Arthur Ellis & Co

Kaikorai Valley Road between Hermond Street and Brockville Road.

Founded 1877 (1902 Stones Directory says ‘Ellis (E.) and Co (Ephraim & Arthur), flock manufacturers’ ). Stones Directory of 1951 as: Ellis (A) & Co Ltd, flock, bedding & quilt manufacturers.

Arthur Ellis & Co, 1940

Arthur Ellis & Co, 1940

From “Yesterday and Today in Otago – 1840-1940”

The history of the firm of Arthur Ellis & Co. reveals that progress in the manufacture of mattresses and quilts in Otago is largely due to the efforts of this Company. To-day, “Sleep-well” and “Fairydown” are two proprietary names well known to all New Zealanders who realize the importance of, and necessity for, comfortable bedding.

Sixty odd years ago ideas on this subject were not so advanced, however, and when Ellis and Nicholson, the pioneers of the business, started making flock in a barn in Fraser’s Glen in 1877 with a single machine driven by a water-wheel, the results of their combined efforts were sold to upholsterers and furnishing shops. Each Firm made up its own requirements in the way of bedding, which was looked upon as a mere sideline.

The water-wheel was succeeded by a portable steam engine, but how far this was an improvement is not known as the whole place was destroyed by fire a few months after its installation in 1879. The business was then transferred to its present site in Kaikorai Valley Road and carried on under the same name until the partnership was dissolved, when it was changed to E. Ellis and Co.

Some progress must have been made within the next twenty years in the notion of what constituted a satisfactory bed, for in 1896 the Firm began importing kapok from Java and teasing it for sale along with the flock. In 1901 the manufacture of wire mattresses was started. As this was quite a different trade only distantly related to the Firm’s previous activities, it is not surprising that in 1906 the new department was dropped and the complete manufacture of bedding started. About the same time electric power was introduced from Waipori, and E. Ellis and Company was one of the first Firms in Dunedin to take advantage of this more economical and flexible motive power.

From that time the business steadily expanded, but the processes of mattress-making did not change materially. Bedding was still a primitive case filled with primitive material and, finished laboriously by hand.

In 1925 the Firm, now under the name of Arthur Ellis and Company Limited, modernized its bedding plant by importing machinery from America where rapid strides and revolutionary changes had been made in the mattress industry, and introduced the new style of inner spring mattress by importing the spring units and using wool felt batts for the filling instead of flock. Owing to the high cost of production, however, this type proved somewhat expensive and the older fillings were still used for the standard “Sleepwell”.

Another associated branch of the trade was started in 1926 when the factory was extended and equipped for the manufacture of down quilts. The whole process was undertaken from the importation of the raw feathers to the completion of the finished article, and “Fairydown” soon became a household word.spring units and using wool felt batts for the filling instead of flock. Owing to the high cost of production, however, this type proved somewhat expensive and the older fillings were still used for the standard “Sleepwell”.

Another associated branch of the trade was started in 1926 when the factory was extended and equipped for the manufacture of down quilts. The whole process was undertaken from the importation of the raw feathers to the completion of the finished article, and “Fairydown” soon became a household word.

In 1929 a furnishing warehouse was started in Dunedin, and this development proved so successful that branches were opened in Christchurch and Invercargill.

As a result of increase of demand for the Firm’s products it was felt necessary in 1937 to undertake considerable extension in both the bedding and quilt departments and advantage was taken of the opportunity to install the latest plant both for mattress-making and for treating feathers, as well as machinery for making spring units and other components, thus enabling the production of the inner spring mattress (hitherto regarded as a luxury line) at a lower cost and its adoption as the standard “Sleepwell.”

The Firm now has a staff of 135 and the programme of modernization was extended in 1938 by the erection of a building housing the new office-, and an engineering workshop capable of maintaining and developing the plant in the two and a half acres of buildings which the factory now occupies.

One cannot help wondering what the founders would think of the complicated and extensive plant required to solve the problem of what to sleep on and under.

(Original Article by Alan Gilchrist)

Ross

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