Madras to Manchester

In 1996, in my capacity as Town Crier, I was asked by the City Council  to take a tour of some of the historic buildings of Christchurch for the annual Heritage Week programme. The following essay is based on that tour of some of the historic buildings of High Street in Christchurch from the Madras Street Corner to the Lichfield Street intersection and along Manchester Street as far as the Civic of Canterbury. 

1.            124 – 132 High St. – Cnr St. Asaph:  Hurst and Drake.

   What is now known as the Hurst and Drake building was built for draper Thomas Armstrong in 1905 by contractors Messrs Grigg and Sons to a design in the Commercial Classical style by architects the Luttrell Brothers. The three storey brick building is unusual as it was designed to fit a triangular site and features a regular rhythm of fenestration with classical details, culminating in a rounded corner on the intersection of High and Madras Streets. Over the years the ground floor has been  considerably altered on many occasions to accommodate to successive residents, but the upper two storeys remain substantially unchanged and include many of the original features such as pressed metal ceilings, supporting columns and an elevator.

   The two Luttrell brothers arrived in New Zealand from Tasmania in 1902 and subsequently established what would become one of Christchurch’s largest architectural firms. They were responsible for many of the City’s fine old buildings including the King Edward Barracks, the Theatre Royal and the late, lamented Kaiapoi Woollen Mills building.

   Thomas Armstrong’s drapery business removed to Market Square (now Victoria Square) in 1913. The business occupied a wooden building until 1923 when it moved into a new department store especially designed and built for the company, again by Messrs Luttrell Brothers. The building is still extant as the Union Centre Building on the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, and was occupied by Armstrongs until the business closed down in 1968. The old High Street building was taken over by another drapery firm, Drage’s Ltd., in 1914 and subsequently passed into the hands of the current owners and occupiers, Hurst and Drake Ltd. The building forms part of a streetscape that closely relates to the Duncan’s Buildings just across the road.

2.            135 – 165 High St:  Duncan’s Buildings.

Duncan’s Buildings were built in 1904 – 05 to a design by architects Luttrell Brothers as a commercial property. It is built of brick and Oamaru stone with the typical Edwardian commercial facade so favoured at the time, and over its ninety odd years has been home to numerous small businesses

3.            236 Tuam St.: A J White Building (now McKenzie and Willis).

   Alfred Joseph White emigrated  from England in 1861 at the age of 23 and founded what was to become one of the largest furniture and furnishing companies in Christchurch. Indeed, the name of A J White eventually became known and respected throughout the colony for its fine craftsmanship and excellent designs. A retiring man who never entered public life, he was nevertheless a mainstay of the Catholic Church and a man of extraordinary energy and determination. He set up his first shop in a leased two storey wooden building on the corner of Tuam and High Streets in 1870 and began to ply his trade.  Such was his success that Mr White was able to engage the services of architect Mr Alfred Simpson and builder W Harrison to construct new and permanent premises. He selected the Venetian Gothic Style with facings of brick masonry, Oamaru stone and blue stone, each window arch supported by magnificent columns with foliated capitals and flanked by carved medallions while the upper windows are trefoil shaped beneath rounded arches with striped voussoirs. The magnificent new home of A J White Ltd. was open for business in 1879.

   And it was indeed their home, as the White family lived in the building at first and Joseph’s White’s wife Eliza managed the business while her husband was overseas on his several buying trips. Mr White passed away in 1895, but Eliza White continued to manage the business after his death and it continued to prosper over the years. Like other such merchants, A J White and Co. diversified over the years. The mainstay of the original business had been carpets and rugs, and the ground floor of the new premises was a showroom for these goods, but more and more lines of merchandise were added as time passed: fabrics, ladders, lamps, prams, beds and all sorts of other household items.

The premises subsequently were leased out and many other firms used it for a number of purposes, but the Whites’ unmarried daughter Maud retained an interest in the property, and the firm eventually re-occupied it in 1983, refurbishing it and opening it up, appropriately enough, as a showroom for carpets and rugs.  Eventually the building was sold to a Mr. Paul Willis and it is entirely appropriate that the premises are now occupied by another well known company of furniture and furnishing merchants, namely McKenzie and Willis.

4.            179 High Street – 238 Tuam Street:  former A J White’s buildings.

   Although Alfred White had passed to his reward, the company that bore his name continued to flourish to the extent that extensions could be made to the original building. Accordingly the architectural firm of England Brothers was engaged to provide a design to extend the premises around the corner into High Street. They chose the restrained elegance of Edwardian classicism to complement the existing streetscape, and the building was constructed in brick masonry with a stone veneer and opened for business in 1910. The building contained workshops as well as showrooms, and at its height between 70 and 80 hands were employed in the cabinet making and upholstery workshops. Furniture was manufactured from pine and walnut imported from Boston in the United States, and from European walnut. In the upstairs workshops, organs were manufactured for the local churches.

   Although of very different designs, the two A J White buildings sit well together as the cornice line of the new building runs continuously with that of the old: a simple device but one that ensures architectural harmony.

5.            Cnr. Tuam and High Streets:  The Old Post Office.

   The former High Street Post Office, now the premises of Alice in Videoland, was designed by government architect J T Mair and built in 1932. The building is of concrete with granite facings, and its fluted pilasters and balustraded parapet make it a fine example of the striped classical style that remained popular in the thirties alongside the almost ubiquitous Art Deco style of the time. It remains in excellent condition.

6.            146 High St.:  Para Building.

   The Para Rubber Building is another good example of commercial classic architecture.  Built in 1900 of brick masonry, it has been the premises of numerous small businesses over the years and now houses the Para Rubber Company.  The upper floors were refitted in 1988 – 1989 into 27 warehouse style apartments.  It is currently owned by Skellerup Clothing and Rubber, the parent company of Para, and Derek Anderson and Consortium.

   Old buildings such as these were built without the advantages of modern fire prevention technology, and the Para apartments are a good example of the need for up-to-date fire prevention equipment. On May 22 1996 the Fire Service was called to these buildings by an alarm. A fire had started in some bedding but the automatic sprinkler system had successfully extinguished what would otherwise have been a disastrous blaze that may well have destroyed the entire block. The incident can only serve to remind us not only that there can be little doubt that such systems do much to help us retain our heritage, but also how terribly fragile that heritage really is.

7.            158 High St.:  Cotter’s Electrical.

   Cotter’s Electrical, built about 1900, is an example of one of the decreasing number of small family firms in the City. Still owned by the family, it was built in 1900 and is good example of the commercial classic style of the times, although at the less expensive end of the market, and shows how this style is almost endlessly adaptable to every level of budget. The ground floor has been remodelled over the years but the upper storey remains largely original.

8.            209 High Street:  Kennet’s Jewellers.

   Kennet’s Jewellers is another one of the few small businesses in Christchurch still in the hands of the original family. The current owners, Tony and Neroli Kennet are the third generation of the family to run the business, which is still where it began in 1880. The business was established by watchmaker Robert Kennet in that year and he and his wife and four children lived upstairs above the shop. The youngest, Ronald, was born in the back room in 1889. When Robert retired in 1922 Ronald took over the business and died in 1946 only three months after his son Tony had begun his apprenticeship. The business was put in the hands of a manager, Len Robertson, until 1953 when Tony and Neroli assumed the helm.

   Defying the current trend towards chain stores and supermarkets, Kennets still offers a personal service to customers and still stocks such items as grandfather and Black Forest cuckoo clocks as well as the usual range of silverware and watches. The two storey building itself is another example of Victorian commercial classicism, with a four bay facade with arched openings and decorated keystones, and clearly demonstrates an economy of style that creates a classic character with a limited number of motifs.

9.            184 – 188 High St.:  Former ANZ Bank Building.

   The origins of this building remain somewhat obscure.  It is known that the site was leased by a certain Edward Reynolds from about 1873 and according to the Christchurch City Council Drainage Plan the first connection to the drainage system was made in 1902 for Mr Francis Arenas.  At that time Mr Arenas was the owner of the old City Hotel which was then at the intersection of Colombo and High Streets, the site that is now occupied by Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The existing building seems to have been built between 1908 and 1912 and was designed by architects Clarkson and Ballantyne.  It is possible that the architects built this as what is now known as a “spec.” building as it does not appear to have been built for any particular customer and was not occupied by any one company or group. Clarkson and Ballantyne held the lease on the land and a part lease was held by Harry Hulston, tobacconist. 

   Various companies and enterprises occupied the premises over the years.  In 1909 Bell Bros operated a cycle factory on the site and a dentist, a Mr Lewers, had rooms on the ground floor whilst Clarkson and Ballantyne occupied rooms on the top floor.  In 1954 the title was taken over by the A.N.Z. Bank and although the building subsequently became known as the A.N.Z. Bank Chambers it does not appear as such in any business directory of the time.  The name may have come into being in 1968 when the Bank moved into the next building.  The A.N.Z. vacated the premises in 1982 and since that time various enterprises have been in residence, for example a snack bar and a massage parlour. 

   The building is of brick and stone construction with a unique small tower topped by a small copper dome.  The windows on the first floor are squared with architraves and pendant garlands in stone with false open work iron balconies over which arched drip courses run.   The drum of the cupola is pierced with small windows and decorated with columns.

10.          211 High St.:  The Excelsior Hotel.

The Excelsior has had many changes of guise, and was perhaps Christchurch’s original Irish Hotel. The first hotel was opened by a Mr. and Mrs James O’Hara in 1865 as the “Harp of Erin”, and five years later became the Borough Hotel under a Mr. Pristin. In 1878 the licence passed to John Barrett and became Barrett’s Family Hotel, but the Irish connections were not lost, and the Irish animosities continued.

On the morning of Boxing Day, 1879, there was a bloody riot outside the Hotel when an Orange Lodge procession was attacked by the patrons with makeshift weapons including pick handles, and Barrett was held to be implicated in the incitement to riot. In the following June, the Licensing Bench objected to the renewal of the license to Barrett on the grounds that “on the occasion of a party disturbance, the licensee failed to take such steps for the prevention of the riot as lay within his power.” Although Barrett claimed that he “knew no more about it than a child unborn” his disclaimer fell on deaf ears. Later in the hearing a Mr. Scott, who appeared for a group objecting to a renewal, said ” I feel that I do not need to say more as your Worship has almost taken our position”. The Bench ruled that Barrett could retain ownership of the Hotel but had to lease the license to another – not a manager – within one month. It was duly transferred to Michael McGoverin, but somehow Barrett managed to regain the favour of the Bench and was back at the hotel two years later.

Thereafter the license and the name both went through many changes. In 1890 the license was obtained by Mr. Patrick Burke and became Burke’s Family Hotel. Pat Burke was a native of Galway and was born on 1 January 1854 to a farming family. Like so many of his race he felt the need to seek his fortune overseas and duly travelled first to Australia and then to New Zealand, arriving here in 1970 at the age of 16. Drawing on his farming knowledge, he worked on the Wentworth estate in Southland for a while and visited Australia in 1877, returning to New Zealand soon after to manage the Caroline Station for eight years. He arrived in Christchurch in 1880 and engaged in business as a hotelier with considerable success. Firstly he ran the old Victoria Hotel for two years, then built and obtained the license for the Southern Cross Hotel in Lincoln Road which he ran for eight years. Taking over the Barrett, he ran it as Burke’s Family Hotel for six years until 1896.

Pat Burke continued in the hospitality and catering industry for his entire career. Following his time at what would one day become the Excelsior, he took the Cafe de Paris Hotel in Cashel Street for two years, then purchased the nearby Tattersall’s Hotel. For many years he was caterer to the Canterbury Saleyards Company, and the Canterbury Jockey Club, he won the contract to cater for the various contingents of troops in transit for the South African War of 1899 – 1902, and was a long-time president of the Canterbury Branch of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association. He became one of the largest and most successful caterers in New Zealand and founded Burke’s Catering Ltd.

In 1896 Mr. James Murphy became mine host while Burke went on to take Tattersalls Hotel, which was where the present Shades Arcade is now. In 1900 the establishment became the Shamrock Hotel, and then in 1906, under the stewardship of Mr. F W Green, it became the Excelsior Hotel and has so remained ever since. A brief but abortive attempt by a Mr. and Mrs Kwasza in the late 1970’s to alter the image entirely and rename it the Hotel International never came to fruition.

The license for the Excelsior changed hands many times over the decades, although the Irish association continued: the list of licensees includes names such as Burke, McGoverin, Murphy, Mahoney, Flynn and Galligan. Mr. Green went into partnership with William Coleclough in 1906, but the license passed to Ada Rowse in 1910, to Thomas Green in 1913, to Patrick Mahoney in 1915, and to Tom Tansey in 1918. Mr. Tansey did not get off to a good start. He was granted the license on 5 December 1918, and five days later he was convicted and fined £2 and costs for failing to close the premises when ordered to by a Public Health Officer. He seems to have survived this little contretemps, however, and retained the license until 1926.

The Excelsior Hotel is one of the small number of buildings designed by  William Barnett Armson that still survive. One of the leading commercial architects of his day, some of his other buildings include the old public library in Hereford Street (1875), the old Christchurch Boy’ High School – now the Galleria of the Arts Centre – (1879), and the elegant Venetian Renaissance building of Bells Arcade in Cashel Street (1881). The Hotel is a most outstanding example of his craft, and was built in 1881 when Mr. McGoverin held the license. It is a three storeyed building designed in the Italian palazzo style and owes much to the influence of architect Charles Barry’s Traveller’ and Reform Clubs in London, and the quality and abundance of the ornamental stuccowork is a distinctive feature of the hotel. It is a striking example of what is known as the Renaissance Revival style and is one of a small and ever decreasing number of nineteenth century hotels in largely original condition still extant in Christchurch.

The Excelsior has moved with the times and today rioting is no longer one of the many entertainments that the Hotel has to offer. Under the supervision of the current landlord, Mr. Philip Cooper, licensee since 1988 and also the owner of the building, the Excelsior has recognised the value of the City’s exploding tourist trade. Thus the accommodation of some 24 rooms has been reopened after a lapse of some twenty years as a budget hotel, and as well as the bars, the Excelsior also offers a games parlour, a bistro and a TAB.

11.           122 – 126 Manchester St.:  New Life Centre.

   The four storey building on the north east corner of Manchester and Lichfield Streets was built for theatrical producers John Fuller and Sons in 1930 as the Majestic Theatre. And majestic it truly is, having been designed in the Art Deco or Moderne style so popular in the early thirties by Allen Manson of the firm A & S Lutterell. It is now occupied by the Christian New Life Centre as a church and bookshop.

12.          219 – 225 High St. cnr Lichfield:  Former Strange’s  Building..

   Strange’s Building was built in 1899 and 1900 to a design by John Collins who was a member of the firm of Armson, Collins, and Harman, one of the two oldest architectural firms in New Zealand.  Mr Collins had studied under and served his articles with Mr Armson and his architectural style owes much to the latter.  William Strange was born in England in 1834 and at the age of 12 was apprenticed to the drapery trade at Banbury in Oxfordshire.  He emigrated to Australia and after eleven years decided to travel to New Zealand.  He arrived in Lyttelton in 1863 and soon opened a drapery shop in Christchurch in a small weatherboard building in Lichfield Street.  His business flourished and in 1894 he joined in partnership with Thomas Coverdale.  The business expanded into the fields of furniture manufacturing and sales and after 1900 the Strange’s Building was the centre of their operations.  Factories and branch offices appeared at various locations about the city in subsequent years.  The business expanded from simple drapery to become “wholesale and family drapers, merchants, manufacturers and importers”.

The Lichfield  Street premises were engaged in both furniture manufacturing and sales.  Strange and Company became well known throughout New Zealand and had a reputation for importing the very latest and most attractive of its specialist wares from their London house.  The firm was a very large employer with up to 600 people on the payroll in 1903, a large number but essential to the increasing diversity of Strange’s product range. By this time the company had expanded into the manufacture of men’s ready made attire and bespoke tailoring, as well as producing an extensive range of ladies’ skirts and blouses. The Company employed dressmakers, mantle-makers, milliners, costumiers and corsetieres, while the factory produced wooden venetian and other blinds, and manufactured wirework products for garden, domestic and farm use. The furniture factory, opposite the railway station, produced stock for the showroom.

Strange’s Building is a four-storey Italianate style building.  It has fine Oamaru stone carving and is an excellent example of a commercial style of architecture popular at the turn of the century combining the tastes of both the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  The building is currently owned by a Mr Robin Sheffield of Auckland and now includes an arcade and various retail and small business outlets.

13.          178 Cashel – Cnr Manchester:  P G G Building.

The Company of Pine, Gould, Guinness was formed in 1919 with the merger of three Stock and Station agents, namely Guinness and LeCren, Gould Beaumont and Co., and Pyne and Co. By the 1920’s it was a million dollar business and the largest Stock and Station agent in Canterbury and thus in a position to build premises appropriate to its leading position in the business community of Christchurch. The Luttrell Brothers’ practice was one of the Dominion’s leading architectural firms and thus they were approached by the Company for a new and prestigious design for a head office. The Luttrells  were leaders in the development and adaptation to New Zealand conditions of the Chicago skyscraper style that was then evolving in the United States, and in modern construction methods, being noted for their advanced technology and innovative styles.

Their design for the new P G G building was completed in 1920 and construction got under weigh forthwith. The owners took over possession upon opening in 1922 and the building has remained in their hands ever since.

This building is of reinforced concrete construction with a veneer of Sydney sandstone. It was a ground-breaking departure from the more traditional styles of the time and represents the beginning of a new era of architectural design in the City, handsomely complementing the adjacent MLC skyscraper, the former NZ Express Co. building, and is a lasting tribute to the Luttrells’ expertise and innovation.

14.          180 Manchester Street: Manchester Unity Building.

The Manchester Unity  building on the south east corner of Manchester and Worcester Streets is a 9 storey modern style building of concrete, steel and glass with suggestions of the early skyscraper design.  It was built in 1965 – 67 to a design by architect Peter Beaven and is owned by the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows.

15.          124 Worcester St.:  Former Trinity Congregational Church.

A small group of Congregationalists was formed in staunchly Anglican Christchurch in 1861.  By August of 1862 there were sufficient members to form a Congregational Society which by December of that year had acquired sufficient capital to purchase the section on the south-west corner of Manchester and Worcester Streets and plans were afoot to build a church.  Architect Samuel Farr submitted plans for the church but lack of finance delayed the building.  The first minister, a certain William Habens, arrived in January 1864 with plans for a schoolroom and a temporary church which Farr modified and which were constructed on the present site.  By 1872 this had proved to be too small and accommodation was a pressing need.  Messrs Farr, Mountfort, Armson and Lawson were engaged to prepare sketches for a new church and Mr Mountfort’s elegant design won the day.

Construction began in mid-1873 and the church was opened in January 1875.  The old school room, which was built in 1864 on the Manchester Street end of the site and which served as the first temporary church, was demolished and replaced by the present church hall in 1913.  The Congregational Church served its people well for nearly a century but over the years attendance declined.  In 1967 the Congregationalists of New Zealand joined with the Presbyterian Church, and in 1969 the Trinity Pacific Church joined with St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.  By 1973 it was clear that the parish could not support the buildings and there were grave fears that they might be demolished.  Fortunately the church was purchased and restored by the State Insurance Company and for some years  served as a venue for the performing arts.

State Insurance paid $175,000 for the building and spent a further $150,000 on renovations.  This work consisted of installing stage lighting, relocating the organ and glassing in the central porch.  The choir stalls and the minister’s podium were turned into a stage suitable for small productions and intimate theatre, and the building was reopened in November of 1975 as the State Trinity Centre.

It is currently the premises of Asian Wedding Blessings Limited who cater to the growing demand from Asians, largely Japanese, for white weddings at a reasonable price.

16.          192 – 194 Manchester St. Civic of Canterbury.

Now known as the Civic of Canterbury , this magnificent structure was opened  in 1900 as Canterbury Hall and its original purpose was to house the Jubilee Exhibition of  the Province of Canterbury, a grand display of the products and manufactures of a burgeoning and prosperous region.  Funding for the construction came from the proceeds of the 1895 Industrial Association Exhibition and from cash provided by the Canterbury A&P Association.  The buildings were designed by Messrs Clarkson and Ballantyne, the winners of a competition for the design for which ten hopefuls submitted entries. Work commenced at the beginning of 1899 with the demolition of the previous building, a house known as “The Pines” and owned by a Dr. Prins, and the completed building was handed over to the Exhibition Committee the following October.

After the Exhibition, the building was put to a number of uses, for example as a venue for the ‘gorgeous and brilliant spectacle’ of the Mayoral reception for the Duke and Duchess of York in June of 1901. The building, however, had become something of a white elephant, and the owners were hard pressed to find a commercially viable use for it: they offered it to the City Council on three separate occasions (in 1903, 1905 and 1916) but the proposals were rejected each time. The owners, the Hall Company, finally struck upon an apparently good idea and in about 1904 it was turned into a theatre complex with the 1400 seat His majesty’s Theatre below and the Alexandra and Victoria Theatres, each seating 400, on the upper storey. The Agricultural and Pastoral and the Industrial Associations (the forerunner of today’s Manufacturers’ Association) both maintained offices in the building. His Majesty’s Theatre, sadly, enjoyed only limited success and was converted into a cinema. The popularity of the theatre did increase, however when the great organ which the Government had purchased for the 1906 – 1907 Great Exhibition in Hagley Park was given a home there, being installed for an official opening in July of 1908.

In July of 1917 it became Fuller’s Vaudeville Theatre, but a disastrous fire in the November of that year reduced all but the facade to rubble . Plans for a new theatre came to nothing and in 1920 the Hall Company, now in dire financial straits, offered the derelict site to the City Council for the fourth time. The current Council Chambers – now the Information Centre on the corner of Worcester Boulevard and Oxford Terrace – were becoming increasingly cramped and the Council was looking for new premises. The derelict site seemed to fit the bill and the Council agreed to the purchase. A new building was begun under the oversight of architects Greenstreet and Anderson and the new City Council Chambers were opened on September 1, 1924 having cost a total of ·£58,858 including furnishings. A new Town Hall and a Civic Theatre were added on the southern side, behind the old facade, and these were opened March of 1928, being demolished in 1983.

The City Council moved out of the buildings in 1980 to take up residence in its present premises in Tuam Street and the building was sold to private interests. It became an up-market restaurant, the Civic Regency, which eventually went bankrupt largely as a result of the Stockmarket crash of 1987, and was subsequently sold to its present owner. It was at one stage a prospective site for the Christchurch Casino but this bid was unsuccessful. It is now a function centre, catering to private and commercial customers and offers a range of areas and services to suit almost any occasion from morning tea for twenty to formal dining  for five hundred. It is also the site of the late and much lamented Civic Bar, which many hope shall be resurrected in some form or another in the near future.

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