Monday, December 10, 2012

Shirts by Greer's for over 80 years

In late October this year, Paul Hafner sent me another email and photograph (above) -- this time of an advert on the side of a building at 2 Fitzroy Street in Ponsonby. "Maybe there is a story worth telling?" he said, plus, "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but such a picture will only have any worth if you provide the words."

Well, it's an ordinary story, Paul, and one which could do with some further info from the audience, but ... here we go.

In 1901, Robert Adolphus Greer (c1864-1949) appears in the Auckland Star, operating a shirt-making factory in Rutland Street in the central city. The Greers actually lived in Douglas Street, two streets down from the advertisement wall.

Theft -- Andrew Scott pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing a quantity of clothing, valued at £1 16/8, the property of Robert Greer, shirt and clothing manufacturer, of Rutland-street. The evidence for the prosecution went to show that the goods had been supplied to accused as samples for the purpose of booking orders, and that he had disposed of the goods without authority. The value of the goods had been subsequently refunded. His Worship said it was clear that accused had no authority to sell the goods, and though he had refunded their value, he must be convicted. Chief-Detective Grace said that accused had not been previously convicted of theft, and His Worship deferred sentence pending the Probation Officer's report. 
 Auckland Star 18 August 1902

By 1906, Mrs Greer seemed to be regularly advertising for shirt machinists at 38 Douglas Street. At the beginning of November 1907, the Greers had a new factory at Ponsonby. She may have been the Mrs Ann Greer in trouble with the Factory Act in 1908.

Annie Greer, charged by the Inspector of Factories (Mr. Lindsay) with failing to keep a record of her employees' names and earnings, together with the ages and wages of all those under 20 years, and further, with letting out clothing to be made up at other places than registered factories, was represented by Mr. Johnston, and pleaded guilty. After examining the books kept by defendant, Mr. Kettle remarked that there did not appear to have been a wilfull breach, as books had been kept, although not quite in proper accordance with the requirements of the Act. The breaches were mainly technical, so under the circumstances he would convict and inflict a fine of 10/, and costs on each of the two charges. 
Auckland Star 22 February 1908

Mr Greer took over things from that point on. By 1911 the factory produced varsity suits, trousers and knickers, as well as the shirts. Come World War I, Greer was involved with government clothing contracts.

Alfred T. Codlin (married), tailor and presser, Mount Roskill asked for extension of leave, as he was engaged as a munition worker on military clothing as a tailor and presser. Robert Greer, his employer, who did not appear, supported the appeal, and said in a statement that to lose Collier's services now would jeopardise the carrying out of his Government contracts, as he was short handed at the present time. Appellant said he did the pressing and the over-looking. He was an expert military tailor, and it was essential to his position to have a knowledge of military matters. Mr Greer had been unable to get a suitable man to replace appellant. When his employer took the last contract appellant was C2, and he was now C1. Appellant said, personally, he wanted time to arrange his own affairs. The Board granted exemption till May.
Auckland Star 11 February 1918

In 1925, R Greer and Son was registered as a limited liaibility company, with capital of £27,000. Three of the four shareholders were Robert Greer, his son Robert, and wife Anne Elizabeth. (Star, 8 May 1925) Auckland Members of Parliament visited the factory at Douglas Street in May 1934.

... Messrs. Robert Greer and Sons' clothing factory in Douglas Street, Ponsonby, where some 350 employees were working at high speed making practically every garment worn by women, except frocks, and all clothing worn by men. The visitors wore conducted through the factory by Mr. R. Greer, jun., and were much interested in all branches of the work from the time that the material was received in rolls until the article was finished and ready to be placed on the market. Here, again, the latest machinery was in evidence, and an electric knife was noticed cutting out from the material no less than 12 dozen pieces for garments at a time. This was not the limit to the capabilities of the knife. The firm's business is practically confined to the Dominion. 
 Star 16 May 1934

Robert Greer junior rose to become managing director, possibly from his father's death in 1949, himself passing away in 1964. Soon after that, the name of the firm changed to Greers Industries Limited, continuing on through to a change in address, to Taniwha Street at Glen Innes in 1977, and then both Glen Innes and 2 Fitzroy Street in Ponsonby by 1980, according to Wises Directories.

The company was eventually struck off the companies' register 28 October 1987. The advertisement Paul photographed is probably from the 1980s.


  1. Thanks for tracking down the story, Lisa. Amazing how you flush out all these details!

  2. our relation, Elizabeth ODonoghue used to work there in after WW2.

  3. Robert Adolphus was my great grandfather. My grandfather Robert and father Robert Leslie both worked in the business before being sold to Deans in Christchurch. Any further information or contacts would be so good..thank you. Rob Greer (Auckland

    1. Hi Rob, we have just purchased your great grandfathers house and relocated it to our farm just north of Warkworth. Happy to get in touch if you let us know how. Alternatively, check out 'the dent-ed barn on Facebook. Cheers, Rob

    2. Apologies Rob I totally missed your reply. I would truly appreciate hearing from you and mobile 0274827159. We have recently moved to Gulf Harbour so not too far away. Thanks so much Kind regards Rob

  4. My mother worked at Greets before her marriage in 1938
    She would cycle from Ellerslie to work each day along with her sisters.I Have an old phone of the Greers sports team sometime when my mother worked there.

  5. Just purchased overalls from the Lions Club Shed in Cambridge @ 10 dollars apiece (box of them made available with their original paper labels). Made by Greers of NZ ("Greerco protective garments, Made from highest quality sanforized fabric by Greers of N.Z., On the job for 60 years"). Real vintage new old "Agri Combination Overalls". Looking froward to using them...