Day: Date: 19/03/2010
Section: NEWS Page: 7 Edition: 1
Thames history for all to see
The gold rush got Thames up and running 140 years ago but Shenagh Gleeson finds the historic town now sets a less hectic pace
LIFE ON POLLEN ST: The name: Dr Daniel Pollen was deputy superintendent of the Auckland Province. He was quick to see the potential of the 1867 gold strike and sent Crown agents to lead development. Best coffee: Thames is spoilt for choice with several cafes serving good coffee. Sola and Relish are excellent but I suspect Coco may be the best.
Best find: The Pearce organ in St James Church and the ginger and pear cake at Coco.
Best makeover: Bounty - a 114-year-old building whose inhabitants have included a chemist, a bootmaker, a lingerie seller and a second-hand book seller. Now beautifully restored as a design shop.
This weekend: The Grahamstown Market runs every Saturday morning, with stalls offering food, produce and crafts. Recent items included home-made Dutch wafers, locally-grown lavender and Maori potatoes and heirloom apples grown in nearby Kauaeranga Valley.
It's just after 9 o'clock on a Wednesday morning and Stuart Read is run off his feet.
He may be the manager of Read Bros Hammer Hardware but the Thames store is short-staffed and there's a never-ending stream of customers.
He's at the counter along with his wife, Jocelyn, and three other staff members, solving people's many and varied problems and helping them find what they need.
The business is in Stuart's blood - he's the fourth generation of Reads to own and run the store, believed to be the oldest business still operating in New Zealand.
It's a fitting place to start our exploration of Thames' main street - we're visiting in Heritage Week which celebrates the seaside town's long, rich history.
John Read opened his store in 1867, providing timber and iron to the thousands of men who flocked to the newly-discovered Thames gold fields. Since then there's been Arthur, Alan and Stuart and now another John, Stuart's son, is on the staff, carrying on the hardware tradition.
The store started in Brown St, moved to Shortland St and then settled in the early 1930s into its present building, a former billiard room built by Arthur Read, at the southern end of Pollen St.
The old store, crammed to the gunnels with stock, was a playground for Stuart. He remembers getting lost in the store and his sister, Lesley, tells how they used to be weighed in the nail scales.
Stuart says the store was full of tables piled with goods. "It was just a conglomeration of stock piled on top of each other. Nothing was logical. I've spent a lifetime trying to spread it out."
Since he took over management in 1979, stock lines have risen from about 6000 in his father's day to around 28,000 today. Although the goods and size of the store have changed, the motto remains the same: "If you can't get it anywhere, you'll get it here."
Way down the other end of Pollen St - one of the longest main streets in New Zealand - two other historic enterprises stand on opposite corners of Pahau St.
They may have shared some customers over the years but the splendid, 110-year-old St James Church and the modest Junction Hotel cater for different needs.
The combined Presbyterian- Methodist or Union church is described as the finest example in New Zealand of wooden Gothic architecture. It was built of local kauri in just six months and has a beautiful, recently-renovated pipe organ, apparently the only unaltered Pearce organ in New Zealand.
Convener of the ministry team Bernard Young is a former Thames bank manager. Congregation numbers have probably dwindled over the years but the church is a well-used community venue and a popular tourist stop, he says.
The Junction Hotel had been serving thirsty miners for nearly 30 years when the church began serving their souls.
Built in 1869, it was one of scores of pubs which sprang up around the gold rush. The town boasted more than 100 in its boom years.
Today the Junction is one of just a handful remaining, and it's showing its age.
The exterior of the simple, two-storey colonial structure is intact and tastefully painted but inside the hotel has suffered the fate of quick, tacky makeovers. But help is at hand. Chris Rollitt, who restored the old Buffalo Hall in Hamilton East and turned it into The Cook Bar and Cafe, has bought the Junction and is undertaking a complete refurbishment.
American Jenny-Kay Edwards and Kiwi Brent Crawshaw are managing the project and are excited about returning the pub to something like its original state. Brent says they're working to retain as much of the original flavour as possible.
"The old lining is in pretty good nick and we're using as much of it as we can."
The 17 bedrooms upstairs have been revamped and there will be a new public bar and a restaurant/bar. Brent says it's great that the public bar's being kept. In recent years the Junction's been known as a bikers' pub but people shouldn't assume the worst. "It's had a bit of a bad rap - the people who drink here are great."
The hotel gets its name from standing at the junction of the two towns which originally formed Thames. Shortland sprung up first at the south end of Pollen St but was soon eclipsed by Grahamstown at the northern end.
Nowadays, the southern end is a mix of car yards, light industrial workshops and shops. The prime position seems to be the middle of town, while Grahamstown is an intriguing, quirky mix of second-hand shops, food stores and cafes and beautifully renovated cottages housing accountants, beauty therapists and dental services.
Pollen St as a whole is a reminder of how shopping used to be. Although there's a mall nearby, the street has retained a wonderful collection of all types of businesses and services. Under a hotchpotch of verandas, plumbers rub shoulders with hairdressers, clothes shops with fruiterers, butchers with bookshops.
Pat Mravicich remembers when it was even livelier. The co-owner of renowned Carson's Books and Stationery says going to town on Friday night in the 1950s was wonderful. Everyone got dressed up and the Sallies played on the corner near the bookshop.
Pat's family has lived in Thames for three generations. Her grandfather had a transport business originally using horses and drays and her father operated as a contractor and carrier. Pat, nee Verran, and her husband Vince restored her grandfather's 1929 Rio truck a couple of years ago.
Sadly, Vince recently suffered a stroke and is in hospital , but Pat drove the truck in a Heritage Week parade this month.
The couple bought Carson's 23 years ago. It was established in 1906 a couple of doors down from where the Mravicichs shifted it to its present location on the corner of Mary St.
Owning a bookshop was something Pat had always wanted to do and she remains passionate about the business. Carson's has a reputation well beyond Thames for the depth and breadth of its stock and its willingness to help customers find books.
Pat says lots of customers have come to rely on her and the other staff for recommendations for their own reading and for books for their children and grandchildren. Her personal taste runs to popular and historical fiction, while Vince is passionate about history, particularly New Zealand history.
Just down the street, two newcomers are selling some of the finest craft work in New Zealand in one of the loveliest little galleries on the peninsula.
Fiona Cameron isn't really a newcomer. She grew up in Coromandel town and went to high school in Thames. But she's returned only recently from England with her partner, Steven Shakespeare.
Fiona worked in design stores in Coromandel town and elsewhere in New Zealand before going overseas. She met Steven in India and then worked for a time in a design store in his native Birmingham. As she reached her mid- 30s, home called and the couple decided to settle in Thames and open a design store. They took on a dilapidated, 114-year-old building and transformed it, opening Bounty in September, 2008. The name reflects Steven's fascination with the ship and the couple's shared English-Pacific heritage. It also describes the wealth of craft Fiona sources from local artists and others around New Zealand.
The couple love living in Thames, with its rich history and friendly people. "Because I'm a Coromandel girl, it's lovely to set up in your own town."
Caption: Long and wide: Pollen St is a reminder of how towns used to be. Although there's a mall nearby, the street has retained a collection of all types of businesses and services. Under a hotchpotch of verandas, plumbers rub shoulders with
hairdressers, clothes shops with fruiterers, butchers with bookshops.