The light fantastic

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the use of light in Christchurch’s city streets and public spaces, from oil lamps to gas lights to electricity in the early 20th century. This week, we step out of the street and through the door into the house, where 19th century residents harnessed everything from naked flame to caged lightning (their words, not mine) to illuminate their daily lives.

In the first years of European settlement, unsurprisingly, lighting options were limited. Setters in the 1850s and early 1860s would have relied exclusively on candles and kerosene for lighting in the home. These had the advantage of being cheap, easy and portable. They also had the disadvantage of being smoky, dim, sometimes odorous and prone to setting things on fire. In a settlement largely constructed from timber, the last of these was definitely a concern.

Candles and kerosene or oil lamps weren’t just used because of a lack of alternative options, however. Even after the introduction of gas lighting into homes later in the 19th century, candles and lamps continued to be a popular method of illuminating the room, so to speak, with contemporary newspapers advertising their use well into the 20th century (Ashburton Guardian 12/05/1900: 3, Star 12/09/1896: 4). In truth, candle light is probably the form of household lighting for which we have the most archaeological evidence, in the form of candle sticks, chamber sticks and candle snuffers. Most households are likely to have had several candle sticks and/or chamber sticks, the flat circular candle holders with a handle and inbuilt snuffer holder for ease of carrying (presumably into the bedchamber, hence the name).

Candle sticks and a candle snuffer. Candle snuffers would often rest on the cone of chamber sticks (see picture below) for ease of access. Image: J. Garland.

Candle sticks and a candle snuffer. Candle snuffers would often rest on the cone of chamber sticks (see picture below) for ease of access. Image: J. Garland.

We’ve talked about the types of candles available to consumers before on the blog, from cheap tallow candles to spermaceti (or, as they are hilariously referred to sometimes, sperm candles) and stearine candles, advertised for their superior quality and bright light. The amount of light provided from each of these varied, as one would expect, but even the best stearine candle was limited in the amount of illumination that it could provide. Stearine candles were, however, the ones used as a measurement of candle power against new light forms like burning magnesium. Lights could be anything from 15-20 candle power (basic lamps) to bright light house beacons with candle power measured in the hundreds of thousands.

Advertisement for prize medal spermacetti and stearine candles from the

Advertisement for prize medal spermacetti and stearine candles from the Lyttelton Times 6/05/1863: 5.

Candles, like the candle sticks and chamber sticks in which they were displayed, also came in a variety of forms, with some attention paid to appearance. For example, one advertisement offers “plain, fluted or coloured piano and bedroom candles”, suggesting that different candles may have been used in different – perhaps public and private – parts of the house. Similarly, the candlesticks we’ve found have been both decorated and undecorated, in everything from brass to porcelain to plain old refined earthenware. In this way, as with almost every other object we use in our lives, the provision of artificial light becomes another avenue for the expression of style and status and taste within the home (as is still the case today, from modern industrial chic fittings to terrible awful 1970 glass lamp shades).

Ceramic chamber sticks or chamber candle sticks. Note the cone for the snuffer and, although they're all roughly the same shape, the differing decoration. Image: J. Garland.

Ceramic chamber sticks or chamber candle sticks. Note the cone for the snuffer and, although they’re all roughly the same shape, the differing decoration. Image: J. Garland.

The same thing is apparent with oil and kerosene lamps.  While we tend to only find the plainer lamps in the archaeological record, if we find them at all (lamp glass is thin and fragile and usually in tiny pieces by the time it gets to us), a variety of elaborate casings were available to discerning consumers. Kerosene and oil lamps, as I’m sure many of you are aware, operated by burning fuel, usually stored in a burner at the base of the lamp, through the means of a wick, either an upright or flat wick or a circular rolled wick (also known as the Argand lamp), aided by a draught from the glass chimney casing.

Both kerosene lamps and candles were used in hanging lamps, chandeliers and light fittings as well as the portable lamps and holders that we commonly find in the archaeological record.  In fact, archaeological evidence for the more elaborate lights and light fittings is scarce. I think this is probably because they were part of the furnishings of a house and a) less likely to have been broken or damaged than portable lights and b) more likely to have been refitted for gas and/or electricity later on (although we also don’t find many original light fittings in extant 19th century buildings today).

A 'finger' lamp found on a site in central Christchurch and an advertisement showing the selection of lamps available to the consumer. This is the base of a kerosene lamp that would have looked a bit like this when complete.

A ‘finger’ lamp base found on a site in central Christchurch and an advertisement showing the selection of lamps available to the consumer. The lamp would have originally had a glass chimney on the top, attached with a metal burner, looking a bit like this. Image: J. Garland, Ashburton Guardian 12/05/1900: 3.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, gas began to be used for lighting in Christchurch in the 1860s. The Christchurch Gas Company was formed in 1862, by which point “the city of Christchurch [had] attained such dimensions and density that it appears capable of supporting a Gas Factory.” The company was formed with the purpose of lighting the city, and the advantages of gas as “the cheapest and safest means of illumination yet offered to the public” were emphasised, particularly in comparison to the cost of oil and candles (Press 22/11/1862: 6). Works were carried out throughout 1863 and 1864 and by November 1864, they were giving notice that gas would be supplied to consumers by early December, aided by the work of Mr Edward Reece, who would “furnish the internal fittings.” The first use of gas lighting in a building appears to have been in late December 1864, when Coker’s Hotel, J. G. Ruddenklau’s City Hotel and a few other buildings braved “the new acquisition” (New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian 28/12/1864: 3).

Notice of the first use of gas lighting in buildings in Christchurch, given in December 1864. Image:

Notice of the first use of gas lighting in buildings in Christchurch, given in December 1864. Image:

By the 1870s and 1880s, many people were lighting their rooms with gas, piped through a meter from the mains laid down under the roads (the connection initially paid for by the Christchurch Gas Company). Public buildings were also outfitted with gas pipes and lamps, although kerosene also seems to have maintained a tenacious hold in some places: the Canterbury Provincial Chambers, although fitted with gas pipes, were still being lit with kerosene in November 1865, much to the outrage of one letter-writing citizen in the local newspaper. Interestingly, gas lighting in domestic residences is another thing that’s under-represented in the archaeological record, likely for the same reasons as the fixed oil and candle light fittings are missing. In fact, sometimes we only find indirect evidence of it, through the presence of associated architectural features like gas vents in ceilings.

Archaeological evidence for gas lighting in buildings. Top: a ceiling vent in a 19th century house. Below: one of the gas light fittings from the Canterbury Provincial Chambers. Image: F. Bradley, L. Tremlett.

Archaeological evidence for gas lighting in buildings. Top: a ceiling vent in a 19th century house. Below: one of the gas light fittings from the Canterbury Provincial Chambers. Image: F. Bradley, L. Tremlett.

Eventually gas lamps were surpassed by the “superior” electric light towards the turn of the century. By the 1910s, houses were being advertised with electric lights as a selling point, although, many homes in Christchurch (and New Zealand) continued to be lit with gas lighting until well into the 20th century. This seems to have the result of a few issues. For one, electricity was expensive, especially at the beginning, and gas was the easier and cheaper option. For another, people in the 19th century had become used to portable, easy, lights in the home and – early on, in the 1880s – electricity was neither of those things. At least one enterprising swindler took advantage of this, advertising “portable electric lamps” for the home in the mid-1880s that sounded an awful lot like oil lamps, described modestly as a “most important invention that will bring about a complete revolution in all branches of lighting” (Thames Star 26/11/1885: 1). The scheme was soon unmasked as “an unmitigated fraud and swindle” (Thames Advertiser 10/02/1886: 3).

Advertisement for the Norman Electric Company Portable light (left) and a company offering installation of electric lights in the early 20th century. Image:

Advertisement for the Norman Electric Company Portable light (left) and a company offering installation of electric lights in the early 20th century. Image: Thames Star 26/11/1885: 1Sun 13/08/1914: 2.

It brings up an interesting point though, this emphasis on the portability of light. If there’s anything that stands out to me from the progress of lighting in Christchurch, especially in the home, it’s that shift from artificial light as something personal – that people lit themselves, candle by candle or lamp by lamp, and carried with them – to something that is a fixture of the surroundings, no longer carried with a person, but always there to be switched on (as it is today).

Looking back at last week’s post, there’s also a contrast to be explored between the lighting of the public spaces of the city and the use and perception of light in the private spaces of the home, some of it to do with that same issue of portability. For the city as a community, lighting in public spaces was a question of safety and convenience, a response to the dangers of the dark, as well as a matter of civic pride and a certain standard of civilised living. The fixed street lamps, city wide gas provision, the requirement for lighting outside hotels and early attempts to adopt electricity all bear witness to this. Those same themes of pride and status are evident in the use of light in private homes, from just the ability to provide light after dark to the quality and style of lights used. The lighting of our homes and personal spaces, though, seems to me more of a convenient luxury than a mitigation of danger (although there’s an element of that as well), even in the 19th century. It is what allowed people then – and now – to live their lives outside of the constraints of sunrise and sunset, to essentially manufacture more time from the day.

Jessie Garland

References

Ashburton Guardian. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Thames Advertiser. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Thames Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Bright lights, small city

Beware the darkness, children, for there be monsters

We love to characterise the dark as something to be feared, the territory of nightmares, of ghouls and ghosts and things that go bump. In our collective psyche it belongs to the creatures on the edges of our imagination, to the sinister characters hidden within our society, to nefarious deeds carried out in the shadows. For, as one dramatic journalist puts it in 1882, “darkness is the mother of all evil.”

Not actually relevant to lighting at all, but the closest thing I could find to horrors hiding in the dark. Image: J. Garland.

Not actually relevant to lighting at all, but the closest thing I could find to horrors hiding in the dark. Image: J. Garland.

That characterisation of darkness as a home to all the bad things we can conceive of, be they real or imagined, probably has its roots in some far distant corner of our psychology, but is, I think, exaggerated now by the contrast between the dark and the near constant state of illumination in which we carry out our daily – and nightly – lives. It’s one of the things that we take for granted the most in the 21st century, our access to light wherever we are, whatever time of day it happens to be (especially those of us who live in cities). The absence of sunlight for half of our day is no longer the hindrance to our lives that it once was: it neither prevents nor restricts us from doing what we want to do after the sun has set. If anything, darkness is merely a minor inconvenience that only becomes something more when we’ve forgotten to buy light bulbs, or the power goes out, and we’re reminded that our almost permanently lives are not actually, in fact, the natural state of affairs.

The use of bright electric lights on our streets and in our homes is a relatively recent innovation, as many of you will know. Electric arc lamps were in use from the 1870s onwards, including in New Zealand where the first occasion of their use seems to have been a soccer match between Te Aro and Thorndon in Wellington (not even a rugby game, what a blow to our national identity!; Swarbrick 2012). Towards the end of the decade, Sir Joseph Swan first demonstrated his incandescent light bulb in England in 1878, followed by Thomas Edison’s long-lasting light bulb in 1879. Although other versions of the incandescent light were invented prior to this (there is a surprising amount of controversy and obfuscation out there regarding the invention of the light bulb), it wasn’t really until the late 1870s that the use of this kind of electric light became a commercially viable and practical option for illumination (Friedel and Israel 1986).

The carbon rod from an arc lamp found in Christchurch and a diagram of how arc lamps worked. If you're interested, there's more information here. Image: J. Garland

The carbon rod from an arc lamp found in Christchurch and a diagram of how arc lamps worked. If you’re interested, there’s more information here. Image: J. Garland and Scientific American 2/04/1882. 

Here in New Zealand, electric light was quickly adopted, but took a long time to gain a real foothold in many areas. The early 1880s saw a number of places demonstrate or install electric lighting, including Parliament in 1883, the Savoy Theatre in Christchurch in 1883, the Ross and Glendinning Woollen Factory in Dunedin in 1882, the Press offices in Christchurch in 1885, and Lyttelton Harbour, where a trial system of electric lighting was installed in May 1883 (Aspden 1986, Otago Daily Times 22/05/1883: 3). And of course, in 1888, Reefton became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric street lighting, powered by the Reefton power station and the nearby Inangahua River (New Zealand Herald 5/10/1888: 5).

The proposed scheme for lighting Lyttelton Harbour with electric lights in 1883. Image:

The proposed scheme for lighting Lyttelton Harbour with electric lights in 1883. Image: Star 2/02/1883: 3.

Interestingly, many of the early attempts at electric lighting in New Zealand seem to have been in Christchurch, but the streets of the city weren’t lit by the “caged lightning” until the early 20th century (although the possibility was discussed as early as 1888; Star 24/01/1888, Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 4/07/1882: 2). Before that, 19th century Christchurch was lit mostly by oil or kerosene lamps and gas lighting, although even those took a while to implement on a city wide scale. The first lamp posts of any sort weren’t erected on the city streets until 1862, for example, 12 years after the settlement was officially established. Presumably, during the intervening dozen years, people carried lights with them or just tripped over and walked into things a lot. As Te Ara puts it, “citizens regularly fell into streams and open sewers or banged into wandering stock and other obstacles”, a situation which must have been uncomfortable for both citizens and stock.

When those first lamp posts went up in Christchurch, they were filled with kerosene. Sixty-two kerosene lamps were installed in 1862, one for every year of the century (which, despite the symmetry, seems an odd way of determining the extent of your street lighting system; Anderson 1949: 90). These would be lit every night by hand: in 1864, a contractor offered to do so for the small price of 9 and a half pence per lamp per night, while in Lyttelton, in a particularly Dickensian state of affairs, the lamps were apparently cleaned and lit by “mere children” carrying a heavy ladder (Lyttelton Times 1/11/1864: 416/12/1868: 2). Unsurprisingly, no reference to cost was made in that case.

In December 1864, after much discussion in the local newspapers on the subject, the first gas lamp was lit (Anderson 1949: 88). Soon after, the remaining kerosene lamp posts were converted for gas lighting and by 1876 there were 152 gas lamps lighting the city street (Heritage New Zealand, Humphries 2012). The city would continue to be lit by gas – both inside and outside – until 1918, when the gas supply for the streets was finally turned off and electric lighting finally dominated (after decades of discussion about cost; Heritage New Zealand).

In possibly my favourite finding from all of this research, the illumination offered by these street lights – and all forms of 19th century lighting – was described in units of ‘candle-power’. In 1894, one account defends the efficacy of the street lamps in use in Wellington, describing them as fulfilling their intended “20 candle-power”, while the magnesium lighting system proposed for the Lyttelton tunnel in 1865 was described as giving a light “equal to that of 80 stearine candles” (Lyttelton Times 21/12/1865: 2).

A street sign advertising candles, including the brilliantly named "Five medal British sperm" ones. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

A street sign advertising candles, including the brilliantly named “Five medal British sperm” ones. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

The illumination of the tunnel is an excellent reminder that there were other forms of lighting available to the 19th century individual or community. The magnesium light that they used took the form of wire, burned by hand initially since they didn’t have the appropriate lamps, which gave off a “most brilliant light” and was suggested as a likely candidate “to supersede gas for lighting towns.” Other lights used or discussed during this period included arc lamps (mentioned above), acetylene lamps (introduced towards the end of the century) and variations on the typical oil or gas lamp. One Christchurch engineer, Mr J. Hadley, manufactured his own light fuelled by gas made from a combination of tallow and resinous gum, described by contemporaries as being “of excellent quality, burning steadily, without the slightest offensive odour” (Lyttelton Times 18/09/1861: 4).

The proposed scheme for lighting the Lyttelton tunnel in 1865. Image:

The proposed scheme for lighting the Lyttelton tunnel in 1865. Image: Lyttelton Times 21/12/1865: 2.

Unfortunately, there’s very little archaeological evidence of these early forms of lighting to be found. One very notable exception is the Canterbury Club gas light, as it’s known, which still stands on Cambridge Terrace outside the, you guessed it, Canterbury Club. It was erected around 1900 and, despite a small electric interlude in the 1990s (not a bad name for a band, electric interlude), continued to be lit with gas in the 21st century, which is pretty brilliant (pun intended; Heritage New Zealand). This lamp, and  the occasional arc lamp carbon rod, continues to be the only remaining physical evidence we have for public street lighting in Christchurch. Everything else we find is associated with the use of artificial light inside structures, be they public buildings or private residences, something that we’ll talk about in next week’s post.

The Canterbury Club Gas Light, still standing on Cambridge Terrace. As a side note, in the 19th century, publicans and hotel keepers were required by law to keep a light - like this one - burning outside their establishment throughout the night. There are several accounts of people being prosecuted for failing to do this, many of whom defended themselves with "I can't help it if the light goes out while I'm sleeping." Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Canterbury Club Gas Light, still standing on Cambridge Terrace. As a side note, in the 19th century, publicans and hotel keepers were required by law to keep a light – like this one – burning outside their establishment throughout the night. There are several accounts of people being prosecuted for failing to do this, many of whom defended themselves with “I can’t help it if the light goes out while I’m sleeping.” Image: Wikimedia Commons.

There’s any number of things to be said about the progress of street lighting in Christchurch, from the way it reflects the transition of the settlement from ‘swamp to city’ to the social beliefs and behaviour driving the need of the community to illuminate their public spaces (darkness is the mother of all evil, indeed). What stands out the most to me, though, is the rapidity with which the city trialled, if not implemented, the new technology (the early 1880s!) and the innovation with which individuals like Mr J. Hadley adapted that technology, even if just to find a way of making gas from tallow. As with so many other aspects of life in Christchurch (and New Zealand), to view the city as a passive recipient of new technology does a disservice to the individuals whose ideas and entrepreneurial spirit made the city what it is today.

Jessie Garland

References

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser.  [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Anderson, J. C. 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson & Williams Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Aspden, R., 1896. “Centenary of electricity in NZ – Bullendale 1886-1986. In New Zealand Engineering: The Journal of the Institution of Professional Engineers in New Zealand, Vol. 41: 5, p. 6-7.

Friedel, R. and Israel, P. 1986. Edison’s electric light: biography of an invention.  New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. pages 115–117

Humphris. A, 2012. ‘Streets and lighting – Street lighting’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/streets-and-lighting/page-5.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Otago Daily Times [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Swarbrick, N. 2012. ‘Rural services – Electricity’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] Available at www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-services/page-4

So, hair’s the thing…

As one 19th century advertisement begins, “in every civilised country throughout the world the human hair is always found to be a subject of peculiar attention.” For centuries, millenia even, we have tugged and twisted our hair into unnatural and often physically improbable shapes, sought luxury and lustre through the addition of all manner of substances and continually attempted to find a tried and true way of stopping the damn stuff from falling out.

The resulting works of art, be they hirsute, sleek or more reminiscent of a desert than a forest, have then been viewed through the discerning and often judgemental eyes of society. Your hair can mark your status, your wealth, your nationality, your personality traits, your identity, whether you want it to or not. It’s no wonder, really, that the care and maintenance of hair elicits such effort from us, is it?

With this in mind, the following images showcase some of the evidence we’ve found – archaeologically and historically – for hair care in the 19th century. Some of it is weird and wonderful, some of it was probably a bit uncomfortable, and some of it we still use today.

Just to set the scene. Note the flattering description of red-heads and the character assassination of brunettes. Image:

Just to set the scene. Note the flattering description of red-heads and the character assassination of brunettes. Image: Mataura Ensign 21/12/1899: 3.

Rowland's Macassar oil, culprit of oily hair and even oilier upholstery everywhere. Macassar oil was a hair restorative and beautifier, first introduced during the late 19th century by a barber named Alexander Rowland. It's the reason for the term 'antimacassar', which refers to the piece of fabric thrown over the top or back of arm chairs to deal with the oily residue hair-conscious people were leaving on furniture all over the place. The advertisement mentions scurf, which is another word for dandruff (I did not know this prior to this post), as well as the restoration of "whiskers, mustachios and eyebrows". How versatile! Image: J. Garland.

Rowland’s Macassar oil, perpetrator of oily hair and even oilier upholstery everywhere. Macassar oil was a hair restorative and beautifier, first introduced during the late 19th century by a barber named Alexander Rowland. It’s the reason for the term ‘antimacassar’, which refers to the piece of fabric thrown over the top or back of arm chairs to deal with the oily residue hair-conscious people were leaving on furniture all over the place. The advertisement mentions scurf, which is another word for dandruff (I did not know this prior to this post), as well as the restoration of “whiskers, mustachios and eyebrows”. How versatile! Image: New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator 18/02/1843: 1, J. Garland.

May I direct your attention to the highlighted section, in which the application of electricity to the scalp is recommended as a cure for baldness.

May I direct your attention to the highlighted section, in which the application of electricity to the scalp is recommended as a cure for baldness. In all seriousness, though, some of these (maybe not the Venetian visor thing) are still used for the hair today, particularly the use of egg as a shampoo. Image: Tuapeka Times 6/04/1889: 2.

Bear's grease

Genuine Russian Bears Grease, made from (presumably) genuine Russian bears. Bears grease derived its popular reputation for hair care from the fact that since bears were hairy, rubbing their fat on your own head would also promote the growth of hair. Don’t be too quick to laugh, I’m sure similarly ridiculous misunderstandings of cause and effect are still around today. It was initially made from actual bears, although some later versions used anything from goose grease to lard as the base of the product. To promote the authenticity of their product, some hairdressers used to keep live bears, bear skins, or something that they could pass off as bear skins in the shop windows to convince customers that their bear’s grease was totally the genuine thing. Image: J. Garland.

The Toilet

Home remedies. While some of these might sound like risky combinations of chemicals (camphor!), many of them do actually have hair care properties. Sub-carbonate of potass is potassium carbonate, used to make soaps. Camphor, used to make mothballs and other pest deterrents, as well as embalming fluid, is also an active ingredient in anti-itch gels and various medicinal products applied externally. Still, maybe don’t try these at home. Image: Daily Southern Cross 5/12/1856: 3.

Dr Frampton's Pomatum, by Price & Co., Her Majesty's Perfumers. For those with unruly hair, unhealthy hair or hair that just won't stay on the head at all. Pomatum was a common hair product during the 19th century and well into the 20th century (also known as pomade). It was usually made of a scented grease or lard and used to smooth down the hair (or moustache, presumably). Articles towards the end of the century, when the use of pomatum had become slightly less widespread, speak disparagingly of resulting "locks saturated with strongly-scented grease" (Nelson Evening Mail 19/10/1882: 4). Image: J. Garland.

Dr Frampton’s Pomatum, by Price & Co., Her Majesty’s perfumers. For those with unruly hair, unhealthy hair or hair that just won’t stay on the head at all. Pomatum was a common hair product during the 19th century and well into the 20th century (also known as pomade). It was usually made of a scented grease or lard and used to smooth down the hair (or moustache, presumably). Articles towards the end of the century, when the use of pomatum had become slightly less widespread, speak disparagingly of resulting “locks saturated with strongly-scented grease” (Grey River Argus 31/10/1882: 4). Image: J. Garland.

Erm.

Erm. Maybe also don’t try this at home. Image: Southland Times 12/02/1885: 4.

Bay rum

A Bay Rum bottle, complete with label denoting it a “refreshing and invigorating tonic for the hair.” Bay Rum became increasingly popular towards the end of the 19th century, although it was in use from much earlier. Although primarily marketed as a hair product, it was also used for a variety of other personal grooming issues, from skin beautification to the relief of tired feet. Image: J. Garland.

potato dye

Some uses for claret and potatoes that you may not have heard of before…Image: Press 31/07/1896: 2.

DSC_0285ed1

A hair comb, made from vulcanite or vulcanised rubber. Regular brushing and combing of the hair was one of the most frequent recommendations in 19th century newspapers and magazines for the encouragement of healthy hair. Not so unusual to us, this one. Image: G. Jackson.

One thing that was notably different to general hair care now was the recommended frequency of washing.

One thing that was notably different to general hair care now was the recommended frequency of washing. Most articles suggested that it be washed, at the most, once a week and recommended intervals of several weeks to a month as optimal. Shampoo was also not as integral to hair washing as it is now, with a lot of articles recommending various oil and water concoctions or simply the use of warm water. The considerations given to the health concerns of wet hair also speak to the differences between our lives now and the lives – and environment – of those in the 19th century, who did not have the luxury of heat pumps and hair dryers. Image: Auckland Star 17/03/1899: 7.

Alexander Barry's Tricopherous is probably the most common hair related artefact that we find on 19th century archaeological sites. Composes largely of alcohol and oil, it promised all manner of miracles when it came to the beauty and restoration of the hair, including the cure of baldness. It was, however, also used in place of pomatum as a far less greasy tool with which to style the hair. Image: G. Jackson.

Alexander Barry’s Tricopherous is probably the most common hair related artefact that we find on 19th century archaeological sites. Composed largely of alcohol and oil, it promised all manner of miracles when it came to the beauty and restoration of the hair, including the cure of baldness. It was, however, also used in place of pomatum as a far less greasy tool with which to style the hair. Image: G. Jackson.

less coffee more hair

To finish off, while I’m sure that “obeying the laws of health” can’t help but aid the vitality of your hair, as someone with very long hair who consumes their fair share of wine, tea and coffee, I have to say that the second paragraph is very definitely not true. Image: Star 6/02/1897: 3.

Jessie Garland 

Below the belt: part 2

Last week on the blog we introduced you to the 1881 South Belt sewer beneath Moorhouse Avenue: how it was built, how it got blocked, and how recently as part of SCIRT’s horizontal infrastructure rebuild program, their Downer delivery team and sub-contractors Donaldson Civil fixed the blockage. On this week’s blog installment, we look at what we found both above and below the sewer. Enjoy!

Whenever we dig down into the road to repair or replace damaged horizontal infrastructure we always find what I sometimes call ‘road trifle’ – but with layers of asphalt and aggregate instead of layers of custard and fruit. Actually probably more of a ‘road crème brulee’ – as out modern road surfaces, like fancy French desserts have a hard top we have to break through first. At the best of times it’s almost impossible for us to tell whether any such layers exposed in the side of such trenches are of the 19th century period – as we know that most city roads have been rebuilt many times in the past. This one had a layer of soft friable concrete below the asphalt, which was a bit different. Image: Hamish Williams

Whenever anyone digs down into a road to repair or replace damaged horizontal infrastructure we always find what I like to call ‘road trifle’ – but with layers of asphalt and aggregate instead of layers of custard and fruit. Actually probably more of a ‘road crème brulee’ – as our modern road surfaces (like fancy French desserts) have a hard top to break through first. At the best of times it’s almost impossible to tell whether any such layers exposed in the side of trenches are of the 19th century period, as we know that most city roads have been rebuilt many times in the past. This one had a layer of soft friable concrete below the asphalt, which was a bit different. Image: Hamish Williams.

They didn’t have any mechanical excavators back in 1881, which means that the Drainage Board contractors had to dig the sewer trench by hand, using pick, spade, and shovel. As well as digging, they also had to do cutting – we found mixed in with the clay as backfilled atop the sewer lots of monster sized tree stumps and tree roots with saw cut ends. You can see some of these bits of stumps at the left of this photo. It’s not uncommon for us to find evidence of prehistoric swamp vegetation well preserved in the anaerobic clay at great depth below the city. Image: Hamish Williams.

They didn’t have any mechanical excavators back in 1881, which means that the Drainage Board contractors had to dig the sewer trench by hand, using pick, spade, and shovel. As well as digging, they also had to do cutting – we found lots of monster-sized tree stumps and tree roots with saw-cut ends mixed in with clay that had been used to backfill the sewer after construction. You can see some of these bits of stumps at the left of this photo. It’s not uncommon for us to find evidence of prehistoric swamp vegetation well preserved in the anaerobic clay at great depth below the city. Image: Hamish Williams.

We didn’t find much by way of artefacts in the backfill atop the sewer, with the exception of broken taper bricks. These bricks had evidently fractured because of the large clinkerous inclusions contained within. Useless for construction, they had been left by the bricklayer aside the crown arch.  Image: Hamish Williams

We didn’t find much in the way of artefacts in the backfill atop the sewer, with the exception of broken taper bricks. These bricks had evidently fractured because of the large clinkerous inclusions contained within. Useless for construction, they were apparently left by the bricklayer beside the crown arch. Image: Hamish Williams.

Found in close association with these broken taper bricks was a small red pebble with an attractive white stripe. This is by definition not an artefact (it was not made or modified by humans) but is a manuport (it is a natural object transported from its original location and is otherwise unmodified). This pretty pebble I reckon must have been picked up somewhere by one of the sewer gang boys back in the day before it was lost on the job, maybe falling out a pocket.  I can’t think that such an awesome find would have been deliberately discarded, unless perhaps the peer pressure of a ‘manly man’ on the sewer gang who collects pretty pebbles in his spare time was a contributing factor? Archaeology can never answer such questions for us – but it’s nice to ponder them all the same. Image: Hamish Williams

Found in close association with these broken taper bricks was a small red pebble with an attractive white stripe. This is by definition not an artefact (it was not made or modified by humans) but is a manuport (it is a natural object transported from its original location and is otherwise unmodified). I reckon this pretty pebble must have been picked up somewhere by one of the sewer gang boys back in the day before it was lost on the job, maybe falling out of a pocket. I can’t think that such an awesome find would have been deliberately discarded, unless perhaps the peer pressure of a ‘manly man’ on the sewer gang who collects pretty pebbles in his spare time was a contributing factor? Archaeology can never answer such questions for us – but it’s nice to ponder them all the same. Image: Hamish Williams.

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I thought that perhaps at depth we would find in situ 19th century trench shoring timbers, which would have had to have had to have been put in place to stop the sides of the trench collapsing (today we mostly use steel trench shields, but if we have to go super deep, sometimes interlocking sheet piles). This was not to be however, but we did find in the outer faces of the concrete sewer invert the casts from where these would have once been. 200 mm x 100mm timber set some 200 mm apart were evidently used to support the walls of the trench. These had been pulled out and presumably used to line the next stretch while the concrete was still wet. Images: Hamish Williams.

I thought that perhaps at depth we would find in situ 19th century trench shoring timbers, which would have been put in place to stop the sides of the trench collapsing (today we mostly use steel trench shields, but the work has to go super deep, sometimes interlocking sheet piles). This was not to be, but we did find the casts from where these would have once been in the outer faces of the concrete sewer invert. Pieces of 200 mm x 100 mm timber set some 200 mm apart were evidently used to support the walls of the trench. These had been pulled out and presumably used to line the next stretch while the concrete was still wet. Images: Hamish Williams.

Working in an area with a high water table was a challenge while we were working on fixing the sewer, even though we had dewatering system of pumps set up to make our subterranean works area as dry as possible. How did they manage this back in the day when they built the sewer? Evidently with some difficulty – at the start of construction, the Drainage Board reported that the [sewer] works on the South Belt are in very troublesome ground, with much water and running sand, and the progress is consequently slow (Press 22.2.1881:3). They had pumps, yes, but these coal powered steam driven pumping devices were probably not as effective as the diesel powered pumps we have available today. They were clever however – first installing a line of earthenware pipes within a smaller gravel filled trench, which we hope would have removed a great deal of the water away from where they were pouring concrete and laying bricks – presumably to a pumping collection point further down the trench line. You can just make out this 19th century dewatering system in place below the concrete invert in this photo. Image: Pieter White.

Working in an area with a high water table was a challenge while working on fixing the sewer, even though there was a dewatering system of pumps set up to make the subterranean works area as dry as possible. How did they manage this back in the day when they built the sewer? Evidently with some difficulty – at the start of construction, the Drainage Board reported that “the [sewer] works on the South Belt are in very troublesome ground, with much water and running sand, and the progress is consequently slow” (Press 22/2/1881:3). They had pumps, yes, but these coal-powered steam-driven pumping devices were probably not as effective as the diesel powered pumps we have available today. They were clever, however – first installing a line of earthenware pipes within a smaller gravel filled trench, which we hope would have removed a great deal of the water away from where they were pouring concrete and laying bricks – presumably to a pumping collection point further down the trench line. You can just make out this 19th century dewatering system in place below the concrete invert in this photo. Image: Pieter White.

Not surprisingly, when we removed one of these pipes it was choked with liquefaction silt. Image: Hamish Williams.

Not surprisingly, when one of these pipes was removed SCIRT found that it was choked with liquefaction silt. Image: Hamish Williams.

A very happy Ty Laskey from Donaldson Civil with one of these earthenware dewatering pipes we managed to recover intact. Unlike earthenware pipes for sewerage applications which are always glazed, these particular pipes were unglazed, and had been laid dry; that is to say without any cement mortar between the individual pipes to allow for the free infiltration of water. Image: Hamish Williams.

A very happy Ty Laskey from Donaldson Civil with one of these earthenware dewatering pipes that was recovered intact. Unlike earthenware pipes for sewerage applications, which are always glazed, these particular pipes were unglazed, and had been laid dry; that is to say without any cement mortar between the individual pipes to allow for the free infiltration of water. Image: Hamish Williams.

Many thanks to SCIRT,  Downer and Donaldson Civil for a job well done, and especially to Moorhouse Avenue businesses and motorists for their patience while SCIRT has been working on fixing this and other damaged horizontal infrastructure in the area.

Hamish Williams

Below the belt: part 1

This week on the blog we take you on a journey down the South Belt sewer, one of Christchurch’s many 19th century wastewater sewers. Located deep below the east-bound lane of Moorhouse Avenue and more than a kilometre in length, construction of this sewer began in 1881 and was completed in early 1882. Recently, as part of SCIRT’s horizontal infrastructure rebuild program, their Downer delivery team and sub-contractors Donaldson Civil replaced a 30 metre long upstream section of this sewer where a blockage had occurred. In this part 1 of a 2 part sewer archaeology special – we look at how this sewer was built, how it got blocked, and how it got fixed. Enjoy!

Before we got digging, we put a sewer inspection robot down into the sewer, the footage it recorded helped us to determine the location of the blockage, and thus where to dig. Image: Hamish Williams.

Before the digging started, the crew put a sewer inspection robot down into the sewer. The footage it recorded helped to determine the location of the blockage, and thus where to dig. Image: Hamish Williams.

We dug down more than 2.5 metres to reach the brick crown arch, downstream of the blockage location. It was neat to see a thin smear of cement mortar had been applied to the top of the arch – where the bricklayer more than 130 years ago had cleaned off his trowel. Image: Hamish Williams.

The team dug down more than 2.5 metres to reach the brick crown arch, downstream of the blockage location. It was neat to see a thin smear of cement mortar had been applied to the top of the arch – where the bricklayer more than 130 years ago had cleaned off his trowel. Image: Hamish Williams.

Using a concrete saw, we cut through the crown arch...Image: Hamish Williams.

Using a concrete saw, they cut through the crown arch…

...and were most surprised to find a 30+ metre long sewer snake trapped inside! This snake (actually a high pressure sewer cleaning jet) had got stuck some time ago while trying to swim upstream. There was no flow in the sewer at all, only 60 mm of stinky sewage water. Images: Hamish Williams.

…and were most surprised to find a 30+ metre long sewer snake trapped inside! This snake (actually a high pressure sewer cleaning jet) had got stuck some time ago while trying to swim upstream. There was no flow in the sewer at all, only 60 mm of stinky sewage water. Images: Hamish Williams.

Of an oviform or ‘egg’ shape, the base of the sewer (that’s what the invert is called in pipelaying speak) was made of unreinforced concrete. The upper crown arch was formed of specially shaped taper bricks, 13 of which were required to span the arch. In the photo on the left you can see the resin impregnated fabric liner that was installed inside the sewer circa 2009, and at right one of engineer William Clark’s original 1878 oviform sewer design drawings. The sewerage system that he designed for the Christchurch Drainage Board became fully operational in early September 1882, and many parts of this system are still in use today. Images: (at left) Hamish Williams and at right, after Clark (1878) Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs.

Of an oviform or ‘egg’ shape, the base of the sewer (that’s what the invert is called in pipelaying speak) was made of unreinforced concrete. The upper crown arch was formed of specially shaped taper bricks, 13 of which were required to span the arch. In the photo on the left you can see the resin impregnated fabric liner that was installed inside the sewer circa 2009, and at right one of engineer William Clark’s original 1878 oviform sewer design drawings. The sewerage system that he designed for the Christchurch Drainage Board became fully operational in early September 1882, and many parts of this system are still in use today. Images: (left) Hamish Williams, (right) after Clark (1878) Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs.

A section of this liner was cut out and used as a mould to custom make two PVC plastic transition pieces, as we were replacing the damaged section of sewer with pipe of a circular shape. Image: Hamish Williams.

A section of this liner was cut out and used as a mould to custom make two PVC plastic transition pieces, as the damaged section of sewer was replaced with pipe of a circular shape. Image: Hamish Williams.

A special wire cutting saw was brought in to make a clean cut through the sewer, so we could firmly fix the downstream transition piece to it, before this join was encased in reinforced concrete. Future archaeologists should have no issues determining when this concrete was poured! Images: Kane Reihana (at left) and Hamish Williams (at right).

A special wire cutting saw was brought in to make a clean cut through the sewer, so the downstream transition piece could be firmly fixed to it, before this join was encased in reinforced concrete. Future archaeologists should have no issues determining when this concrete was poured! Images: (left) Kane Reihana and (right) Hamish Williams.

When we got to the blockage, our suspicions about the cause of the blockage were confirmed. Although the sewer itself had not suffered any form of structural collapse, liquefaction silt had entered the sewer through cracks in the brickwork and had constricted the liner, blocking the flow of sewage. Images: Kane Reihana (at left) and Hamish Williams (at right).

When the blockage was reached, suspicions about the cause of the blockage were confirmed. Although the sewer itself had not suffered any form of structural collapse, liquefaction silt had entered the sewer through cracks in the brickwork and had constricted the liner, blocking the flow of sewage. Images: (left) Kane Reihana  and (right) Hamish Williams.

Ben McConochie fits the upstream transition piece in place with epoxy mortar before the concrete is poured. Image: Hamish Williams.

Ben McConochie fits the upstream transition piece in place with epoxy mortar before the concrete is poured. Image: Hamish Williams.

All done! Image: Hamish Williams.

All done! Image: Hamish Williams.

Many thanks to SCIRT, Downer and Donaldson Civil for a job well done, and especially to Moorhouse Avenue businesses and motorists for their patience while SCIRT has been working on fixing this and other damaged horizontal infrastructure in the area.

Hamish Williams.