Nicol's Blacksmith Shop, which operated as a smithy from the mid 1890s to its closure in the early 1970s, is a special example of a working smithy with all its tools and equipment left intact. Located in Duntroon, in North Otago, it provides insight into the work of blacksmiths, wheel wrights and later motor garages during this period.
Duntroon was established in the mid 1870s, and had 2 smithies operating from the 1880s onwards. Orcadian Walter John Yardley began working as a blacksmith in Duntroon around 1896, and acquired the title for the land on which the smithy was located in 1904. Blacksmithing was a common trade in the nineteenth century, and one represented in most towns, and on pastoral runs. Horses and horse-drawn vehicles were the most common modes of land transport, and it is easy to see why the blacksmith was a central figure to the community. Blacksmiths provided farriery (the making and fitting of horseshoes) as well a smithery services (the repairing and making of tools and equipment and items of metal work.) A blacksmith needed a forge (a hearth to support the fire), regulated by bellows, an anvil, and large numbers of tools of various shapes and sizes to perform various functions.
Yardley initially worked alone taking on help when the business expanded to include a carriage building and paint workshop, which was added to the back of the original building. The blacksmithing trade changed with the technology of the time. As motor vehicles became more common, many blacksmith's shops added vehicle repairs to their work. Through the 1920s garage proprietors and blacksmiths coexisted in the Duntroon. In the mid 1920's Yardley built a motor garage on the east side of the smithy to cater for the growing motor trade.
Yardley eventually sold the business Nicol Slater Muirden, helping out at busy times. After Yardley's death in 1930 Muirden took over the business, and is listed as a blacksmith through into the late 1960s or early 1970s.
In the mid 1970s when the smithy faced the threat of demolition, four local farmers Jim Harvey, John Hore, Burns Pollock and Bill Simpson stepped in to purchase the smithy and all its chattels intact. In December 2006 the Nicol's Blacksmith Historic Trust was formed with the intention of restoring the building as a heritage attraction and providing visitors with the experience of a working forge. The Trustees recall the importance of Nicol's Blacksmith Shop to the Duntroon community. As children these four men had spent many happy hours with Nicol Muirden at the smithy and pumped the bellows for him. They wanted to preserve the history of the village.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is located on the south side of Campbell Street (State Highway 83), on the corner of Orr Street. The Blacksmith's Shop is timber framed and clad, and unlined. It is made up of five separate functional areas: the shop, office, blacksmith's shop, coach and wheelwright area, and the motor garage. The interior of the working areas are full of the equipment, tools and ephemera of a working blacksmiths, including the forge, bellows, wheel pit and jig. The chattels are a significant part of the registration.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop has aesthetic, historical, architectural, technological and social significance. The building has strong visual appeal with its red oxide colour, and its aged patina and form recalling early rural farm buildings. The interior with its jumble of tools and equipment also provides a fascinating visual record of the workings of a blacksmith's shop.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop has special historical significance as a rare surviving blacksmith's shop with its origins in nineteenth century Otago. Nicol's Blacksmith Shop provides insight into the changing history of transport in New Zealand, and the service industries associated with it. The smithy illustrates the provision of farrier and smithy services for horses and horse drawn carriages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the services provided for motorised transport in the twentieth century. Architecturally it represents the vernacular architecture associated with a small blacksmithing business, telling the story of its change of use and function through the architecture of the buildings.
Technologically the smithy and all its chattels provide an outstanding illustration of the industrial process of a forge and blacksmith. The tools of the trade are still present and range from the forge and bellows to horse shoes. It also reflects the transition from the power of the horse to the introduction of motorised vehicles.
The rural blacksmith had an important social role in the lives of the community and provided a hub for Duntroon. It was also a meeting place for farmers, and a centre for exchanging news.
In 2008 Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is promoted as an historic forge, and is an attraction to visitors to Duntroon.
Historical Significance or Value
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop has special historical significance as a rare surviving blacksmith's shop with its origins in nineteenth century Otago. Nicol's Blacksmith Shop provides insight into the changing history of transport in New Zealand, and the service industries associated with it. The smithy illustrates the provision of farrier and smithy services for horses and horse drawn carriages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The community would have relied on horses as a means of transport and as a source of power for the farm. Blacksmiths shoed horses, made wheel rims, repaired and produced farm implements, tools and brands, built and repaired carriages and wagons. The blacksmith was the craftsman who kept the land transport and the farming industry operating. Nicol's Blacksmiths Shop represents the workplace of a craftsman, one that epitomises many others who collectively kept the land transport system and the farming industry working.
The addition of a motor garage in the 1920s provides another special illustration of the way changing technology was adapted into this traditional craft, allowing for the survival of the business at least into the 1960s.
Aesthetically Nicol's Blacksmith Shop has strong visual appeal with its red oxide paint work, and its aged patina and form recalling early rural farm buildings .The interior with its jumble of tools and equipment also provides a fascinating visual record of the workings of a blacksmith's shop. The building is a visual landmark in Duntroon.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop has architectural significance as a representative example of the kind of vernacular architecture associated with nineteenth century blacksmiths. The smithy reflects the physical features and traits commonly associated with basic weatherboard construction over an earthen floor. Such buildings are now rare or were 'improved' by the addition of floors and other modifications.
The smithy and all its chattels provide an outstanding illustration of the industrial process of a forge and blacksmith. The tools of the trade are still present and range from the forge and bellows to horse shoe templates. It also reflects the transition from the power of the horse to horse power and the introduction of motorised vehicles. One part of the building houses belt driven machinery that worked drills, saws and so forth, and a pit for servicing the early cars. It is a special example of the working conditions of the time. Built for function not comfort and it contains many items that were left in situ when it closed. It reflects the characteristics of a blacksmith shop, constructed and designed to facilitate industrial processes: a forging and other associated areas for work coach building, wheelwright and motor mechanics.
The rural blacksmith had an important role in the lives of the community and provided a hub for Duntroon. It was also a meeting place for farmers, and a centre for exchanging news.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history :
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is a special representative example of the kind of small scale industry typical of small town New Zealand in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, of which there are few surviving examples.
It is an outstanding example of the workplace of a craftsman; one that epitomises many others who collectively kept the land transport system and the farming industry working. Many smithies have been lost due to changes in agriculture and transport, which in turn has led to the demise of the blacksmith's art and craft. What is preserved at Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is a visual record of a way of life now lost, and exhibits a high degree of integrity. It contains sufficient characteristics and features to demonstrate an authentic representation of the industrial processes involved.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The essential function of the smithy; the building, its contents, the blacksmiths who worked there and its role in Duntroon and the wider region has given rise to a special community attachment. This continuous long term attachment is clearly demonstrated by the efforts of four local farmers who stepped in to purchase the smithy in 1974 when it faced demolition. Since they took ownership it has been kept intact and shared with locals and visitors alike, continuing its historic role as a social gathering place and focal point for the community.
(f) The potential of the place for public education:
The Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is open as a heritage attraction. There is considerable potential for public education as the Nicol's Blacksmith Historic Trust is keen to further develop the smithy as a working forge.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is a rare surviving blacksmiths, with its origins in the late nineteenth century. As an operating smithy from the mid 1890s through till around the 1970s it provides a rare insight into the blacksmith's trade. The addition of a motor garage to the existing smithy, and the survival of both functions through the twentieth century make this a special and rare historic place.
Summary of Significance or Values:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, f, and j.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is of special significance as it is a rare remaining representative example of the small-scale industry typical of small town New Zealand in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. It is an outstanding example of the workplace of a craftsman; one that epitomises many others who collectively kept the land transport system and the farming industry working. What is preserved at Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is a visual record of a way of life now lost, and exhibits a high degree of integrity. It contains sufficient characteristics and features to demonstrate an authentic representation of the industrial processes involved.
Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau
History of Maori Occupation:
The Maerewhenua area, in the Waitaki River Valley inland of Oamaru is significant in the traditions of the Ngai Tahu Whanui, and was on an ancient pathway near the Waitaki River between the mountains and the sea.
The headwaters of the Waitaki River are fed by ka roimata o Aoraki - the tears of Aoraki - the ancestral mountain of Ngai Tahu. The people of Ngai Tahu are descended from Aoraki - the most sacred of their ancestors - who was the first child of Raki (the Heavens) and Poharua Te Po (the breath of life found in the womb of darkness).
Some of the earliest traditional accounts associated with human inhabitation of the lower South Island are connected to the voyaging waka named Arai-Te-Uru. Rongo-i-tua was a voyager from Hawaiki who introduced kumara to the Kahui-tipua people of the South Island. The Kahui-tipua people assisted Rongo-i-tua in the construction of a canoe in order for him to return to Hawaiki and secure additional Kumara for cultivation in the south. On its return to the South Island, the Arai-Te-Uru encountered a fierce storm, and according to J. Herries Beattie's retelling of collected accounts, the crew member named Moko-tere-a-tarehu was lost overboard at the mouth of the Waitaki River. The canoe was blown further down the east coast of the South Island, and after losing much of its cargo of kumara at the beach known as Kai-hinaki (near Moeraki); the waka was wrecked at Matakaea (Shag Point) where it lies petrified in the landscape.
A. W. Reed's Treasury of Maori Exploration also notes that a waka named Arai-Te-Uru carried a sacred fire from Hawaiki known as Te Ahi-Tapu-a-Uenuku. This fire was buried along the Waikato River. This sacred fire was dug up by the great Maori explorer Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua prior to his circumnavigation of Aotearoa New Zealand aboard the waka Takitimu.
This tradition asserts that local limestone outcrops are the legacy of Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua. During his exploration he traversed the land, using this sacred flame for making fire as he went; as the fires cooled, mounds of pale white ash were left in their place, which became the limestone features that are so prominent in the landscape of this region.
In Johannes Andersen's discussion of the voyage of the Takitimu in his Maori Place Names, Andersen notes that Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua journeyed along the Waitaki River, and near the river.
Both iwi history and archaeological evidence show occupation by Maori in the area over an extended period, with the inhabitants utilising a wide variety of natural resources from the diverse environment of the Waitaki River catchment. The date of earliest Polynesian settlement of the Waitaki area remains unknown, but is generally thought to date from at least 1,000 years ago (Symon 2007:8). There was extensive settlement throughout the Waitaki Valley when the moa existed, as shown in the widespread archaeological remains of moa bones in cultural contexts.
While the traditional ways of Maori life had been influenced to some extent by exotic elements by the mid 19th century, many of the old ways still flourished, and valuable insights are available from surveyors and missionaries records made while travelling through the area in the 1840s. On 9 January 9 1844 Edward Shortland noted 'a ruined hut and a cultivation ground (at) a small glen in the hills, where there was plenty of wood and a stream of water' (at nearby Papakaio, also on what is now State Highway 83. The following day his group walked to Te Puna a Maru, then the next day established a camp on the banks of the river several miles downstream.
On October the 17th, 1845, the reverend Charles Creed travelled along the north bank of the river to the vicinity of Te Puna a Maru, staying at a settlement on the north bank, but giving no other details. Mantell described a kaika on the south bank about seven miles inland from Tauhinu on the north bank (almost certainly Te Puna a Maru) as having 'well stored watas and four or five broken mokihi'. No one was present at the time, as was often the case, although belongings were left in readiness for the expected return.
Since the European occupation of the Maerewhenua area first began in the 1854, the area has been used for pastoral purposes. Stevenson describes the area between the Maerewhenua outcrop and the river as previously being covered by 'a dense growth of flax and toe-toe.'
In the mid 1860s European settlements were becoming established up the Waitaki River Valley, north, and inland from Oamaru. The settlements grew around accommodation houses, set up at regular intervals up the valley. James Little established an accommodation house on the present site of Duntroon at this time.
In the late 1860s gold was discovered at nearby Maerewhenua, and by 1869 small parties were working at Otekaieke and Maerewhenua. Duntroon was on the longer, but easier route, from Oamaru to the gold workings.
The town of Duntroon was surveyed in the mid 1870s, and named after the hometown of prominent settler Robert Campbell. Town sections were offered for sale in July 1875. In 1876 the title to the land where the blacksmith's shop stands was issued to Lachlan [?] Grant, and then to Jessie Welsh shortly afterwards. The land was transferred to Walter Yardley in 1904.
According to local oral information Yardley came from the Orkney Islands, and arrived in Duntroon in the 1890s. The building fronting Campbell Street was his original purchase. Yardley added a holding yard for horses waiting to be shod, and a kiln for heating the rims of wheels was built into the bank at the rear of the building. On further investigation burn marks were found in the rocks indicating this was the place where the wheelwright work was done.
While Duntroon was formed as a town in the 1870s, it seems that it was not until the 1880s that blacksmiths were established. The first blacksmiths noted in Wises Post Office Directory were Stephen Smart and Thomas Woonton in 1880-1881. Initially trade appears intermittent as there were no blacksmiths noted in the late 1880s. By the 1890s two blacksmiths were operating in Duntroon most of the 1890s. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand published in 1904 records that Duntroon had a population of 231, with the typical infrastructure of a small rural settlement: a combined railway station and post office, 2 pubs, 2 stores, a boot maker, a tailors shop, a bakery, butchery, an agency of the National Bank and 2 blacksmiths.
Walter Yardley was working as a blacksmith from 1896 onwards, and it is possible he could have been working on the current site on an earlier smithy, although no investigation has been done to substantiate this idea.
Blacksmithing was a common trade in the nineteenth century, and one represented in most towns, and also on pastoral runs. Architect and engineer Geoffrey Thornton writes that as horses and horse-drawn vehicles were the only means of land transport, it is easy to see why the blacksmith or farrier was a key figure. Blacksmiths provided farriery (the making and fitting of horseshoes) as well a smithery services (the repairing and making of tools and equipment and items of metal work). A blacksmith needed a forge (a hearth to support the fire), regulated by bellows, an anvil, and large numbers of tools of various shapes and sizes to perform various functions, and also a large steel leg vice and floor mandrel for bending hoops, among other things.
Aidan Challis describes other blacksmiths' shops throughout New Zealand recorded by the New Zealand Archaeological Association's site recording scheme that are no longer standing. In 1993 there were sixteen small scale blacksmiths' shops or forges that were part of the archaeological record. Added to these were a number of standing blacksmiths' shops recorded throughout New Zealand dating from between 1860 and 1880. These were constructed from a variety of materials, including masonry, timber, corrugated iron or weatherboard, and were often located on isolated farm stations. He does not indicated how many were standing, but does consider them to be relatively rare survivors. Challis does not mention any historic blacksmiths still in operation.
It is difficult to identify any historic blacksmiths still in operation. Although there are 29 blacksmiths and farriers listed in the yellow pages, it is not possible to tell whether these are historic operations in an original building on its original site. A web search indicates that there is a blacksmith shop in Greytown, part of the Cobblestones Museum, but indicates that many of the buildings were shifted on site. The Buried Village site indicates that the village blacksmith was excavated sometime after 1931. The Okains Bay Museum has a working blacksmith, as does Pleasant Point. A blacksmith's shop survives in Fairlie, but is used for retail. A former Blacksmith Shop in Clevedon now functions as a engineering works. From this limited survey it would seem that the Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is a rare survivor, particularly with its chattels still with the shop.
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust has six blacksmith's shops on the Register, all associated with blacksmiths on pastoral runs or in rural areas, rather than associated with small town services.
According to local sources Yardley initially worked alone taking on help when the business expanded to include a carriage building and paint workshop, which was added to the back of the original building. This area housed another forge at some time as indicated by the extra anvil, water barrel and old iron tank that matches the original forge. He was joined by Edward Bell in 1910, who worked here until 1914 leaving to go to war.
The blacksmithing trade changed with the technology of the time. As motor vehicles became more common, many blacksmith's shops added vehicle repairs and the like to their work. One rural smithy in another North Otago town even built a motor car in 1904. In Duntroon the first evidence of this comes with Samuel Clarke's listing as a motor mechanic in the Wise's Directory in 1920. Through the 1920s a garage proprietor and blacksmith coexisted in the town, with the other blacksmith's premises in Duntroon advertising itself as a motor garage, and eventually abandoning its blacksmiths role.
According to oral sources, in the mid 1920's a workshop was built on the east side of the building to cater for the growing motor trade. There were two forges going at this time which turned out to be the peak of the horse drawn era.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop illustrates the transition between horse and motorised transport. There are few places on the NZHPT Register which provide insight into the motor industry in New Zealand, and the majority of these are purpose built motor garages. Added to its rarity as a surviving blacksmith (still with the original chattels), the building provides special insight into the early efforts to cater for motor traffic.
Yardley eventually sold the business to John Taylor and Nicol Slater Muirden, helping out at busy time, which was to prove fatal. According to local information on 8 April 1930 Yardley and Taylor headed off to Ngapara to operate a forge they had an interest in leaving Muirden to work at Duntroon. On the return journey Taylor and Yardley collided with a fully laden truck in the Ngapara Gully. Both Yardley and Taylor were killed.
While members of Yardley's family retained title to the land, Nicol Muirden took over the business, and is listed as a blacksmith through to the 1960s. According to local sources Muirden employed George Smith and then, in 1932, Arthur Smith. The latter visited Duntroon in 1995 and commented that his workbench was still there and the interior of the smithy was much the same as it had been during the time he worked there.
Nicol Muirden continued to operate the business until 1965 when he retired, selling the business to Tom Gibson who ran a small engineering concern. Locally Muirden is remembered as a quiet family man, who loved kids coming to pump the bellows for him while he took a drink of water from the white enamel billy he used to fill from the spring in the ‘Brewery Hole' at the back of the smithy; walking past the now redundant drays and the big pile of old horse shoes.
Accounts of the end of Muirden's involvement vary. According to some sources Muirden stopped working their in the mid 1960s. However it is possible that Muirden's involvement lasted longer as he was listed as a blacksmith in a 1971 business directory.
In 1975 the smithy faced the threat of demolition as part of a ‘Ministry of Work' power scheme investigation. Four local farmers Jim Harvey, John Hore, Burns Pollock and Bill Simpson stepped in to purchase the smithy and all its chattels intact.
In December 2006 the Nicol's Blacksmith Historic Trust was formed with the intention of restoring the building as a heritage attraction and providing visitors with the experience of a working forge. A nomination to register Nicol's Blacksmith Shop as a historic place was prepared. A grant application was put to Lottery Grants, and the Trust received funding for the preparation of a conservation plan. The conservation plan is under preparation in mid 2008.
The Trustees recall the importance of Nicol's Blacksmith Shop to the Duntroon community. As children these four men had spent many happy hours with Nicol Muirden at the smithy and pumped the bellows for him. They wanted to preserve an important part of their history and the history of the village. It was important to them as the smithy was a part of their lives. It was well loved and evoked many fond memories of the sight and the smell of smoke, the hot red glow of metal in the darkness and the sound of the hammer on the anvil. It was a meeting place for locals, where as the smithing was done, they caught up on news.
In 2008 Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is promoted as an historic forge, and is an attraction to visitors to Duntroon.
Physical Description and Analysis:
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is located in the small North Otago Town of Duntroon. The Blacksmith's Shop sits on the south side of Campbell Street (State Highway 83), on the corner of Orr Street.
To the south and east of the building are planted areas, with mature trees and grassed areas. There is open commercial land to the east, and residences to the west of the Blacksmith's Shop.
Nicol's Blacksmith Shop is made up of five separate functional areas: the shop, office, blacksmith's shop, coach and wheelwright area, and the motor garage. The interior of the working areas are full of the equipment, tools and ephemera of a working blacksmiths, including the forge, bellows, wheel pit and jig. The premises were built in stages: the Blacksmith's Shop was followed by the Coach and Wheelwright area, with the motor garage added in the 1920s. The shop (built within the existing footprint) and office were added later.
The unlined Blacksmith's Shop is timber framed and clad (according to the nomination, the framing timber is rimu, and the cladding is Baltic pine). The roof over the Blacksmith's area is corrugated asbestos cement sheeting (the iron over the forge was apparently corroded by fumes and had to be replaced), while the rest of the building has a corrugated iron roof (in poor condition in places). The shop and the Blacksmith area are clad with vertical board and battens. The office is clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards. The coach and wheelwright area, and the motor garage are also clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards. There is no guttering on the building. The building is painted a red oxide colour, typical of farm buildings giving it a strong rustic aesthetic.
All the windows, with the exception of those in the shop, are paired six-light sash windows. The shop has a large single pane window and simple glazing in the double doors.
The principle elevation faces north. The main entrance is through the double panel doors which give access to the shop. Access to the office is through a door on the west wall of the shop. The shop has timber walls and a timber floor. The office has a timber walls and a concrete floor.
A door on the south wall of the shop leads into the Blacksmith area, an approximately five metre square room with an earth floor. There are two windows on the west wall. Below the windows is a hitching rail. A bench sits against the east wall. In the centre of the room is the anvil. The stone forge at the south end of the room, with the bellows mounted on the rear of the forge, with an area for coal storage nearby. The interior is scattered with tools and equipment.
The Coach Shop and Wheel Wright area (about 9 by 6 metres) is immediately south of the Blacksmith's Shop. The wheel assembly jig sits in the centre of the room. Benches sit against the west and south walls. A wheel pit is located towards the southern end of the room. The interior is scattered with tools and equipment. A dunny is located on the south wall. Double doors provide outside access.
A wide doorway on the east wall provides access to the motor garage. The motor garage has a garage-door sized entrance on the north wall and a concrete floor. In the centre of the room is the pit. A bench runs the length of the south wall. Various tools are still located within the garage, included a grinder and back saw. An electric motor is mounted in the rafters, driving the overhead shaft which brought power to a drill press, grinder and power hacksaw. An electric welder is situated by the sliding front doors.
In a lean-to addition running the length of the east wall of the blacksmith's area is the steel store.
1858 - 1896
Blacksmith's shop built
1905 - 1915
Coach and Wheelwright facilities added
Motor Garage addition
Shop added to existing office
Timber with corrugated iron roof, and asbestos cement roof, with timber joinery.
25th August 2008
Report Written By
Cyclopedia of New Zealand
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908
Vol 4 Otago and Southland provincial districts, Wellington, 1897-1908
K C McDonald, White Stone Country: the story of North Otago, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1977, 
New Zealand Journal of Archaeology
New Zealand Journal of Archaeology
Aidan J. Challis, 'Bedggood Buildings, Te Waimate, Bay of Islands: Excavations on the Site of the Blacksmith's Shop, 1986, v15, 1993
Geoffrey Thornton, The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings, Auckland, 1986
Rona Adshead and Rex Murray, Replicar! A Century of Motoring in North Otago and Beyond, Square One Press, Dunedin, 2002.
A fully referenced Registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland 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.