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On a chilly day recently, some very old books were pulled from the former Cadbury office block in the New Dunedin Hospital demolition site. The sixteen books contain Hudson & Co.’s business records from 1899 to 1988 and tell the story of a local family business that went on to merge with a global chocolate company.

The first entry, written in ornate cursive on cream-coloured paper, reads: "A meeting of the Directors of this Company was held at the office of R. Hudson & Co. Moray Place Dunedin on Monday the 20th February 1899 at 4 p.m."

Hudson & Co. wasn’t the first business to occupy the site, which was used for a whiskey distillery and a brewery before being purchased by Hudson in 1898.

The New Dunedin Hospital project respects the heritage values of the site and is working with Megan Lawrence, Principal Archaeologist at New Zealand Heritage Properties to ensure historical finds such as this are preserved, and their stories told.

Megan knows Richard Hudson’s story by heart.

“He came to New Zealand and trained in biscuit manufacture in Christchurch alongside John Griffin, who later went on to found Griffins Biscuits,” Megan says.

“Hudson moved in Dunedin in 1868 and became a pastry cook, operating in an arcade off High Street. He’d go down and sell biscuits at the docks. He later purchased an old masonic hall on Moray Place, putting a factory there in 1876.

“Along with biscuits and chocolate, Hudson’s range grew to include lozenges with flavours we might consider unusual today – peppermint, clove, musk, cayenne, ginger, lavender, rose and pear.”

Hudson & Co. was a family business, with each of Hudson’s six sons having a role to play.

“His son Richard became the factory manager, Robert was the works manager, Arthur was the biscuit baker, Charles looked after the flour mill, Bill was an engineer, and Alfred was the chocolatier,” Megan says.

Reading through the old records, Megan and the team have learnt even more about the historic family business.

“We can see that they were expecting their first ‘motor wagon’ in June 1913, but they were looking to build a new stable too. In June 1916 raw materials were noted as being expensive due to the war, but trade was considered very satisfactory. And on 13 July 1929 they passed a resolution to merge with Cadbury and become Cadbury Fry Hudson Co.” 

From 1921, type-written entries can be found glued into the books alongside handwritten entries, and the later books are fully typed. The last record, dated 11 May 1988, notes the Board appointment of FW Swan from Cadbury Schweppes Australia.

Any finds on the new Dunedin hospital site are obviously recorded appropriately and the historic Hudson & Co. books are likely to find a new home in a museum or collection.

"They're a fantastic record of the development of the business as it transformed, went through two world wars, adapted to changing technologies and labour laws, and became a modern business in the 20th century."

But the books aren’t the only interesting artefacts from the Cadbury office block. When the old plans were being digitally scanned for posterity, some particularly tasty discoveries were made.

“We also found the plans for the Curly Wurly machine and the chocolate fish mould,” says Megan.

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