Five quid and hard times – a factory begins

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By John Keast

Tekau Knitwear started on five pound as the Great Depression began to bite.

It closed in 2007, with a reputation as one of the finest makers of knitwear.

At its peak, it employed 220 people – around 240 if you count branches.

Ashburton Museum is about to tell the story of Tekau – its beginnings, its heyday, its people, its reputation, and its final days.

To do that, it needs the help of the many people who worked there, photographs, papers, memories.

Museum director Tanya Robinson said the museum had a similar project on Ashburton’s much-loved Radiant Hall, and this would be the same.

To help unlock the memories, it is holding a special morning tea at 10am on Monday May 28.

Anyone who worked there, or supplied goods, or who has documents or photographs – or garments made by Tekau – is welcome.

They can can call 3077890 and let staff know they are coming, or simply drop in.

The exhibition will be staged in June, so staff are gathering information now, sorting through newspaper clippings and talking to those they know worked at the Allens Road factory.

But they need more.

Mrs Robinson said Tekau was an important part of Ashburton history.

Senior curator Maryann Cowan said Tekau began in 1931 by Frank McIntosh and wife Gladys.

They bought a knitting machine from Glady’s father after a building slump as the Depression began to bite.

“They bought it for five pound and started making things at home. They set up in a back room and had two shifts to keep it going. He (Frank) worked it during the day and his brother-in-law worked it at night and Gladys designed and cut garments.”

By 1935 the operation was in a factory, and it was burnt down in 1938, but rebuilt.

By 1949, staff were being brought in from overseas and there was a hostel for female staff in Allens Road.

Garments were exported, and the museum believes there were branches in Methven and Temuka and another plant in Timaru.

Before it closed, there were just 10 staff.

Mrs Robinson said Tekau had a big name, supplying garments for Singapore Airlines, with Wrights Drycleaning doing the embroidery.