Sutton Brothers Store

Built: 1874-1875
Address: 21 George Street, Port Chalmers
Architects: Mason & Wales
Builders: Lambeth & Findlay, Kent & Brown

When I’m in Port Chalmers I often admire the distinctive Tiger tea, ‘It’s so good it goes further’, advertising on the front of this building. I’m sure many have a similar fondness for it – Tiger signs were once seen on so many southern dairies and grocery stores, but they’re now relatively scarce.

The building was a general store, with a residence above, for 110 years. It was built between 1874 and 1875 as an investment for John Thomson, whose name has come up on this blog before. Thomson (1813-1895) was born at Dewartown, near Dalkeith in Scotland, and after working in coal mining had charge of a sawmill on the estate of the Duke of Buccleugh. He arrived at Port Chalmers in 1848 and worked saw milling and then managing the Government stores, before briefly going to the goldfields. He was afterwards a sheep and cattle inspector, and his Otago Witness obituary stated that he was ‘greatly respected for his sterling manliness of character’. He had established the Dalkeith subdivision in the 1860s, and owned various adjoining properties on the eastern side of George Street.

The architect was N.Y.A. Wales of Mason & Wales. The carpenters were Lambeth & Findlay, the stonemasons Kent & Brown, and the plasterer Edwin Philp. The cost was £898. The building was completed in March 1875, but just seven months later was damaged in a fire that destroyed buildings on its north side. The first storekeepers were Sutton Brothers. The business was managed by Edward Sutton to 1891, then by William Sutton to about 1903.

Detail from an 1870s photograph showing the building as it appeared when new. Ref: D.A. De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-003211-G.

Detail from another D.A. De Maus photograph, taken in the 1880s. Ref: Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-002569-G.

The store as it appeared in the 1890s or early 1900s. Ref: Port Chalmers Museum. D.A. De Maus photographer.

The store was run by Jonathan Emerson as Emerson’s Store from about 1903 to 1931, when it became MP Stores. The original MP Stores had been established in Timaru in 1913 as ‘a cash store, with minimum deliveries, in order to enable the proprietors to only charge the public for the goods bought by the individual customer, and not for the bad debts of the non-payer, and also to keep running expenses to a minimum’. MP might have stood for ‘minimum purchase’ but I’m not sure about that, and if there was a direct business link between the Timaru stores and the Port Chalmers one I haven’t discovered it. The name was changed to MP Foodmarket around 1963 and the business continued under that name until it closed around 1985. Since about 1986 Koputai Manufacturing Jewellers have occupied the ground floor.

The style of the architecture is Renaissance Revival. Originally, rusticated pilasters topped by corbels flanked the shopfront, with quoins above on the first floor. The composition was topped by a bracketed cornice, and a blind parapet with a modest pediment, small urns, and finials. The principal change to the outward appearance of the building has been the replastering of the facade in the 1950s. This involved the removal of original mouldings such as the cornice, quoins etc., and the filling in of the centre window on the first floor. Other changes included the addition of a suspended verandah, and the replacement of the shopfront. The side elevations are in a more original state, and the exposed breccia stonework is a delight – well worth searching out if you’re not familiar with it already. Just look for Mr Tiger.

Newspaper sources:
Otago Daily Times, 4 October 1875 p.3 (fire); Timaru Herald 11 August 1913 p.1, 17 July 1920 p.9 (MP Stores).

Other sources:
Stone’s, Wise’s, and telephone directories
Church, Ian. Some Early People and Ships of Port Chalmers. Dunedin: New Zealand Society of Genealogists, c.1990. pp.784-5.
Port Chalmers rates records (with thanks to Chris Scott, DCC Archives)
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)

12 thoughts on “Sutton Brothers Store

  1. Robert Findlay

    Message for David Murray, Eureka ! Lambeth & Findlay…Robert Findlay was my gt gt grandfather and I am publishing his story – arrived Dunedin 1863 and with Thomas Lambeth did a number of interesting buildings. This is the first time despite my asking that I have seen reference to one of their buildings. This is one of only two still standing that I know of – the other the Royal Gallery of Photography in George street Dunedin.

    The firm tendered unsuccessfully for the Municipal Chambers. Sadly the activities of the firm were cut short when Thomas died from tetanus after standing on a nail while superintending the demolition of a building in Princes Street.

    Their workshop was in McGlaggan St no 62? today opposite the Clarendon Hotel..I recognise the plasterer’s name – he subleased space at the site of Lambeth & Findlay. What a great discovery….

    Keep up your Built in Dunedin – really interesting.

    Robert Findlay, Otahuhu, Auckland.

    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks Robert – Lambeth & Findlay had me thinking of you today. After our earlier chats I’m glad to have found another example of their work! Thanks for the other interesting historical details too.

    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks Julian – what a wonderful building Marinoto is. I think I have a few new angles on it and would like to tell its story. I can’t promise it will be soon though!

  2. Ann Barsby

    Hi David ,

    Another splendid piece of interesting history, building and people, well done! The Southern Heritage Trust produced a card (blank ) which is very popular, photo taken by photographer Derek Smith.

    Have been intending to get in touch again because the SHT September 23 Savoy Afternoon Tea will celebrate the Savoy’s centenary. There is some debate whether it was 2014 or 15. Do you have any definitive information?

    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks for your kind words Ann. The Trust cards are beautiful and Derek is a superb photographer. Now the Savoy…there was an advertisement placed by Pearl Brent in the Otago Daily Times, 13 November 1913. It read: ‘Applications will be received for waitresses for “The Savoy,” which will be opened in Haynes’s new building shortly’. After moving from Samson’s Building in Dowling Street the Savoy reopened in its new premises on 15 December 1913 (Otago Daily Times, 8 December 1913). Are you looking for the date of the Tudor Room that was part of the additions that followed?

  3. Trevor Agnew

    That was an amazing memory-burst that your article inspired. In the late 1950s and early 1960s I lived at 16 Grey Street, Port Chalmers. At the back of the section is a very steep clay bank. I used to slide down this bank on my heels when I went to babysit at the upstairs residence at what was then the IGA store. I think the family were the Lawrences; very nice people anyway. It later became a New World or Four Square store – I forget which – but the grocery business closed when the New World supermarket was built on the site of the old Metro picture theatre, further down George Street.

  4. Roy Muir

    G’day David, I have thoroughly enjoyed your site, especially on the buildings in Port Chalmers.
    I have had a copy of a photo sent to me from the great grand daughter of Archibald Legg, butcher, who owned MP Store around, I think, 1903 or so. Do you have any more information on the store as a butchers shop?

    1. David Murray Post author

      Hi Roy – good to hear from you and thanks for the comments. I researched fourteen buildings in George Street, Port Chalmers, for the Council and should write about some of the others here some time. I knew of Legg being at no.27 (later Thorn’s book shop) around 1905 but hadn’t come across him at no.21. I’ll send you another message by e-mail.

  5. Hali Gray

    I agree with Roy, I love this website and would love to learn more about port charmers especially the other end of George street where the theatre use to be.


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