Castlecliff

Whanganui River Mouth – Te Kai Hau ā Kupe

Where a river meets the sea is a place of great fascination to people all over the world. It’s usually a place of great abundance for fishing as well as gathering whatever interesting wrack gets washed down the river and cast up onto the shore. If the river is large enough it becomes an entrance for shipping or boating, with all the consequent dangers associated with channels, rips and sand-bars.

The Whanganui River entrance has been shaped and changed by major human intervention from its original form. When we at look at old photographs or paintings of the river-mouth, what we see is very different from what is there today.

The building of channel-protecting moles on either side of the river entrance completely transformed, not only the river mouth, but also the coastal area to the west. Interrupting the longshore current that flows from west to south east causes the suspended sand to gradually accumulate against the obstruction. This has created expansive sand-dunes at Castlecliff and has moved the shoreline steadily seawards.

 

1. Castlecliff photo

 Whanganui River Mouth, Castlecliff Beach; Frank Denton, 20th century.  Ref: 1802.1016

One early image of the river mouth is a photograph of Castlecliff Beach by well-known Whanganui photographer Frank Denton. You can see beach visitors enjoying a stroll on the sand. The beach stretches around a natural curve at the river mouth and the sea-swell washes into the river. Ladies lift the hems of their long dresses over the wet sand while children play and paddle in the shallows at the edge of the river. In the far distance a line of surf marks the edge of the sea.

A set of three small watercolour paintings by itinerant artist Christopher Aubrey show the river mouth prior to the construction of the moles. Although the paintings are faded and damaged by long exposure to light and damp, all the details are still visible. Each painting depicts the curve of the river towards the entrance at different times of day. Looking closely, we can see that in 1894 there was a significant sandbar, indicated by a thick line of surf across the across the river entrance. The line of surf across the river-mouth ends at a sand-spit that stretches out from a large cliff on the Castlecliff bank of the river.

Along the river margin stretched a beach with a gentle sloping edge, forming a useful pathway for riding horses or for herding a flock of sheep to the freezing works in the background. The Wanganui Freezing Works were established in 1891 to process the farm animals produced in the surrounding rural areas and freeze them for transport out of the region by ship. The paintings also show ships berthed in the river adjacent to the freezing works, a large ship anchored just offshore and a small vessel crossing the sandbar.

Despite the better shipping channel created by the construction of the moles, the difficulty of negotiating the sand-bar and surf have resulted in a number of shipwrecks over the years, including the Port Bowen which, in 1939, ran aground on a sand-bank, fully laden with a cargo of mutton and lamb from Whanganui destined for export to England.

With the proposed development of Whanganui Port it will be interesting to notice and record further changes to the landscape of the Whanganui River mouth and see how future sea-going vessels manage the difficulties of “crossing the bar”.

 

Margie Beautrais is the Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum

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Gilberd’s – The Best Soap!

The J B Gilberd Soap Factory on Heads Road, Wanganui in 1955 (Ref: B-BS-178)

The J B Gilberd Soap Factory on Heads Road, Wanganui in 1955 (Ref: B-BS-178)

Castlecliff company J B Gilberd and Sons Soapworks was a much-loved household name for nearly 100 years – more if you count Gilberd’s earlier enterprises in Auckland and Napier. Opened on 6 February 1893, the first day’s work at the Heads Road business produced 130 boxes of ‘ordinary household’ soap. By 1897 the firm had increased its opening day output fourfold, and was trading to New Plymouth, Palmerston North and the West Coast. The following year, Gilberd’s employed 15 men to produce a wide range of soaps for home and industrial uses.

A tin of “Eureka” all-purpose household cleaner, made by J B Gilberd & Sons (TH.3680)

A tin of “Eureka” all-purpose household cleaner, made by J B Gilberd & Sons (TH.3680)

Born in Auckland in 1848, James Gilberd lived on goldfields in California and Australia as a child.  He was fourteen when his parents returned to New Zealand, originally to Thames, then Auckland.  James began making soap in his twenties using a 20-gallon copper. By 1877, he had established Saunders and Gilberd Soap and Candle Makers with his brother-in-law the Reverend James Saunders. The business started in Freeman’s Bay before relocating to Victoria Street in the central city.

By 1880 Saunders and Gilberd had doubled in size, with thirteen cooling sets in operation (up from an original three) and a further seven planned.  A new vat provided capacity for eight tonnes of boiling soap.  The Auckland premises soon needed to expand to meet demand, but this was not practicable for safety reasons as the area was now predominantly residential. Additional problems were caused by a shortage of tallow. The partners decided to sell up.

By 1884 Gilberd and Saunders had established a new business near Napier, where tallow from Hawkes Bay sheep farms was plentiful. Initially the company only made ordinary household soaps, but they soon diversified into carbolic, glycerine and transparent soaps as well.

"Suds” clothes cleaning soap chips manufactured by J B Gilberd & Sons. originally cost 35 cents. (TH.3624)

“Suds” laundry soap chips made by J B Gilberd & Sons. originally cost 35 cents. (TH.3624)

At Napier Gilberd made innovative use of steam as the only heating power throughout the entire facility, from hoisting tallow casks to cooling soap moulds. Steam was conducted by pipes from the boiler to all parts of the establishment. Gilberd discovered that steam was cleaner, more reliable, and more economical than fire, and he used steam exclusively at his Napier and Wanganui facilities.

A 10-horsepower horizontal engine was supplied with steam from a 15-horsepower multi-tubular boiler of the latest design. Factory floors were concrete for enhanced cleanliness, and the firm used a steam saw to make its own packing boxes, using nearly one kilometre of timber each month.

Common soap took five hours to make, from tallow to stamped and wrapped bars. Finer soaps required two to three days to boil, cool and set

The Napier business continued until Gilberd’s’ cousin Robert Sweetapple joined the firm, when it was sold to the New Zealand Soap and Candle Company.

Gilberd next moved to Wanganui, starting a boarding establishment in Guyton Street, followed by a large private hotel in Ridgway Street. He was still making soap, initially ‘back to basics’ with a 20-gallon copper.  By 1893 Gilberd had a new soap factory at Castlecliff on an eight hectare site. Reverend Saunders rejoined the firm and in 1898, when James’ son Edward turned 21, the firm became J B Gilberd and Sons.

Gilberd & Sons float in the 1902 Coronation Procession for King Edward VII (RO-ED7-001)

Gilberd & Sons float in the 1902 Coronation Procession for King Edward VII (RO-ED7-001)

A key factor in Gilberd’s move to Castlecliff was an issue with the railways. Despite a siding being directly adjacent to their Hawkes Bay facility, the railways would not allow trucks to stand for loading. The cost of carting from the nearest station back to the factory was the same as the cost of rail freight from the original terminal in Napier, and so carting was preferred.

By comparison, Castlecliff Railway Company readily allowed Gilberd’s to load soap directly from a staging onto trucks on a siding off the main line. Castlecliff also had a port and was close to markets in Palmerston North, Wellington, Napier and New Plymouth, as well as the West Coast by coastal steamer.

“Liberty” sand soap produced by J B Gilberd & Sons, originally cost 56 cents (TH.3625)

“Liberty” sand soap produced by J B Gilberd & Sons, originally cost 56 cents (TH.3625)

Gilberd’s soaps won 20 first prize certificates for excellence of manufacture. Products included Waxine, Stag Brand pumice, Waxine sand, liberty carbolic, liberty sand and pure soft soaps and Waxine soap powder. Soap ingredients included caustic soda, tallow, silicate of soda, rosin, salt, and borax extract.

By 1901 the company had diversified into bannister, hair, flue, dairy, horse, stove, shoe, bottle, flesh, and cobweb brushware. James’ son William was the company’s travelling salesman.

In 1904 a storm blew the top off the soapwork’s chimney, and in 1910 and 1913 the factory was destroyed by fire.  Both were national news. The only water supply was a nearby creek, and it took the fire brigade almost an hour to reach the blaze.

James Gilberd died in 1922, and William became Managing Director. William’s son Harvey succeeded William on his retirement. By 1969, Gilberd’s was Wanganui’s longest-running manufacturing operation. At its peak, the company exported to Australia, the Pacific, Britain and South Africa. But times change, and Gilberd’s closed in the early 1980s.

Making Soap

Gilberd’s soaps were made by combining soda-ash or quicklime with tallow (purified by boiling with lye), grease, palm oil, olive oil or coconut oil for hard soaps, or linseed or hempseed oils for soft soaps. Lye is soap leftover from previous boils. The fat and alkali were boiled together in a large vat to saponify (turn soapy) before chemicals were added and the liquid poured into moulds to cool. A secret method enabled Gilberd’s to turn out marketable soap more quickly than their competitors.

Gilberd’s manufactured a superior tallow themselves from butchers’ off-cuts, reserved for the finer soaps.

Once cooled, the soap was cut into bars and stored to season it before being stamped and sent to market.

About that pillbox …

Pam McDonald from Larsen’s Tanks got in touch after spotting the cylindrical pillbox in the coastal defence article. Pam says she could tell straight away this was a modified Larsen tank. “We used to sell tanks for killing sheds and garden sheds as well as for water tanks.  But I didn’t know we had made pillboxes as well!”

 

And a correction …

SS Port Bowen ran aground at Castlecliff in 1939 (not 1929).

Written by Karen Wrigglesworth

Memories of Clifton House School

Clifton House School was one of the smallest schools in Whanganui. Located near the corner of Victoria Avenue and Dublin Street, it opened during World War I and remained operational for less than 20 years. The following is the edited transcript of a speech made by Nancy Hales at the 1992 reunion of Clifton House School pupils:

… I want to set the scene of my own early years when in 1918 [when] I started school in Miss Ashcroft’s little two rooms in Upper Avenue. My memory pictures a pretty blue carpet and Mrs Ashcroft playing Shall we Gather at the River for us to sing.

Suddenly all was changed. School closed and the word EPIDEMIC meant that Stewart-Karitane home opposite became an Emergency Hospital. Carts sprayed disinfectant in the streets and killed our hedge. The Bank Manager urged his staff and family to cut raw onions to good effect as more of them fell ill with this plague.

Unfortunately Miss Ashcroft, with many others, became a victim. When all possible chance of a germ reaching me had ended, I was sent to Clifton House School – no blue carpet but my old friend Shall we Gather at the River and I met at morning assembly.

We talk of Clifton House as a small school but it was not so little. In 1919 there were 60 pupils, and in 1920 there were 80 children.

Clifton House School, undated; the uniform now includes blazers

Clifton House School, undated; the uniform now includes blazers

Miss Currie had opened her school during World War I in a house owned by her family who all gave her help and support. It was known as Miss Currie’s but as it grew and prospered she felt it should have a proper name so she asked her pupils for suggestions. At that time they were learning to recite a poem about Clifton College, a public school in England, and they thought Clifton would be a good name.  So Clifton House it was known. Black & white check frocks for uniform, green headbands with a silver CHS badge. The checks gradually changed to grey.

Staff and Students of Clifton House School, 1925; girls wear a mix of grey and checked uniforms

Staff and Students of Clifton House School, 1925; girls wear a mix of grey and checked uniforms

As the school grew, the music mistress Miss Russell and her aunt Miss Holman lived across the road in a two-storey house complete with a turret. They arranged to board country girls from Monday to Friday. The turret became Miss Currie’s domain. So Clifton Lodge was founded and used until Miss Russell was married to Judy, Alison and Lesley Burnett’s uncle. What excitement!!  The Misses Stanford then had the girls in their own home.

Again I bring a personal piece. I was no scholar – my report tells me “I was a quiet and good little pupil”. I was just so thrilled when Miss Lance announced she was taking six girls for a picnic to Castlecliff – not the tops of the form but the best behaved! Off by tram, down to the sand hills until suddenly the heavens opened and we sought refuge in a large concrete culvert lying near, where we played “I spy” and ate the goodies Miss Lance had provided. It was the nicest picnic I’ve ever been to and it comes to mind as a warm glow when people speak of the highlights of their lives.

Tram terminus at Castlecliff

Tram terminus at Castlecliff

Once we practised marching in patterns for hours and singing God Bless the Prince of Wales making ourselves into the rays of a rising sun – I was expecting full Royal regalia but this pleasant smiling man just waved a straw hat – (I wonder how he could have waved a crown?) and after he passed I sat down in a patch of wet tar in my new raincoat! That was one of the low points.

Civic Reception at Cook's Gardens for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, 1927

Civic Reception at Cook’s Gardens for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, 1927

Back to school. For sport, in season, there was hopscotch, skipping and a basketball ring in the gravel playground until Miss Currie had a volley board erected to improve our tennis. For most of us this meant five or six hits before the ball sailed over the fence into Miss Spillane’s garden, from where it could not be retrieved until a senior rescued the lot after school. Soon it was arranged for the school to use part of the Technical College grounds twice a week, for tennis, rounders and netball, the highlight, of course, being the netball [and] School v Fathers with the A team resplendent with green shoulder sashes over the uniform. The Fathers always lost as they forgot the rules but made amends for their sins with a huge feast afterwards.

Daily visits to Victoria Avenue School Baths provided a flurry of water wings and poles with slings on to lure the beginners into the art of swimming. The older girls progressed well with lifesaving while other swam lengths for their certificates.  remember swimming the 72 lengths (a mile) for the drink of hot cocoa at the finish.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was read aloud by pupils in the queue waiting for help with their sewing from Miss Craig who had a “mean thumb” to slide down a seam to find any weaknesses. I even produce my year’s sewing (show apron). I can’t imagine how I managed to escape with it unfinished. You will all remember the panic at end of year for garments to be completed. I feel that even a few days’ work could finish this apron – just 70 years late.

The weekly gramophone sessions were held to help our Musical Appreciation but I have memories of girls asking to leave the room and returning with a mouth full of water to see how long they could keep it there. We were allowed to bring special records from home for all to enjoy. Betty Montgomerie bought Yes, we have no Bananas.  Miss Currie said not a word as the record played but gradually became right[eous] with eyes aglow while we sucked in our breath in horror. Miss Currie had piercing eyes and needed nothing else for discipline – she would open the door to a noisy classroom, gaze at each child in turn, then depart leaving us all quiet mice for the session.

We all had Barnado boxes and Margaret and two friends thought up a bazaar which they ran themselves and divided the spoils into three lots to put in their own boxes.  What a sensation at the box-opening party, but this success meant that the School ran a school bazaar each year afterwards for a charity.

A group of Girl Guides in uniform in the 1920s

A group of Girl Guides in uniform in the 1920s

In 1926 Lady Marjorie Dalrymple, headmistress of Woodford House, introduced Girl Guiding to a packed His Majesty’s Theatre and 25 of us became an active Clifton House Girl Guide Company, among the many formed at that time. Miss Merewether & Betty Hutton were our leaders – a good company with fun and service in a movement that still holds my interest. Our first Public Outing was to be part of the Guard of Honour to the Duke and Duchess of York while the rest of the school joined in others making the White Rose of York in the centre of Cook’s Gardens.

Formal proceedings of the visit of Duke and Duchess of York, with children in formation at Cook's Gardens, 1927

Formal proceedings of the visit of Duke and Duchess of York, with children in formation at Cook’s Gardens, 1927

Also in 1926 we felt we should produce our own School Magazine so Bugg Justin organised a council to raise the £60 to print it. Alas, alack! A burglar stole the money so a new programme and performance was necessary before we could manage this effort (show magazine).

The school prospered and older girls stayed or passed Proficiency, Intermediate & Public Service, indeed a few to Matriculation. I was 16 before I left for boarding school for two final years and was happy to find that I could fit so easily into the subjects and standards there.

The Depression years came with lower numbers and suddenly in 1935 Miss Currie felt it was time for a change and left for England to help Archdeacon Creed-Meredith with parish work among the less fortunate.

So ends the story of Clifton House School. I remember with gratitude my years there. The fact that so many of you have come here nearly 60 years after, to honour Miss Amy Currie and her school, is indeed a wonderful tribute.

 

Grace for Clifton House School Reunion 1992, from Judy Burnett (Davies)

Loving heavenly Father, we give you thanks for Miss Currie’s School, for friendships made and for happy childhood memories.

We thank you Lord for the teaching we received there, for the principles of love and service and the opening of our minds to the interest and wonder of your world.

We pray for those unable to come, especially the sick, and we remember with sadness those who have died.

We ask you to bless this day and we give thanks for this they creature of food before us now.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.