|When hardware stores were serious business|
To bring any piece of history back to life is always quite fascinating.
If I recall correctly, Briscoe’s occupied this old place in Timaru at one stage. As a young apprentice, I can remember the oiled floorboards in this shop.
This hardware shop was entered from the corner of Stafford Street and the Royal Arcade. With the aid of a naked bulb hanging about three metres above floor level and with what dim light penetrated those windows along the arcade, you could see rows of dull steel nail heads, protruding through the well worn floor, like rows of ants marching into oblivion.
Years gone by, for whatever reason, shopkeepers spoke barely above a whisper, as if there was a wake in every shop. Rubber soles shoes were a luxury at that time; leather soles with steel heel and toecaps were the in things.
Now imagine if you will, a gangling 16 years old, whose number 10s outweighed the rest of his entire skinny frame.
Of course that gangly young fellow, who shall remain completely anonymous, always seemed to create a spectacle in the likes of Briscoe’s.
You see, to get to the tool section, a customer had to run the gauntlet, through a maze that seemed to stretch for ever, past racks of pipe fittings, tin buckets, watering cans and an enormous array of ironmongery.
One false move, one wrong turn and a dozen tin buckets and cans would come crashing around your ears . . . . . that’s what a friend of mine said anyway.
Who is that clumsy oaf, I can still hear them whispering, as the tin ware hit the floor in a reverberating crescendo that would wake the deadest of the dead. And everyone stared!
Your face feels hot as a red flush of embarrassment creeps up from about your waist somewhere. Desperately you look around for a convenient knothole in the floor where you could descend. In the vain attempt to make a noiseless retreat, you tiptoe towards the door, your toecaps making a terrible racket as they touch the floor. Then just as you are about to shamefacedly pass an array tin bake ware delicately piled high on the shelf, your toe has to catch on one bloody nail head sticking above floor level, and you kick it with you steel cap. All hell breaks loose as you stumble, fling you arms out to save your self and touch the tin bake ware. . . . . Yeah, sixty years on and I can still hear that racket.
On January 1st, 1867, Mr Edward Reece sent Mr Priest to Timaru from Christchurch. Edward had a hardware business in Christchurch and it was his intention to open a branch of his hardware store in Timaru and Mr Priest was to be the manager of this new branch.
At the same time, Mr Holdgate was working for Clarkson and Turnbull, owners of another large general store in Timaru.
However, it was a further six years before Messrs Priest and Holdgate got together. In September 1873, they started off in a partnership with their own hardware business known as Priest and Holdgate. Their business boomed in the ensuing years, it is said that Priest and Holdgate had become recognised as one of the most important hardware firms outside of the principle cities of New Zealand.
Referred to as ironmongers, as all hardware businesses were in those early days, the firm catered for a large section of the community including, farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, engineers, as well as the general public. But their speciality was Agricultural equipment. Some of their branches, included the world renowned McCormick Reaper and Binder. As well as other McCormick products, they also sold products by Andrews and Beaven and P and D. Duncan, along with a host of others
One of their agencies was the world famous Stirling bicycle, but their favourite agency was for the Planet Jr. garden tools, they say that these were recommended for all seasons and were a blessing to all who had gardens. . . . . In other words, they did everything in the garden but plant the seed.