Bernard Percy Stanton Interview
Today is the 1st March 2016. I’m interviewing Bernard and Karletta Stanton. Bernard is a retired stationer. Now Bernard will tell us the life and times of his family. Bernard would you like to ..?
Thanks Frank. My grandparents and great-grandparents on my father’s side – his great-grandfather came from England, and he originally was a chimney sweep because he was a little fella, and they could get up the chimneys. And a lady there hired so many boys to clean chimneys. But anyway, they eventually came out to New Zealand in about 1870, and I think arrived in Wellington.
And on my grandmother’s side, her father and a large group of people came out on the Endeavour boat from England and settled at, landed at Port Albert. And there were two boats that came out there, I’m not sure what the other name was, but there are people that have descendants in Hastings here that arrived on that particular boat. One name comes to mind – Ian Rosenberg. His grandparents were on that boat. But anyway they settled in Port Albert and things were pretty hard there, and at one stage they got so hungry they had to dig up the seed potatoes that they’d put in to get something to eat. But the piece of land they were given – you had to tramp so many miles through the bush to find your piece of land, and there was no access to it at all. But they eventually cleared bush and that sort of thing. Karletta and I have been to Wellsford and Port Albert and had a good look at some of the gravestones there, and different names that were very familiar to us.
And my grandmother, her father he came out, and he was a printer and journalist and he brought his printing machine with him, and that seems to have arrived pretty intact but some of the typeface were scattered around a bit in the boat. But they managed to retrieve most of it and set it up. But he was about, I think about twenty-five / thirty years after William Caxton, so he was one of the first printers in the country at Port Albert.
Where actually is Port Albert?
Port Albert is very near Wellsford, and at the Wellsford Museum the original printing machine he brought out is in that museum there. And we went and saw it, and a few mug shots of him and his family.
So is Port Albert still a port?
Ah not really, just got a jetty I think. To get supplies they had to sail up from Auckland up to Port Albert to get anything up there – there wasn’t any roading in those days. Now, where do we go from there?
You had the printing press, you must make some reference to this printing press.
Yeah, I saw it up there.
Did he use it?
I think he did quite a bit – I don’t know what he printed on the thing. Probably counterfeit money – no, not likely – but they had quite a number of children in that family. I’m not sure how many but in my Dad’s family there were fourteen children, one passed away at a young age. There were five girls and eight boys and they lived in Dunedin for quite some time. And then grandfather set up in going out selling stationery and things, and they set up a business and the whole family were working in it in some of the early years around the 1930s I suppose. And my Dad was in Wellington, running a branch they had there. They had places in different parts of the country, in Palmerston North and Auckland, Invercargill and Dunedin, and my Dad was part of that. But he didn’t get on terribly well with his brothers at one stage, so in 1955 he broke away and set up … he thought there was no room for my brother and I because we weren’t very well educated. And his idea was to take us overseas, and a bit of travel would stretch your education. I don’t know whether they did or it was just a glorified holiday.
Let’s just … going back, it was Stanton Brothers originally, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was.
And then it became …
It became Stanton Brothers Hawke’s Bay Limited which just included Hastings and Napier. And the rest of the brothers carried on working throughout the other part of the country, and did right up until the time of selling out to Eric Watson.
So when your family moved to Hastings, that’s when the business started in Hastings?
That was 1947, but I understand they were operating in Napier before the 1931 earthquake, but quite where I’m not sure. And so we started in Hastings in ’47 which … that was when I was in Standard 3 and met Frank – we were in the same class together. And I went to work in Auckland for a couple of years having done two years in the Post Office, that was in 1953, and came back in 1955 to join with my Dad and Connie. And we just gradually expanded from about two of us to eventually just a bit over forty staff when we sold out to Eric Watson.
And were you just working within Hawke’s Bay at that stage?
Yeah, we were but my Dad always had a few tricks up his sleeve, he wanted to go and sell somewhere else and so he formed another company called Alpha Office Supplies, and he decided to sell different things. And so he imported coloured cotton wool which, when he called on jewellery shops they loved to have his coloured cotton wool to put in to enhance the jewellery. And that got him in the door there, and then he would sell them sellotape which we imported from England under another name, and sold it twenty percent cheaper than our opposition. He had a few tricks all right.
He was an importer as well as a retailer wasn’t he? So he handled the whole …
The whole thing, on a pretty small scale. We had a buyer in Germany, so whatever product he wanted he would buy it and ship it out no matter whose agency it was, which was a bit tricky on principle. [Chuckle] But, another thing he brought out was large numbers of safety pins and sold them to dry cleaners and he got them in the door there, in a gross or a gross to a packet. It was always Number 5, and they used it to fasten the belt to the skirt – when they were going through dry cleaners it kept things together. And also staples he bought in a big way from Germany, and sold those to the dry cleaners because they had these ace clipper machines that had to have a certain staple. And the quality we got from Germany was superb.
So going back to your school days, you moved from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay?
It was Tawa we lived in. Tawa Flat we called it.
Karletta: You lived in Island Bay.
Bernard: Oh, Island Bay originally, yeah that’s where I apparently started my life there. And moved out to Tawa, and Karletta’ll tell you a bit more about Tawa because she lived just down the road from us.
The other thing he imported scissors from Germany too and sold a lot of those … Solingen was the brand … 12/6d if I remember rightly. And another oddball thing – he got these oddball things so as he could get a conversation going and get a sale with these people. He called on butchers and sold them celluloid tickets which had bike spoke in them, and they could be sterilised and kept clean. The price ticket was printed on by a chap, and his name was Laugesen who lived in Wellington, and he was an art teacher at one of the High Schools and he did it as a sideline, and my Dad sold them. And another stage he bought around 200 gross of indelible pencils which had gone out of fashion in the earlier days and dreamed up this idea that they were just the thing for fruit shops to write the price on the cabbages where it’s cut off and you could write straight on with this pencil and it would stay on. And – far as I know it didn’t poison anybody.
And another sideline that he had when we lived in Wellington, he made chilblain cure from some recipe he got from somewhere and it had ether and funny things in it, and he used to do a mail order and a mail order catalogue. Smelt pretty high really with ether, but you wouldn’t get away with that today with the regulations on medicines.
No, you probably wouldn’t.
When we moved to Havelock North Dad decided we needed a decent-sized garage, so we had this place he bought off Jolls – an acre and a quarter for £350 in Te Mata Road – and he set to to build this garage. It must have been 1948, and he built … it was wide enough to take three cars without any struts in the middle – supports – and there was a room on each end. But he built the thing far too close to the boundary, he never bothered to get a permit for it and he got fined £5 for building too close. [Chuckle] And the opening where you drove the cars in, he built it with cables across to support the roof, which was most unorthodox. He designed the thing himself somehow. And the building inspector came and said that “that will never last, it’ll all fall down before long.” And sixty-five years later it’s still there and looks pretty good to me, it was … amazing thing. But he wasn’t a – he was a motor body builder by trade and built trays on trucks and …
But he obviously had some nous …
Yeah, he must have nutted it out.
… on strengthening things.
Yeah. But it was all … the wide opening where the cars went in, the largest piece of timber was a four by two. And it was these wire cables that supported it.
I always remember the long concrete drive into your place.
Yeah – that was an interesting one because that was done in ’48 and you couldn’t get cement very well, being fairly soon after the war. And the local authorities had lifted the restrictions on getting cement for one week, so he promptly got twenty ton and got it put in a tent on the section. [Chuckle] Some guys came with a bulldozer and other things and shoved that long drive down, and right round the yard at the back – great for trolley. Did you have a go on the trolley down there?
No, but I always remember it, because Karletta, this drive was the longest concrete drive in the Village.
Karletta: Oh, they’d have the biggest. [Chuckle]
This husband of yours, first time I ever went to his home, we went there after school, do you know he had more toys than anyone else in Havelock North?
Bernard: How awful.
Karletta: They had a lot.
And they were really good ones, they were not …
Karletta: It was a lot back then because of the War and different things, you know?
Bernard: Mainly trolleys we had.
Yes I know.
And they were only made out of old packing cases, and steel wheels on them made hang of a racket.
But the concrete was finished beautiful and smooth, they didn’t use coarse stone or skimp on the cement, it was a proper job. Twenty ton!
But they couldn’t fine him for that but they fined him for the garage. But it must have been only about two feet from the boundary where I think the regulation might have been five or seven feet. And I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about it other than the Council.
Yes, so you were then working. Once you’d come back from Auckland and your father had the business here, you started working with him – on the road selling?
No, Dad was the one out on the selling. Connie and I ran the shop which used to be Singer Sewing Machine shop years ago, straight opposite McDermott’s. And I got to know Hilton McDermott fairly well – he worked over the road from us, they were the saddlers. And we gradually expanded and then opened in Napier in 1957 and plugged on and got one or two more staff as we went.
You also ran – had some printing presses too didn’t you?
Yes, that didn’t come about until 1973, 74. Yeah, we got into the printing because we got sick of waiting on firms to print envelopes and that sort of thing. I had a go at it trying to run the machine – didn’t have a clue, wrecked a few pieces of type, and so we had to get ourselves a tradesman to come and operate and know what he was doing.
So, now Connie and you ran the shop – Neville? Where does ..?
Well Neville went to work in Christchurch in the branch down there because there was no room for him at that point for a year or two, and then he came back and joined working with us. And of course young David, he eventually grew up a bit more, he worked in our Napier shop for some time.
You had another sister though?
Carol. She worked in the Napier shop with the girl Moira Falkland who married Anthony Bewley, and they used to go over to Napier every day.
There’s another name that I’d forgotten about, Anthony Bewley. [Speaking together]
He passed away recently. Yes, she was the first person outside the family to work for the company over the years. Nice girl … Irish, and they used to go back and forward to Napier every day and then Mum came and joined and she was a bit of a pain. She did the banking and seemed to be complaining about a few things. But we managed to get her retired, which was quite good. We eventually managed to get Dad to retire when he turned eighty. Gave him the gold watch and he turned up for work again on Monday. [Chuckle] Connie went up to him and said “right – you’re supposed to have retired – I’ll take the watch off you.” So she took the watch of him.
She didn’t give it back to him?
No, he’s supposed to have retired.
Good on her. Well that’s a strong woman isn’t it? And so during this period obviously you met Karletta?
Yeah, I’ll let her tell you about that. She won me in a raffle. [Chuckle]
Won you in a raffle?
No, that’s not right.
Karletta: I came from Wellington anyway, or Tawa. I grew up there.
Did your folks come from overseas?
No, Mum came from Waimate … originally lived in Gore then came up to Waimate with her parents when she was young, and they did farming in Waimate.
So you were a farmer’s daughter?
Ah, that was …
Oh, a generation back. And so you went to school?
I went to Tawa Flat it was – don’t know what year it changed to Tawa.
Yes, that’s near Whitby isn’t it?
Yeah, but nearer Wellington. And went to Mana College, went into Wellington to work as a shop assistant in a pharmacy.
And then, at some stage you met Lord Fauntleroy here?
My parents were Salvationists and every so often they go away and do a band weekend, and the Tawa band was coming up to Napier and so I came up with Mum, she was playing the piano and Dad was in the band and that. Then Bernard’s Dad walked into the Saturday night service, and because Dad and Mum knew his parents back from when they were in Wellington, ’cause we lived down the road from them for about a year and so I was quite young then. And just asked me out for coffee after the programme. That was it.
That was it, and as you said earlier, you’ve been a very, very good wife over all those years.
She’s put up with a lot I can tell you. [Chuckle]
So how many children?
You can tell us – tell me about the children.
Four children, two boys and two girls. We’ve got thirteen grandchildren.
Are they all local, your grandchildren?
Our own children are, one in Hastings and three in Havelock.
OK, so now your station in life is a continuation of the nurturing and care of Bernard.
Bernard: Friday afternoon the children have been coming here for afternoon tea and chocolate biscuits and all sorts … all sorts of rubbish … and they’ve been doing that for about twenty years?
Karletta: Oh no, no – about fourteen … fifteen.
Well isn’t that nice though?
Bernard: And it’s only just tapered off in the last year or so with two of them going to University and one off to EIT.
Well that’s interesting. And so coming back to your business …
Going back a bit, when we came in 1947 we … I was in Standard 3 and we went to that pavilion on the end of the baths with Frank and the rest of them, and during … I was just telling Frank … and at morning tea time Miss Crombie, our teacher, would go down to the school well away, and certain young guys, I think Frank was included, would crank up her motorbike which was on the stand, and rev it up. And I think Frank was one of the guilty ones.
I was there.
Yeah. And that was quite funny, we never got caught as far as I know. We had a 98cc Villiers motor and blew out a bit of smoke which was quite impressive.
Do you know Miss Crombie – those days we thought she was old. She was only in her thirties.
I thought she was ancient.
I know, but from our age she probably did seem old.
And in 1948 we had the polio epidemic and we couldn’t go to school. And we had the massive hailstorm. Was that while we were away … the polio?
Yes, it was actually, yes.
Broke every pane of glass in the glasshouses down by …
And they were never fixed.
And when I was at school, at High School, I bought a 1929 Model T Ford of a fella called Barry Lean for £35 and Dad drove it home. He loaned me £10 for it and Mum – tears came down her eyes, she said it was the most stupid thing out – and the water blew out the radiator as we came round then we – Murray Sivewright and I drove this thing round Havelock for a bit, and I was only fourteen – there was a lack of traffic cops in those days. And then I became fifteen and we used to occasionally drive it up Duart Road and throw out the newspapers, and right up to Chambers at the top and round by their front door, chuck out the paper in this chugging old thing. And then I eventually swapped it for a motor scooter off a fella at the Post Office. That’s the Model T Ford there [shows photo].
Oh my goodness! [Speaking together] What a cracker!
The roof had collapsed, so we bought some unbleached calico and sewed it up and made a cover on the roof and then painted it with paint, to keep the water out. And we built canoes and put them on top and Russell Orr took that. That’s Murray Sivewright and Neville and Bob Stuart. We were going camping at Te Awanga.
And did you get there?
Yeah, it was quite fun really. The self-starter didn’t work, you had to crank the motor. And then around – oh, going back a wee bit to 1950, we had – it was the first Blossom Festival, and there was a trolley derby and the combined ages were not to be more than twenty-five, and so Bob Stuart and I – he was twelve and I was thirteen, that’s twenty-five, and Russell Orr took that particular picture, and we’re in the middle of it there.
Which Bob Stuart’s that?
His parents had a store down in … he’s got a brother still alive, Neville Stuart.
Bob didn’t have the cycle shop in Havelock?
Gosh, the cars in that date the photo don’t they?
Yeah – that’s 1950, that lot. And then oh, the other thing … I got a bit interested in making boats and built a fourteen-foot boat with a Ford 10 car engine, ’cause you couldn’t buy outboard motors at the time. That would be about 1957. And then later on I built a fifteen-foot jet boat, and bought a jet unit of a chap at Clive and put a Mark III Zephyr motor in, that was quite fun. But I hooked it all up and when I went out to the river at Clive and we had a go in the thing, when you turned right it went left. ‘Course jet steering is totally opposite to propeller steering.
I didn’t realise that.
No, I didn’t realise it either, so it was hilariously funny.
Is that still common today, the jets, or do they compensate it somehow?
They’re steered by the stream of water that comes out of the jet piece, and there’s single stage, two stage and three stage. This was a single stage. They were marvellous really, go flat out in one direction and just turn them suddenly and they spin.
The other thing we made were trolleys for our boys and they were made out of camp beds I got for $2 at the Village – Havelock Primary School Fair, and bought a couple of lawnmowers there for $2 which had the Villiers motor on. And the kids putted up and down the drive at Lovatt Street on the things, and in and out of the garage and Karletta would yell out “shut the door – the smoke’s coming up the side.” [Chuckle] I seem to rambling on a bit here Frank.
No you’re not, it’s good.
School photo in Tawa … ‘course in those earlier years there had to be lady teachers, and that was before I came up to Havelock.
Karletta: They didn’t … wouldn’t have had to be.
Bernard: No, the men had to go to the War didn’t they?
Karletta: The men that were left taught.
Bernard: Yeah, I suppose they would have.
It wasn’t ‘til immediately after the War that the men teachers all came back.
Karletta: My Dad just worked in Bing Harris Warehouse in Wellington from the day he left Wellington Tech to the day he retired.
What did they sell?
Well my Dad worked in the haberdashery department, but they sold everything, they were a warehouse for everything apart from furniture.
The old pavilion that we went to school in – that’s being moved from its current site, down by the Plunket Rooms, and they’re going to put a deck on the front of it so they can use it more, and they’re going to redevelop up where the pavilion is into a children’s playground. And I believe they are going to fill in the skate bowl because they no longer have any great use – well the children, I don’t think use them so much.
Bernard: Karletta’s mother was one of the Kirks from Waimate, and you used to go down there ‘cause your grandfather used to drive the bus, didn’t he?
Karletta: Opposite the school – he did for a while. But they had a milk factory down there – Mum’s brothers. Mum wasn’t in on it ‘cause she came up to Wellington.
And Keith Taylor – I see in here has just moved to Taradale from up country. You remember when you came to the Class of ’47 reunion we had down at Neville Norwell’s?
Bernard: That’s right. And everyone was about sixty, weren’t they?
The Bic Company provided us with those ball pens to put on top of the vans, but they were solid timber, and they were absolutely dangerous – if you hit somebody it’d be like a missile. So we eventually took them off, and we put bull bars on the front of our vans because I had a fear of, you know, somebody getting injured. And sure enough, one of our girls was driving up a hill in Napier and somebody got out of control and slapped across the front of the van. And the girls were saved by the bars. So I always insisted they have the on and … oh, that’s after, when they took the things off the vans.
‘Cause we only ever saw one van at a time wherever you were, we didn’t see the accumulation of – well how many vans there were.
When we sold out to Eric Watson, he said “yes, we’re not unloading any of the staff, and keep them all on”. And it didn’t take long before he’d sold all the vans and got onto couriers. But once you sell you’ve got to let go of these things.
And that’s an old … [showing photos] you’ll know that area there with the motorbike shop and things.
And we bought the building next door which was – Murray McKearney was in there, and it was owned by … oh, it’ll come to me in a minute. But we started negotiating with this fella to buy that building next door and he wanted about 55,000 … pounds or dollars or something.
It’d be pounds then.
Pounds it must have been then – and we offered him £45,000. And we heckled backwards and forwards for quite a while and we knew he wanted to get out desperately, and so we stuck to it and eventually on Christmas Eve he writes us a letter and says ‘we’ll accept your price of £47,500’ – that’s right. So we trotted around to the solicitor to see if he could come up with some money to buy it and we didn’t have any money. And he said “you naughty boys, you should have asked me first because we haven’t got any money.” And so he got to with one or two friends and scouted around and found a few old ladies that had a little bit of a horde somewhere and three of them put their money in together and helped us. They joined the two properties together and raised the mortgage for it. But we were really over a barrel a bit. You must have struck that in real estate, people buying and haven’t got any money.
With these vans we did another stupid thing. We thought that the insurance premiums were too high, we’ll carry the insurance thing ourselves as there were so many vehicles involved. So we cancelled all the insurance and we paid the amount of the premiums into an account, and when our solicitor found out he sat us down and he said “you naughty boys”. It was John Holderness, and he always had a saying – ‘you see’, that’s what he said – ‘you see’. He said you must go and get them insured straight away. If you hit a Mercedes Benz or something or Rolls Royce it would wipe you out. Which was very good advice. But anyway you think up these ideas.
But at the time … at the time they were done in good faith, it was the right thing. You were saving money, making the business more profitable.
I think large firms carry their own insurance, some of them.
Some people get away with it. It’s a risk.
We added it all up and the risk was too big.
And it only takes one hit – one of your staff who innocently did something wrong.
The Government put out … they used to allocate the printing of the electoral roll stuff, voting papers and everything and we got the job one year and I had to buy special numbering machines at £98 each because there was about eight numbers to the page … now that’s exaggerating – I think it’s six numbers to the page, and perforated and all that type of thing. We had the right sort of gear, but it was just having to buy these fancy numbers. I don’t think we made any money out of it but the Government had a set price for the job and they allocated it around.
But you could at least say you did it.
Oh yeah we did the jolly thing. But the times changed, we went from the lead – from letterpress to offset and it went from one thing to another. We had to have a big camera which cost £7,000 to do enlarging and reproduction of pictures and making plates for the offset printing machine and that sort of gone today to these digital photocopiers, it’s very hard to tell the difference. No wonder people can counterfeit money so easily, but they seemed to have fixed the money lately, very hard to copy.
The sophistication of these machines is amazing.
It’s incredible all right.
He had trouble with his chest with some cough, whatever it was, and he would never take the medicine, he’d tip it down the toilet, he said it was far better for the drain. But it got him in the end, and he kept saying “I’ll be ninety next year”, but he wasn’t even eighty-nine. But he was about a month off eighty-nine when he passed away. But if he’d taken this medicine and looked after himself a bit better he wouldn’t have coughed so much.
And if he’d taken retirement as the family said …
Oh God! He was an interesting character, quite embarrassing sometimes.
Yes but he was a pioneer of his time, wasn’t he? And he was a go-getter, he didn’t sit around and wait for things to happen, and he obviously was a very good family man to have the family working with him. That’s not always easy.
No, that’s the worst thing out, all working together. You can have a few barneys that’s for sure – nothing works perfectly.
But he took me overseas in 1964 and he wanted to go to some funny places like Calcutta and Karachi and Pakistan. But we went to Vienna of course, Austria, America. And anyway, we went for a tour in England and he was an impatient sort of a man. There was a queue of these people to get on the bus that we were going to tour with for a week, and he marches rights up the front of the queue. “Come on, Bern, come up here”. I said “no thanks.” I made out I didn’t even know who he was, I was so embarrassed. And then in America we were going out to somebody’s place and the bus came along and there was a nice queue of people there and he runs right up the front and jumps on the bus … “come on Bern, we’re getting on this one”. And the Americans yelled at him of course a string of abuse which they were justified. I stood there as if I didn’t know who he was talking to. And I got on the next bus that came along and eventually I caught up with him. But, those sorts of things are not easy to put up with in life. With fourteen kids in his family he had to fight for it. Must have done.
But I mean that was par for the course those days wasn’t it? With all those children, I suppose the eldest looked after the youngest.
Well, the eldest girl in the family she looked after them and then she met this nice young chap and he wanted to marry her, and her father said “go away and pray about it for a couple of years”. What a silly thing to say to a boy that was keen on this girl. So he buzzed off and he married somebody else. But a large number of years later when she was about fifty-six, his first wife had died and he came back and he married her. Old Lorenzo wasn’t there then.
Can you think of anything else apart from the fact that your sitting in this lovely site, retired?
It’s quite good being retired.
It is indeed. So what do you do with yourself in your retirement?
Oh, we share the housework together, we go shopping, and to the supermarkets nearly every day.
Do you go away at all?
No, we’re planning on going to Wellington. We’ve been away over the years with a couple of trips that were paid for by suppliers of the company like Fiji and Japan and China. We went to Australia once, hired a rental car and were going up to Cairns and we arrived there, and we went into the hotel, and here’s a jolly business machines exhibition going. Karletta said “I know you got this trip paid for by somebody else”. I said “I don’t even know this crew.” It looked as if I’d jacked up a free trip. Quite an experience. I don’t rave over travel too much – the flights and things.
Okay, well I think that’s probably pretty well covered most of it, isn’t it? But thank you Bernard, for that.
Hope it’s not too boring.
No, that was very, very good.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper