The early Maori who arrived in the Ohinemuri area around 1600, the European pioneers who settled here from 1842, and those associated with the development of the goldfields and the township of Paeroa from the early 1870s, quickly recognised the unique mineral waters bubbling from a deep underground spring for its medicinal and thirst quenching qualities.
One early report, around 1905, states:
“The chance discovery of the spring of mineral water in a cow paddock near the confluence of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers, known as the Junction, was followed by frequent visits to the hole in the ground from which palatable water could be obtained for the taking. That was long before anyone thought of commercialising the product."
“The writer and his lady friend struck upon the happy idea of taking a lemon or two in their pockets and adding lemon juice to the mineral water anticipating the future use that delectable refreshing drink “Paeroa and Lemon”.
“Paeroa and lemon was enjoyed by some of the early residents of Paeroa to quench the thirsty and on occasions to relieve a bilious attack”.
A report compiled by a noted Government balneologist A. S. Wohlman, OBE, MD., BS (London) in 1904 stated:
“The Paeroa spring is a large warm effervescing spring of similar nature to the Te Aroha spring, but containing 73 grains of magnesium bicarbonate to the gallon."
“It is good for dyspepsia and pleasant to drink and in older times had the reputation among the goldminers of the district as a Sunday morning drink after a Saturday night “burst”. It can be beneficial for constipation."
The Paeroa spring water as a mild alkaline water with iron salts and was valuable for medicinal purposes and as a table water. He was not sure anyone would go to the expenses of bottling it, especially with the large amount of tea which was drunk in the colony.
“The Paeroa water analysis was: Temperature 80deg. F.; fair effervescence of CO2; pleasant sweetish taste. Magnesium bicarbonate, 73 grains per gallon; sodium bicarbonate, 39.4; calcium bicarbonate, 35.5; ferrous bicarbonate 1.6; total solids 167.8.”
Yet another early recollection about 1906:
“A favourite Sunday walk was to the mineral spring near Junction Wharf. The spring filled a small grassy well, the overflow going into the nearby creek. The usual thing was to have a drink there and take a bottle home. This property was taken over by a Mr Fewell who started bottling the water. This was the beginning of Lemon and Paeroa.”
The History of Lemon & Paeroa
The famous spring is on a block of land in Junction Road and close to the first major wharf which serviced the early goldfields. The land was first owned, in April, 1887, by James Coote, hotel-keeper and Alexander Hogg, store-keeper, both Paeroa.
In August the same year the property was subdivided and the spring with some 13 acres was transferred to John Logan Campbell, later Sir John Logan Campbell, “the father of Auckland”.
By 1896 timber merchant James McAndrew purchased the property and established a timber sawmill on the Hape Creek, close to the spring. Over the next 13 years the district residents regularly visited the spring to partake of its waters.
The property passed through several owners until Robert Fewell, in partnership with his brother-in-law Frank Brinkler, took over the sawmill in 1908 and the next year he purchased the property and commenced marketing the mineral water through his company the Paeroa Natural Mineral Water Company, which was incorporated in March, 1910.
This firm built up a large clientele over a wide area including Auckland as it supplied cases of bottled Paeroa mineral water. The firm also consigned barrels of the water to customers in Auckland on the Northern Steamship Company’s river steamers SS Taniwha and SS Waimari.
In 1915 Mr Fewell sold his Paeroa Natural Mineral Water Company’s property and proprietary rights to Grey and Menzies Limited a local and regional aerated water manufacturing company.
This company had been formed by the amalgamation in 1902 of John Grey and Sons, Auckland, with a branch at Coromandel and Menzies Limited with headquarters in Thames and aerated water factories in Paeroa (Francis Street), Waihi and Te Aroha. Grey and Menzies operated their Paeroa factory until it was closed in 1912.
The new owners in the Paeroa spring issued a statement from their Auckland office in August, 1915, stating:
“Paeroa Mineral Water and Paeroa and Lemon would be continued to be produced. The Paeroa spring water is a first class natural mineral water for table purposes and closely resembles some of the best table water imported. We are therefore confidently recommended its use to the public.”
Grey and Menzies Limited operated a flourishing company and in 1926 built a new factory in Station Road, Paeroa, to produce everyday lines of aerated waters, but not “Paeroa and Lemon” which was distributed from their Auckland factory. The raw water in large barrels was sent by boat to the Auckland factory.
In 1934 the Paeroa and Lemon commenced production in the Paeroa factory. The raw mineral water was taken in barrels and tanker by road transport to the points of manufacture.
Just when the brand name was changed from “Paeroa and Lemon” to “Lemon and Paeroa” is not clear. An advertisement in the local newspaper, the Hauraki Plains Gazette, in 1947 displayed both names.
In 1960 New Zealand Breweries took over the business although it was still operated as Grey and Menzies Limited. Later the Auckland firm, Schweppes Limited took over from New Zealand Breweries and formed a company named Contract Bottlers Limited.
Also in 1960, with the growing popularity of the Lemon & Paeroa product, the spring underwent major re-development work, with the well being lined with 1.3m diameter pipes to a depth of 13m and a new pump-house built.
In an attempt to find the depth of the spring several lengths of 11mm pipe were joined together measuring a total of 100m, but this did not reach the bottom of the spring.
In 1963 C. L. Innes, a long-standing Hamilton aerated mater manufacturer, became involved and the new firm Innes Tartan Limited formed. Demands for the unique drink continued to climb.
Lemon & Paeroa had the distinction of winning the British Bottlers Institute Diploma of Excellence award in 1969. The product was the only entry from outside the British Isles to win such an award.
To keep pace with the demand Innes Tartan brought expansion of the Paeroa factory, with the 50-year-old building given an upgrade in 1970 and a pipeline laid from the well to the factory, a distance of 2kms. New bottling equipment installed and hygienic features added. The total floor space, including a warehouse, added 10 years previously, was now around 1115 sq. metres.
A smaller pipe was laid from the factory to the Railway Reserve where the famous water, after filtration, was available to the public in a small kiosk through an old-style double action hand pump. Unfortunately, vandals continually smashed the cast-iron pump and the reserve kiosk was closed within 18 months.
By now the mineral water was being artificially manufactured in several of the company’s factories in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. The product was being exported to Australia and used by airlines and cruise ships. Continual checks were made between the spring water and the artificial product to ensure that both were the same.
Schweppes (New Zealand) Limited, another cordial manufacturer, became associated with Innes Tartan Limited to manufacture Lemon & Paeroa at its New Zealand factories.
With the changing economic climate during the late 1970s and with the trend of the day being amalgamations, Oasis Industries, another Auckland aerated water manufacturer, became involved taking over Innes Tartan and Schweppes.
The Paeroa factory was closed by its new owners in July, 1980, and the whole production unit moved to Auckland. The ownership of the spring remains with the Auckland firm, which in more recent times has been absorbed by the international and American-based company Coca-Cola Amatil.
The L&P Bottle
However, the memories of those proud days of Paeroa & Lemon, or in later years Lemon & Paeroa and then L & P, are kept to the forefront by the large L & P bottle at the eastern entrance to Paeroa on State Highway 2.
This eye-catching structure commenced its life as a replica of a space rocket being the focal point for Paeroa’s 1967 Christmas promotion. It was at the time when men were being sent into outer space and to moon and theme was: “Paeroa was to rocket into Christmas”. It was placed on the triangle area in front of the Post Office.
This 7 metre high 1.3 metre diameter structure was made from six concrete water troughs stacked on top of one another. A fibre-glass “neck” was placed on top housing a public address system from which announcements were made and music played during the promotion. It was painted to depict a space rocket.
After the Christmas festivities it was dismantled and then reassembled as a bottle for the 1968 festivities. This time it painted in Lemon & Paeroa bottle colours. Again the structure became a focal point of the promotion and attracted considerable interest from passersby.
Early in 1969 the bottle dismantled and stored away. After discussions between Innes Tartan and the Paeroa Borough Council a joint-venture saw the bottle, re-erected close to its present site later that year.
This time it was constructed of concrete pipes with considerable timber framework inside to ensure it was withstand the elements. It has had a couple of re-paints to keep up with changing corporate colours.
Since then the “bottle” has become one of the most well-known and photographed structures in New Zealand. It was been reproduced on postage stamps and there must be million of photographs of it around the world.
Towards the end of 2002 the bottle was moved again, some 20 metres back into newly-developed $400,000 Ohinemuri Reserve to enable photographers to get their “snaps” without dodging traffic in the middle of the very busy State Highway 2.
Today, after almost 100 years, the famous spring has gone in a full circle to return to the unique mineral water bubbling out of the ground, into the nearby Hape Creek with a couple of with differences. The unique mineral water now bubbles from a concrete pipe well but locked away from local residents and tourists.
By Graham Watton, Curator and Historian of the Paeroa and District Museum