Mrs France and Billy Carr's Hardware Store


Billy Carr

Billy Carr's hardware store was a prominent building in Blenheim for many years from the time it opened in 1881. Many people back then had their own stories of Billy Carr. The following is a story told by Marguerite Fairweather, my Nana, who was in turn told this by her mother Iris. This story is in my own words but all the details are the same.


William Carr, Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives.

Back in the days when rail was the main source of transport between the townships of Blenheim and Picton, my Nana’s mother and grandmother would travel to Blenheim for a monthly shop - at a time when money was scarce. One of the shops in the town was that of Billy Carr, a well known man in the province. He owned many different stores, but this one was a hardware store in Market Street about where the Glassons store is today (101 Market Street). Nana states that whatever you needed could be found in Mr Carr’s store. If it wasn’t in the store itself it was in the attic - his methodical way of locating things in the attic often pressured people for time, especially those who needed to get back to the train before it puffed back to Picton.

On one occasion, Mrs Isabella France (Nana’s grandmother) came to the store for some nails and away Mr Carr went searching. One can only imagine a slow paced man searching through his various items while a concerned look grows on the face of a worried customer as they stare at the clock on the wall. One by one he’d count out Mrs France's coins and one can be certain that as soon as the payment was done Mrs France with her daughter in hand would have rushed to make it to the already steaming locomotive. Nana's mother lived for almost 90 years and surely would have had a wealth of stories. Unfortunately, dementia kicked in and away went the tales of yesteryear. Nana also recalled how her mother told her that Mr Carr would chalk out the outline of the pot holes in front of his store so the council couldn’t miss them or leave them in disrepair.

Poor Mrs France 15

The France Family. Image supplied by author

Isabella France (nee Wratt)

William Greig of Koromiko was a well-known man in his time, perhaps not for good cause, nevertheless he owned property about where the old petrol station now resides. In 1866, he married Catherine Wratt, daughter of George and Hannah Wratt of Picton and had a few boys and one daughter. Their daughter was Isabella who was born in early April of 1879. For much of her childhood she would have lived at Koromiko with her father and mother. Her father William was a Scottish barrister before he emigrated to New Zealand and her mother Catherine had been born in the Wairau Valley a month before the Wairau Affray.

14 France family

The France Family. Image supplied by author

Isabella told her daughter (Nana's mother)  how she remembered a hearse being driven through Koromiko which lost its wheel and how the men clad in suits had to help put the wheel back on the axle. It is believed that the funeral was for her sister-in-law's first husband Charles Davis-Goff who was struck by lightning in Renwick.

Isabella married Austin Joseph (Mary) France in 1900. Austin was a member of the France family of Picton where his father had made a name for himself having come out from America in about the 1850s and marrying a Dublin girl in Dunedin. Austin was a member of the volunteer fire service and worked many jobs. Around this time Isabella's mother was sent up north to Porirua Asylum by her husband. It is said that she was in the habit of taking long walks. Back then people were institutionalised for many odd reasons. She didn't forgive her husband before she died in 1914.

Isabella had converted from the Catholic faith to Presbyterian which angered her very Catholic and Irish mother in law. Isabella felt that if she wasn't good enough for her mother-in-law then neither were her children.

Picton was isolated in those days. People didn't pop over to Blenheim on the weekend like so many do today. After the war came influenza which claimed many lives. Isabella was no exception. She contracted the disease and was taken in by the family - her mother-in-law cared for her a great deal. When it looked as though she was recovering TB came along. This prompted the family to move to Seddon where the weather was warmer and easier on the lungs.

Austin had worked on the railyards in Picton and got a job as Guard of the Seddon-Blenheim line. The family of four would have had a tough life even if Isabella didn't have TB. Austin found money in his chicken farming as he became known for his prized chickens and was even sent to Nelson to judge a poultry show. Unfortunately, the warm climate of Seddon could not save Isabella and she was taken into hospital. The night of Isabella's passing Austin had come stumbling into the house. His children thought that he was having a heart attack and sat him down in his chair. In the morning they expected to find him dead but no, he was just shaving in the kitchen sink like nothing happened.

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The grave of Isabella France. Image supplied by author

That day when they returned to Blenheim they found that Isabella had died. Isabella was taken to Picton and buried in 1924. She was buried across from her father in a double plot but without a headstone. Austin remarried a year later to Florrie Murphy which did not please his daughter. He lived with her for the rest of his life in Marlborough until his death in 1945. The plan was that Austin would be taken to Picton and buried with his first wife, however Florrie had him interred at Omaka Cemetery where he had no family. Alone his grave sits in Omaka.

The pair had their first child in 1902 named Gladys. Gladys married Sam Watson and had a boy and girl. Sam unfortunately was a bit of an alcoholic. Marguerite Fairweather remembers sneaking into Sam's caravan and seeing it filled with beer and brandy bottles. In 1908 they had their final child named Iris. Gladys died in 1980 and Sam followed in 1982. They are both buried in separate unmarked plots at Fairhall Cemetery. Iris left her life behind her in Blenheim and moved up north to train to become a Nun. Unfortunately, she was told that it wasn't for her and to go off and raise a family.

She met and married George Albert Moore and came back to Blenheim, where they resided for the rest of their lives with their daughter Marguerite. George died in 1979 from a cancer of which he hadn't told anyone about. His ashes were not retrieved from Nelson and he is believed to have been scattered by the staff at the crematorium. Iris died in 1997 at the age of 89 and her ashes were buried with those of her mother. Florrie moved back to Wellington and lived with one of her sisters. She died in 1962 and is buried at Taita Cemetery.

Sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s Isabella was given a plaque at the foot of her grave by a descendant of her daughter Gladys. Marguerite plans to be interred there with her late husband Allan Fairweather of Fairweather and Sons. This will see to a larger memorial to  Isabella, George, Iris, Allan and Margeurite.

2019 (updated August 2020)

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Further sources - Mrs France and Billy Carr's Hardware Store


  • Beverley, A.(1969) The first hundred: the story of the Borough of Blenheim 1869-1969, Blenheim, N.Z.: Blenheim Borough Council.
  • Harris, A. & Harris, K.(2001) From Billy Carr to Marlborough Mitre 10: the story of the hardware firm founded by William Carr on October, 1881, Blenheim, N.Z.: The Home Centre.
  • McIntosh, A., Redman, W., Allen, W.(Eds.) (1940) Marlborough: a provincial history, Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough Provincial Historical Committee.