This point-of-sale poster probably dates from the mid-late 1960s and was no doubt created for dairy (milkbar) promotion.
Working on this project it constantly reminds me, as well as amazes me, that something that was so popular for so long – can seemingly disappear, almost without a trace. I also find it surprising that something that has been such a part of people’s lives – in this case a district’s main employer too – can fade from the memory so quickly and be forgotten within just a few years.
When you ask people about Peter Pan ice cream most of them remember it well. Yet it has taken me about a year to scratch together information for the story on the once renowned brand that shut up shop as late as the early 1980s; and although famous for their ice creams and novelty ice confections – it actually goes back much further than their two Waipukurau-based factories which were landmarks for many years. In fact the brand was started by T.C. (Thomas Clement) Denne who had quite a history in manufacture prior to that era. Actually, Denne Brothers started as a soft drink concern that went right back to at least the 1910s.
This painted tin sign probably dates from the 1950s.
The Denne family originally hailed from Canterbury, Kent in the U.K., with T.C.’s second cousin William Henry Denne arriving to New Zealand in 1851; and T.C.’s father Clement Denne following with his wife Alice and one month old daughter Lucy aboard the “Wild Deer” – apparently in 1875. However sales records of 1873 clearly show they bought land so we can presume that William helped; he probably scouted and bought property for them at their request – or it was purchased on spec. The family settled in Mataura in the lower South Island, where we find Clement selling his land as well as a blacksmith’s business (his trade) by 1890. Several years later a smithy business in the same town is being advertised as ex a certain John Denne – perhaps Clement’s older brother (born 1829) who may have joined them and set up shop too – or just another error of details in reportage we so often encounter in newspapers of those times.
T.C was born in 1882 and apart from school notices where an Alice, Emily and Lottie Denne are also name-checked (likely sisters) the first mention of him in the media comes in 1897 when as a fifteen year old he was injured on the job in a rather nasty accident. Mataura was chiefly famous for their paper mill and still is – and it was here, presumably on his first foray into the workforce from school that T.C had his hand crushed and de-gloved between some rollers, involving skin grafts from other parts of his body to repair the serious damage.
By 1904 T.C. was located in Milton, not far from Mataura, as first secretary then later deputy bandmaster of the town’s brass band, performing with both Baritone and Euphonium Tubas. Music – particularly brass bands – was to remain a life-long love, and regardless of what lingering effects of his paper mill accident had – he did not let it hold him back in his endeavours.
This backlit perspex sign probably dates from the 1960s, likely for the interior of a milkbar or cafe.
I believe his family probably remained in the Mataura-Milton area but we can conject that T.C. somehow moved into the cordial and soft drink industry gaining experience, possibly moving to another area on his way to the lower North Island. By 1915 he had appeared in Masterton where he had opened a factory with a depot at 169 Queen Street for both retail and wholesales; Denne’s Aerated Waterworks was producing aerated water, soda, hop ale, ginger beer, ginger ale, as well as sarsaparilla and raspberry cordials, and not long after he acquired modern technology and introduced his Fruity Lemonade sealed in a new-fangled crown seal bottle.
At the same time he was producing Denne’s Golden Malt Pure Table Vinegar from an Eketahuna set-up – and a later mention in a newspaper of 1919 states that T.C. Denne “was for some years in business at Eketahuna, and has been established in Masterton four years”. So, likely that business existed for some time before the Masterton factory; and was perhaps dispensed with sometime after 1916 since there is no mention of it again that I can find.
Denne sells up in Masterton and moves on; Wairarapa Daily Times, 2 December 1919.
Between 1916-1919 advertisements for Denne’s Delicious Drinks, as they were now being touted, make mention of Wairarapa as a “dry district” and he was marketing in both bottles and gallon jars the following refreshments- hop beer, dandy shandy, ginger beer, lime juice and soda, squash, and others. The Wairarapa electorate voted to ban production and sale of alcoholic drinks in their district in 1908, and this remained the status quo until it was overturned in 1946 so no doubt the hops ale, beer, and shandy although fermented – were non-alcoholic drink, and his move to the Wairarapa district may have tied in with this prohibition period since his strong ties to the Seventh-day Adventist movement would prescribe no alcohol and caffeine (note he also never seemed to offer cola drinks).
During this time he kept up his musical endeavours, having progressed to the role of conductor for both the Masterton Municipal Silver Band and the Masterton Central Brass Band by 1917.
In 1919 he quit the bands “for business reasons”, and then sold his Masterton factory to a Neil Wotton who renamed the brand Crystal Springs. A newspaper ad also shows him selling a motorbike from 270 Queen Street Masterton, perhaps an new or additional depot to keep up with demand, or- perhaps this was a domestic address.
Denne’s drink varieties for dry districts ; Wairarapa Daily Times , 23 December, 1916.
By March of 1920 he had departed Masterton for good – being publicly presented with a silver engraved conductor’s baton as a goodbye gift – but where he went and what he was doing for the next decade is at present unknown. That is until he crops up in the paper as having started up a new company to manufacture cordials – T.C. Denne and Co, Ltd, in 1930 in Waipukurau – and the original factory (later known as the Peter Pan No. 1 Factory, unfortunately no images I know of exist) was established in Ruataniwha Street.
Tony Smith, Napier historian and collector says that there is information on Denne drinks that goes from 1938 back to 1926 that he knows of, and these one gallon stone crocks were issued in 1928 as well as 1930, but if that was in another location besides Waipukurau is unknown at present, and still leaves at least six years of the 1920s unaccounted for.
Soft drink and cordial business continued as usual until Denne started making ice cream for sale around 1938, not long after the tragic death of his first son John Clinton Denne in an accident at 22 years old, when his motorcycle hit a truck head on on a highway outside of the town the year previously. I think it’s an interesting point to consider that T.C. embarked on a major diversion from his successful tried and true formula at this time. It must have been a roaring success for by 1940 it had far usurped the drink business – so he let that go, selling that arm of the business first to a Stan Nickle, then Bert Anderson, and later D.H. Newbiggins of Hastings – according to Tony Smith, a Napier-based historian and collector who has been compiling a book on Hawkes Bay cordials, brewery and chemist bottles. I was able to find a Waipukurau based Bert Anderson who sung bass and baritone in bands so that would be the connection; but as for the other two names – no clues (Smith likely means E.J.D. Newbigin who was a well-known Hastings brewer and cordial maker from 1881). From the records it looks like Denne didn’t officially register the Peter Pan ice cream brand until 1946, however they likely started using the name much earlier than that.
The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum have in their collection a 1937 William Sisson & Co. Ltd. (of Gloucester) model, bought from Denne Brothers, “acquired around 1967. It was going to be used as a standby generator if there was a power cut. I presume (they divested it) when the factory no longer had a need for a steam engine. As far as we know the Dennes never used it” says Esma Stevenson, curator. It must have been bought around 1940 when there was a decisive direction to go into the ice confection business permanently.
T.C. passed away in 1950 and it seems that his two remaining sons Tom Jr. (Thomas Vernon Denne 1917-1983) and Haydn ( an unusual spelling he adopted of his birth name Maxwell Hayden Denne, 1921- 2008) inherited the business. From then on it was known unofficially as Denne Brothers, and then later on as Peter Pan Frozen Foods. They well and truly took control and redirected the branding, and were beginning to expand and market the name with fervour.
This galvanized metal and wood, hand-painted sandwich-board sign probably dates from the 1960s, for the side walk outside of a dairy, milkbar or cafe.
There were two factories in the town that came to be known as numbers 1 and 2. Peter Pan No .1 factory was at 177-183 Ruawahine Street andthe corner of Cook Street,Waipukurau (now 2 Takapu Road). It was the original T.C. Denne & Co’s drinks building and was an expansive premises. This was where ice cream tubs and packs, waffle cones for the Trumpets and also for retail sale, and later in the early 1970s doughnuts were all made, as well as serving as “head office”. The offices and waffle-making room were on the second floor. The waffle cones were made for the Drumstick ice creams, the slices, and they were also packed into boxes as their own individual product which were then sold throughout different shops says Pam Blackberry, who worked on that line for a couple of years in the late 1960s. This rambling establishment probably had many additions over time – records show a dispute that went to court with the local council over redevelopment in 1966. Haydn Denne lived in Cook Street opposite where No. 1 factory was until he passed away in 2008. You can see a photo of the factory in my previous post here:
A reconstructed wrapper of the popular Treasure Tip – an ice block with a jelly baby in it. This dates from the mid to late 1960s and obviously the same artist that designed all the posters I’ve featured so far over the last year or so.
Approximately a kilometre further away on Takapu Road, Waipukurau was No. 2 – which was focussed on the ice confections, and frozen foodstuffs arms of the business.
As well as ice cream produced in cones, slices, Drumsticks, and a variety of pint and quart boxes in flavours like Bonanza, Cherry Chequer, Vanilla Supreme and Golden Whip – Former employees of the early 1960s onwards remember in particular the highly popular novelties Nutty Cha Chas (ice cream dipped in chocolate with nuts), Pink Elephants (pink ice cream rolled in chocolate flakes), Tutti Fruttis, Jelly Tips (ice cream coated in chocolate with a tip made of jelly ) and the popular Jolli-Lollis “which was an iceblock mix in a sachet”, says Tony Dean. “The Jolli-Lollis were like cordial mixed up in big vats then pumped through a machine into the plastic sachets and sealed, then packed into boxes and frozen, and that is how the shops got them – this was the machine I worked at, The only time I ventured into the freezer was to put the boxes of ice blocks away once they got packed, and then it was in and out fast”, recounts Pam Blackberry. “(There was a) fear of being locked in those freezers!” remembers Hazel Hori.
The ice confections were produced specifically out of the No.2 Factory and some were the Lime Ice Delite, Fruit Salad, Peter-Cream, Red Rocket, Blueberry (blackberry and lemonade flavour), Scramble, Orange Sparkle, and the Dazzle which I posted on here:
Margaret Gee was employed from 1964-1968. “I worked at Peter Pan for four years as a churn operator filling the moulds that were then placed into the brine tanks”. Tony Dean worked from the mid to late 1960s for several years and “from what I can remember the moulds in which the ice block shapes were made held about 20 items, and a stick holder was put in the top of the mould. The moulds were put in a tank of brine for about twenty minutes and when taken out were inserted in a tank of hot water for a few seconds to release the product; and were then put through the wrapping machine. The refrigerant used was ammonia”.
A Peter Pan specialty were novelty ice blocks with confectionery imbedded in them. Tony Dean recalls “the Treasure Tip, with a jelly baby in the tip – the jelly babies were inserted manually in each mould” – others were the Red Knight with a “Honey Bunny” and the Hello Dolly of the late 1960s had a “Dolly Lolly”.
There were probably many more variations perhaps capitalising on popular culture of the time.
A reconstructed wrapper of the Jolli-Lolli – an ice block sealed in a plastic sachet and frozen.
By 1966 at the latest Peter Pan were producing frozen foods from the No. 1 factory , and Tony Dean remembers Peter Pan had a fleet of trucks to handle a contract to distribute frozen foods around the North Island for Hellaby’s (probably most well-known to Kiwis for canned corned beef), in particular – chickens, and frozen vegetables including peas. Posters advertising products of the mid-late 1960s show frozen flaky puff pastry on offer, and a range of ready-to-cook fast foods that were probably wholesaled to takeaway businesses such as spring rolls, curry rice rolls, steak cobs, fish cobs, chicken croquettes, and hamburger rolls (not bread buns – probably a deep fried meat filled pastry not unlike the Australian Chiko Roll, given the nature of the rest of the range they had at the time) . There was also a line of syrups for milkshakes, thickshakes and sundaes, probably also coming out of the No. 1 premises given the related products.
A reconstructed wrapper of the popular Pink Elephant – a pink ice cream rolled in chocolate flakes. This dates from the mid to late 1960s.
Tony Dean says “The Dennes were excellent bosses to work for. On Friday nights every staff member used to get 1 litre of ice cream and a pack of frozen peas, and at Christmas time a frozen chook as well”. Augustine Dunbar , who worked 1972-1974 also recalls “they used to give us 3 quart boxes on Friday (I’m not sure if she means three separate quart boxes, or the three pint box).
“I used to love eating the ice cream straight out of the churn before it went into the containers and freezers. Also the jelly babies, the chocolate, strawberries and peanuts before they went into the production line. It is probably one of the best jobs I had”, says Tony Dean. “Finger-dipping into the ice-cream straight out of the churn I remember (well), the foul smell of the chocolate melting”, adds Hazel Hori.
The company even had their own “Peter Pan Bus” that travelled to and from Waipawa and Waipukurau to pick up staff of a morning and drop them off in the evening. The Dennes were known as fair and generous employers; and so many people from the surrounding area were employed it was worthwhile. Hazel Hori who worked there between 1963-1965 remembers: “Many “Ypuk” (Waipukurau) people spent part of their working lives at Peter Pan factory. My dad Henry Munday worked at Peter Pan for many years, my mother joined the staff in the 1970s, my brother Eric worked there too for a time , along with me – during the school holidays packing ice blocks and ice creams” – it was almost a rite of passage to do at least a short stint there first before leaving the security of the locale heading out into the wide world.
Trucks outside the No.1 Factory in Takapu Road. The part of the building that is still standing today on a mostly vacant lot – can be seen behind far left.
Trademark records of the early 1970s show product names Country Gold, Fudgsicle, Softee, and Captain Hook products were being manufactured as well as doughnuts being produced in the No. 1 Factory, as briefly mentioned earlier.
Although their father had passed away some time before and their mother Agnes in 1957 – the traditional family faith remained strong. By 1962 the Seventh Day Adventist movement, well-known for their involvement in food product (see my article https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/healthy-curiosity/ on Sanitarium) had made the move across the Tasman to the Hawkes Bay area and assumed control of two churches to establish themselves in the local vicinity. In 1965 the devout and by now, no doubt quite prosperous, Denne family donated land for a church and a two-teacher church school. T.C.’s grandson John Denne continues that religious inheritance and is a pastor in Australia.
This point-of-sale poster probably dates from the mid-late 1960s and was no doubt created for takeaway shop promotion.
As for the mysterious Peter Pan parlour that nobody seemed to recall seeing – after writing to twenty or more people I received a reply from the Eketahuna Museum suggesting that the mystery store may be located in an enclave to the south of Waipukurau, named Norsewood, a Scandinavian-settled town established in the 1870s (hence the name). Since the Dennes never had any relation to this town that I know of – It still left the question of who built it, and more to the point – why? Doug Ellison, Caretaker at Norsewood Pioneer Museum says:
” It wasn’t specifically a Peter Pan store but it sold the ice cream which was just about all we could get (at the time) actually. It was originally just the usual country store, that sold the stuff that any grocery would sell. There was another dairy that sold Peter Pan but it didn’t have a big sign like that. The people that lived in the house did it up to look like the old store at the front, so it would resemble when it was a thriving business – which it hasn’t been for a number of years. I don’t know who owned it at the time. The house is now empty and the building is used as storage. I think it must have been someone from Dannevirke who did a bit of painting about the place to bring it back to what it was. The heritage signs were put around a few old buildings for our festival a couple of years back so that people knew what they had once been. I don’t remember any other (local) brand for sale in the area except Rush Munro, who had a place in Hastings, about 1000 Herataunga Street East – it was called Blue Moon (Rush Munro’s is still open at 704 West, and is arguably New Zealand’s oldest ice cream brand – I’ll post on this story later in the year).
The remaining part of the far left side of the Peter Pan No. 1 Factory on the corner of Takapu Road and Cook Street, Wapukarau -which has now been somewhat remodelled.
John Denne, Tom Denne Jr.’s son was managing the business for some time, but left the town for good in 1971. According to records I’ve found Peter Pan was offering redundancy packages to employees at the end of the 1970s so they must have hit a spot of financial troubles, that or behemoth Tip-Top had stepped in and major changes were afoot. Most people seem to remember the factory being open until at least the early eighties when the rights were probably sold to Tip-Top.
Jan Gosling, one of the curators at Waipawa Museum remembers “when we moved to Waipawa in 1990 the old Peter Pan buildings were still there (in Waipukurau), with faded labels of the ice cream factory (on the walls) and it always seemed a little sad. It’s funny how when things disappear or change into something else you forget about what was there before”. Sometime after that they were demolished; “there isn’t much left of that (factory) now” says Pam Blackberry. The only remains I can spot are the far left side of the structure which has been somewhat remodelled and serves as the Hatuma Engineering Supplies premises.
The original Ruawahine Street No. 1 factory’s site closer to town is renumbered and the street renamed; and the allotment now has a new, one story building, the Central Hawkes Bay Health Centre, set back on the corner of it but is a mostly unobstructed tract of vacant land on the corner where the expansive buildings of Peter Pan Frozen Foods used to be a town landmark.
Mystery finally solved – the tribute to Peter Pan Ice Cream in the small town of Norsewood, was created for fun to replicate an old town general store that originally had a sign like this when it was operating.
Although the brand name has remained in limbo for nearly thirty years with the trademark rights renewed to Tip-Top Investments as part of Fonterra Brands Limited, it finally lapsed and was cancelled at the end of 2010, bringing the saga of the Peter Pan brand to a close for good. Not for me though – the story still has some gaping holes such as – how did Denne enter the business and learn his trade?, and what he was doing between 1920 in Masterton and 1930 in Wairarapa? I’m hoping that I’ll find out more so stay tuned.
As usual, I have a large rollcall of people to thank for memories, images, leads, information and tip-offs: Jana Uhlirova, curator, Central Hawkes Bay Settler’s Museum, Pam Blackberry (1968-1970) and Tony Dean (1966-1973), ex-employees of Peter Pan Frozen Foods; Andy May and Donna Gwen Hoby, one time acquaintances of the Dennes, Colin and Esma Stevenson, owners and curators at the Tokomaru Steam Museum, Doug Ellison, Caretaker at Norsewood Pioneer Museum, Tony Smith , historian and collector for information on Denne drinks, Brian Turner for image of Denne crock, Jan Gosling, curator at Waipawa Museum.