In 1873, English grocer James Griffiths migrated to Melbourne with his wife and cousin (one and the same) in order to start a tea business. By 1875 Griffiths Brothers Teas had become a sensation, providing tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate to caffeine junkies all over Australia. The Sydney outlet of the Melbourne-based company, built in 1915 as a Budden and Greenwell joint, banked heavily on thirsty train travellers staggering out of nearby Central Station looking for a cuppa.
In a memorable ad campaign, a series of these signs were situated at varying intervals along the train trip into Central, designed to gee up incoming arrivals by counting down the miles until they could drink up. It’s hard to imagine anyone being so excited about tea in this day and age, although I wonder if any of the signs are still out there, amping people up for phantom tea?
But we’re not here to talk about the glory days, are we? In 1925, James Griffiths was killed by a train (apparently the train driver missed the ‘1 mile to Griffiths’ signs), and the tea company was sold to Robur Tea, which itself lasted until 1974. Griffiths’ death meant downsizing within the company (maybe today isn’t so different after all), and the Sydney building was transferred to the Sydney City Council, who then leased it back to Griffiths Teas. Talk about keeping up appearances!
The tea fad was over by 1965, and Griffiths relinquished control of the building to a variety of tenants, some of which have left their mark on the exterior. For example:
‘We’re near you!’ if you happen to live in the neighbouring few blocks or like the idea of hauling furniture home via train.
I’d have to imagine that whoever was selling Makita and Metabo power tools out of this place weren’t using the entire building. These signs have been here as long as I can remember, and probably even longer still. Bear in mind that while these power tools were being sold, there were still signs up for Avenue Furniture and Griffiths Teas; that’s confusing and sloppy. I mean, that’d be like if…or, maybe if…no, I mean like…hm. Never mind.
It’s no surprise to find that Citilease, owned by Sydney’s own Howard Hughes, Isaac Wakil, is the villain of this piece, completely responsible for the disgusting state of this site. As previously mentioned, Isaac and Susan Wakil own millions of dollars worth of property around Sydney that they insist on leaving vacant. As a result, viable real estate close to public transport and universities is being left to rot. Wakil’s Citilease outfit (here disguised as ‘City Leasing’) has owned the building for at least 25 years, and don’t be fooled by the ‘for lease’ sign – there’s no 9 in front of the number.
Late last year, some Sydney anarchists decided to conduct an inspection of the property on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps they had intentions of leasing? Of course, they made a few alterations while they were there and had to be forcibly evicted, but don’t worry Citilease, I think they’ll be back.
It’s worth pointing out that the Melbourne Griffiths Teas building, which you’ll remember was the headquarters for the whole operation, has been well preserved and turned into an upmarket hotel with vintage trappings, the Lindrum. Now, why didn’t we think of that?
i always remember this building from “The Matrix”… chase scene right at the end when Neo steals a guy’s mobile phone and runs off…. happens right infront of the “Factory to You!” sign 🙂
I used to work in that building in the late 1970’s. I worked for a Jewish ‘rag’ trade company. They were called Abel and Leuinick (not correct spelling) They went bust due to cheap imports from Asia. A great shame as they were wonderful people to work for and when I was made redundant the owner rang my mum and in tears told her why I wouldn’t be needed anymore. His name was Mr Garfash. A Mrs Seiko was a holocaust survivor as I found out on a hot summers day when she had a short sleeved blouse on and I remarked on the black mark on her wrist. She told me what it was and why it was there. They never taught the holocaust history in school.
My dad worked there too I remember entering via the back street going up a very old lift with the wire in front. Dad was a cleaner for that building in the late 70s early 80s .
Chisari cleaning services
We have been looking after many old building in the city since then inc mark foys . Manning building . Faze shoe house and the well known metters building on Elizabeth street.
Nice artical thanks
Dimenico Chisari from wwwsydneyckeaningservice.com was the cleaner in that building in the late 70s early 80s along with mark foys buildings and the famous metters building on Elizabeth street Sydney
[…] Text and research credit: Past/Lives. […]
“Brands of power tools once sold in a ground-level shop are still visible from the street.
The lease of this shop expired in 1984, according to the land title.” – Daily Tele, 16 Aug 2004
This is a wonderful site for research! I walked past Griffiths and wondered about it’s history – and now I know!
I mentioned your blog in my Steller post: https://steller.co/stories/409801825126974819. Keep up the great work 🙂
would love to go inside and see this building before it becomes the luxury flats that are planned. There don’t seem to be any inside pictures on the web of this or the Key Collecge House.
[…] It’s no surprise to find that Citilease, owned by Sydney’s own Howard Hughes, Isaac Wakil, is the villain of this piece, completely responsible for the disgusting state of this site. As previously mentioned, Isaac and Susan Wakil own millions of dollars worth of property around Sydney that they insist on leaving vacant. As a result, viable real estate close to public transport and universities is being left to rot. Wakil’s Citilease outfit (here disguised as ‘City Leasing’) has owned the building for at least 25 years. Source: Extract from Past / lives website pastlivesofthenearfuture.com/2012/12/16/griffiths-teasder… […]
I always remember those mileage signs to griffith bros. from a very young age in the early 50’s. They were everywhere and my parents, who went through the 30’s depression, often remarked on them. people today have no idea how much the trains impacted lives before world war 11. Today is a very different world.
Thanks for the background on my “2 miles to Griffith Bros teas” sign which I have proudly displayed at my home
Remember counting down the miles on my trip to school [from Bankstown to Erskineville] in 1951/52. Never did find out where Griffiths Bros were, and whether they just sold packets of tea, or ‘afternoon teas’.
I am a direct decedent of James and Emily Griffiths. My grandfather was one of the orphans taken in by Emily and James. Our family would like nothing more than to see the Griffiths tea building restored to it’s former glory. Its encouraging to see articles like this, would be devastating if this building was lost as it is such huge part of our history.
Steven James Griffiths.
I am researching our family tree, and have just discovered my Australian cousins. James and John were my 1st cousins, 3 times removed. How can we get in contact?
Happened to see your post. I was researching James Griffiths for a book on Ferndale, where James and Emily lived OfCourse, with your grandparents.
Please contact me to discuss further.
worked here for griffirh bros 1963 1965
I have just obtained a 89 miles to Griffiths Bros tea sign.
You might want to update this article. The building has been renovated a few years ago & is now an apartment building where people live. It looks far from derelict or empty now. Maybe research the Griffiths Tea Project info… it’s not that hard to find new & current factual information & photos