Slice of Blenheim history disappears
It survived the great flood of 1923 and the fertilizer fiesta of 50sIAN ALLEN
The grain store in Blenheim survived the great flood of 1923, its workers survived World War II and the community even survived the "fertilizer fiesta" of the 1950s, but, just like many family firms of today, it couldn't survive the onslaught of big business.
Constructed in 1919, the purpose-built reinforced shed, on the banks of the Opawa River, was at the centre of Marlborough's seed and produce industry.
Owned by CW Parker and Co Ltd and capable of storing 800 to 1000 tonnes, the grain in the store was exported to Britain, America, South Africa and Australia.
Blenheim businessman Charlie Parker set up the company in 1910 at the age of 30.
He had worked at the family's flour mill before that.
Mr Parker originally operated from premises at High St, close to the site mooted for a Speight's Ale House last year.
The company was dealing mainly in chaff, husks of grains and grasses used for horse fodder, before moving into peas, clover seeds and even walnuts in later years.
The company needed more storage space, Charlie's nephew, Warwick Parker, told the Express this week.
Land was leased in the railway yard beside the river and the first foundations were laid in 1919.
The land was river silt and because of the weight that had to be supported great care was taken to reinforce the floor.
The foundations cost about 3000, as much as the rest of the building.
The store opened in 1920, with three or four workers unloading bags of chaff and grain straight off the boat, close to where The Boathouse Theatre is today.
The sacks were stacked 7.6 m (25ft) high, from floor to ceiling, Mr Parker, 77, said.
"The area was a hive of activity," he said. "Blenheim is located where it is because that's how far the boats could sail up the river."
Warwick's father, Norman Parker, eventually went to work for his older brother.
Norman would ride around the country on his motorcycle buying up produce from farmers.
There were five Parker brothers in all, one of whom, Eddie, would later become mayor of Blenheim.
Business was booming for CW Parker and Co Ltd when the town was hit by a disastrous flood in 1923.
The grain store had about two inches of flooding doing damage to the clover seed that hadn't been stacked. About 400 sacks were cut open to remove the wet seed to stop further moisture.
They tried to dry the seed by mixing it with chaff, turning it every day, but without success.
Luckily, the flood was more of an inconvenience rather than threatening the family's livelihood, Mr Parker said.
"The pigs probably got the ruined seed."
When Charlie Parker died in 1938, his brother Norman took over but, shortly after, workers went off to fight in World War II.
Charlie Parker's son, Graham, flew a bomber in the Pacific and returned with a Distinguished Service Order. The only bullet to hit Graham's plane went straight through his wrist, Mr Parker said.
"He managed to fly back to safety and save the crew. On landing, he collapsed in a pool of blood."
Graham Parker would eventually become the last manager of the grain store.
In the 1950s, the structure continued to play a huge part in the Marlborough community.
Service organisation Jaycees used the building to store bags of fertiliser.
Their members used to bring their children down to help distribute the sacks around town, Mr Parker said.
"This became known as the fertiliser fiesta. The building has always been part of the community."
However, by this time, a lot of other seed and grain merchants had moved into Blenheim.
This competition, compounded by the tough economic climate of the day, made business increasingly difficult.
There were grain stores all around the place, said Mr Parker who left school in 1953 to join the family firm.
When Norman Parker died in 1960, the decision was made to close the company and sell off the machinery.
Warwick Parker loaded the last ever bag of chaff on to the train, he said.
"The big boys came to town and squeezed us out," he said. "It's no different to nowadays. By 1960 all the smaller companies had gone. We were the last of the privately owned grain and produce merchants but didn't have the finances behind us to survive."
The company continued to operate as landlords with Warwick Parker eventually stepping into the role of chairman of directors.
They leased the grain store to a variety of companies like New Zealand Co-op Wool Marketing, Marlborough Lucerne Meal and Glenroy Products, who stored polystyrene panels for cold stores.
But even in its later years, the grain store provided for the Blenheim community.
The River Queen was built there around the late 1990s and the Indoor Go Karts only moved out in February this year.
Mr Parker was sad to see the demolition work start last month.
He would have liked to keep the business going to pass on to his two children and three grandchildren.
His first memory of the store was building stacks of grain to the roof.
"I got in some precarious positions," Mr Parker said. "I remember building one stack and coming back after lunch and it had fallen over. I had to start again."
Mr Parker was keen for a keepsake from the demolition despite taking a piece of the building when the company closed.
The grandson of the original owner Charlie Parker, Peter Thwaites, had been down to "procure" some wood, he said.
"Peter is a well-known wood worker who is going to transform a piece [of wood] into a family memento."
The land is owned by the Crown and ownership is to be passed to Rangitane iwi as part of its 2009 Waitangi Treaty settlement.
- The Marlborough Express