Phyllis Field (nee Griffin) 1914-2007 - the early years
Phyllis was born in 1914, the youngest child of George and Caroline Griffin.
Her father was manager of the Griffin Biscuit factory, a business begun by his father John Griffin in 1865. The factory was on the land on the corner of Alton Street and Nile Street East. The family lived in a large two story house on the top of the hill in Tipahi Street (now 3 Eckington Terrace). Phyllis recalls that they had a large section and kept a cow and lots of chooks. She had five brothers: Charles, Augustus (Gus), Henry (Harry), Robert (Bob) and Peter and her sister Else.
In 1919, George Griffin purchased the Barrington Farm of 100 acres, following the death of William Higgs (see map – section 90 and 88). When her brother Gus came back from the war with tuberculosis of the spine, after living in the trenches, he was not allowed to do office work again so the farm was for Gus and Harry to work. The old house was rebuilt and the property was re-named Dellside by Gus, after the convalescence home where he recuperated in England during WW1. Dellside is believed to have been a private home near Southhampton.
Phyllis had many happy memories of her time at Dellside. The farm grew new potatoes and peas, they kept pigs and had a milking herd of pedigree Jersey cows. There was also a plum orchard. A spring on the hillside was used as a source of water for the Griffin cowshed. The children played in Reservoir Creek catching “crawlers” (Koura), eels and large native fish. Cooking up the native crayfish was a great delicacy. Brothers Bob and Peter dammed up Reservoir Creek and dug a swimming hole. This was still evident at the time of the interview and may have been the pond near the Cambrian coal mine. The mine sold coal as early as March 1862. A Mr. Roberts took out 100 tons then sold to W. Higgs who reopened it in 1872 and took out 30 tons. The mine closed in 1873 because the workings were below Reservoir Creek level. Gus and Harry later lost a horse in the mineshaft and Phyllis was told to stay away from the area.
The Griffins also had a tennis court at Easby Park (the level area of grass can still be seen). Every Saturday carloads of family and friends turned up for tennis. Sister Else spent all morning cooking dainties for afternoon tea. (The tennis court against the hill is the site of the target range that was no longer in use when Phyllis was young). Below the tennis Court, where the present footbridge crosses Reservoir Creek from the carpark, was the area where the Griffins kept their pigs.
Approximately 60 metres upstream from the pond William Higgs had a sheep dip. The Griffin brothers and neighbouring Sutton family used this facility.
When Phyllis was about eight years old they moved back into Nelson living in a house in Hardy Street which was close to the factory. Phyllis attended the Tasman School which backed onto the Maitai River. By the time she was about 11 years old they had moved back to Dellside. Her oldest brother Charles had married and he and his wife Alice moved into the Hardy Street house. Her father and brother Bob would travel into Nelson by car and take Phyliis to Preparatory of Nelson Girls College. As they would arrive in town early she would amuse herself at the factory – eating biscuits and looking for unusual foreign stamps in the rubbish baskets. Many of the materials used in the factory came from overseas. Crystallised flowers from France, patterned tinfoil from England and Europe, cocoa butter and vanilla pods from Africa or cocoa beans from tropical countries.
Phyllis was at the prep school in 1929 when the big Murchison earthquake struck. Luckily the building was wooden and didn’t sustain the damage of the Nelson College. Nevertheless, it was a terrifying experience. “Our school just shook and shook and all the water from the boarding rooms above came pouring through the ceiling”.
The Griffin family homestead survives and is located at 28 Marlborough Crescent. Across the road, behind existing houses, along the base of the hillside, thousands of shells and evidence of ashes (middens) were found by the Griffin children. It is significant to note that Gus or Harry recovered a Maori adze from the swimming hole. It was small and polished[this is possibly held in the Nelson Provincial Museum]. Phyllis also mentioned that they dug out “Maori Potatoes”. This area of Dellside is also recognised for the large number of fossils found by the Griffin family.
[This story is based on notes of an interview with Phyllis by Tom Kroos in August 2006]
Edited August 2020
Sources used in this story
- Interview with Phyllis Field by Tom Kroos, 28 August 2006.
- Field, Phyllis (1998). Family matters: Phyllis Field: an autobiography, Richmond, N.Z., John Field.
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Further sources - Phyllis Field
- Food Central: stories & recipes from the heart of Nelson. (2012). Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Central School community Group, p 154-155.
- Papps, Roland. (1982). Growing up in old Richmond. [Reefton, N.Z.] J E Smith
- McAloon, Jim (1997) Nelson: a regional history. Whatamango Bay, N.Z : Cape Catley in association with the Nelson City Council.
- Reservoir Creek. Historical notes following early settlement: A report prepared by Tasman District Council with financial support from the Minister for the Environment’s Sustainable Management Fund (2006, October). Tasman District Council/ Ministry for Environment.
- Sutton, Jean. (1992). How Richmond grew. J Sutton, Richmond, N.Z.
- Darry, George (1995) Remember Griffins. Journal of Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 2 (6)
- Anthony, John and Foreman, Michael. (22/7/2014) Biscuit maker Griffin's sold for $700m. Retrieved 6/5/17
- 150 years of Griffins- a pictorial timeline. Retrieved 6/5/17
- Transcript of oral history interview (1984) of Phyllis Field (nee Griffin). Stories of people,places and events of her childhood and adult years.