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Norma Francis

Life after The Hop Kiln


Norma and Tom Francis are best known as the owners of the much loved ‘Hop Kiln’ at Neudorf.  The Hop Kiln was a great success at a time when people started appreciating old curios; old sets of scales, radios, crockery etc. In the 80s and 90s it was possible to pick up bargains at auctions.  That is where Norma get her stock and was able to pass on low prices.  She wanted to make sure that it would be worthwhile people to drive all the way out to Neudorf.  They came, and kept on coming.  No doubt Norma’s bubbly personality, her equally bubbly staff and Tom’s gentle manner all help build their fan base.  Soon Norma started serving Devonshire teas, creating yet another reason for a visit.

Tom and Norma seemed to have a business that would see them out.  But just when you think your sorted, something comes out of left field.  The first thing was a bread maker didn’t switch off, and caused their house to burn down.  Oh well! No one was killed or injured, and that’s what you have insurance for.

There is, however, no insurance that will protect you from macro-economics.  In the late 1990s, the bargains at auctions started drying up.  Where once Norma could pick up a box of collectables for ten dollars, now the collectable were being sold in smaller lots and for more money.  Trademe fostered a crop of competing traders all driving up the prices.  At the end of the millennium , after twelve years in business, Norma and Tom  decided to pull the pin.

They sold up and moved from one beautiful place to another, buying the Teal Valley property of another Nelson personality, Christopher Vine.  This was thirty acres with meadows, a stream and an early pioneer home straight out of a fairy tale.  Morning Glory tumbled out from the ill-fitting windows of the upper story and the garden was filled with the heady perfume of heritage roses.  On either side of the cottage, Christopher had built conservatories out of every conceivable shape and style of old window which contrived to add more charm.  These glass rooms were filled with grape vines, scarlet geraniums and the thick gnarled roots of invasive ivy from outside.  Down by the river was what Christopher fondly referred to as “The Blob-outtery”.  A summer house the shape of a pepper pot where one could retire from life’s demands.  The whole place was post card pretty on a summer’s day, but cold misery in the winter.


After four years Norma and Tom were ready for another enterprise, and their builder son, Duncan, had a proposition: Yet another old place, a lodge on Nydia Bay in the Marlborough Sounds, accessible only by boat, or tramping track.  When they bought in 2004, the lodge was in need of tender loving care. Tom and Duncan set to, while Norma’s culinary skills were brought to bear in the kitchen.  Accommodation was in a number of chalets dotted about the property.  After two years, the chalets were joined by a railway carriage.  Norma bought it with a different property in mind, but it turned out that placing it at her intended site would be near impossible, so it was barged to ‘The Lodge’.  Rolling on temporary rails, the carriage was taken to its final resting place.  Duncan installed decking and railing, and it came to be the most sought after suite, commanding a higher tariff, than the chalets, yet always the first  to be booked.  All up the ‘The Lodge’ could now accommodate twenty-four.


Nydia Bay gets three times as much rain as Nelson, so a big and important job for Tom and Duncan was building boardwalks to everywhere.  Beyond that, the building projects never stopped. 


There were no permanent staff, just  WOOFers from overseas.  They were a delight, and a positive input, but the burden of working seven days a week fell on Norma, Tom and Duncan.  It was relentless and they scarcely notice their beautiful location.  For ten years they toiled.  Eventually Norma succumb to fatigue that couldn’t be slept off.  With one member of  a small team being off the pace, it was clear that they couldn’t keep it up, and the lodge was put on the market.  The reason for Norma tiredness was discovered shortly after selling.  She had breast cancer, and on the day before they moved she went in for her operation.

Before Norma got better, chemotherapy made her worse.   For two years she was unwell, but In the winter of 2017, she breezed into the Eyebright and asked about a job.  Staffing on weekends is problematic, but Norma had no qualms about weekend work, that, along with her proven dedication to customer service sealed my conviction that hiring her  would be a very good idea.

Staff like mine, is the reason I can tend ten acres of grounds, confident all the while that Eyebright customers are receiving awesome service. 

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