Today’s Warkworth resembles in many ways the original township that was established in 1853 by a businessman from Warkworth, Northumberland (UK).
John Anderson Brown arrived in the area in 1843 and was immediately struck by its similarity with his hometown in northern England. Brown purchased 153 acres and drew up a plan for subdivision of the area in which he allocated land for the Anglican Church and its cemetery. Brown’s links to his homeland are further evidenced in the names he gave to Warkworth’s streets; after the noble families of Northumberland (Percy and Neville) or of local English villages, such as Alnwick, Morpeth and Hexham.
When the local Maori towed Brown up the river they came to a weir which prevented further exploration and led to the town – originally called Brown’s Mill - being established where it is today. Brown, a timber merchant who arrived from Tasmania, recognised the significance of the river and set up a timber mill to take advantage of the principal means of transport in and out of the area. He built his first home above the weir, where the Tudor style Bridge House overlooks the Mahurangi River today. The river remained the town’s lifeline, with steamboats providing the only link from Warkworth to Auckland until the completion of a metalled, all-weather road to the capital in the 1930s.
Although farming has always been important to the area and Kauri timber was responsible for putting Warkworth on the map, the town was also home to major industry when the lime and cement works were started in 1865. Cement made in Warkworth was used in the construction of Auckland’s Grafton Bridge which, when it was built in 1910, was the largest concrete bridge in the world. The cement works flourished until 1928, when they relocated to Portland, Whangarei.
Another occupation to rival the production of cement was fruit growing; from Matakana to Omaha and around Warkworth apples, pears, plums and oranges flourished until fire blight wiped out many of the orchards in the 1920s. Today fruit is again a vital contributor to the economy, with the establishment of vineyards, citrus and persimmon orchards.