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The history of the Sprig & Fern, formerly Harts Bake House

November 27th, 2011
[by Coralie Smith]

When Harry and Bertha Hart opened their modern bakery in 1925 behind Bedford House at 191 High Street which housed their residence, cake and tea shop, little would they know that 87 years later there would be a lane named for them and that the bake house would be a community bar popular with locals after being in operation for only a year.

The Sprig & Fern was the venue for this year's Motueka and District Historical Associations annual Christmas dinner. Many local groups are benefiting from the quiz nights run by Peter and Sue Fry as part of their hospitality trade, just as the community benefited from Harts Bakery who on opening day provided tea and cakes for a very large crowd who turned up for the occasion. Local dignitaries including the mayor Major D W Talbot, and Horatio Everett spoke at the opening congratulating Mr Hart for his foresight and faith in the future of the district.

Pam Fry (left) talks about her time at Harts bakery

From the outside the bake house has changed little, with the stark reinforced concrete walls standing tall against the skyline. There are houses behind it where once it was paddocks and of course car parks where once there were storage sheds.

Inside, however, it is vastly different. Ten thousand bricks were used to build the oven and 600 the chimney. These have been gone for some years. The massive steel girders which carry the top floor are still there, as are the stairs.

It is still light and airy but where there were once movable trucks and tables for conveying small goods and bread there is now a bar with accompanying tables and chairs.

The trap door still visible at the front of the Sprig and Fern was used to haul the flour through by means of an endless chain. There used to be a verandah under which delivery vans and trucks could shelter from the elements if necessary. Prior to this pony and traps were used to make deliveries round the district as far away as Brooklyn and the Motueka Valley.

Harts bakery building, around 1980

Sprig & Fern under construction, 2010

Built by Stilwells and Co under the guidance of H Delaney and Arthur Stilwell with sub contractors P Jameson (plastering), Smith Bros (painting) and S Mather (electric light), it has stood as a testament of good design and excellent workmanship. Mrs Hart and her staff Misses H Goodman and J Bridle were given gifts by the builders for their many kindnesses - I am guessing they had good morning and afternoon teas!

Pam Fry worked for Harts in the 1940s and regaled us with memories of the customers who came at the same time each day to collect their bread and what they took - a barracutta or a sandwich loaf - unsliced of course and wrapped with a small piece of brown paper round the middle. The big ovens that cooked everything from bread to pies to Christmas cakes shaped by boards, not tins and pavlovas.

Peter Fry is happy with the renovation, especially the light and airy feel resulting from the first storey floor being removed, the stairs being accessible from the inside and the rimu timber being recycled into tables and bar stools. The roast meal provided by Flaming Hot Caterers made this Christmas luncheon one of the best.

For the full history of Harts bakery and how the Hart family came to be in Motueka and why they finally left, see Volume 7 of "... and so it began, The Continuing Story of Motueka", published by the Motueka Historical Association in 2011 and available at the Motueka Museum and Paper Plus.

Then take a moment to sit with a drink at the Sprig & Fern and imagine the hard work that has gone on within those walls; imagine the smell of newly baked bread, pies, cakes and buns and toast the Hart family for playing their part in creating Motueka's history.


Comment by Donald A. Miller, USA:
[Posted 24 August 2012]

Dear Editor, It is fascinating to know some of the history behind The Sprig and Fern, a place I visited while visiting my Kiwi partner in May 2011. The Sprig of course being owned and operated by Peter Fry, who is a relation of my partner Carol Hammond(Fry). It was a solemn event that we spent at the establishment, my visit having coincided with the funeral of Carol's uncle. It is a wonderful place, and Peter was most gracious under the extraordinary circumstances.

The insight into the history of the establishment is much appreciated by myself, as due to the sadness of the occasion upon which I met Peter, there was little time for talk of such. Having some more knowledge, I look forward to quizzing my wonderful Kiwi partner, as it has been rare that I know something of Mot that she doesn't lol, especially since I am a Yank, something fortunately the family hasn't held against me in a severe way!

I will be relocating permanently to Motueka from the States soon, and am quite looking forward to many returns to the Sprig and Fern. Motueka is the most lovely of little towns, reminding me of the quaintness and individuality of a little Pennsylvania town called Ligonier. Albeit Ligonier is quite landlocked, the sense of community about Mot is the same I experienced from living in Ligonier.

Articles such as this have helped me to endure and stay connected to Carol and Motueka in the lengthy time since I have last been there, and it is much appreciated. I don't truly expect my wonderful partner will not already have such knowledge of Mot, after all, Peter is her cousin, however I'm hoping this information has somehow slipped by her lol, as it would be wonderful baffling her for once lol!

I will continue to follow with interest the stories of the local flavour of Motueka since having found your organisation online. Many thanks to you and the staff for this rather personal of articles, it is great to have found a connection to Mot, from across the miles, in which I have personally experienced.

Comment by Margaret Clarke nee Hart:
[Posted 11 September 2012]

Great to see the bakery being used and becoming so popular with the locals. Motueka will always be "home" to me and I try to get there as often as possible. I am sure my Grandparents (Harry and Bertha) would be pleased to see how things have worked out.

Comment by Elizabeth Nelson nee Hart:
[Posted 5 April 2015]

Great to see the bake house enjoys a new life. We spent many hours in there as children watching our father Ken Hart working to produce the bread for the district. We were always aware of his father as his photo hung in the kitchen in his WW1 army uniform. Harry was a Gallipoli veteran which ultimately shortened his life dying prematurely at 48. Timely as we remember 100 years this month.

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