Interviewer: Our next narrator is Mr George France, a retired builder, who carried on his trade in Levin during the whole of his working life except during the period of the first war. During recent years Mr France was a senior member of the firm of Harvey & France Ltd, builders and contractors, Mr Harvey being the late Mr Josiah Harvey, joiner, who, too, had been in business for many years. Among the larger contracts carried out by Mr Frances' firm are - Stiles and Matheson's building in Oxford St., St Mary's vicarage in Cambridge St., Kuku Dairy Company premises at Ohau., and the Levin Dairy Company's new factory in Queen St., St John's Methodist Church, the Anglican Church at Otaki, the Horowhenua Power Board depot in Cambridge St South, and the offices which were built in 1950 in Queen St.
Now George, would tell us of your early recollections of your life in Levin, and later tell us of the early business people and early business houses in the borough?
George: My introduction to Levin was in 1898. I arrived here with my parents, Henry Butler France and Louise France. My father set out from Wellington with the intention of purchasing a farm in the Shannon or Palmerston North area, but when he noticed the prolific growth of cocksfoot at the then Levin railway station…
Interviewer Where was the railway station in those days George"?
George: It was situated next to Bartholomew's mill at the southern end of The Avenue, Dave.
Interviewer And he decided to acquire a farm property in that area?
George: That's right. My father bought a farm fronting what is now Kawiu and Weraroa Roads, north of the present site of the North School. Our first home was in Kawiu Rd, in a house built by the late John ?Howe of Koputaroa. John ?Howe had carried the timber for the erection of this house from Bartholomew's mill, and on reaching the bottom of the depression in what is now Kawiu Road, near Ray Long's, dropped the timber there and commenced his building operations. The mosquitos were so bad in this area that sludge fires had to be lit in oil drums in each room. Lake flies were also at times were in such dense clouds that they put out our kerosene lamps.
Kawiu Road was not actually in existence then was it George?
George: No, it was the edge of a big block of bush extending north to Heatherlea. My father's new house, which is still standing, was built at the top of what is now Chester St.; we lived there for many years. I have lived in the borough ever since 1898, and I may be now the oldest continuous resident of this borough
Interviewer Thank you George. Now will you tell us of your recollections of early business people, commencing in Queen St.
George: Mrs (sic) Bowen was postmistress in sole charge of the Post Office situated where the Power Board building now stands. Next door Mr Hugh Hall had a hair dresser and billiard saloon, on the east side of the Post Office in Queen St. B.R.Gardener grocer and general merchant in Oxford St about where Chainey Bros is now situated, with his home north of the shop. Mr Gardener was the first mayor. D.S.McKenzie, dentist, in Oxford St North in rooms built by my father, near Wisteria. I recollect I was his first patient.
Interviewer Thank you George. Now let us go down to Oxford St on the west side commencing from Bath St
George: Mrs Ostler who was a very early settler in Levin, built in Oxford St on the site of Lynch and Walton, and Adams Bruce, what was then known as the Temperance Hall, later occupied by the Salvation Army and subsequently by ?Watchorn and Stiles, drapers. This became the firm of Stiles and Matheson. Mr Matheson became the mayor of Levin. This building was later occupied by Apps bookseller, later A.H. McLean, removed and rebuilt in 1939.
Bradley Bros - Robert and James - horse breakers, coach proprietors and livery stables, north of, but at some distance from, the Temperance Hall.
Marco Fosella grocer's shop in center of Oxford St. on west side.
Jack ?Locke tailor and photographer on west side of Oxford St.
Fred Pink boot retailer and boot repairer on the present site of Woolworth's Ltd.
H.C.Gapper, grocer in buildings now occupied by Russell ?Howe.
The first chemists were Day in Levin Hotel building, and Levy near Fosella's. Day's business was taken over by C.S.Keedwell, and Levy's by F.C.Remington who later built his own shop, until recently occupied by W.Donnelly.
Interviewer And then George of course we come to the Levin Hotel itself , and going across the street to the corner of Queen St and Oxford St, who was in business on that corner?
George: It was called 'Byko corner' at that stage, and Jack Phillips was in business there.
James Middlemiss saddler north of the Byko corner.
Silver Grid Restaurant occupied by the immortal Phipps, an American citizen who claimed to be immortal but left Levin before he died.
Interviewer: And I suppose that would be about all the shops north of Queen St. Now let us go across to the Post Office and go down the east side of Oxford St., taking the Post Office first.
George: I first recall the section that the Post Office now occupies, being then occupied by a large rata stump. The present Post Office was built in 1906. I recollect that the Post Office, the Courthouse built by my father, and the original Ohau road bridge were all opened on the same day.
James Dean had a sweet shop on the new Post Office site, and Mrs A.F.Wilson's tearooms were next door.
Henry Walkley, draper, in now Walkley's buildings.
Amblers, carrier and blacksmith, set back from the road on the east side of Oxford St.
Te Aro House, managed by W.M.Clark and later taken over by him in his own name.
Mr W.S. Park solicitor on the site of the Bank of NSW.
Charles Frechtling, later Richard Frechtling, tailor, on site of Hannah & Co.
G.K.Douglas, builder and planing mill, on site of Allen's drapers, with Bill Palmer known as 'kapok Bill' occupying the front - he was a cabinetmaker.
W.H.Wilson built and occupied the Arcadia boarding house and bakery three stories high, at corner of Bath St and Queen St.
Interviewer: Thankyou George. I am sure this will be a very valuable record….
Transcription done by Doug Bolitho.