Thursday, August 23, 2012

Freeman Bay's corner icon

Lyn Dear, fellow blogger at Genealogy New Zealand, asked by email tonight about the history of one of the most well-known corner dairies in the land -- Rupa's, corner Wellington and Hepburn Streets in Freemans Bay. Fortunately, there is the above classic view (1992) of the shop online.

The shops (there are two here, with shared history) date from c.1899, built on what was at one stage earlier that decade a Bank of New South Wales subdivision (NA 72/95). Most of the land was purchased by Tamar Amy Harris, who sold Lot 10A in 1898 to Hannah Worsnop, wife of Josiah Worsnop (NA 89/13). It was the Worsnops who built the first of the two shops, the one on the left, as a two-storey wooden building. Josiah, a builder, may have been the one hammering in the nails.
Wellington Street.—Mr J. Worsnop wrote complaining about the imperfect condition of the footpath opposite his new shop.—The Engineer reported about 55 feet of rough kerb was required to keep the water off the footway, and the channeling wanted opening out to allow the water to escape. The side of the road also wanted trimming: estimated cost, £3 10/. —On the motion of Councillor Julian, it was agreed that the work be done.
Auckland Star 2 June 1899

I don't know all that much about the Worsnops. Josiah and Hannah appear to have hailed from Yorkshire originally, travelling via departure point at London to Australia, landing in Brisbane on 6 May 1885 (  They probably made their way over here soon after that. Hannah Worsnop appears in Wises Directory for 1900 as a grocer at the corner store, then Josiah Worsnop takes over as occupier -- then, they're out of the story. "J Worsnop" became involved with a business making or distributing "Boska" washing fluid, which sounds like a liquid laundry detergent in the advertising, operating from Picton Street in Freemans Bay by 1911. He died while living at 18 Picton Street, 4 July 1929, aged 67.

A bootmaker named Ernest Crocker was the next to own the property, from 1904. In the 1905 Wises, he's described as a grocer there. Then came Hugh Munro Wilson and his wife Ada Elizabeth, leasing the property to the Gregory Brothers, John and Montague Pearce Gregory. The Gregory Brothers bought the property outright in 1917, only to sell in 1920 to Arthur and George Alfred Langford, with immediate transfer to Alfred and Harriett Annie Scott, storekeepers. (NA 89/13)

The following year the Clarks come into the picture, Henry a motorman and his wife Ada Evangeline. Henry shows in the 1926 Wises. Then another builder, William Preston, bought the site that year. He's probably the one responsible for the brick shop added to the right, completing the double-shop look we see today, the brick addition appearing in records at Council Archives from May 1931. (ACC 213/210b)

The earliest instance of Bushell's in New Zealand I've been able to find tonight comes from the Hutt News 29 April 1936 (the firm's coffee on a list). Tea comes slightly later.

BUSHELL'S TEAS. Bushell's, Ltd., Sydney, one of the great tea distributing companies in Australia, will shortly begin business in New Zealand, a company having been registered for that purpose. 
 Evening Post 17 February 1937

It doesn't seem to have been terribly common in the papers before 1945, but short of finding images from before the 1950s, there's a possibility that sign above the store may well have existed from before the war. Repairs to a sign, all of £7, are recorded in 1947. Might be for that one.

The Rupas, the shops' famous owners, bought the site in 1953. This was just about the last of the period before progress began to affect Freemans Bay, and town planning policy decisions were made to clean up the area, and create a better and brighter suburb by clearing away the old. Combined with the growth of the Napier Street School in behind, the Rupas' became increasingly isolated, no longer part of a continuous line of small shops and simple residences.

The Auckland Education Board offered to buy the corner site in 1968, but the offer was refused. (NZ Herald, May 1999) The district scheme changed the zoning for the site, making it part of the school-use area in 1970. The Rupas negotiated with the Ministry of Works in 1976 for that department to purchase the store -- but the Ministry's offer of $21,500 was refused. (Auckland Star, 21 October 1998) The Education Board relented, lifting their designation in 1978.

The Rupas application to develop their site as a two-storey dairy and home in 1983 was declined by Council, as it was felt the business would adversely affect the nearby shopping village. The family removed the old Bushells sign in 2001, to restore it and put it in storage, and installed the replica, as seen in this still (c.2010) from Google Maps.

Even so, the sign did cause quite a storm in a teacup back in '01.

The new Bushells Tea sign in Freemans Bay - paid for by the Rupas - is causing a stir, after the city council ordered a family credit be painted over. Dilip Rupa was served an abatement notice this week giving him four weeks to remove the wording "solely funded by the Rupas", or risk prosecution under the Resource Management Act.

A furious Mr Rupa said the council should concentrate on the bigger issues. "This is the first written acknowledgement of what we have done from the city council and it's a criticism of us. I think it stinks.
"The building is an icon, we have done it all," he said. "What the city council is failing to realise is we have done something special for Auckland."

Mr Rupa questioned the legality of the council notice, because the resource consent condition applied to the original sign, which had been removed from the building facade and replaced with a $5000 replica.
The original sign had been restored and was now kept inside the building. Mr Rupa said his family had owned the buildings on Wellington St since 1953 and had spent $20,000 renovating them. He believed the abatement notice was a violation of his freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights and he did not plan to remove the wording.
Sometimes it's tough owning an Auckland icon.


  1. You are absolutely amazing to come up with this so well and so fast. Thank you, I'll send the link to the oldies who questioned me about this property the other night.
    Didn't the Rupa's do wonderful work on this building. It looks great.

  2. Thanks, Lyn. I agree -- they've made it extra special.

  3. The land adjacent to the Rupas Building, was purchased I believe by the Public Works Act, they are complaining of an existing structure, yet the SKY tower was built, with a casino, this does seem that we will persecute the small and yet a camel will enter through the eye of the needle. All those poor people who sold their land, which is now some of the most expensive real estate in Auckland. Only a Maori and their ancestors, has the right to complain about buildings on their land! This is like the story of those with out sin cast the first paint brush!

  4. My grandparents owned a house in Gratton street and the council took it and built ugly flats on the land. Their house was in good condition built from kauri and the house next door.
    I remember shopping at Rupas shop
    My dad and his brothers use to ride their trolleys down Wellington street
    There were some lovely old homes around the area I think the councils statement that the area was a rundown was just an excuse to get their hands on the valuable land

  5. Hi love your pages and information. I know the Worsnop descendants well and they used to mention their forebears building the Freemans bay shop. Apparently they also built a building at Lake Tutira. Descendants went into farming at Wellsford and Dairy Flat. Fascinating to find the early history, thanks

  6. My grandmother and uncle owned the 2 storey property next to this dairy back in the 60's and 70's, and they were moved because of town planning gentrification. They were offered a property swap and were moved up to Third Avenue, in Kingsland. We used to visit our Grandma and buy lollies from Rupas Dairy, Bushells as we new it back then.