Friday, February 10, 2012

Knee-deep in central Christchurch history?

I have been very busy researching some early Canterbury history lately, for a very specific project (only marginally related to public transport) making regular blog postings a little more difficult during this month gone and February.

One bit of background reading I was doing is "The Early Days of Canterbury" compiled by Selwyn Bruce and published in 1932. There is still a copy available to borrow from Christchurch City Libraries. This history scanned back across the previous 80 years, I presume the author/editor was himself fairly elderly at the time.

Here is a description, page 57-58 of a facet of what is now the central business area of Christchurch - one that I have never heard described before anywhere.

It is certainly is of great interest following the great damage caused in the 10,000 earthquakes, particularly to buildings built on areas once swamp only compacted in the last few centuries or since settlers arrived or beside waterways. I quote; -

    "The large gully which ran across the grounds of St Michaels parsonage, [presumably adjoining said church on Durham Street, near Lichfield St] wound its serpentine course in a north-easterly direction across what today is the hub of the city, and carried a large body of water emptying itself into the Avon near Manchester Street. In winter time this gully resolved itself into a deep creek only negotiable by boat and one of the advertisements in an early issue of the "Lyttelton Times" invited application for the position  of ferryman across this water-laden gully, and stipulated that preference  would be given to a man of sober habits.

    Tuam Street west, therefore, developed both as business and residential areas, and many of the early early settlers erected pretentious  homes in Windmill Road (now known as Antigua Street) [and in 2012 all industrial now, north of Moorhouse Avenue]

   A son of the proprietor of the White Hart hotel [in High Street] records the fact that in order to obtain meat from the butcher, whose establishment was on on Oxford Terrace, near Cashel Street, he had to go along the eastern bank of this gully through the fern and tutu, as far as Manchester Street before he could get across the stream."

Eighty years after these words were written I thought I'd see if I can find the original ad for the ferryman in the "Lyttelton Times" (on Papers Past). As usual what you are looking for can be devishly difficult to find even with a range of keywords (but will often pop-up later while searching for something else!). Perhaps because the scan is of old, uneven, blotched (at times) 19th century type face, in my experience Papers Past will miss many keywords entered on some scans. In the event I did not find such an ad, but did find some reference to central city area gulleys ...

From the Lyttelton Times October 7 1857  - "Several contracts were let last week.  In the town of Christchurch, the contract has been let for metalling the junction of the North and Lincoln Roads, or Oxford Terrace from the Papanui Bridge to the Scotch Church [sic - St Andrews, which stood for many years opposite the Hospital at the top of Antigua Street]. This piece of road has been formed and thereby much improved, hut the metalling is necessary to give substance to the road and to obviate some of the unpleasantness of the dust which arises from the sandy soil on a windy day. The gully between Skillicorn's and Fisher's store is also to be immediately improved by being filled up.  


Both the two properties named, if being those presumed, fronted onto Hereford Street, one each side of Columbo Street. It seems either the city still had this large gully cutting crossing its centre diagonally,  or,  and I suspect more likely,  the original gully had been filled in but over time the full had compacted and sunk creating a minor gully in the Hereford Street/Colombo area ...still rather weird, but Christchurch was of course built on in an area of much swamp.

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