Uncovering Victoria Square

In 1848, when the City of Christchurch was nothing but a design concept of the Canterbury Association back in London the idea of a ‘little slice of England’ (but half the world away) was born (Rice 2014, 9). Exactly how well this vision was realised on the ground is debatable, but to many, the city continues to possess an English identity, despite going on to be home to immigrants from across the globe (Cookson 2000, 13). The Association was formed with the purpose of creating a colony here in the Canterbury Region and had the somewhat romantic notion of building an Anglican community with a handpicked selection of English society (Rice 2014, 9). To some extent this was arguably achieved by the Association’s Chief Surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas. A city constructed around a cathedral and college, a characteristic that seems very English to any Brit like myself, was created. To this very day, despite its recent changes, I can confirm that Christchurch is a place where any Brit can come and feel oddly at home even though they’re in a city quite literally the farthest from home they could possibly be. An enduring feat that Thomas would surely be proud of.

The task of surveying the town sites of Lyttleton, Sumner, and Christchurch was undertaken by Anglo-Irish lawyer Edward Jollie. It is in 1850 that we first see a mention of Victoria Square, or Market Place as it was originally named, inked on Jollie’s Black Map of Christchurch. Hailing from a British market town myself it’s easy to see why the square was incorporated into city plans. Such squares are a common feature in towns and cities across the UK and it’s understandable why Market Place became an important attribute of this new city. Not only would it immediately remind new immigrants and settlers of home, it would also come to benefit the city’s residents in a practical sense; here people would be able to sell their produce to one another and build the foundations of new businesses. From the city’s founding to present day the area has remained a public space and, although it has undergone a number of transformations, it has provided the people of Christchurch and visitors alike with a civic space for trade, socialising, and entertainment.

In spite of the area being set aside by the Association as a commercial area it wasn’t until 1853 that the proposed markets were actually held, when the rules and regulations were finally decided upon. As soon as the markets officially started however, Market Place began to flourish and quickly became a hub of activity for Cantabrians. During its history the square has been used for a range of activities and purposes. From animal pound to racehorse breeding and, at one time, a watering hole for visiting circus elephants! Such use of the area may have deviated from the traditional use for a market square but nonetheless provides an entertaining and unique history. The square was also utilised in a more normal manner:  butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, drapers, shoemakers and importers, wool and grain dealers, and builders all operated out of and around the outskirts of Market Place at some point (Rice 2014). The square was also home to immigration barracks, the police station, the first post office, and Market Hall at one point. Although hard to imagine now, the square was once a densely built up area filled with wooden structures.

The 1850s-1870s could safely be considered the ‘boom’ era in the commercial use of Market Place. Empty town sections were being snapped up following the 1870s wheat boom and it was then that all of the construction within the square took place as a result of an influx of civic and commercial activity (Rice 2014, 87). The initial wooden buildings built around the outskirts of the square were replaced by two-three storey buildings in brick, stone, stucco and slate by the late 1870s, a reflection of Christchurch’s rapid growth.

Elephants in the Avon! A rather bizarre sight when a visiting circus decided to let the elephants cool down in 1934. Press (17/01/1934: 16)

By the mid-1880s this commercial boom had almost run its course. Although shops and hotels remained around the outskirts of the square, the times were changing in Christchurch, with the growth of other commercial areas in the city. However, despite the commercial period of the square coming to an end, the 1880s would see the beginning of a new venture for Market Place with the installation of the steam and horse tram from 1880. The line bisected the square diagonally along Whatley Road (later Victoria Street) and was part of the Papanui Line. This line was the most heavily used and as a result would have kept the square busy, even when trade was declining. The tram would go on to be turned into an electric line and ran from 1905 until its closure in 1954. Victoria Street continued to be used through the square following the closure of the tram until 1988 when the entire square was pedestrianised (Rice 1987, 117).

A built up Market Place in 1862 looking north east. Image: CCL. File reference: CCL PhotoCD 16, IMG0003.

During this transition from a commercial to public space the recognisable features of the present day Victoria Square, such as the statues of Queen Victoria and Captain Cook as well as the recently refurbished Bowker Fountain, were installed. It was during this transformation at the turn of the 20th century, following the death of Queen Victoria, that Market Place was officially renamed Victoria Square.

The Papanui line ran through Victoria Square until it was decommissioned in the 1950s. Image: Alexander, 1993.

Victoria Square would go on to be redeveloped in the 1980s and, most recently, in 2017/2018 as part of the rebuild programme following the Canterbury earthquakes. During the most recent redevelopment archaeologists were able to gain new insights into the early days of the square, and broader life within Christchurch. Excavations revealed structural remains of the early infrastructure of Market Place and several rubbish pits, finding over 1100 artefact fragments. Many of these fragments would go on to help piece us together the early history of the square.

The assemblage recovered from Victoria Square consisted of a variety of artefacts including ceramic and glass, but, rather surprisingly, was predominantly made up of footwear. The sheer volume of shoes found during the recent works (117 shoes coming from one rubbish alone) was confusing for a time. The types of shoes found within the square varied greatly and would have belonged to men, women, and children. Following a little investigation it appeared that perhaps it wasn’t so odd that so many boots were being found: Yorkshire House at the Market Square was in fact having a “Great Clearing Sale. We know from newspaper advertisements that John Caygill was operating out of Market Place as an importer and manufacturer of footwear from 1864 (Lyttelton Time 16/08/1864: 1). Caygill later moved his premises to High Street in 1876 where he was advertised as selling ladies and children’s footwear (Lyttleton Times 20/05/1876). It is quite possible that a number of our shoes weren’t travelling very far before finding themselves in ground and may have been part of a mass disposal before moving premises, which would explain the quantity of shoes found.

John Caygill was advertising his shoe sale at Market Place and could very well be one of the sources of all our buried shoes. Star (8/11/1869: 2).

Some examples of the ankle boots recovered from Victoria Square. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Within this collection of footwear a number of rubber shoes were identified with maker’s marks. Because of these marks it was then possible to trace some of the companies and subsequently the origins of the shoes. One example of this is the North British Rubber Company, which originates from Edinburgh. Their shoes and boots were in production from 1856 until 1956 and they largely exported their products to other countries for a range of rubber needs and purposes including mechanical, engineering and agricultural uses (French 2006). Like fitting a puzzle together, it was possible to trace the origins of these small fragments of rubber to Scotland, 18,591km away. It’s quite possible that John Caygill was importing these very boots to sell in his store at the Market Place.

Footwear made by the North British Rubber Co. from Edinburgh. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A personal favourite find with origins in Scotland, like myself, is the clay pipe. While pipe fragments aren’t an unusual find on sites in Christchurch they’re always welcome, as they’re usually embossed with the company’s name and place of creation. It’s therefore possible to know a considerable amount about the object immediately after excavation, something that’s not always the case. In this case we can see that this clay pipe came from Edinburgh and was made by ‘THO.WHITE & CO’ translating into Thomas White & Co. who produced pipes from 1823 to 1876 (Bradley 2000: 117). As ‘home’ for me is just over an hour from Edinburgh I do get rather attached to my Scottish finds. Perhaps this is because I know that they’ve made a similar journey to myself to get here (although I’m guessing my air travel would have been a lot more comfortable than their sea voyage).

Another find from Scotland! The Thomas White and Co. smoking pipe. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Another interesting find was two Bell and Black matchboxes. Richard Bell originally began a match business in London in the 1830s and was later joined by Black (Anson 1983). Their matchboxes are found across sites in both New Zealand and Australia dating to the mid-late 19th century. What is particularly nice about these matchboxes, however, is that they later began to be produced in Wellington when a factory was opened in 1895. Their success story brought them on a journey from England to New Zealand, where the matches are produced to this day.

Two examples of Bell and Black matchboxes were found during recent excavations. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

One of the few examples of New Zealand made artefacts that were recovered during recent works is the J. M. & Co. bottle, which was found complete (a small victory for any archaeologist). The initials embossed refer to Joseph Milsom and his aerated water company. Several branches of the he Milsom family set up factories in Lyttelton and Christchurch during the 19th century, and according to the Wises Directory (1872-1873) Joseph Milsom and Co. was established in 1860.

The (whole!) Joseph Milsom aerated water bottle. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

All dateable artefacts recovered from the Victoria Square excavation can quite easily be associated with the early commercial ‘boom’ period of the Market Place (1850s-1870s). The majority of these findings also supported what we know about the strong export markets from England and Scotland, which supplied the colonies of Australia and New Zealand. In fact, only a few of the artefacts with maker’s marks recovered from the square were found to be made in New Zealand. While this is not unusual for the period it does provide us with an insight into what those early years must have been like for immigrants; everything they had once taken for granted as being easily accessible now had to be shipped from the other side of the world and this perhaps goes some way to putting into perspective how challenging life must have been. The challenges and risks businesses would have to take, with no guarantee of success, in order to import goods from Europe is an overwhelming thought.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, there has been and still is a lot going on in and around Victoria Square, which has always been a focal point of Christchurch. It’s somewhere that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working over the past year as it’s been given a new lease of life and putting all the puzzle pieces together to create a picture of early commercial Christchurch has been extremely rewarding. Although its role has changed over time the square has served the public of Christchurch since the city’s foundation. It is a place that has always been dear to people’s hearts and while we’ve been able to uncover a little of the past during the recent renovations, the square will continue in its role as a public space for future residents, as intended by Thomas and Jollie so long ago.

Kathy Davidson

References

Alexander, M., 1993. Tram to the Terminus: the Christchurch Tramway Board and its electric tramways 1921-54. Christchurch N.Z: A&M and Tramway Historical Society.

Anson, D., 1983. Typology and Seriation of Wax Vesta Tin Matchboxes from Central Otago: A New Method of Dating Historic Sites in New Zealand. [online] Available at http://nzarchaeology.org/cms/NZJA/Vol%205%201983/NZJA5.115-138Anson.pdf [Accessed November 2017]

Bradley, C., 2000. Smoking Pipes for the Archaeologist. In Karklins, K. (Ed.) Studies in Material Culture Research, p. 104-133. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Cookson, J., 2000, ‘Pilgrims’ Progress – Image, Identity and Myth in Christchurch in Southern Capital Christchurch Towards a City Biography 1850-2000, Canterbury University Press: Christchurch NZ.

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch

Grace’s Guide, 2018. The North British Rubber Company. [online] Available at: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/North_British_Rubber_Co [Accessed April 2018].

Rice, G., 2014, Victoria Square: Cradle of Christchurch. Canterbury University Press: Christchurch NZ.

Tasker, J., 1993. NZ Matches and Matchboxes. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, Vol. 37. [online] Available at http://www.ohinemuri.org.nz/journals/65-journal-37-september-1993/1370-nz-matches-and-matchboxes [Accessed November 2017].

 

2017: The year that was

Yet another year gone! It’s been a strange one, out there in the world, but here at Underground Overground it’s been a year of excavation, discoveries, stories and all things archaeological.

In the proper spirit of history, let’s take a look back at the archaeological year that was…

We dug some holes and, in true archaeological fashion, sat in them. Image: Hamish Williams.

We found some things. This archaeological treasure trove was discovered on Colombo Street, on a site linked to early (1860s) shops. This brick-lined feature was, as you can see, chock-full of artefacts, most of which were concentrated at the top of the feature, indicating that there were at least two deposition events. The material from this site is still keeping us busy…Image: Angel Trendafilov.

At times, the archaeology got a bit topsy-turvy. Or, as one Facebook commenter was witty enough to suggest, a bit tipsy-turvy. Image: Hamish Williams.

Well, would you look at that. Image: Hamish Williams.

We got a bit bogged down at times…
This waterlogged cellar was an unexpected find on Colombo Street, with several artefacts – including shoes – found in association. Image: Shana Dooley.

We drew some things. Image: Hamish Williams.\

We got really excited about this 1880s brick kiln. Image: Matt Hennessey.

We even found a secret door.  Image: Matt Hennessey.

Out at the Lyttelton Port, excavations revealed the remains of a hidden piece of maritime infrastructure, thought to be part of the No 1. Breastworks structure first constructed c. 1879-1882. Image: Megan Hickey.

Stepping ashore in Lyttelton, we came across the oldest drain of the year.  This unusual pointy roofed flat bottomed stone drain was built by the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1857 to drain the Lyttelton Gaol and is still in use today. Parts of it were replaced by a brick barrel drain in the 1870s, but this particular section wasn’t, as by this time it had a substantial gaol building built atop of it (the fellas in the top image are standing on its concrete foundation). There is a local legend that some prisoners attempted a Steve McQueen style great escape through this drain back in the day, but we couldn’t find any supporting documentary evidence. Images: Hamish Williams (top) and John Walter, Christchurch City Council (bottom).

We were lucky enough to do a lot of work out in Akaroa this year, including research into the 1840s blockhouse in German Bay, this replica model of which was built for the 1906-1907 International Exhibition in Christchurch.  The replica may look a lot like a chook-house, but the full-sized versions were built as fortified retreats for the early settlers after the departure of the Navy. Image: Buckland, Jessie Lillian, 1878-1939. Claude Jean-Baptiste Eteveneaux standing next to a model of a blockhouse, Akaroa, Canterbury – Photograph taken by Jessie Buckland. The Press (Newspaper) :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-040963-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/29945245.

Easily the best historical gem for this year (in my humble opinion), found in the deeds index. Image: LINZ.

The year was remarkable for the number of fancy things found, from this rather gaudy looking lustre vase to…

…to these flash looking tobacco pipes. Image: Jessie Garland.

There were trade tokens aplenty. Image: Jessie Garland.

And Edwardian board games! Image: Maiden Built Ltd.

And nested paua shell! So much paua shell. Image: Megan Hickey.

Along with a plethora of other things. This is just a tiny selection of the artefacts we’ve found this year. From temperance tickets and snuff jars, to Russian Bears Grease, Lyttelton water, steam ship transfer prints and, of course, Old Tom gin. Image: Jessie Garland.

We made an exhibition of ourselves at times, from the displays at South Library and Christ’s College for Archaeology Week to the opening of the new Christchurch and Emergency Services Precinct building. Images: Chelsea Dickson and Jessie Garland.

Some of the crew (the sketchy characters) even found themselves featuring in the story of Ōtautahi. We highly recommend checking these creative hoardings out, either in person or through the website. Image: Felicity Jane Powell.

So, from those of us at Underground Overground this year, here’s hoping you all have a fantastic Christmas and new year break. See you next year!

 

Canterbury Corner

Down on the corner of a Lyttelton street, there was a butcher, a courier and a large family to meet… Or at least, one could have met them about 150 odd years ago when three early settler families in Lyttelton combined their lives and livelihoods for three generations through marriage links.

Last year, Angel Trendafilov (one of our archaeologists), was called out to a house site in Lyttelton, where a large deposit of 19th century domestic refuse was found during the excavation for new foundation piles. This rubbish pit was found beneath a layer of introduced soil that contained many artefacts. Several matching artefact fragments were found in the introduced layer and the rubbish pit, telling us that that the soil from the upper layer had probably once been a part of the rubbish pit. At some point, the top of the pit must have been disturbed and some of its contents redeposited during ground levelling works at the site.

A photo of the house site showing the pile holes. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Angel noticed that this introduced upper soil layer was found above a drainpipe that had been manufactured by the Christchurch Brick Company (CBC). This company started as a merger between Wigram Brothers and T. N. Horsley and Co. in 1903 and the lack of disturbance observed in the relevelling layer suggest that the pipes had been laid before the site was relevelled. This suggests that the relevelling is likely to have occurred sometime after 1903, while the large rubbish pit beneath this layer must have been deposited sometime prior to this.

Drainpipe pipe with maker’s mark. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The artefacts found in this rubbish pit and ground relevelling fill layer were typical 19th century domestic types. That is to say, they were ceramic tea wares, table wares and beverage and food containers, household artefacts like chamber pots, jugs, candle holders, pharmaceutical items, and personal items like clay pipes and leather shoes. Food remains were also present in the forms of shells and bones, and from these remains it’s apparent that the people who threw them out were fans of oysters, cockles, and mutton. Only a small amount of the mutton bones had evidence of butchery, so it’s possible that they represented several sheep that were not butchered for meat. Alternatively, it’s probably more likely that the bones were used to make soups, stocks or stews.

Some of the cool clay pipes found at the site. Row A: clay pipe with “T D” and “28” mark B: Davidson, T., and Co. clay pipe (manufactured 1861 and 1910). C: clay pipe with rope decoration, and clay pipe with wheat decoration. Image: C. Dickson.

The manufacturing techniques used on these artefacts and the maker’s marks that were present suggested that this rubbish pit could not have been deposited before the 1870s. We know from researching the history of the site that people had lived on this residential section from at least 1864, but the story of the families who lived in the area proved to be a knotty tale. So allow me to unravel it for you…

If we trace back the history of land subdivisions and ownership, we can see that a large section of this town block was first purchased by David Patton Dimond in 1855. Dimond had also owned the adjoining town section (fronting Winchester Street), since 1851 and would eventually raise a family and run a business from here (LINZ, 1850: 71-72). This family consisted of David and his wife Elwina Scott, whom he married in 1853, and the four children that they had during the 1850s (Rootsweb 2006). David worked as carter/carrier, and during the 1860s he ran a courier business in partnership with his brother, Sydney Dimond, from the Winchester Street property – which they imaginatively called “Dimond Brothers” (Lyttelton Times 22/7/1854: 8). The Dimond Brothers partnership dissolved in 1866, but David continued the business himself, with it later becoming known as “Dimond and Son” when his son David George Dimond, joined the business (some more creative names here; Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4; H. Wise & Co., 1883-1884: 147).

The notice of dissolution (Lyttelton Times 6/1/1866: 4).

In 1858, Dimond subdivided and sold a part of his section to George Scott (senior), and Moses Cryer (LINZ 1850: 71). This section comprised most of the northern half of the town section (where our property is now located), leaving a narrow area to the west that may have been used as an access road.

Detail from the Lyttelton Deeds Index Register showing the 1858 subdivision (in green), of the town section. Image: LINZ 1850: 543.

Moses Cryer was the earliest butcher in Lyttelton, and he was involved with the planning of the first road over the Port Hills (Press 12/9/1893: 5; New Zealand Herald 7/1/1935: 10). He didn’t keep his share of the property for long but sold his interest to George Scott (or perhaps another member or the Scott clan), in 1859 (LINZ 1850: 554). To make matters a little more interesting, George Scott’s daughter was the aforementioned Elwina Scott, making him David Dimond’s father-in-law. George’s sons, Samuel Francis Scott and George Francis Scott, also had a fraternal business in Lyttelton (this one was named Messrs G. F. and S. F. Scott), and together they ran the Mitre Hotel and the Robin Hood Inn (finally a great name), located on Norwich Quay, until 1857 (Lyttelton Times 11/3/1857: 12).

Another one bites the dust (Lyttelton Times 16/7/1857: 6).

This tangled web of small-town marriage wove further in 1855, when Samuel Francis Scott married Anne Cryer (Moses Cryer’s daughter; Lyttelton Times 28/3/1855: 3). We could tell by a newspaper birth announcement and the electoral rolls that Samuel and Anne lived at the Canterbury Street address from at least 1864, and they were likely to have stayed there until they moved their family to Southbridge in 1867 (Lyttelton Times 6/9/1864: 4; H. Wise & Co. 1878-1879: 155). This suggests that the two fathers, Moses Cryer and George Scott, may have purchased the section to build a home for their children to start a family in, right next door to Samuel’s sister Elwina. Isn’t that nice! What’s also nice is that this suggests the strong possibility that the archaeological material found on this site is associated with the Samuel Scott/Anne Cryer family’s occupation of the section between c. 1864 and 1876.

But this isn’t our only option – confidently attributing archaeological finds on densely populated town sections is rarely so simple. Following Samuel Scott’s departure to Southbridge in 1876, Scott sold the property back to (his now relative) David Dimond. David then mortgaged his large property several times to the Lyttelton Permanent Building Society, and with the funding this raised, he probably built several structures on it (LINZ 1850: 543). David also advertised a six-roomed property to let on Canterbury Street, but it is not known if any tenants moved in.

A lonely home (Star 12/10/1876: 2).

In 1900, David subdivided his property again, and by this time, there were at least three large dwellings present in the area (LINZ, 1900). However, no structures were present in the section where our artefacts were found, suggesting that the dwelling occupied by the Scott/Cryer family in the 1860s and 1870s had been demolished by 1900. Thomas Martin Lewington (ship joiner and inventor of an automatic sheep carcass counter), had leased the neighbouring back section from at least 1896 and in 1901, he purchased it (as well as the section containing our archaeological site; Evening Star 17/2/1891: 3; LINZ, 1901; H. Wise & Co., n.d. :19; Press 15/3/1940: 10).

Plan showing buildings present in the area during 1900. The vacant section fronting Canterbury Street on the plan was the location of the archaeological site. The building visible in the northwest of the plan is probably the Lewington family home. Image: LINZ, 1900.

As the adjacent Canterbury Street section was probably vacant during the later decades of the 19th century, it may have acted as a convenient place where the neighbouring Lewingtons or the Dimond families could have disposed of their household trash before a new house was built on the section. On-site domestic rubbish deposition like this was common in Canterbury during the 19th century, and archaeological evidence from other local domestic sites suggest that citizens often buried or burnt their own rubbish on-site (Wilson 2005). We’ve seen examples of refuse dumping at neighbouring vacant sections like this before on Canterbury archaeological sites, so without the presence of any artefacts that could be specifically attributed to any of the families, it’s difficult to tell who this rubbish belonged to.

Map showing all the buildings present in the area by 1910. The building that was present at the location our archaeological site (outlined in red), is likely that to be the same building that was standing until its post-earthquake demolition. The presence of the extant house in 1910 indicates that the rubbish pit, pipe laying and the relevelling of the site all occurred before this date. Image: Williams 1910.

Despite the uncertainties, this site offered us a fascinating history of some of the earliest settlers of Lyttelton, and it proved to be a great example of close family ties, family enterprise, not to mention, confusingly repeated family names.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Wise & Co., n.d. Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directories.

LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – Lyttelton B, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.

LINZ, 1900. DP 1623, Canterbury. Landonline.

Williams, J.R., 1910. Plan of Lyttelton Sewerage.

Wilson, J. et. al. 2005. Contextual Historical Overview for Christchurch City. Christchurch City Council. Available  at: https://www.ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Culture-Community/Heritage/ChristchurchCityContextualHistoryOverviewTheme11-docs.pdf  [Accessed May 2016).

 

Long-drops from long ago

It’s something so mundane that it forms a part of our everyday lives and it’s as inescapable as death and taxes. Even though we spoke of it last week on the blog, it’s something people don’t often speak about and it’s something we all have a very private and personal relationship with. In fact, this topic harbors so much taboo that it’s widely considered impolite to discuss one’s poo. I’m sorry!

Our evasion of our natural bodily processes was probably not always the norm. The Romans gifted us the first predecessor of a plumbed “toilet” – which consisted of a flowing water channel over which a series of hollow seats were sometimes built. But the Romans didn’t break down any of the aforementioned taboo walls… (in a sense, because they never built any walls in their latrines anyway). Instead, their public toilets were a communal affair, where a one handled their daily task sitting alongside his neighbor. They shared not only their sounds, smells and over all experience, but they even shared the cleaning sponge stick – the ancestor of our disposable toilet paper (side note – this is where the phrase ‘don’t get the wrong end of the stick’ derives).

However, when considering the attitudes of our conservative Victorian ancestors, it’s not hard to imagine the air of confidentiality that surrounded their ‘bathroom’ visits. The emergence of this modern western concept of privacy and secrecy during these practices is probably largely due to the evolution of the latrine structure itself, which eventually developed from a hole dug in a field to an enclosed, single occupancy arrangement. In this secluded situation, outsiders don’t specifically know what is taking place during these intimate moments and society sort of lost the concept of what was considered normal bodily functions. As result, secrecy, euphemisms and comical deflection ensued. [Insert toilet humour here].

We’re going to dive into these messy issues today as we discuss this less than glamorous topic of the Victorian privies/long-drops we have found. Before the days of flushing toilets and hand sanitiser, the citizens of 19th century Christchurch usually took care of their “business” in outhouses in their backyards. These tended to be situated at the rear of their property, within convenient stumbling distance of the house for ease of night-time visits (Butcher & Smith 2010).

An archaeologist sitting in a cesspit. Image: H. Williams.

We’ve found quite a few of these features on Christchurch archaeological sites, and it appears that it wasn’t just private human waste that was being deposited down the loo. The plethora of rubbish we find in them is very similar to the refuse found in domestic rubbish pits, an indication that privies were also used as a place to discard normal household items like table ware dishes and broken glass bottles. What is not always immediately apparent is why privies were used as a garbage disposal shoot in every case. Our data seems to show that the Christchurch Victorians often filled in their long-drops with household refuse when they ceased to be used. It also seems very logical that in the possible haste that one can sometimes be under to relieve oneself, or while fumbling about with way too many layers of intricate Victorian clothing, something might accidentally drop from a pocket down the hatch. If this had happened to me, I personally wouldn’t have gone reaching into a long-drop to fish out any lost possessions. But as well as that, it’s possible that this dark (and conveniently open), hole in the ground offered an opportune receptacle to throw out the odd plate fragment that someone may have accidentally broken… perhaps wanting to hide the evidence from a mother or wife?

… But the evidence doesn’t always stay hidden. Us nosy archaeologists come snooping 150-odd years later and we don’t tend to mind getting our hands a little dirty (once this ‘matter’ has decomposed). We will find the things that have been dropped in deliberately, accidentally or sneakily, although we may not always be able to tell the difference.

A typical privy showing how these features look when first found, half sectioned and then fully removed. This one had timber at the base. Image: J. Garland.

The image above is a typical example of an excavated long-drop. In this case, no structural features such as building foundations or post holes were found surrounding the privy, but it was almost certainly originally covered. The feature itself was roughly square in shape, and relatively deep when compared with the (much shallower) features that were found elsewhere on the section. This suggested that it was dug for a purpose (at this point we need not mention this purpose) other than rubbish disposal, a great example of a dis-used latrine that was filled in with refuse at a later date.

A collection of some of the unfortunate ceramic forms that had been dropped off down this loo. Image: J. Garland.

An archaeological deposit of toilet rubbish… or deposit of rubbish toilets? The image on the left shows an in situ deposit that was almost exclusively broken up sanitary ware (wash basins and toilet pans etc). The picture on the right is one of these fragments up close, which was made by Doulton and Co. ca. 1882-1891. This feature was found on the site inhabited by the Taylor and Oakley firm, who exhibited “toilet seats and other articles, painted and artistically decorated” at the Christchurch exhibition in 1884 (Star 12/1/1884: 4). It is likely that this assemblage represents broken or wasted stock from the commercial enterprise which had been deliberately smashed for easier disposal. Image: H.Williams and J. Garland.

Even if any of these forms represented broken items that had been hidden down the toilet, our finds aren’t getting anyone in trouble 150 years later. Where these clumsy individuals may have gotten caught out is when these privies were cleaned and emptied. Previous research on domestic archaeological sites the in U.S.A indicates that the typical life cycle of a privy included episodes of deposition and cleaning. The regularity of cleaning would depend on the rapidity of filling and this would naturally be related to the size of the privy, the number of users, and the kinds of deposition (Lee Decker 1994: 356). This research also suggests that some privies may have been filled in as short a time as six months, while other studies have suggested that the filling process extended over a period of several decades (Lee Decker 1994: 356). Such clean outs of privies may have been performed by a member of the household rather than a licensed ‘night soil man’ (Lee Decker 1994:356). Hamish Williams has discussed the night soil man on the blog before, – he told us that “the cargo of this fantastic public servant was collected from one’s property in the wee hours, carted away then dumped on the fringes of town. From 1886 in Christchurch, a specially converted tram was employed between the hours of midnight and 5am to take tanks of ‘night soil’ waste out to the Council’s newly established ‘rubbish reserve’ in Linwood (Alexander 1985:11). This service cost a household seven pennies a week (Clark 1878:14).”

Recently, I had the privilege (?) of analysing an artefact assemblage that came from a very special (probable) privy in Central Christchurch. Shown below, this latrine was located on the property of Cyrus Davie and his family. Davie was an early European settler to Christchurch and was employed as the town surveyor in Christchurch’s infancy. The first family home on his section was constructed by 1855, and the long-drop or cesspit feature in question was conveniently located near the site of this dwelling. This likely privy feature was identified as such because privies/long-drops are generally narrow and deep, while cesspits are generally wider then they are deep (this one had properties of the latter but due to the extent of the earthworks planed on this site, it was not able to be excavated completely).

The stratigraphic profiles of the privy feature. Image: S. Dooley.

What’s extra exciting about this site is that we found two additional, irregularly shaped deposits of dark soil, containing artefacts that were ‘scat-tered’ everywhere. These deposits were located elsewhere on the section and were identified as probable deposits of night soil (human waste). The archaeological contexts and artefact similarities identified between these deposits and the privy feature suggested that they were temporally related and it’s likely that the two night soil deposits represented clean out waste from the long drop. We also found a Thomas Hide and Edward De Carle token in one of these deposits. This may represent one of those items that were accidentally dropped down the throne, never to be seen again. After all, who actually wants to throw their money down the toilet?

One of the probable night soil deposits. The cross-section of the feature is shown on the left, and the feature after excavation is shown on the right. Image: P. Mitchell.

Wasted money… This Thomas Hide and Edward De Carle token was found in one of the night soil deposit features. It would have been used in lieu of normal currency (across the ditch), for this Melbourne Based grocery, wine and spirit merchants between 1857 and 1861 (Museums Victoria 2017). Image: J. Garland.

As mentioned, privy features are a type of deposit that can accumulate over a long period of time, but the artefacts from this example appeared to have been recovered from the same stratigraphic layer. The two night soil deposits were found in a relatively secure context – underneath another building on the property that were known to have been constructed by 1862. If these features do relate to a privy and the associated clean out deposits, the privy would have been conveniently located to the east of the main Davie house, while the privy clean out deposits would be located much further away from main house. This would have been preferable for smell and hygiene reasons.

So, while it seems most likely that this wealth of human excrement once belonged to the Davie family, they were not the only 19th century inhabitants of this section. For one short year, in 1881, the Davies leased their home to none other than Sir Julius Von Haast (the German explorer, geologist and the founder of Canterbury Museum). So maybe, just maybe, the archaeologists who excavated these features were privy to the private fecal matter of one of New Zealand’s most famous European settlers.

Chelsea Dickson

 

 

References

Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the roads – the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board / Tramway Historical Society.

Butcher, M. & Smith, I., 2010. Talking trash: classifying rubbish-bearing deposits from colonial New Zealand sites. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1): 43-61.

Clark, W. 1878. Drainage Scheme for Christchurch and the Suburbs [Online] Available at: http://canterbury.royalcommission.govt.nz/documents-by-key/20110929.36

Garland, J., Webb, K. J., Haley, J. and Bone, K., 2015. The Music Centre, 150, 154 and 156 Armagh Street: Report on Archaeological Investigations, Vol. 1. Unpublished report for The Music Centre.

LeeDecker, C. H. 1994. Discard Behaviour on Domestic Historic Sites: Evaluation of Contexts for the Interpretation of Household Consumption Patterns. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 1(4): 345-375.

Museums Victoria Collections 2017. [online] Available at: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/55261 [Accessed 09 October 2017].

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2016. Christchurch Justice & Emergency Services Precinct archaeological report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

Wilson, J., 1989. Christchurch: swamp to city. A Short History of the Christchurch Drainage Board. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Drainage Board.

Tanks!

Anyone in the office will tell you that I have a keen interest in military history, especially anything related to the World War 2 period. I like my airplanes, yes (hats off to the de Havilland Mosquito, that twin engine plywood wonder) but I’m also a big fan of tanks. Last week I officially added to my bucket list a visit to the Tank Museum in Bovington. Camp Bovington in Dorset is the birthplace of the tank, and Camp Bovington’s Tank Museum has on display the largest collection of tanks in the world. One day I will make that pilgrimage…

I’ve been thinking about armoured vehicles a little more than usual recently. Perhaps this has been because some large construction sites that I’ve worked on lately have felt a bit like urban battlegrounds, bustling with big machines, and complete with all the smoke, dust, noise, and chaos of an urban war zone set against a ruinous backdrop of a half demolished/half rebuilt city. Reminiscent of that time in 1942 when I stood with my comrades in defence of the Stalingrad Tractor Factory? Hmm, maybe only just a little.

After an epic binge on David Fletcher’s Tank Chats last week, I decided that a blogpost about my two favourite Christchurch tanks was long overdue. First though, a few fast facts about tanks. The tank as we know it was developed in 1915 as an experimental weapon to break the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front (Lest we forget). The Brits were the first to put the tank into battle, at the Somme in September 1916, where it had some success. The first British tank was called ‘Little Willy’. Little Willy was soon replaced by ‘Big Willy’ (the rhomboid shaped Mark 1) because Little Willy wasn’t long enough to cross trenches (sometimes it seems, size IS everything). Tanks were not actually developed by the Army, as one would naturally assume, but by the Navy, and they called them ‘Landships’. To throw the Boche off the scent, a less descriptive name was adopted as a security measure – tanks. The name stuck. Water tanks as a war winning wonder weapon? Yeah right! Codewords always work in wartime.

Of course, not all tanks are weapons of war, and the tanks that have popped up in Christchurch’s archaeological record in recent times were not designed and built to serve as offensive weapons, though they certainly did play a part in fighting different sorts of battles. So, let me tell you about two of my favourite Christchurch tanks.

The Fire Tank

I had my first run in with one of the city’s fire tanks in a trench on Manchester Street in July 2015, when SCIRT were digging up the road to lay a new water mains pipe. It was well concealed at shallow depth below the road surface, and at first glance I was a little intimidated by its immense size – it was nearly 40 metres long!

The Manchester Street tank, as first exposed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank on Manchester Street was one of six built by the City Council in 1885 for the fire brigade so they could better wage war against fire. Fire was a serious and recurrent threat to Christchurch in the early years, because so many buildings were of timber construction and they often stood so close to each other. A small fire in one building could very quickly turn into an inferno capable of destroying a whole city block. Because the council did not begin works on developing a high pressure piped water supply system until 1909, at first the fire brigade had to make do fighting the flames with water they got from local wells, or with what could be pumped directly from the Avon River. This was a less than satisfactory arrangement, especially when wells were dry, artesians yielded only a trickle, or worse still, if fires broke out at some distance from the river, and the fire brigade’s hoses weren’t long enough.

Each of the six tanks built in 1885 had a capacity of 25,000 gallons (approximately 114,000 litres) and were capable of supplying water over a radius of 1000 feet (305 metres). Each tank cost £300 to build, and each were served by their own artesian wells (Press 31/12/1884:2). Just completed, in September 1885 the Manchester Street tank was the lucky tank selected for official testing.  It was calculated that the steam powered pumps of the brigade’s two fire engines ‘Deluge’ and ‘Extinguisher’ would be able to drain the entire tank in just over 33 minutes, however they managed to empty it in 31 minutes – quite an impressive achievement (Star 23/9/1885:2, Star 29/9/1885:3). In the following years the underground tanks proved to be an efficient weapon that saved people and property, however they sometimes had a tendency to overflow through their manhole access covers, of which there was one at each end (Press 12/1/1886:2). Even after the fire tanks were to some extent made obsolete – when the high pressure water reticulation network was finally laid on – these underground fire tanks were not forgotten or destroyed, but were retained, held back in ‘strategic reserve’, just in case.

Fire Tank! Image: Hamish Williams.

Well built, the fire tank had an arched roof and brick walls three layers thick, with an internal width of 2.2 metres and a height of 1.8 metres. Despite the efforts of two pumps, it was not possible to remove all of the water from the tank, which had its crown arch broken out so the new water mains pipe could be laid right through its entire length. It was difficult to investigate this feature because of all the water, and because this tank was technically a confined space, our access was restricted on safety grounds. Tanks sure can be dangerous for archaeologists!

The tank, after half the water was pumped out and the crown of the arch removed. Image: Hamish Williams.

The fire tank stands out as a favourite tank of mine not just because of its impressive size, but also because, like many of the 19th century structural features about the city that we have been lucky enough to investigate, it had been built entirely by hand, brick by brick. Furthermore, these bricks had been laid in a bloody great big deep trench that had been dug by hand, in a part of the city where there are elevated groundwater levels. Build a massive underground water tank in a swamp? Best of British to you mate!

The northern end of the tank, after being filled in with hard fill in preparation for laying the new water mains. Image: Hamish Williams.

Ship Tank

Much smaller than the fire tank, the ship tank was uncovered earlier this year at shallow depth in what was originally the backyard of the Occidental Hotel. This 4 ft cubic tank of mild steel had been buried in the ground for use, we strongly suspect, as a cesspit. When the hotel was connected to the city’s newly completed sewer system in 1882, the tank was filled in, mostly with bricks and other building debris that we reckon came from the demolition of the back part of the hotel.

The ship tank cesspit. In the background Angel and Teri are exposing the foundations of one of the hotel’s fireplaces. Maybe a bit more about that feature in a future blogpost folks, so watch this space. Image: Hamish Williams.

Brick rubble in the tank. The foundations of the hotel’s fireplace was built from the same kind of bricks that were dumped in the tank – so there’s a connection there. Image: Hamish Williams.

In amongst the fill of the tank, we found a large cast-iron lid of 480 mm diameter that provided confirmation for us that this old steel tank was in fact a repurposed ship tank, made by John Bellamy’s tank works in Millwall, London. From the 1850s these riveted steel boxes with tight fitting circular lids began, in increasing numbers, to replace wooden barrels for the transport of drinking water and other perishable items in the holds of ships. Ship tanks have been found in numerous 19th century archaeological contexts across the world. In Australia, ship tanks were cleverly adapted for other uses, including rainwater tanks, sheep dips, eucalyptus oil stills and water troughs (Pearson 1992). A John Bellamy tank of identical form has also been found at Lusitania Bay on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, where it is suspected to have been used for the storage of penguin oil, of all things.

The cast-iron ship tank lid, marked JOHN BELLAMY  BYNG STREET/ MILLWALL  LONDON. In the middle of the lid is a central bung, which could be removed to allow access to the tank without having to remove the whole lid. Image: Hamish Williams.

It’s hard to say which Christchurch tank is actually my favourite of the two, both have their charms. I think that if I had to choose just one though, I would have to choose the ship tank. Why? Because the ship tank that we found behind the hotel demonstrates adaptive reuse – something that archaeologists always have to consider when making interpretations about things from the past. Over their lifetime, artefacts both big and small can be modified to serve different functions, and these modifications can reflect different owners, ideas, and changing circumstances (among an infinite number of other possible things). An impervious steel tank built for the storage of water was later modified for the purpose of storing poo, well before the completion of Christchurch’s sewerage system meant that on site poo storage was no longer necessary. On top of this, the tank ended its use-life as a convenient place for dumping rubbish. In a similar vein I suppose, the modified ship tank reminds me of different kind of Christchurch tank –the Bob Semple Tank. If the perceived threat of Japanese invasion at the outbreak of World War 2 makes you think about how you can defend New Zealand’s shores when your Home Defence force has no tanks, all you need to do is modify, arm, and armour up a bunch of old Public Works Department D8 caterpillar tractors in a most Monty Python-esque fashion in the local railway workshop. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have any standardised design blueprints, or if you don’t even know whether it will work. If the enemy don’t arrive, and your underpowered, under-armoured, silly looking impractical tractor tanks end up being the target of public ridicule, hey, you can always find another use for them, you can always change them back.

Hamish Williams

References

Pearson, M. 1992. From Ship to the Bush: Ship Tanks in Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology 10(1) 22-29.

Phillips, T., 2010. Always Ready: Christchurch Fire Brigade: 1860-2010. Christchurch: New Zealand Fire Service, Transalpine Fire Region.

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

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