12 March 2015

Belfast Freezing Works

  • Belfast Freezing Works, Christchurch [circa 1920s]. Ref: 1/1-003961-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • CFM freezing works, Belfast, Christchurch [circa 1960s]. Ref: 1/2-037069-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

It’s difficult to establish when many freezing works were built, because they previously existed as abattoirs, canning works, or the like, and then extended their activities to include freezing meat. The Belfast Freezing Works was purpose-built and was the second freezing works built in New Zealand when it was completed in 1883. It was also the first to export meat from Canterbury.

The Belfast Freezing Works is on Factory Road, which turns off the main highway north from Christchurch at Belfast. A number of buildings on the site are suspected to be original, or near original. Possibly among these is the engine room which is complete and houses some early machines with hemp rope drives. The Christchurch site is historically significant because it is thought there are no early buildings left on the site of the first freezing works, built at Burnside in Dunedin.

The Belfast Freezing Works has further significance because it’s the first works the engineer Frank Coxon was involved in from the beginning. Coxon was involved as early as site selection and, subsequently, worked on the design of many freezing works. It appears that JC Maddison was the architect of the works at Belfast.

The construction of the works was the result of the success of a shipment of meat on the SS Strathleven from Australia. This shipment arrived in London in February 1880, and news was cabled from the London office of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company to their office in Christchurch. John Cooke, who was in charge of the Canterbury business, realised the significance of this in opening up overseas markets for Canterbury meat producers. He was possibly instrumental in alerting John Grigg, of the well-known Longbeach station in South Canterbury, of this development. This resulted in Grigg calling a meeting of run holders in November 1881, which led to the formation of the Canterbury Frozen Meat and Dairy Produce Export Company Limited on 19 June 1882.

After the company was founded, 34 acres of land (13.76 hectares) at Belfast were inspected by Messrs Grigg, Banks, Cooke and Coxon, and the next day were purchased for the construction of a freezing works. The works were completed and production commenced on the 12 February 1883.

In December 1888 a fire at the works put the freezers out of action. In order to continue production the well-known hulk, the Edwin Fox, was fitted out as a freezer, and hastily towed from Dunedin to Lyttelton to freeze the output from Belfast until the freezers at the works could be replaced.

In the late 20th Century the plant belonged to the Primary Producers Cooperative Society, who became Silver Fern Farms.

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Location

The Belfast Freezing Works are situated along Factory Road in the suburb of Belfast, northern edge of Christchurch, Canterbury.

Access

The buildings are visible along Factory Road, but are not open to the public.