The story of Water­son’s Mata­mata

For ninety years Water­son’s, the old­est, pri­vately owned fam­ily firm in Mata­mata has served the pub­lic as house fur­nish­ers, cab­i­net mak­ers and up un­til 2006, funeral di­rec­tors.

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The com­pany has catered for many changes in styles, tastes, ma­te­ri­als and tech­nol­ogy over the years.

Water­son’s has grown and ex­panded with the growth of Mata­mata from a small coun­try town­ship with a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 600 peo­ple in 1922 to the pros­per­ous dis­trict it is to­day with a pop­u­la­tion of around 12,000.

In 1922 Mr Dun­can Cur­rie (Don) Water­son came to Mata­mata to join Mr M Lamb in found­ing the firm of Lamb and Water­son, cab­i­net mak­ers and house fur­nish­ers. The site of that first com­bined fac­tory and show­room was in Tui Street where Jobes work­shop stands to­day.

An early news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ment in 1923 calls them “Fur­ni­ture De­sign­ers and Crafts­man” and ad­ver­tises shop fit­tings, show cases and pic­ture frames made on the premises.

Late in De­cem­ber 1923 a Pub­lic Notice in the Mata­mata Record stated: Messer Lamb and Water­son, hav­ing se­cured a Mo­tor Hearse are now in a po­si­tion to fur­nish funerals in any part of the dis­trict”

Mata­mata’s first mo­torised hearse had a glass body and in about 1982, when a rub­bish pit was ex­ca­vated at Water­son’s Tami­hana Street fac­tory, part of it was un­cov­ered.

A fire in the early hours of Sun­day, 7 March, 1926, de­stroyed the first shop in Tui Street and an­other fac­tory was pur­chased by Lamb and Water­son on a new site in Tami­hana Street where it still stands to­day.

A fac­tory di­ary still in ex­is­tence lists or­ders taken and the work com­pleted in 1926. This in­cludes any­thing from a seed box for Pe­ria School to kitchen tables and chairs, cots, show­cases, kapok mat­tresses and pil­lows, rimu and oak beds, and a ta­ble for the Mata­mata County Coun­cil of­fices.

Don Water­son made two show­cases, one for Char­lie Barry’s Sta­tionery Shop and the other for his own premises.

To­day both of these show­cases are at the Firth tower Mu­seum dis­play­ing some Firth fam­ily trea­sures and a doll col­lec­tion.

New show­rooms were opened in Septem­ber 1926 in Tower Road (later re­named Broad­way) in Wil­son’s build­ing next door to W Hal­li­gan, gen­tle­man’s out­fit­ters. These premises are now oc­cu­pied by Tone­zone.

With the de­par­ture of Mr Lamb in 1927 the busi­ness be­came known as Water­son and Co. The busi­ness sur­vived the dif­fi­cult days of the De­pres­sion in the early 1930’s and, when Turk­ing­ton’s Build­ings were erected fur­ther along the street in 1936, Water­son and Co moved their re­tail shop there and be­came the first ten­ants. Pre­vi­ously known as the Broad­way Plaza, the cur­rent oc­cu­pants are Mata­mata Pa­per Plus and Toy­world.

A wider range of mer­chan­dise was dis­played in the new show­rooms with the funeral di­rect­ing side of the busi­ness grow­ing also. In 1939 a pri­vate chapel, which could seat 80, was built on front of the Tami­hana Street site by Mr Bert Hawes.

Wartime short­ages of ma­te­ri­als af­fected Water­sons – as they did all other busi­nesses – from 1939 to 1945, and for a num­ber of years after­wards. Prob­lems with the lease of the shop Turk­ing­ton’s build­ings re­sulted in a court case, sub­se­quently won by Water­sons.

How­ever, Mr Water­son de­cided it would be bet­ter to own his own busi­ness premises so he bought the site that is now cur­rently United Video. This show­room in it’s time was built by C and M McKen­zie, and had a floor area of 5000 square feet of show­room.

These were opened in 1953 and the com­pany op­er­ated its ex­pand­ing ser­vices from there up un­til 2000 at which time they built their cur­rent pur­pose built premises on the cor­ner of Tainui and Tami­hana streets – right next to the lo­ca­tion of the orig­i­nal fac­tory and work­shop, which still stands to­day.

Af­ter Don Water­son’s death in 1956 his fam­ily con­tin­ued the busi­ness un­der the name of D Water­son and Co Ltd with Mrs Rosa Water­son as con­trol­ling di­rec­tor and his sons Ken (Doc) and Graeme as di­rec­tors.

Mrs Water­son had al­ways taken an in­ter­est in the fam­ily busi­ness and she con­tin­ued to keep the books un­til daugh­ter-in-law Fay Water­son as­sumed this duty in 1979.

As funeral di­rec­tors Water­sons pro­vided a ser­vice for the dis­trict un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Ken Water­son. A new mor­tu­ary was com­pleted in 1982 ad­ja­cent to the chapel and the hearse was re­placed sev­eral times over the years.

Water­son’s opened new premises on Tower Road (now Broad­way) in 1926 af­ter the orig­i­nal shop Tainui Street burnt down. This shop is now oc­cu­pied by Tone­zone. Water­sons moved from here in 1936 to Turk­ing­ton’s build­ing fur­ther down Broad­way.

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