The grand architecture of Bisleys

A M Bisley & Co were, it seems, known (vaguely) as Bisleys Grain & Seed Merchants.
That is the notation on the reverse of the photo index card in the library.

This photograph shows that they were also insurance agents and land salesmen. They were more than that though and as the sign says, they were ‘General Merchants’. In the early part of the twentieth century Hamilton enjoyed the services of a number of general merchants and by general they meant ‘general’ as in, ‘if there’s a demand we’ll deal to it’.

Mostly general merchants dealt in hardware as found on farms and in manufactories. Eventually they would expand their ranges to cover about anything a farm would require. ‘Merchants’ also usually meant the business would supply retailers and other businesses and were often importers of goods. This was not the same as a general store which tended to be a grocery with the addition of some hardware – usually gardening accoutrements – seldom ever trade tools or machinery. Companies like Bisleys would most likely branch into household items and perhaps limited lines of grocery items if customers demanded.

The buildings however remained until (we think) the late 1960s when they were demolished. What a shame. Look at the architecture. Whatever would you call that style? Is it a style? Whoever was the architect? And this is what draws me to this photo.

Everything about the decoration of this building (or should that be ‘these buildings’?) is exactly that – decoration. Mock, faux or just wrong, it is an interesting mix making for an interesting study. I for one, would always be late back from lunch if I had to pass this building. The columns, which are not columns – they are pilasters – are as nothing I have ever seen anywhere. Perhaps there is someone who can tell me they are Moroccan or Persian. The capitals look like a liberal translation of Ionic or Etruscan style. The pedestals are however, suitably impressive. Anyway, I’m putting my money on the columns being a hybrid of Doric, Tuscan and rusticated. It’s the pediments above each pilaster that amuse. Above those, a plain unadorned sign-written frieze surmounted by a castellated parapet.

And that is just one half of the building.

In days gone architects did what architects do now and that is, generally, follow the requirements of the client. Could this confusion of architectural bits and bobs be at the behest of A M Bisley Esq? I like to think to think so. He wanted a distinctive building; an arresting building. This façade would have looked like a bank in 1926 and that would be enough to reassure the customers so it would be good enough for him.

The lorry on the right is a Renault of about 1912 though perhaps could have been later and it’s still on its solid rubber tyres. And look at the fellow standing alongside to the left – he means business. That leather apron has seen some goods moved. The black lines in front of his legs are where the stock has rubbed over time. His was a strenuous job yet still he wore his hat and his tie!

Oh, last thing – see behind the lorry? Garden Place hill encroaching on Ward Street.

Addendum: – new (to me) information I found when searching for four people in  a Model T.  The building was occupied by FAC before Bisleys – who knew?

By Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.

Email Perry here – and quote HCL_08657  regarding this wonderful pic.  (N8N’s husband David Riddell says he remembers his farming parents talking about Bisleys…)

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

7 thoughts on “The grand architecture of Bisleys

  • November 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Bisley’s carried on well past the 60s and the demolition of this building. They had major premises on East St, adjacent to Ruakura Research Centre, in the 70s and 80s at least, possibly well into the 90s. I worked for them in the 70s when they were major Hamilton employers. They were big-time grain and seed merchants, imported huge Claas combine harvesters and associated machinery, and introduced grain harvesting, processing and storage equipment to the Waikato. Their grain silos, which I think may be still there, were right by the railway line and visible from both East St and Ruakura Rd. When they did close down, the old main office block was subsequently leased to AgResearch, and what was the next-door machinery parts department became a church – both visible on East St from the end of Tramway Rd.

    • November 5, 2012 at 9:53 am

      Shouldn’t be surprised at this being your first job, Tamahere! A few more memories about this, please!

  • November 6, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Actually, my 2nd job out of school, as a lowly office clerk. I was back-up switchboard operator – very exciting using the old cord system of connecting callers with staff, much like you might see in old movies (with the operator listening in for juicy gossip, which we never did!). In contrast in the same room was the oh, so modern telex machine. As Bisley’s imported machinery from around the world this was the link to far-flung places in Europe. As it cost, I assume, huge sums to make the telex calls the messages were prepared in advance, typed in and ‘recorded’ on ticker tape, which, when the connection to, say, Germany, was finally made was fed through the machine to make the fastest transmission possible. But. There was always the last minute addition, which required me to type as fast as I could go to add an order or instruction while the connection was made without incurring big time (and money) delays. There were other “state of the art” systems at Bisley’s – early computers with all the data recorded on decks of punched cards by hardworking data entry ‘girls’, and, as a lowly clerk, my friends, the invoice folding machine and the envelope franking machine. There were some fascinating characters at Bisley’s – even to the eyes of a 17-year-old – and it was a big company, which was influential in its day, and so surely someone commissioned a company history? I would be intrigued to know if there was one and also to know how its demise came about.

    • June 28, 2016 at 12:04 am

      Hey Pip.
      Yes I too would be interested to know what happened to AM Bisleys. My father, Peter Kalksma ( deceased) worked there in the 70’s in the spare parts dept.
      Whenever I’m back in NZ ( I live in Beijing) I always make a point of driving past the old buildings at the end of East St.

      Kind regards


      ps I can only remember one other chap who worked there, a manager, Harry Creasy.

      • June 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        Hi Peter, I remember your dad’s name. He was there when I was. I was a frequent visitor to the parts department with paperwork of forgotten import. I think I remember the name Creasy too, and a chap by the name of Beswetherick (I think). There was a chap Roycroft, who was, I think, head salesman. After that my dwindling memory of the place gets very dim.

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