Albert Rainbow Tuffnell
One of Richmond's early entrepreneurs, Albert Tuffnell played an important role in both business and local government in the Richmond borough.
Albert’s father, Thomas Tuffnell, emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 from England and settled in Wanganui, where he married Sarah Rainbow. One of four children, Albert was initially apprenticed to the Graham Brothers plumbing firm in Wanganui. Once he qualified they were unable to pay him a tradesman’s wage and he travelled to Nelson where a friend with a plumbing business had offered him a job.
In 1915 he set up his own plumbing business in Richmond and was renowned for making water tanks, using the motto “where the good tanks come from”.
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The business was located on Queen Street roughly where Eastern Cuisine is today. That same year he married Charlotte Kidson.
Initially, Albert and Charlotte lived above the shop with a small workshop next door, the porch of which was where Albert made the tanks. Later they bought the section at the back going through to Oxford Street, and built the house that is now the premises of Tasman Bay Chiropractic.
To begin with, Albert started with a bicycle, to the handlebars of which he attached his toolbox. Jobs further afield meant a train trip, with Albert often camping on site until the job was done. Over the years he graduated to Gracie the horse, then to various cars and trucks to which he strapped the tanks.
Early on, he had an arrangement with W. E Wilkes builders who were pleased to have the services of a local plumber. Wilkes’ at that stage also had an undertakers' business and Albert would often line the coffins with lead, and then solder the lids on once the deceased was in-situ.
He also made tins for the bakery next-door, milk cans for the Cook’s dairy factory in Brightwater and a number of other practical items that can still be found in homes around the Tasman district. During the Great Depression plumbing work was hard to come by and Albert supported the family by hawking tinware door to door, something he found difficult.
At the time of the Murchison earthquake in 1929 Albert camped at Murchison for several weeks repairing damaged plumbing and tanks.
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Later, as well as running a successful plumbing business and raising a family, Albert also served capably as Deputy Mayor of the Richmond Borough from 1935-1938 and Mayor from 1939-1946 during World War II. He was the national President of the New Zealand Society of Master Plumbers from 1949-50, also giving 53 continuous years of service to the Holy Trinity church in Richmond, where he held various posts from Sunday school teacher to Lay Preacher, and was a member of the (Nelson) Cathedral Building Committee.
In 1976, due to ill health, Albert passed the business on to his son Geoff, who after a breakdown, in turn handed it on to his son Trevor, later joined by younger brother Dennis. The business eventually expanded into hire and for a time was one of Richmond’s largest employers. Many well-known plumbers in the top of the south did their apprenticeships with A R Tuffnell Limited.
A R Tuffnell Limited moved to Beach Road (Wilkes Construction currently occupy this building) in 1976, then McGlashen Ave in 1987 and finally to Gladstone Road in 2000. Here the building was shared with HireQuip, who Trevor worked for by this stage, leaving Dennis to run the plumbing business alone. When Dennis died suddenly in 2007, the business had a 92 year history. The business was sold to Kevin Harris who has kept the Tuffnell name.
Dennis’s son Warwick carries on the Tuffnell legacy in Canterbury with his business Tuffnell Drainage.
(Written by Jacqueline Brown, great granddaughter of Albert Rainbow Tuffnell. Jacqueline is currently writing a book about the Tuffnell plumbers.)
Updated: April 2020
Sources used in this story
- Personal letter written by A R Tuffnell to grandson Kerry Williams 15 June 1969
- Transcript of Richmond Borough Council sponsored interview by Lisa Van Wessel of Geoff Tuffnell, June 1984
- Transcript of Richmond Borough Council sponsored interview by Leslie Slater of Hazel Williams (nee Tuffnell), March 1984
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