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].

An archaeological treasure trove!

As explained at length in the past, archaeologists don’t much like the use of the word ‘treasure‘. But this really is an archaeological treasure trove – lots and lots of artefacts, from which we shall learn lots and lots of fantastic information. Angel is responsible for this beautifully excavated feature, which we think was probably associated with the London and Paris House, a fancy goods store on Colombo Street in the 1860s and early 1870s. Enjoy!

The beginning… Image: A. Trendafilov.

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. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A slightly different view of the feature. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A fabulous water filter, from London (it’s the second one of these we’ve found, but this one’s far more complete). Image: A. Trendafilov.

The base of that fabulous water filter. Image: A. Trendafilov.

Barry’s Tricopherous… Image: A. Trendafilov.

Ceramics, waiting to be excavated. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A cup, possibly bearing a message for a child? Image: A. Trendafilov.

All done! Well, nearly. Next up: analysis and research and more great stories! Image: A. Trendafilov.

A happy archaeologist! Image: H. Williams.

The Trooper

Ceramics have been decorated to commemorate a range of events, people and places since long before the 19th century. The practice is particularly tied to British royalty, with some rather intense results. While tankards, jugs, plaques, mugs and miniature wares are most commonly decorated for commemorative purposes, a number of different ceramic types could be used in this manner (Perry 2011). The subject of the blog today is inspired by two mustard jars from Christchurch that commemorate events from the Crimean War. The Crimean War occurred from 1853 to 1856. Caused by the failing Ottoman Empire and power struggles between countries over religious rights of access to the Holy Land, two key parts of the war are depicted on these household artefacts, the Siege of Sevastopol (also known as Sebastopol) and the Battle of Balaklava (or Balaclava; Goldi Productions Ltd 1996 & 2000Wikipedia 2017).

Source caption: “Episode of the Siege of Sebastopol During the Crimean War in 1855”, dated 19th century and credited to Adolphe Yvon. Image: Wikipedia 2015.

The first of these came from the large Justice Precinct site in the city centre. It was decorated with polychrome transfer print in a style often identified as ‘prattware’. Prattware refers to polychrome underglaze transfer printed scenes that were associated with the manufacturers F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd (Perry 2010). This particular jar featured a scene known as the ‘The Fall of Sebastopol 8th Sept. 1855’ (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This scene refers to one of the classic sieges of the Crimean War, which aimed to capture the significant Russian naval base in the port of Sevastopol, on the Black Sea (Bunting 2017).

Mustard jar decorated with the Fall of Sevastopol.

The print depicts and names Sir Harry Jones, the famous British military man who served in the Crimean War as commander of the British forces at the battle of Bomarsund and of the Royal Engineer forces at the Siege of Sevastopol (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). Most descriptions of this pattern presume that Sir Harry Jones is the figure on the stretcher in the scene, although there is no record of his being wounded during the battle. The full title of the pattern includes the date 8th September 1855, when the Battle of Malakoff occurred and the Russian forces began to withdraw (Atkinson 1911: 451-453; Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017).

The second mustard jar base was found on a residential site just outside the city centre. The whiteware jar had a polychrome transfer printed design depicting a battle and the words “The/…OON/CHAR…” around the base. This would have formed the full phrase: “THE DRAGOON CHARGE” (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2017). This print depicts the Battle of Balaklava fought on 25 October 1854 as a part of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. The Battle of Balaklava was a Russian assault on the British allied supply base that involved the famous Thin Red Line military tactic and the infamously deadly Charge of the Light Brigade (Wikipedia 2017).

‘The Dragoon Charge’ underglaze print on the Prattware mustard jar.

 

Source caption: “The Russian camp at the Genoese Castle, Balaklava.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Although no maker’s marks were evident on the base of either jar, examples of the same printed Prattware are attributed to the manufacturers John Thomas and Joseph Mayer. Thomas and Mayer manufactured pottery in Longport, Burslem, Staffordshire between 1842 and 1855 (Kowalsky & Kowalsky 1999: 274). The date range for the operation of the Thomas and Mayer company and the commemorative nature of the prints suggests a manufacturing date in the 1850s, possibly as early as late 1854 to 1855. This would have taken place while the Crimean war was still ongoing.

Although little remembered today, the Crimean War is often described as the “first truly modern war” (Groll and Frankel 2014). With the advent of new technology, industry and weaponry, the resulting high casualty rate marked this event as a significant moment in the mid-19th century. In addition to this, the perceptions of the war were shaped by real-time journalistic coverage and photographic documentation by Roger Fenton. Due to the process involved in setting up and taking photography at the time, Fenton was limited to producing images of still (sometimes staged) moments in between the carnage. Depictions of the fighting seem to be limited to paintings and prints made during the war by artist-correspondents or after the war.

Source caption: “Roger Fenton himself dressed in a Zouave uniform holding rifle. Zouaves were crack infantry units, originally composed of Algerians. During the Crimean War, Zouaves served with the French Army, allies of the British. Fenton’s self-portrait in the costume indicates the high regard the British felt for the Zouaves.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “Two versions of the widely-acknowledged ‘first iconic war photograph’ entitled The Valley of the Shadow of Death. The lower one shows cannonballs on the road whereas above shows the road clear of ammunition. Historians have concluded that Fenton may have moved the cannonballs into the road to enhance the image. An alternative view is that soldiers were gathering the missiles for re-use and had thrown them onto the road to make them easier to collect.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Source caption: “British soldiers pose for a photographs during a break.” Image: Roger Fenton/Getty Images, The Telegraph.

Polychrome transfer printed scenes like this were used on ceramic food containers throughout the latter half of the 19th century, although they are not common on Christchurch archaeological sites. The jars are an example of commemorative objects available for consumption in the wake of significant events. The participation of British soldiers in the Battle of Balaklava in particular was seen as an example of some of the finest heroic fighting of the war and many depictions of this heroism were created in art and literature (Bunting 2017). These kinds of physical reminders of formative events in national identity have been noted elsewhere in discussions of commemorative products depicting the 1899 South African War, particularly with regards to the connections between colonial and national ideologies (Lucas 2004). Although New Zealand was not directly involved in this conflict, British soldiers who fought in the war later emigrated to New Zealand (New Zealand Crimean War Veterans 2017). Such an event was part of the collective memory of 19th century British national identity, as evident in other depictions of the battle such as paintings and in the poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. As such, the presence of objects commemorating the Crimean War in 19th century New Zealand archaeological sites demonstrate these links to important historical events.

The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb, 1881. Image: Wikipedia 2017.

The remembrance of aspects of the Crimean War continued through to the modern era. Lord Tennyson’s poem in particular formed the platform for later adaptations of and references to the event. The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalised on screen in 1912, 1936 and 1968. Each version varies greatly in how it depicts the events of the war, in line with the time period and popular movie styles of the period. The poem has echoes in modern pop culture as Lord Tennyson’s poem formed the basis of the 1983 Iron Maiden song ‘The Trooper’ and references in movies and TV shows from Saving Private Ryan to Top Gear to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Megan Hickey

References

Atkinson, C. F., 1911. Crimean War. In Chisholm, H. (Ed). Encyopaedia Brittanica 7 (11th Edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kowalsky, A and Kowalsky, D. 1999. Encyclopaedia of Marks On American, and European Earthernware, Ironstone and Stoneware 1780-1980. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Atglen.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. The Dragoon Charge – Balaklava [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/tcc2/data/patterns/d/the-dragoon-charge-balaklava/ [Accessed 05 May 2017].

So far, yet so close…

As a Spanish archaeologist who used to work on prehistoric sites and then became an artefact specialist in New Zealand, my experience has shown me that although they are worlds apart, Spanish prehistory and the Victorian era are closer than you think. And I’ll explain why…

As you know, archaeology provides us with information about societies in the past. That means a long timeline and heaps of artefacts that let us know how people used to live. But, how much have these objects changed from thousands of years ago to the 19th century? Less than you might imagine…

Food, care practices and children’s education are aspects of life that are present in all times and all places around the world. It comes down to the simple fact that people are people. Daily activities are the most important ones for the survival and development of all societies. These tasks articulate the relationships and social links between people. However, although they are important, essential tasks, they have long been dismissed or gone unnoticed. How is it possible? Easy! Because history has been written in masculine, based on the idea of the technological and industrial progress carried out by man, and those domestic works associated with women and dwelling have been undervalued. This lack of attention in archaeological discourse doesn’t make sense because most of the artefacts recorded in all cultures and historical periods are associated with the household.

To be honest, I chose this topic because gendered archaeology is one of my passions. I have been analysing how women were represented in prehistoric rock art from the eastern area of Spain as researcher at the University of Alicante and I also used to work on the archaeological site of Cabezo Redondo (Villena, Spain), which dates to the Bronze Age. Currently, I have the chance to keep looking for women and children through the artefacts from 19th century sites in Christchurch. So, today, I want to merge my experiences here in the Antipodes with those from Spain. With that in mind, I’ll mainly look at the most common finds that archaeologists deal with: ceramic vessels, along with a couple of other unusual and cool artefacts.

So, first, a few basic ideas to start with!

The basic tasks of daily life may not have always been undertaken by women in prehistory, for sure! In fact, in the early periods of human history, the whole group (women, men and children) would have been involved. It was later that these activities became part of women’s heritage in traditional and historical societies. Especially, by the middle of the 19th century when homes and workplaces were no longer combined in the same place, a strict division of roles of family members became visible: the main responsibility for men was the economic support of the household, while the women undertook the role of homemaker and child carer and retreated from the public sphere. Women were encouraged to be the wives, mothers and domestic servants. Poor behaviour and inattention to housework was often linked to gossiping or even insanity. Can you believe it? Do you think domesticity causes illness? This husband didn’t agree because his wife was the most domestic woman ever.

Evening Star 12/06/1883.

Now that you’ve had a little bit of an introduction, we are ready! It is time to start democratising the past through archaeology, listening the silent voices from the past, and highlighting and researching the role of the people less represented. Let’s make women, children and their practices visible!

Recreation of a prehistoric settlement. Image: M. A. Salvatierra.

I’ll show you some objects related to food, caregiving and children’s socialization. Comparing both artefacts found in Spain at prehistoric sites and 19th century ones from Christchurch, we’ll reach an evident and clever conclusion: materials and manufacturing methods are different, but the use of the objects remains consistent.

Eating is probably the most essential activity for everybody. As well as being a biological necessity, food practices display social rituals and indicate different means, status and behaviours, based on factors like the variety of table settings. The first tableware and cutlery recovered from prehistoric sites in Spain dates to the 5th to the 4th millennium BC. Is that not amazing? At these sites, we find communal serving dishes from which household members were served, individual bowls for eating and handled vessels to contain and serve liquids. Simple for us, but an authentic revolution for the Neolithic groups. Their new economy, based on farming, involved significant changes in food preparation and consumption. These processes required knowledge about sources as well as tools and technical skills for cutting, grinding, boiling, smoking or roasting. A kind of soup and cream made from grains mixed with water was the main dish on the menu, and it was cooked and eaten with a spoon. It would look like a porridge. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t as yummy as our current food! How lucky we are!

A range of food related material, comparing prehistoric (black background) and 19th century (white background) from Spain and Christchurch sites respectively: bone spoon/silver spoon, bowl with incised decoration/green transfer printed bowl, polished jug/Bristol glazed jug and serving dish with geometric decoration/moulded serving dish. Images: Museu de Prehistoria de Valencia, Museo Arqueologico Regional de Madrid, J. Garland and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

In the same way that eating is important in order to create and negotiate relations between people, childcare and education also have social significance. Through play and imitation, young children were taught roles that would be important in their daily life as adults. Based on the archaeological record, it looks like dolls were of the most popular toys from ancient times! By the 19th century, porcelain dolls were given to girls to encourage maternal instincts as well as toy tea sets to learn the rules of domestic etiquette and social interaction in the Victorian era. But again, this is not a modern invention! Miniature ceramics were also found in prehistoric sites, and they were not only used as toys but also as a way to learn about ceramic manufacture. These asymmetric and unburnished vessels showed the processes of skill acquisition needed to make pottery. To be honest, I don’t think that I would be able to make them any better using my hands…maybe because my mum didn’t teach me about that?

Children’s artefacts. On the right, an articulated doll made of ivory recovered from a children’s burial from Paleocristian site of Tarragona (Spain) dating to 3rd or 4th century AD. Remnants of fabric were also visible on it, indicating that these dolls wore clothes, as 19th century porcelain dolls recovered from Christchurch sites do. On the left, there are some miniature ceramic vessels from el Cerro de la Encina (Monachil, Granada, Spain) dating to the Bronze Age between 3rd and 1st millennium BC. They were recovered from a children’s burial as well. Below those, there is a toy tea set and a children’s cup found in Christchurch. Images: Museu Nacional Arqueologic de Tarragona, Underground Overground Archaeology, J. Garland, M.A. Blanco and G. Jackson.

So why have I used prehistoric and 19th century artefacts to look at maintenance activities? I’ve tried to make you think about the evidence of daily life because artefacts hide a history behind them. They talk about social processes and relationships between people, which is the core of all societies. Women carried out an active role as well as men, of course, and the archaeological record confirms this. However, traditional historians and archaeologists, influenced by our contemporary minds, have interpreted the past by focusing on men and their achievements. But in reality, the development of all cultures and societies is the result of the tasks undertaken by men and women, as well as the relationships and connections between them. So, it is time to make women and their practices visible!

What a curious scene that’s shown in these images! Do you notice the similarities and difference between them? Domestic activities are shown as awful tasks in both pictures. As a difference, the re-creation on top depicts a relaxed man, who is smoking and reading a race car magazine, while his stressed woman is cooking and holding the baby, with the other children surrounding her. It might be the traditional atmosphere in a 19th century household context. However, the female and masculine roles are reversed in the bottom picture. Here, the domestic activities are presented as the apocalypse for men, and they cannot manage the situation. Top image: The Observer 14/03/1891. Bottom image: New Zealand Mail 29/09/1893.

So how do we do it? The archaeological record provides the tools that we need – women and children are visible through objects from household contexts as I explained here. Also, human bones from burials and rock art are both especially useful in the case of prehistoric sites. In the case of the 19th century Christchurch sites, archaeologists are lucky as well. Lots of rubbish was dumped into pits or accidentally fell under the floors of houses, waiting to be uncovered and compared with the historical records for that period or site. Therefore, we only need to be asking the right questions to find the answers – and to find the women and children that we are looking for. Let’s go, get into it!

Images: Underground Overground Archaeology and El Periodico Villena.

By Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

GEA. Cultura Material e identidad social en la Prehistoria Reciente en el Sur de la Peninsula Iberica. [online] Available at: http://www.webgea.es/ [Accessed 11/05/2017].

Gonzalez Marcen, P., Monton-Subias, M. and Picazo, M., 2008. ‘Towards an archaeology of maintenance activities’. In Monton-Subias, S. and Sanchez-Romero, S., 2008 (ed.) Engendering Social Dynamics: The Archaeology of Maintenance Activities. BAR International Series 1862.

Museo Arqueologico Regional. Comunidad de Madrid. [online] Available at: http://www.museoarqueologicoregional.org [Accessed 11/05/2017].

Museu de Prehistoria de Valencia. [online] Available at: http://www.museuprehistoriavalencia.es [Accessed 8/05/2017].

Museu Nacional Arqueologic de Tarragona [online] Available at: http://www.mnat.cat/ [Accessed 9/05/2017].

Past Women. Material Culture of Women. [online] Available at: http://www.pastwomen.net/ [Accessed 9/05/2017].

Sanchez Romero, M., 2008. ‘Childhood and the Construction of Gender Identities through Material Culture’. Childhood in the Past 1, 17-37.

Symonds, J., 2007. Table Settings. The Material Culture and Social Context of Dinning, AD 1700-1900. Oxbow Books, United Kingdom.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

 

Cambridge Terrace: a tale of boats, banks and fluvial fun

When you think about the Avon River running through Christchurch, you might imagine punting boats and kayaks in Hagley Park. Such attractions in our garden city are far from new and, recently, a few of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology have had the opportunity to learn more about how a section of the Avon was utilised and modified in the early days of our city. As a result, we have managed to catch a glimpse of how the early settlers modified the wider landscape to suit their needs.

Prior to the arrival of the of the first European settlers, Māori had long been living in the Ōtautahi/Christchurch area, utilising the rivers as transport corridors as well as a source of fish and wetland birds. The river was originally known by Māori as Ōtākaro, and was renamed the Avon River by John Deans in the 1840s. Upon arriving in the new settlement in December 1850, Dr Alfred Charles Barker described the Avon as “everywhere bordered with a luxuriant growth of flax” (Lamb, 1981: 93). Barker’s photograph of the Avon River dating to 1860 shows the river banks still in that primitive condition.

A. C. Barker’s photograph of Christchurch from the Provincial Council Building, showing the banks of the Avon in their early state. Image: Canterbury Photography.

The first known development to have occurred on the river bank along this section of Cambridge Terrace was the erection of the Montreal Street bridge in 1861. This single-lane cart bridge would have been a great boon to Christchurch’s citizens, who previously had to cross the river at the Victoria Street bridge when passing through the city (Ince, 1998: 38). It was not until the establishment of the Christchurch City Council in 1862, however, that the first official landscaping of the river bank was undertaken. In July, a newly established ‘planting committee’ declared that three lines of trees (consisting of Lombardy poplars, sycamore, blue gum, laburnum, pineaster firs and weeping willows) were to be planted along southern bank of the river, between Montreal and Hereford streets (Lyttelton Times 16/7/1862: 4). By January 1863, the council had appointed a government gardener to oversee further landscaping around the city (Lyttelton Times 3/1/1863: 4). But it was the hard labour gang that the council most frequently employed in maintaining the river bank, particularly in clearing the refuse that was often discarded in the hollows of the river bank reserve by nearby residents (Lyttelton Times 5/5/1868: 2, Press 16/6/1868: 2).

In 1870, the mayor made a proposal to level the northern bank of the river between the Montreal and Hereford street bridges, as part of his idea to form a promenade along the bank (Star 19/7/1870: 2). Although it is not clear if these works were undertaken at the time, this may have been the beginning of the footpaths that many pedestrians still meander along today.

By 1875, the landscape of the river bank was changing again. The council was forced to authorise the construction of a new bridge in Montreal Street in September 1875, when the timber piles of the original bridge were found to have rotted (Ince, 1998: 38-41). William Aitken also erected the Montreal Street boatsheds here in this year. Permission to do so was granted by the city council, on condition Aitken paid a ground rent of £5 per annum and was not to charge more than a shilling an hour for the use of his boats (Star 12/10/1875: 2). J. McLean took over as proprietor of the boatsheds in 1882, and continued to run them into the 20th century. Fire broke out in the boatsheds in 1919, and although they managed to survive the blaze, they were not so lucky in 1929 when they were completely destroyed by arson (Star 29/12/1919: 8; Lamb, 1981: 111). Photographs of the sheds in 1888 and the early 1920s shows the boatsheds changed little over the years – though the foliage on the banks surrounding them certainly grew denser.

The Montreal Street boatsheds in 1888. Image: Lamb, 1981: 5.

The Montreal Street Boatsheds in the 1920s. Image: Lamb, 1981: 112.

The archaeology that was uncovered from the river banks of the Avon varied in condition. We found concentrations of scattered artefacts on the north bank, all of which were highly fragmented. These artefacts probably represent the random discarding of rubbish or items that were lost by the people who used the area as a recreational space. Alternatively, they may represent the efforts of the city council to fill in the natural depressions in the bank (not an economic recession pun), in an attempt to flatten the land. Such maintenance occurred in 1894 and 1908, to “render the banks of the river better looking” (Press 11/5/1894: 3; 3/8/1908: 9). However they were deposited, these artefacts were probably further fragmented by the trampling of foot traffic of the visitors to the area, and/or by the installation of pedestrian pathways to this side of the bank in 1941 (Canterbury Maps, 2017).

north bank. Clockwise from left: pathway along the Avon River, an archaeological feature uncovered, close-up on a scattered deposit of highly fragmented artefacts, inside the pathway, zoomed out view of the pathway. Images: M. Hickey.

Another way these artefacts could have ended up on this river bank relates to the nearby (and very hygienic), Corporation Baths (ArchSite 2013). These were located downstream from this site, between Cambridge Terrace and Rhododendron Island, and their maintenance required the Avon River to be dredged in 1877. The extent of the dredging along the Avon River is not known, but evidence from a nearby archaeological site suggests that material dredged from the river may have ended up further along the river bank, at least as far north as the Cambridge Terrace/Durham Street intersection (ArchSite 2013). It’s possible that the artefacts found at our site may also represent some of this dredged material. Sadly, these baths were forced to close at the end of the bathing season of 1886 due to the increase in sewage and other discharged wastes from the hospital less than 400 metres upstream (Press 9/2/1886: 2)!

In stark contrast to the fragmentary artefacts found on the northern bank, many complete glass bottles and a clay pipe were found slightly downstream on the southern river bank. No ceramic artefacts were found on this side, and it’s very likely that these artefacts were discarded by people into, or near to, the river. These items would have floated downstream to the southern bank, where they were deposited by natural fluvial processes. The absence of ceramic in the southern assemblage supports this theory – as broken plates don’t make good flotation devices! It’s a very tidy way to look at artefact fluvial deposition… as tidy as rubbish floating down the river can look anyway.

A selection of the ‘floating’ artefacts from the south bank. Clockwise from left: clay smoking pipe, spirit bottle, ring seal wine or beer bottle, torpedo (soda water) bottle, wide mouth pickle jar. Image: C. Dickson.

This assemblage from the southern bank could also be more accurately dated because the artefacts were literally capped by modifications of the river bank in 1914. At this time, concrete edging (or sheet piling), was added to the bank, and a concrete fill layer was added above the layer of silty soil that contained the artefacts. This leaves us with (equally as tidy) pre-1914 deposition date for these artefacts.

Excavation of the south Bank of the Avon River. Image: M. Hickey.

So, we’ve covered the material and condition of the artefacts found, but what about what they were used for? The answer is a gosh darn lot of alcohol bottles and some tobacco pipes… because… Avon River boat party?! Hey, it’s possible! But perhaps more generally, this area was used primarily as recreational space since the 19th century, and the artefacts that we found probably reflect that. The assemblage notably lacked the tea and table ware ceramic vessels that typically characterise a domestic household assemblage, and other common household artefacts were also absent here.

Whether we are looking at punting parties or river refuse, this Cambridge Terrace site offered us a rare opportunity to consider the use of a primarily recreational public space in Christchurch. We were able to take a wider look at modification of the early cityscape – Christchurch was not always the flat landscape that we know today, we have shaped it to be that way over time, to suit our needs. During this project, we encountered an unexpected abundance of historical data regarding the 19th century use and modification of this section of the Avon River –  we could combine this information with an example of a less common process of artefact deposition… and fluvial fun was had by all.

By Chelsea Dickson and Lydia Mearns.

References

ArchSite, 2013. M35/1063. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

ArchSite, 2014. M35/1783. New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Canterbury Maps, 2017. Canterbury. [online] Available at: <http://canterburymaps.govt.nz/> [Accessed 1 Jan. 2017].

Hickey, M., Dickson, C. and Mearns, L. 2017. 60 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Ōtākaro Limited.

Ince, J. A., 1998. A City of Bridges: a history of bridges over the Avon and Heathcote rivers in Christchurch. Christchurch, N.Z.: Christchurch City Council.

Lamb, R., 1981. From the Banks of the Avon: The Story of a River. Christchurch, N.Z.: A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd.

Williams, H., and Dickson, C. 2017. Durham Street South/Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch: Report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for the Fletcher Construction Company and the Christchurch City Council.