into the men's area, which has a urinal and a toilet.

Construction Dates

Construction of wooden bakery on Elliot Street

Original Construction
Construction of wooden Bridgers' building [northern part extant as part of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) building], construction of small shop on Elliott Street [extant as part of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) building]

Original Construction
Construction of wooden Northern Steam Ship Co. building [possibly extant as part of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) building]

1900 - 1910
Addition of verandah to small shop on Elliott Street, addition of elaborate parapets to wooden Bridgers' building [part extant as part of Bridgers' Ltd (Former) building]

1900 - 1910
Extension of northern part of Bridgers' Building behind small shop (with new roof or alterations to roof, probable removal of interior walls); elaborate parapets added to verandah of small shop

Demolished - Other
1915 -
Demolition of southern half of wooden Bridgers' building

1915 -
Construction of two-storey concrete and brick corner building; concrete façade on Church Street added to northern half of Bridgers' building; construction of extension on Elliott Street to enclose small shop

Original Construction
Construction of produce store [building F] behind Northern Steam Ship Co. (NSSC) building, construction of toilets

Possible demolition of NSSC building and subsequent construction of replacement structure as warehouse (or major remodelling of NSSC building) [building E]

Demolished - Other
1951 - 1954
Demolition of bakery

1954 - 1955
Remodelling of warehouse for factory, including installation of wooden floor and making new loading platform on east elevation, for access to produce store; modification of building F as produce store?

1954 -
Remodelling of main shop and storeroom: included replacing match lining on walls with hardboard sheets; replacing some wooden floor with concrete; removing and rebuilding partitions

1954 -
Erecting mezzanine floors (in building D and part B) using recycled floorboards; changing window backs and front door, building ramp from produce store [F] to grocery store [rear of D]

1954 -
Installing louvre windows and rebuilding partitions in factory (eastern building, E)

1955 - 1956
Alteration to exterior, removal of ornate elements, removal of bay window on upper floor

1956 -
New drains

1960 -
Drainage and installation of sinks

1967 -
Small addition and new roof at rear of factory

1990 -
Alterations to upper floor for residential purposes; included new partition wall

Removal of stairs from landing to shop floor and repair of wall

1993 -
Alterations of former factory space to restaurant

1999 -
Restaurant damaged by fire; repair schedule included new roof and trusses

2004 -
Verandah roof across front of restaurant/bar and covered decking area at east end with ramp for wheelchair access

Construction Details

The main building and the extension are constructed of brick, concrete, timber framing and fittings, corrugated iron roof, some corrugated iron walling at rear of upper floor and rear wall of eastern addition. Wall linings include timber matchlining, timber tongue and groove, hardboard and Gibraltar Board. Ceilings include pressed metal, timber panels with timber battens, and Gibraltar Board. Floors are of wooden tongue and groove, concrete and small areas of encaustic tiles.

Completion Date

1st April 2008

Report Written By

Lynette Williams

Information Sources

Auckland Provincial Trades Directory

Auckland Provincial Trades Directory


Auckland Provincial Business and Trade Directory, Universal Business Directories, Auckland, edition January 1990.

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

16 February 1916, photograph

BNZ Archives

Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) Archives

Meryl Lowrie, BNZ Opotiki; a century of service 1875-1975, 1975.

Bradbury, 1915

E. Bradbury (ed.), The Settlement and Development of the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 1st edition, Auckland, 1915

Bradbury, 1919

E. Bradbury (ed.), The Settlement and Development of the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 2nd edition, Auckland, 1919

Bradbury, 1922

E. Bradbury (ed.), The Settlement and Development of the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, 3rd edition, Auckland, 1922

Bradbury, 1928

E Bradbury, (ed.), Settlement and Development of the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua, E. Bradbury & Co., 4th edition, Auckland, 1928.

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory, Auckland

Cresswell, 2003

John C M Cresswell, Opotiki: the Birth of a Small Town, J. Gover, Whangarei, 2003

Cyclopedia of New Zealand

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Graham C Stoop, 'Laidlaw, Robert Alexander Crookston 1885 - 1971', updated 22 June 2007. URL:

Electoral Roll

New Zealand Electoral Roll

1879, 1882, 1883, 1887, 1894, 1896, 1910

Whakatane District Museum & Gallery

Whakatane District Museum and Gallery

[Anon.], 'Mr. Thomas Bridger', Death notice, unidentified undated newspaper clipping, Whakatane District Museum and Gallery biographies index.

[Anon.], 'Bridger', death notice, unidentified undated [14/15 July 1949] newspaper clipping Whakatane District Museum & Gallery biographies index.

[Anon.], 'Mr Percy Bridger', obituary unidentified undated [c.14/15 July 1949] newspaper clipping Whakatane District Museum and Gallery biographies index, Butler scrapbook, Opotiki Heritage and Agricultural Society, n.d., p. 21.

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

1875-76, 1894-95, 1910, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949.

Kay, 1954

Malcolm Kay, Inside story of the Farmers', Farmers' Trading Co. Ltd, Auckland [1954].

Laurenson, 2005

Helen B Laurenson, Going Up, Going Down: the Rise and Fall of the Department Store, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2005.

New Zealand Gazette

New Zealand Gazette

'Proclamation by Governor George Grey', 1866

New Zealand Herald

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

Arnold Pickmere, 'Obituary: Sir Norman Perry', 12 August 2006.

New Zealand Society of Genealogists

'New Zealand Cemetery Records' [microform], New Zealand Society of Genealogists, Auckland, 1985-1997.

June Springer (compiler)

Opotiki County Council, 1977

Opotiki County Council, Opotiki 100 Years: 1877-1977, Whakatane, [1977]

Opotiki Street Directory

Opotiki Street Directory

[Anon.], 'Residents listed in the district in 1880' extract from (unreferenced) Opotiki Street Directory 1880 in Opotiki 1877-1977, p. 2.

Taylor, 2003

Neal Taylor, The Shalfoon Story, Shalfoon Dental, 2003.

Walker, 2007

Ranginui Walker, Opotiki-Mai-Tawhiti: Capital of Whakatohe, Penguin Group (NZ) Ltd, Auckland, 2007.

Ministry of Works and Development

Ministry of Works and Development

National Resources Survey Part II: Bay of Plenty Region, compiled by the Town and Country Planning Branch, Wellington, 1962.

Other Information

A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern Area 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.