The sad story of the secret staircase

The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.

A house with a sad secret. Image: P. Mitchell.

What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?

A cupboard in the wall? Image: P. Mitchell.

Perhaps. Image: P. Mitchell.

Or perhaps not. Image: P. Mitchell.

There be stairs. Image: P. Mitchell.

The floor of the nursery looks a bit suspicious. Image: P. Mitchell.

Archaeological investigation. Image: P. Mitchell.

More questions than answers. Image: P. Mitchell.

The difference in wall lining is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

The other side of the wall. The upright timber is a clue. Image: P. Mitchell.

This notch in the upright timber indicates that it was part of a door frame. Image: P. Mitchell.

With various holes cut in the wall the picture becomes clearer. The red dotted line outlines the doorway. Image: P. Mitchell.

Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’

When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.

Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).

By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.

In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.

This is the ‘secret staircase’.

Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.

Peter Mitchell

References

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.

LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].

Piles, bones and marbles: what was under the Godleys’ house?

Way back in the winter of 2012, at the height of the post-earthquake demolition, I was pretty excited to learn we were going to get the chance to investigate the site of John and Charlotte Godley’s house in Lyttelton. John was a prominent figure in the Canterbury Association, the young settlement’s Chief Agent and is often regarded as one of Canterbury’s founding fathers. Charlotte was his wife and the author of a fantastic volume of letters that record so much detail about life in the new settlement and – importantly for this tale – the house they lived in. And then there was Arthur Godley, their son, born in 1847.

John Robert Godley. Image: Wikipedia.

The house was built for the Godleys in late 1849/early 1850, by the advance party of Canterbury Association surveyors sent to carry out some of the ground work to establish the colony. The house was ready for occupation when the Godleys arrived in Lyttelton in April 1850, although the Godleys only stayed a few days before travelling to Wellington to await the arrival of the first Canterbury Association ships. John Robert Godley later recorded that “after seeing it, we could not help laughing at our own anticipation of a shed on a bare beach with a fire at the door”, while Charlotte thought the house to be “…the best looking house we have yet seen in New Zealand”, and she particularly admired the “… kind of pantry” (Amodeo 2003: 117).

Charlotte Godley, 1877. Image: Wikipedia.

The house might have looked good, but the practicalities of living in it were trying, as Charlotte was to discover when the family returned to the house in December 1850: both dust and rain came in through the walls, depending on the weather. Charlotte records one sleepless night when the wind howled all night and the house creaked like a ship. She rose in the morning to find the inside of the house covered in dust, including all the furniture and all her dresses. The rain that seeped in through the poorly lined walls caused the drawing room wallpaper to come unstuck (Godley 1951: 170, 191). This anecdote’s a great one, because it tells us that (a) the house had wallpaper – in early 1850s Lyttelton! – and (b) that it had a drawing room. Historical records tell us that the house had six rooms (although it’s worth noting that Victorian room counts often didn’t include halls, pantries and/or similar service rooms), but don’t list what these were.

Lyttelton, with Immigrants’ Barracks and settlers’ houses, 1852? Frederick Aloysius Weld, 1823-1891. Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference number: B-139-004. The Godleys’ house is the building with three gables in the middle of the picture.

In spite of the “kind of pantry”, meat did not last well in the house, lasting on average two days before going off (Godley 1951: 155). This wasn’t really anything to do with this particular house, it was more about life in the 19th century… but it is relevant to this story. For John and Charlotte’s position in Canterbury meant that they entertained very regularly, hosting tea parties nearly every evening in December 1850 (Godley 1951: 153, 155, 161). And then there were the guests who stayed the night – or several nights, leading Charlotte to refer to John’s dressing room (yes, a dressing room! More on that in a moment), as “the spare room of Lyttelton” (Godley 1951: 172).

So, the dressing room, which seems fairly extraordinary to me in Lyttelton in the early 1850s. But John was an important man in the colony, and perhaps his status was such that a dressing room may have been required. I also wonder if the dressing room functioned as a study/office for John. When he got the chance to use it. Early in 1851, there was a plan to turn it into a dining room (Godley 1951: 153) – indicating both that the house didn’t already have one (perhaps guests ate in the kitchen or the drawing room?) and that the dressing room was of a decent size. Whether or not it ever became a dining room isn’t clear – there may not have been the opportunity, given how frequently it was used as a bedroom.

The dressing room wasn’t the only room to have been used as a bedroom – in August 1851 the bathroom was converted into a bedroom for a visiting Canterbury Association official (Godley 1951: 226). Perhaps John had finally put his foot down about the use of dressing room as a bedroom? The presence of a bathroom is also intriguing. Clearly the house didn’t have any running water, although a well was dug specially for it (Amodeo 2003: 116). The bathroom may have contained a bath or even a commode.

In terms of the other rooms in the house, Charlotte records the presence of a kitchen in the house, although the initial one must have been somewhat unsatisfactory, as Charlotte referred to a new kitchen in March 1851, complete with stove and “refractory chimney” (Godley 1951: 184). We know, too, that Charlotte and John had a bedroom in the house, as did young Arthur – the three seemed to alternate between sleeping up and downstairs. We know the Godleys had servants, and it’s possible that a servant may have lived in too. But perhaps the most interesting use of a room in the house was as the Lyttelton library, which started operation here in June 1851 (Burgess 2009: Appendix 4).

When it came time to do the archaeological work on the site, I really wasn’t sure what we’d find. Or, indeed, if we’d find anything related to the c.1850 building. But we did! Lots and lots of piles, and some pile holes: brick piles, timber piles and stone piles, specifically. The house sat on timber piles (identified as mātai and kōwhai) and its verandahs – on the north and west elevations – sat on stone piles. This is interesting, because it wasn’t long before houses in Christchurch and Lyttelton were supported by stone piles, stone being a much more readily available material than timber. The other intriguing feature found under the house was a mysterious brick pit…

Underneath the Godleys’ house. Image: G. Gedson.

We’ve no idea what this was used for, or even how old it was – it certainly predated the 1943 building constructed where the Godleys’ house had stood, but this feature was able to remain in situ and so we didn’t get to look at the bricks it was made from. One of the notable things about this feature was that it contained lots of animal bones, almost all of which was bird bone and all of which is likely to have been food waste. The bones were from at least two domestic ducks and at least one brown teal duck. The brown teal duck must pre-date the 1900s, as it gradually disappeared from the South Island prior to this date (Williams and Dumbell 1996). So, perhaps food from the Godleys’ table? There’s no way of knowing.

The mysterious brick pit, found at the rear of the house. Image: G. Gedson.

Amongst the other intriguing artefacts from under the house were several marbles, which were found scattered on the ground surface, and in some of the pile holes. Marbles aren’t uncommon on archaeological sites (see here for more information), but finding eight is. Half of these were lying on the surface under the 1943 building and the other half were in the piles holes. Realistically, given the nature of marbles – small round things designed to roll – these could have been deposited at any time from the house’s construction until the site was built on again following its demolition. So, sadly, we can’t say that young Arthur Godley was playing with these marbles, but nor can we entirely discount the possibility (although some of the types found date to the later part of the 19th century, so he definitely wasn’t playing with those ones).

Marbles! Image: J. Garland & L. Dawson.

We found a range of other artefacts at the site, too, most of which was the normal detritus of mid-late 19th century European life in Canterbury. Nothing, regrettably, that could be associated directly with the Godleys. But we only looked at part of the site, and it is possible that more remains outside the footprint of the area we excavated. And possibly the best outcome of this project is that the piles – and the mystery brick feature – have been preserved in situ for the future. And for me, the site provided a great opportunity to explore the lives of John and Charlotte Godley, leading me to Charlotte’s wonderful letters and to a wealth of information about life in Lyttelton at the beginning of the European settlement.

Katharine Watson & Kirsa Webb

References

Amodeo, C., 2003. Forgotten Forty-Niners: being an account of the men & women who paved the way in 1849 for the Canterbury Pilgrims in 1850. The Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Burgess, R., 2009. Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Registration report for a historic area (Volume 2). Unpublished report for the New Zealand Historic Places Pouhere Taonga.

Godley, C., 1951. Letters from Early New Zealand. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch.

Williams, M. and Dumbell, G. 1996. Brown teal (pateke) Anas chlorotis recovery plan. Threatened Species Recovery Plan No 19. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

2016: It’s the end of the year as we know it

The end of year is upon us again, and Underground Overground Archaeology is closing the boxes on our finds for the year.

The year we finished up our Christmas party with a scavenger hunt around the central city using cryptic clues to revisit spots important to the city and to Underground Overground. It seems archaeologists can’t help but constantly revisit the past, be it their own or others, and with that in mind it’s time to look back on the year that’s been.

2016 has been another busy one, and it feels like we’ve done even more archaeology than normal, thanks to that bloody leap day in February. Here’s a few highlights from the year that’s been.

Luke records remnant 19th century wharf material in Lyttelton Harbour. Image Angel Trendafilov.

Luke records remnant 19th century wharf material in Lyttelton Harbour. The green-ness of the water is due to it being shipped in from the Rio Olympics (Deep dive! Remember the Olympics? That was this year!) Image Angel Trendafilov.

Kirsa did some helicopter survey of mining sites on the West Coast. For Kirsa, it was a chance to see what people had been hiding from her on the top shelf.

Kirsa did some helicopter survey of mining sites on the West Coast. For Kirsa, it was a chance to see what people had been hiding from her on the top shelf.

Annthalina and Francesca do some buildings archaeology. After serving several back-to-back sentences in the scaffolding, they were eventually acquitted on the grounds that scaffolding jail is not a real thing. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Annthalina and Francesca do some buildings archaeology. After serving several back-to-back sentences in the scaffolding, they were eventually acquitted on the grounds that scaffolding jail is not a real thing. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

Megan, Shana, Angel and Kirsa excavate a number of brick floor and rubbish features in the central city. Image: Hamish Williams

Megan, Shana, Angel and Kirsa excavate a number of brick floor and rubbish features in the central city. Image: Hamish Williams.

The occasional fashion accessory for archaeologists. Chelsea and Peter celebrate exposing a brick floor in the central city. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

The occasional fashion accessory for archaeologists. Chelsea and Peter celebrate exposing a brick floor in the central city. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

A rubbish pit of scrap metal at a foundry site exposed in section. My doctor says I don’t get enough iron in my diet, so I ate a bunch of those cogs. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Curb your enthusiasm. An alignment of basalt stones associated with an 1870s grain storage warehouse building on St Asaph Street. and a 4 legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

Curb your enthusiasm. An alignment of basalt stones associated with an 1870s grain storage warehouse building on St Asaph Street. and a 4 legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

This year we’ve stayed busy with exhibitions and presentations, including Christchurch Heritage Week, conferences for the New Zealand Archaeological Association, the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeologists, and the Society of Historical Archaeology in the United States. Members of the team were involved with filming of Heritage Rescue and The New Zealand Home television shows, and of course Under Over alumni Matt Carter has graced the cast of Coast New Zealand.

Katharine, along with Billie Lythberg and Brigid Gallagher (Heritage Rescue) filming the opening of our combined exhibition ‘Buried Treasures’ for the Heritage Rescue TV show. Image: Jessie Garland.

Katharine, along with Billie Lythberg and Brigid Gallagher (Heritage Rescue) filming the opening of our combined exhibition ‘Buried Treasures’ for the Heritage Rescue TV show. Image: Jessie Garland.

“Let’s Dig”. Luke, Kirsa, and Megan set up a mock excavation for the young ones as part of Christchurch Heritage Week. Megan wields a sawn-off shovel, easily concealed, from her time as an undercover archaeologist in the former Soviet Union. Probably shouldn’t have posted that on the internet. Run, Megan! Russian hackers are on their way! Image: Jessie Garland.

“Let’s Dig”. Luke, Kirsa, and Megan set up a mock excavation for the young ones as part of Christchurch Heritage Week. Megan wields a sawn-off shovel, easily concealed, from her time as an undercover archaeologist in the former Soviet Union. Probably shouldn’t have posted that on the internet. Run, Megan! Russian hackers are on their way! Image: Jessie Garland.

Peter, Shana, and Jamie excavate a series of umu near Belfast used by Māori in the 15th century. This photo also happens be a magic eye. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Peter, Shana, and Jamie excavate a series of umu near Belfast used by Māori in the 15th century. This photo also happens be a magic eye. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Luke and Angel excavate and record a 19th century sea wall cut into a Māori midden and cultural layer from around the 17th century. The scaffolding above them would later be set up as a lighting rig for their two man show: West Trench Profile.

Luke and Angel excavate and record a 19th century sea wall cut into a Māori midden and cultural layer from around the 17th century. The scaffolding above them would later be set up as a lighting rig for their two man show: West Trench Profile.

During the 30 degree heat of summer, a Fulton Hogan crew built Teri a sun-shade.

During the 30 degree heat of summer, a Fulton Hogan crew built Teri a sun-shade.

This year Matt and Luke entered a house early one morning to record it, only to find the front room still occupied with sleeping squatters, and unexplained bloodstained clothing. The remainder of the graffiti can’t be shown here, but at least you can tell that they loved each other very much. Image: Matt Hennessey.

Archaeology-themed cookies made by the team for International Day of Archaeology. You are what you eat they say. Some of us are willow pattern ceramics. Image: Jessie Garland.

Archaeology-themed cookies made by the team for International Day of Archaeology. You are what you eat they say. Some of us are willow pattern ceramics. Image: Jessie Garland.

For the domestic gods and goddesses out there, how about a charcoal laundry iron, or a sewing machine for Christmas. Yes, the sewing machine does say Ballantynes!

For the domestic gods and goddesses out there, how about a charcoal laundry iron, or a sewing machine for Christmas. Yes, the sewing machine does say Ballantynes!

Lock, stock, and MANY smoking barrels! The hand gun on the left speaks for itself, the picture on the right is a pile of gun barrels from rifles and double barrel shotguns!

Lock, stock, and MANY smoking barrels! The hand gun on the left speaks for itself, the picture on the right is a pile of gun barrels from rifles and double barrel shotguns!

We could all do with a few more of these around this time of year! Here is a shiny British Empire penny from 1863, and a token for Jones & Williams wholesale and retail grocers, Dunedin. This duo was in business together as wine, spirit and provisions merchants from c. 1858 until 1865.

We could all do with a few more of these around this time of year! Here is a shiny British Empire penny from 1863, and a token for Jones & Williams wholesale and retail grocers, Dunedin. This duo was in business together as wine, spirit and provisions merchants from c. 1858 until 1865.

Treasures from the walls AND from the ground! The top photo shows a Book of Common Prayer - found between the walls of a local church. On the left you can see a personal handwritten note, dated 1862. The picture below displays the remains of a horse yoke – mid excavation. This apparatus may have been used to hitch a horse to a carriage or plough.

Treasures from the walls AND from the ground! The top photo shows a Book of Common Prayer – found between the walls of a local church. On the left you can see a personal handwritten note, dated 1862. The picture below displays the remains of a horse yoke – mid excavation. This apparatus may have been used to hitch a horse to a carriage or plough.

More of the best and brightest!

More of the best and brightest!

Work is hard sometimes, but fortunately I’m lucky to work with great people who make me laugh.

Self-dubbed A-team, winners of this year’s Christmas party scavenger hunt. As they say, many Shands make light work.

Self-dubbed A-team, winners of this year’s Christmas party scavenger hunt. As they say, many Shands make light work.

One of Luke’s highlights for the year was recording at the LPC dry dock. It just so happened that dock master Hal (a real cool dude) had to flood the dock at that time, and Kirsa and Luke got the opportunity to be on the caisson (gate) when Hal opened the taps. You can tell from Kirsa’s face that it was pretty darn exciting. Image: Luke Tremlett

One of Luke’s highlights for the year was recording at the LPC dry dock. It just so happened that dock master Hal (a real cool dude) had to flood the dock at that time, and Kirsa and Luke got the opportunity to be on the caisson (gate) when Hal opened the taps. You can tell from Kirsa’s face that it was pretty darn exciting. Image: Luke Tremlett.

Angel and Hamish. Entered without comment.

Angel and Hamish. Entered without comment.

It’s time for us to tap out for the year, and leave you all till January. Time to kick back, grab a cold beverage, and put our feet up.

You can tell Pete is still working, because there’s a laser measure in his hand. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

You can tell Pete is still working, because there’s a laser measure in his hand. Image: Annthalina Gibson.

The blog will return in February next year. Thanks again for joining on our journey down the rabbit hole of the past. We really appreciate you tuning in and hope you enjoy the holidays. From all of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

everyone

Born again Baptist bargain barn

Who would have thought a Bin Inn could have such a sacred past?

We definitely didn’t see the potential when we first arrived on site. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

But as is usually the case with archaeology, once the layers are peeled back, an entirely different story starts unveiling itself.

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The former 1940s Wholesale Groceries (CH.CH.) Ltd store, revealing a rather holy facade. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

In its glory days this bargain Bin Inn was in fact the sacred church of the Spreydon Baptist Church congregation. Back in 1880 the growth of the congregation’s membership called for a larger church to be built. The new church, seating 100 people, opened its doors in November 1881 (Burdon 2015: 8).

The congregation’s old church, built in 1867, was also moved to the site and by 1894 a school and minister’s house were also located on the 1 acre property (Star 7/8/1894: 3). However, by 1898 the church school was deemed inadequate, and the church building was in need of alterations and repairs. Christchurch architect Arthur Chidgey was contracted to design a new, larger classroom. A somewhat simple fix to improving the building’s condition was to rotate the church so that the entrance faced northwest, towards the road. It was also during this period that a new Gothic porch and front windows were added, as well as the infant room extended off the southwest elevation (Press 29/10/1898: 7).

The 1881 Baptist church showing the relocated older church on the left, and the 1898 infant room extended to the right of the church. Image courtesy of M. Ballantine.

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The curved ceiling of the original church exposed during demolition. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016

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Northeast elevation of church, showing the location of the original windows, which had been removed. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

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Northwest elevation of church, showing where the old schoolroom and 1898 infants’ room were once attached to the church by a lobby. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

During the foundation removal, we bizarrely came across two foundations stones, one dating from 1881 when the church was built, and the other from 1898 when the church was rotated. A historical newspaper article explained that Thomas Dixon relaid the foundation stone on 15 September 1898 to mark the commencement of these radical alterations to the church (Press 16/9/1898: 4).

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Foundation stone laid when the church was constructed. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

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The 1898 re-laid foundation stone found at the west end of northwest elevation’s foundations. Photo: P. Mitchell, 2016.

On the morning of 1 January 1904, a fire broke out at the church, completely destroying the men’s social club room located in the lean-to added in 1898 (Press 2/1/1904: 10).

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Southeast elevation of church showing evidence of the 1904 fire damage. Image: P. Mitchell, 2016.

In the early 20th century church membership began declining, and by 1947 the Canterbury Baptist Association recommended that a union be formed between the Lincoln Road church and the Lyttelton Street Baptist Church. In 1948 a new combined Spreydon Baptist Church was built and the decommissioned old Baptist church began it’s second life as a discounted grocers (Ward 2004: 4-5).

Francesca Bradley & Peter Mitchell

Sources

Burdon, M., 2015. “Old Addington: The Baptist Church”. Addington Times, July 2015: 8.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Ward, K., 2004. “Against the Tide: Spreydon Baptist Church 1960 to 2000”. New Zealand Journal of Baptist Research 9: 1-50.

Making sense of it all

It is interesting to consider how we are influenced by an intangible map of our senses and emotions tied to our place in the world. We pay little attention to how we feel walking around a familiar neighbourhood, looking at an iconic heritage building in town, or going to a public event. Yet on any given day these experiences can be very different for each person. Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog post: phenomenology and heritage. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but bear with me, I shall explain.

We often take for granted how we easily navigate through the city. We know to walk on the pavement, where to park our cars, the correct entry and exit points in a building. We practice our manners and courtesies and grumble when others make social faux pas. We live in this environment, entertaining, navigating and living in and around buildings without so much as a second thought. Phenomenology is the study of how we understand and interact with our environment. It has its origins in the study of philosophy. Philosophers Kant, Husserl and Heidegger first defined and elaborated on the subject, and it has been expanded upon through many other studies. For more (light) reading on this, have a look at Wells’ website on phenomenology, which gives a very concise run down on a very heady subject.

If we were to think about the identity of Christchurch, words which spring to my mind are as follows English, earthquakes, gardens, heritage and traffic (Figure 1). Some of you might agree with them instantly, or disagree entirely, but how did I form this vision of Christchurch? My experience is based on my knowledge of history and stories, my activities and memories created here, and assumptions formulated in my youth. This personal memory bank (without delving into the psychological theory of memories) influences the decisions I make, both consciously and unconsciously.

By Roger Wong from Hobart, Australia (20100130-07-Christchurch Cathedral Square panorama) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 1. Panorama of Cathedral Square, prior to the earthquakes. Photograph by Roger Wong, via Wikimedia Commons

My interest is in how people interact with heritage spaces and buildings, particularly how we interpret these spaces when we visit and participate in activities within them. My experience is different to yours, his, hers and theirs. It is this idea of experience and interpretation that feeds into phenomenological studies. Heritage buildings can be controversial (see the cathedral). They are seen through many different lenses and different eyes. People want them propped up, or torn down, others couldn’t care less about them. This begs many questions: Are heritage buildings relevant, vibrant community spaces? Are they mere sad relics of a by-gone era? White elephants in a world of progress? What is the point in keeping them? What do they say to people? Can everyone read them?

In Christchurch and wider New Zealand, gothic architecture is an indicator of local and national identity. Where heritage buildings are preserved, there is an emphasis on identity and community, based on the idea that these buildings reflect where we came from and form a picture of the place. The Arts Centre (as it is now known) is a collection of buildings constructed between 1877 and 1965 to house the educational sector of Christchurch, including the University College, the boy’s and girl’s schools, and the music and arts colleges (Figure 2, Figure 3). This was the primary campus for education before the university was relocated to Ilam in the 1970s.

Figure 2. The Great Hall prior to the earthquakes. Photograph by Greg O'Beirne (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 2. The Great Hall prior to the earthquakes. Photograph by Greg O’Beirne (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons.

Bgabel at wikivoyage shared [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 3. The School of Art, prior to the earthquakes. Image: Bgabel at wikivoyage, via Wikimedia Commons

We have been involved with monitoring the strengthening and restoration project at the Arts Centre for several years. During our most recent work at the Arts Centre we found the remains of the ‘Tin Shed’ as it was nicknamed – the first science building constructed in Christchurch, built for the chemistry department, (Figure 5, Figure 6, Figure 7). The building was demolished in 1916, and it has largely been forgotten in history, except for a fleeting connection to Ernest Rutherford – who spent his formative years studying chemistry in the building. When we were recording the remaining piles and external foundations, I began to wonder – what do we value when it comes to our history? The archaeology in question was mostly removed, save for some sections of concrete foundations and a few piles that were able to be left in situ. This was a practical solution as the services were not able to be redirected and were vital to the endurance of the standing buildings (Figure 8). It was disappointing, but the above ground history is the most visible component of heritage and so is perceived as the principal component. This points to a dislocation from many parts of the story, especially the ordinary, unexciting bits. People aren’t campaigning to save drains or utilitarian buildings even if they are protected under our legislation. We have these magnificent buildings to symbolise our past and authenticate our identity. So where does the rest of the story and the archaeology fit in?

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The ‘Old Tin Shed’ , 1912. Source Strange 1994, p.7.

Figure 6. The remains of the tin shed found in 2015-2016 during archaeological monitoring. Image K. Webb and J. Hughes.

Figure 7. A section of the piles from the Old Tin Shed uncovered during 2015 monitoring. Image: J. Hughes.

Figure 8. The North Quad as it is seen June 2016. Image Source: The Arts Centre.

There are many studies that use phenomenology to explore the idea of place and history. Wells and Baldwin used two different neighbourhoods (one historic, the other a modern development) to examine what made the place feel “local” to the participants in the study (Figure 9, Figure 10, Wells and Baldwin, 2012). They used interviews and photographic survey to explore sense of place and feelings towards heritage. Where the character buildings of the suburbs were championed in the orthodox descriptions of the area, as defining the ‘feel’ or identity of the place, the participants came up with different answers. It wasn’t the buildings themselves that enhanced that neighbourhood, but the collective environment (warts and all). Walls, trees, and fountains became key for the identity of the place. The sense of place was reinforced by imaginative and taken for granted features.

I, Maveric149 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 9. Historic Charleston homes. Image: I, Maveric149, via Wikimedia Commons

I'on streetscape 2008. Image: www.citydata.com

I’on streetscape 2008. Image: www.citydata.com

Other studies about museum and tourist experiences and even local views on neighbourhood identity tell a similar story: much of what we identify in our environment is unique to our own experience, memories and imagination (Hughey-Cockerall et al. 2014, Kowalczyk, 2014). Emotional attachment to a place validated it in the eyes of the visitors. Past and future events, small details and forgotten things are highlighted in this approach and point to the value of the experience.

You might argue being impartial and presenting a singular story means that it makes all experiences equal, making it enjoyable for all. But if you take the emotion out of the city it blocks our perception (positive or negative) and generates the apathy currently influencing discussions about Christchurch and heritage. Perhaps it is time for emotion to be dragged into the commercial sector and public engagement – shining a light on the ordinary things so that we get a broader picture. This means giving all avenues of evidence equal weight: subsurface archaeology, architecture and historical narratives and documents, and examining our attitudes towards it all.

Why should it matter? It matters in the sense that heritage buildings in Christchurch and wider New Zealand are always thought of in terms of value and mostly monetary value. With the focus on the dollar sign, are we losing some of the meaning when it comes to symbols of our past? Christchurch demonstrates that it is not simply a case of demolishing the “old dungers”. The desire to retain and use these buildings is admirable, and draws many sectors of the community. The impetus to redefine Christchurch and retain the heritage is at the heart of the rebuild efforts. There are many people concerned with taking back the identity of the city- so that everyone can feel at home or welcome. There should be more discussion about what makes Christchurch ‘Christchurch’. We should pay attention to what people feel when they walk down the street and into a building. We should study how we can enhance that. If we look at the work of Katie Pickles and Fiona Farrell – they have articulated what makes this city Christchurch, and how the earthquake has affected that. An articulated phenomenological approach would validate heritage buildings through the experience of a multitude of people. Such an approach would renegotiate the urban landscape into an inspiring, vibrant setting to live in.

Julia Hughes

Selected references

Farrell, Fiona, 2015. The Villa at the edge of the empire, one hundred ways to read a city. Vintage, Auckland.

Hughey-Cockerell, A., et al. 2014. Developing a sense of place in St Albans. Unpublished draft report for St Albans Residents Association. Accessed [online].

Kowalczyk, A., 2014. The phenomenology of tourism space. Turyzm 24 (1). Accessed [online] www.deepdyve.com

Pickles, K., 2016. Christchurch Ruptures. Bridget Williams Books Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand.

Strange, G., 1994. The Arts Centre of Christchurch, then and now. Clerestory Press Christchurch, N.Z.

Wells, J. C., & Baldwin, E. D. (2012). Historic preservation, significance, and age value: A comparative phenomenology of historic Charleston and the nearby new-urbanist community of I’On. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(4), 384-400.

Wikipedia, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27On,_Mount_Pleasant,_South_Carolina