Griffin's Factory in Nelson


For just under 120 years, the Griffin's Factory was a landmark in Nelson and a big part of the city's economy.

Griffin Sons City Flour Mill Biscuit Factory. Nelson Provincial Museum Collection 317557

Griffin Sons City Flour Mill Biscuit Factory Nelson Provincial Museum Collection 317557 [the 1869 wooden factory]

John Griffin was born in England in 1813. He became a flour-miller and in 1854 he and his family set sail for New Zealand, arriving in Nelson on board the Ashmore on the 26 September 1854.1 In 1855 he opened a bakery shop in Trafalgar Street, which was damaged in an earthquake in 1855. Despite reopening the business, this time in a wooden building, the family moved to Christchurch in the 1860s, where John set up as a grocer and draper. They moved back to Nelson after a few years, buying land on the corner of Alton and Nile Streets - Town Acre 424. There, the family built a house, and in 1869 also established a flour mill and biscuit factory, which, by 1873 was steam-powered.2

Griffins. NPM FN Jones

Griffin's Factory. Nelson Provincial Museum. FN Jones Collection [the 1905 brick factory]

Griffins. NPM Photo collection 9883

View looking north east from Shelbourne Street Nelson. The Presbyterian Church and Griffin's factory centre of  image. Nelson Provincial Museum. 9883

John Griffin died in 1893, but the business was continued by his two sons J.H. and G.R. Griffin. On 7 February 1895 disaster struck, in the form of a huge fire where all that was left of Griffin's mill were the chimneys. The sons struggled on, forming a public company, with subscriptions from local people, foremost of these being Thomas Cawthron.  The locals enjoyed being able to buy a 3d bag of broken biscuits, which became a lunch treat for many Central school students. When chocolate making was added to the business in 1897, the residents of Alton Street were also treated to a wonderful variety of aromas issuing from the factory.3  However, on 18 November 1903, the factory was once again razed to the ground. The business managed to survive, with further subscriptions from the Nelson public, and a new brick factory was opened in 1905.

griffins 1930

Nelson Evening Mail, 4 October 1930, p. 26

Griffins 1962

Nelson Photonews, 10 November 1962. "Every colour of the rainbow is represented in this tremendous tray of sweets, fresh from the production line at Griffin's confectionery factory in Nelson.... Just as attractive as the sweets are Betty Wilkinson and Desley Gibbons whose pleasant task it is to dispose of this mouth-watering confectionery"

In the years following the fire, the company continued to expand. In 1930 there were 170 people employed at the factory, and the company calculated that it contributed $30,000 p/a to the Nelson economy.4 By 1938 the company was perhaps too big for Nelson, biscuit manufacturing was moved to Lower Hutt, and the Nelson factory focused on the production of confectionery.  Both parts of the business continued to be successful, right through and beyond the second world war, with company vehicles delivering confectionery and biscuits throughout New Zealand and to New Zealand soldiers in the Middle East. Griffin and Son Limited became one of the largest businesses of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.5

Central School, sited just along the street from Griffin's, had a special relationship with the Nelson factory, which supplied treats for school camps and other school ventures. The finish time at the school was even adjusted to 2.55pm, so that the pupils could avoid the 3pm "smoko" break at the factory, when the road became busy with workers dashing off to do errands in the short breaks.  

In 1965 the company was bought by Nabisco, which made the decision to close the Nelson factory in 1987, as it required a $6 million dollar upgrade under new earthquake standards. It  was closed in 1988 with the loss of 137 jobs, many of them part-time jobs staffed by women. This had a huge impact on the Nelson economy, and a social impact on those who were now unemployed. The factory was demolished to make way for the expansion of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology


edited 2023

Sources used in this story

  1. Passenger list for the Ashmore, retrieved from RootsWeb 12 October 2020:
  2. Darry, G (1995) Remember Griffins. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2(6), p.10:
  3. Alton Street, Retrieved from the Prow:
  4. Nelson Evening Mail, 4 October 1930, p. 26
  5. Darry, G (1995) Remember Griffins. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2(6), p.10

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