29 Bridge Street, Nelson


Historic gem in Bridge Street

At 29 Bridge street is a small commercial building dating back to c1855, whose frontage is almost in its original shape. It is believed to be the oldest commercial building in the central business district of Nelson, possibly the oldest commercial building still extant in New Zealand, and has a Historic Places Trust category B listing.  

It is a vivid reminder of an older commercial centre which is now almost completely gone, not only in Nelson but in most other early New Zealand towns. Although the interior has been modified during the past 130 years the first floor and exterior retain their original character with timber cladding and pitched roof.

Wills Jewelers in 2009

A fisherman's jetty once sat at the back of the building in Wakatu Square and would have been used until reclamation in the 1890's stopped boats having easy access into the Paruparu Estuary, or Tideway as it was known by settlers. Until then spring tides were especially good for larger vessels, while smaller flat-bottomed canoes and barges could proceed even further into the large tidal estuary.

The land on which the building stands is part of Section 1104 City of Nelson and was granted to Thomas Askew on 13th December 1851. Askew had arrived in Nelson with his parents in 1843, and the Nelson Census of 1849 describes him as living in Bridge St.  The Ratings Roll for 1864 specify that Askew had a house and shop built on the section in 1852.  It appears this was let to various people and not lived in by Askew himself.

In 1883 Askew sold to John Olgivie, a cooper who went bankrupt in 1889.  Mrs Mary Rogers bought the land and building at an auction for $300 in 1889 and was the first of five women spanning four generations of the one family who lived at the dual house and shop for over 96 years. When Rogers died in 1903, her widowed daughter Mary Ellen Browne lived in the property until her death in 1930. It then went to her two married daughters, Mary Eleanor Naylor and Frances Lucy Soper.  

Soper inherited full ownership from Naylor on her death, and when Soper died in 1964 this was transferred to her niece, artist Marjorie Eleanor Froom Naylor.  Marjorie was well-known for her portraits and landscapes and operated a gallery from the premises and also lived there until she died in 1985.

The building was sold to the present owners who operate a jewelry business there. In the past fancy confectionery, sewing machines, lingerie even petrol are some of the items that have been sold from this quaint little building.

2010 (updated 2021)

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  • The ending of this article isn't right, the building has changed hands once since 1985. But has been a manufacturing jewelers since 1985.

    Posted by Scarlett, ()

  • Alexander Rankin, ran a baker's shop from these premises. Thomas Askew was his son-in-law. According to family tradition, one of the immigrant ships sailed down the Boulder Bank signalling that they had been out of food for four days and out of water for a day. The Johnson brothers, who ran a boat hire shed near the bottom of Richardson Street, took a boat into the mouth of the Maitai River, scrubbed it out and refloated it partly full of fresh water. Alexander was bringing a batch of bread out of the oven and put it into a boat moored at the wharf mentioned in the story. As the ship came around Haulashore Island it was met by a boat load of fresh water and a boatload of fresh bread.

    Posted by David, ()

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Further sources - 29 Bridge Street, Nelson


  • Electoral Rolls for the Province of Nelson, 1853-58/59, 1861, 1866-77, 1893-94 [held Nelson Provincial Museum]
  • Wises Post Office Directories, 1872-73, 1878-79, 1883-84, 1885-86, 1898-1938


  •  Nelson Evening Mail, 24 September 1969 1 February 1985


  •  Land Information New Zealand, CT 59/58, CT 60/157, Deeds Index 2/774, 4/457, 7/886, Deeds Register 79/13
  • Jury Lists 1852-61 - Nelson City Ratings Rolls 1857, 1861-64, 1866, 1868 - Nelson Census 1849 [held Nelson Provincial Museum

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