Displaying Wealth and Status in Buildings: Part Two

Welcome back to Part Two of ‘displaying wealth and status in buildings’. Now, before we get into the interior of the building, I want you to use your imagination when looking at the upcoming photos. Prior to taking these photos, this grand old dwelling was rented out by room and when people moved out… well they left a lot of stuff. There were also squatters who broke in and appeared to have a party in multiple rooms (and a small fire or two). I’m sure it wasn’t the type of sendoff the Ballantynes envisioned for their house but it’s the one it got. I’ve tried to spare you all of some of the horrors I faced in this building, but some may have slipped in. It is surprising the things building archaeologists have to face in our line of work, but a lot of the time in Christchurch the damaged buildings we work in have been squatted in… so we find some very interesting and gross things. But they make great work stories and sometimes blogs!

Anywho, the Ballantyne dwelling surprisingly had many original features remaining in the interior, including a couple that I hadn’t seen before. This may be due to my limited years working as a building archaeologist or the fact I have mainly worked on smaller cottages and villas that were not owned by people of the same status as the Ballantynes.

First things first, the layout of the dwelling. The Ballantyne home was laid out similarly to almost every other Christchurch Victorian home. It had a central hallway with rooms coming off it on either side and a staircase that led up to more rooms. The dwelling would have had 15 rooms originally, with all of the public rooms and smaller utilitarian rooms on the ground floor of the building. Bedrooms and servant quarters would have been on the first floor. This hypothesis is based on the grand scale of the front rooms and smaller back rooms on the ground floor. On the first floor, it is probable that the larger front rooms were the bedrooms for the Ballantyne family while the smaller back rooms were the servant quarters. Below I have rejigged the floorplans for the ground floor to show my theory on how the dwelling was originally laid out.

My imagined floorplan of the Ballantynes original dwelling. Like most 19th century dwellings, it had a central hallway that connected the main rooms of the house and went all the way to the back. The three rooms that have been labelled as ‘public rooms’ were highly decorative and were likely the parlour, dining room and drawing room – rooms that the Ballantynes would host guests in but also would use in their daily lives. The two utilitarian rooms off to the side, I’m not sure what the exact use of these rooms were. I like to imagine that they might have been a small scullery that servants could use to serve guests from while the Ballantynes entertained in the adjoining room.

Now the fun bit of the blog. Below I have singled out some stunning decorative features (some were also functional) that showcase the Ballantyne’s style and shows how they portrayed themselves to their guests.

Textured wallpaper on the ceiling of the hallway. Screams wealthy to me!

Only four large ceiling roses remained. Ceiling roses doubled as beautiful decorative pieces as well as providing ventilation to the rooms. These ceiling roses were found in the central hallway, two public rooms and the master bedroom upstairs. There were likely more but had been removed over time.

Cornices, cornices, cornices. The Ballantynes seemed to love their cornices! There is a saying “the bigger the cornice the fancier the room”… ok maybe I just made that up but its true! Large decorative cornices are usually found in public rooms of larger homes and in the case of the Ballantynes, they even put these large cornices in their master bedroom upstairs. Fancy.

The classic Victorian divider. Found in many different 19th century homes, a type of divider was used in the hallway to show a physical divide between the front of the house and the back of the house (think public vs private rooms). Now this timber divider is one I had never come across. The Ballantyne’s used a lot of wooden detail in their house, so it makes sense they had this timber divider. The more common dividers we see are usually plaster archways or the use of plaster corbels.

Please ignore the man in the back and instead focus on this beautiful Rimu staircase. A grand staircase for a grand dwelling. Now you know a lot of money went into this beautiful thing. Don’t worry this staircase found its new home in the North Island. While I am always sad to see a 19th century building demolished, its nice when items are able to be salvaged and given a new life elsewhere.

This may be one of the most beautiful fireplace surrounds I have ever come across. The detail was amazing. This fireplace surround was in the larger front public room. The Ballantyne home had eight fireplaces, which would have been very expensive to put in. Typically, fireplaces were constructed in the kitchen and a public room, depending on the size of the house and the money available. Sometimes we find an extra fireplace in a bedroom or two. But for this house to have eight is extravagant, and truly showed their wealth. (This piece also found a new home before the demolition).

Don’t mind the cast iron register that has fallen out… As a comparison for the fireplace surround above, this one was in the public room at the back of the house. Still a nice wooden surround, but it does not have the grandeur of the first surround. The large front room may have been the main room to receive guests while the back public room was reserved for only some guests to see but was likely mostly used by the family.

While not in the best condition anymore… imagine this timber finger plate with brass inlaid decoration, the brass key escutcheon and timber doorknob with brass decoration in prime condition – they definitely added some elegance to the Ballantyne’s doors.

The true star of the hallway (it also continued up the stairs and onto the landing) was this decorative varnished rimu wainscoting, which had been stencilled with a Greek key variant for the boarder and a four-corner design inspired by classical motifs. This highly decorative feature was added to the central hallway as it would have been seen by everyone that entered the dwelling. Other wainscoting was featured in a public room, but it did not have the decorative stencilling.

I have found that it is quite rare to find a 19th century toilet still in use in a house I’m recording. So, I was surprised to find one! Lucky for you I did not take a photo of the lid up… but trust me it had the original porcelain toilet! It was a ‘Unitas’ which was a one-piece ceramic pedestal closet that was manufactured from 1883. Also, very impressive that the Ballantynes had this toilet connected to the main house.

The Ballantyne dwelling is a great showcase of a dwelling built for a family with some wealth and status in the community. As touched on in Part 1, the exterior of the dwelling was well decorated and would have been impressive to view. The features they chose to have on the exterior set the tone for the rest of their house and it was the first impression a guest would have of them and their status. They clearly wanted to give a very prominent impression. On the interior there were decorative elements throughout the rooms, but they were mainly focused within the public rooms. This shows the Ballantynes were conscience of the way their house was viewed by their guests and that they made an effort to make the rooms that guests would enter be highly decorative, showing the Ballantynes as upper class.

Now, while all these features together are impressive, and they would have cost the Ballantynes a bit of money, these features can be found throughout different 19th century homes of families with different wealth and status. What makes the Ballantyne’s dwelling impressive is the combination of all of these features and the use of them throughout the dwelling.

Jamie-Lee Hearfield

Bonus content!

Our very lovely historian found deep in her files two photographs that I wanted to share with you all.

The first is this photograph from ca.1912 of Josiah Ballantine and his family in front of their stone motor garage in their new 1912 Unic. The stone garage behind them was sadly demolished prior to our involvement. There was a local legend about this stone building, that it was actually a small chapel, sadly this is not the case and instead it was just a very impressive garage! Image: Ogilvie, G., 2004. Ballantynes, The Story of Dunstable House 1854-2004. J. Ballantynes & Co.

The second is of this model of the Ballantyne house! Apparently, it is housed somewhere at the Canterbury Museum, but we have only ever seen this photo of it. As you can see this was created prior to enclosing the veranda and balcony. Image: Christchurch City Council, 2020. Property File. 

 

 

Displaying Wealth and Status in Buildings: Part One

The act of showing off wealth and status through material is a concept that has been happening throughout human history. This does not necessarily mean that the person had the wealth and status they were portraying, instead some people just wanted to give the illusion that they were more well off than they actually were (known nowadays as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’). The Victorians were well involved in the concept of showing off their wealth and status to the public through how they decorated and organised their buildings both inside and out.

We see this in many of the Christchurch buildings we record. Depending on the person’s budget, a Victorian dwelling in Christchurch would have the street facing façade as the decorative exterior elevation (sometimes the sides of the dwellings also had decorative features – dependent on the view from the street and/or if the owner could afford to). Inside the dwelling, the decorative features were mainly focused on the rooms that guests would view and use (sometimes referred to as ‘public’ rooms).

Before we jump in let’s first familiarise ourselves with common features of a 19th century building. Luckily, I have prepared this one below (full disclosure this drawing is three different buildings I’ve recorded combined into one so I could show different features that we find on 19th century buildings in Christchurch. This is not a legit building…):

A diagram showing different decorative elements on 19th century buildings. Purely for educational purposes.

The case study in this blog today was a dwelling built for a member of the Ballantyne family, a wealthy family in Christchurch who established the well-known Ballantyne’s drapery business in central Christchurch. The land was purchased by Jessie Montgomery Ballantyne, the wife of Josiah Ballantyne, in October 1889. The Ballantynes appear to have constructed their residence on the section ca. 1892 and remained there throughout the remainder of the 19th century. The property was then sold by the Ballantynes in 1927. The dwelling was a two-storey timber framed weatherboard bay villa with a T-shaped gable roof clad in corrugated iron. Unusual for such a grand building, no architect could be found connected to the design of this dwelling.

So, with the background of the dwelling complete, I hope you are now thinking ‘what does a dwelling owned by a member of a wealthy family in the 19th century look like?’ Well, lucky for us, a fantastic photograph was taken of the building in 1898.

Photograph of Josiah and Jessie Ballantyne’s house in c. 1898. Image: Canterbury Museum, 1898.

Now, as a comparison, this is how the dwelling looked when I started recording it in 2020 (122 years later):

Photograph of Josiah and Jessie Ballantyne’s house in c. 2020. Image: J. Hearfield.

It may initially be a bit of a shock to see the state in which the grand house ended up, but when you look past the modifications, you can see many of the remaining decorative features the Ballantyne’s put into their home. I’ve compiled a few comparisons below to show these features.

If you ignore the tv dish, the hole and the plyboard in the right photograph – this gable hasn’t really changed! The highly decorative gable features circular designed carved bargeboards finished with rosettes, and decorative timber stickwork detailing. The first-floor triple sash window set had a traditional style architrave, a moulded flat pediment and decorative aprons. Very fancy.

Once again: ignoring the modern additions (this time modern material to stop the squatters from getting back into the building…). The bay window appears original with dentils under the roof and decorative aprons underneath the sills. The bay window featured three sash windows and it’s not super obvious in these two photos but above each sash window was a coloured glass leadlight window with a geometric floral motif reminiscent of the Art Nouveau style (I’ll post a photo of the windows below because they are beautiful).

The beautiful Art Nouveau style leadlight windows, photo taken inside the dwelling. Now, don’t worry, these windows were all salvaged prior to the demolition.

The same post just 122 years between the photos. The timber worked chamfered post was incorporated into the enclosed veranda and only one fretwork bracket remained for this post. Above the post you can see the fretwork lace still in situ.

The veranda and the balcony were extremely detailed with fretwork lace and brackets. It would have been very eye-catching for the public walking past. While the right photo is the west elevation of the balcony, it shows the original timber fretwork for the balcony, and it was the same as the street-facing elevation fretwork. It also shows that the original posts in the 1898 photo were still in situ, they were just incorporated into the enclosure of the veranda and balcony. This photo also shows the closed west wall of the balcony (the original leadlight window was removed prior to demolition but look below to see it before it was removed)

I don’t know about you, but I think this was the original leadlight window. A lancet-shaped window isn’t super common, let alone a lancet-shaped window with a colourful leadlight pattern for a balcony! This was also salvaged and is hopefully living a new life in someone’s home for the next 100 years.

The front façade of the dwelling was the first impression the public and guests would have had of the Ballantynes. Based on the exterior of their house, it appears image was important. As you can see from the images above, they put a lot of effort (and money) into the presentation of their home. This dwelling would have been very impressive to look at from the street. For comparison I’ve added below another historic photograph of another dwelling I have recorded in Christchurch, an 1880s dwelling owned by the Whitehead family.

Photograph of George James and Mary Ann Whitehead outside their house, Kilmore Street, Christchurch in c..1920. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, 1920. Just a side note: this is actually one of my favourite photos I’ve come across because if you look real closely you can see George James Whitehead looking lovingly at his wife Mary.

This dwelling had decorative elements such as fretwork on the barge boards, fretwork brackets on the veranda and sash windows with decorative moulded pediments in a classical style. While these decorative features are nice, they are nowhere near like the conspicuous features the Ballantynes presented. George James Whitehead was a post-office clerk, so it’s likely the Whitehead family were more middle class and their dwelling gave the appearance of some wealth on the exterior but had a small simpler interior. Unlike the Ballantynes, who went all out on the interior of their home. However, I must stop here as this concludes Part One of this blog – to see how the Ballantynes decorated the inside of their home (well what remained of the original features) tune in next time.

Jamie-Lee Hearfield

References

Alexander Turnbull Library, 1920. George James and Mary Ann Whitehead outside their house, Kilmore Street, Christchurch. Whitehead, Henry Norford, 1870-1965 : Negatives of Napier, Hastings and district. Ref: 1/1-022247-G., Wellington, New Zealand./records/29948500

Canterbury Museum, 1898. Houses, Linwood, “Waverley” Worcester Street. Christchurch City Council Property File

Field Notes

Have you ever sat down and thought about how and where archaeologists record all that information they observe on site and what happens to those records after they’re done? Actually… you probably haven’t, but I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Most of the information recorded on site is collected as field notes. Field notes and field books contain the raw data collected in the field, and are the legacies of archaeological excavation. Archaeologists refer to these notes when writing reports and making observations on different features and sites. To some extent, they are a daily diary that records the results of excavations, surveys and other forms of archaeological monitoring and contain the initial interpretations and other general observations made in the field. Field notes can include data collected on preprinted forms, details scrawled in notebooks, frantic sketches on scrap paper, hurriedly typed notes in work phones or beautiful carefully drawn scale diagrams on graph .

An example of a scale diagram drawn on site. This one is a plan view of a brick barrel drain.

A quick Google of archaeological field notes will bring up numerous images of pages scanned from various field books all around the world. These are often immaculate examples of perfectly drawn diagrams or beautifully calligraphed notes that look like they are straight off someone’s Pinterest inspiration board and proudly displayed as a part of an archaeological exhibit. The reality of field notes is that they are much more varied and not necessarily pretty. Not every writer in the field records information in a way that you would expect them to as the Smithsonian Institution Archives identified during their Field Book Project. Lockshin and Benett (2018) observed; “Aside from hoarding and creative reuse of material, another strategy of the thrifty writer that may create media legibility issues is the technique of cross writing, self-annotating, and/or use of the field book in reverse orientation from back to front, which can cause headaches for the most attentive user trying to work out the beginning from the end”. I can even think of examples where I have written around the edge or upside down in the corner of a page to further articulate a point while running out of .

A creative use of space by this archaeologist, with their notes encasing their sketch map.

While in this form, the archaeologists utilises both portrait and landscape views to maximise space.

Scribbles in a notebook from a slow day on site. Pages like these provide an insight into the mind of the archaeologist and what the fieldwork was like on that day.

Every archaeologist will, at some point, work with someone else’s field notes. In fact, while I was procrastinating writing my MA thesis in 2021, I went on a bit of a deep dive into numerous papers on the subject. These either lamented or celebrated how legacies of ‘historic’ fieldnotes are used in archaeology and what sorts of information they can add to future research studies. It was slightly (mostly) off-topic… but I’m sure it gave me a broad background perspective and certainly mentally prepared me for working as an archaeologist. One of the papers even interviewed various archaeologists’ regarding their experiences working with other people’s field notes and what they wished their co-workers had included instead (Faniel et al., 2013). However, the most interesting of these studies focused on how re-examinations of original field notes have the potential to highlight assumptions that underpin how archaeological data is interpreted to this day at even some of the most prominent sites across the world (e.g. Ellis, S.J.R. (2008), Ellis et al., (2008), Boozer (2015), MacFarland and Vokes (2016) and Wylie (2017)).

I personally argue that the field notes themselves should always be considered an important part of the archaeological legacy collections. ‘Published’ archaeological writing often conceals the inconsistencies of archaeology by erasing the ambiguities characteristic of tangible archaeological evidence (Gero, 2007). The field notes help highlight the ambiguities so that we can account for them in future interpretations. They provide all of the non-artefactual information recorded about archaeological sites which have been reduced, or destroyed outside of a published report.

“no idea what else this might be – definitely not a soak pit”

Most of the ‘historic’ field notes housed in the Underground Overground Archaeology (UOA) office are contained within the yellow, Rite in the Rain ALL WEATHER METRIC FIELD No 360F hardback notebooks. These notebooks are celebrated for their near indestructibility, especially in wet weather, and have been used for field research in many areas since the early 20th century.  The UOA collection is housed on a shared bookshelf with the date and the initials of the notetaker recorded on the spine.

The archived yellow field books.

Notes in these journals range from journal-like diary entries to bullet-pointed notes and annotated sketches.

An example of field notes written with bullet-pointed notes.

An example of field notes written in ‘journal’ style with drawings and a torn page.

Another example of field notes written in full in a ‘journal’ style.

For larger projects, field notes have been recorded on forms. These are meant to provide reliability in how the information about archaeology is recorded in the field. Forms achieve this by prompting archaeologists to record key attributes about the feature in the interest of ensuring nothing is accidently forgotten. They also offer a clear structure and consistent terms that should (in theory) make writing archaeological report simpler.

Forms such as context, bag and photo registers also assist in the handover of information between archaeologist on site as they allow for information to be quickly summarised at the end of each day. Yet even forms experience somewhat interpretative use, and everyone still finds ways to make them their own.

An example of a context register that helps different archaeologists to know what was last recorded on site.

A blank context record form example.

The environment can also play a role in the legibility of notes, whether that be from trying to write with near frozen fingers on a freezing winter morning or water and dirt covering pages on a particularly muddy site.

An abused field book – the realities of working on site.

A bonus examples with various drawings. This shows a general (not to scale) plan of a project area.

Here at Underground Overground Archaeology, field notes are digitised before the physical copies (either in the form of Yellow Field Books, or binders full of paper forms) are archived for future inspection within our office as part of an ever-growing internal library. Collections of archaeological field notes exist in thousands of repositories worldwide with the intention that they will be able to provide data for and add valuable information to current and future archaeological and heritage studies. They provide data for a critical examination of commonly held assumptions about the past drawn from past research. They are unique, vibrant, (sometimes nearly illegible), windows into the minds of individual archaeologists providing information about their thoughts and processes on site alongside essential insights about the archaeology. Archaeological data is messy, and a strong understanding of the original assumptions and goals of the research that produced an assemblage is often required to critically apply it to new research. Relevant documents that clarify how the archaeological material and artefacts were initially collected are needed to address this meaningfully. I hope this blog encourages you to love field notes as much as I do.

Amy Tuffnell

All fieldnote examples contained within this blog are sources from within the Underground Overground Archaeology internal archive. I would like to thank everyone from the office for the suggestions and contributions.

References

Boozer, A. L. (2014). The tyranny of typologies: evidential reasoning in Romano-Egyptian domestic archaeology. In Material evidence (pp. 112-130). Routledge.

Ellis, S. J. (2008). The use and misuse of ‘legacy data’ in identifying a typology of retail outlets at Pompeii’. Internet Archaeology, 24: 450-457.

Ellis, S. J., Gregory, T. E., Poehler, E. E., & Cole, K. (2008). Integrating legacy data into a new method for studying architecture: a case study from Isthmia, Greece. Internet Archaeology: 24.

Faniel, I., Kansa, E., Whitcher Kansa, S., Barrera-Gomez, J., & Yakel, E. (2013). The challenges of digging data: a study of context in archaeological data reuse. In Proceedings of the 13th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital libraries, (pp.295-304).

Lockshin, Nora S. and Bennett, R. William, III. (2018). Smudges, Snakeskins, and Pins, Oh My!Book and Paper Group Annual. 37:125–142.https://repository.si.edu/handle/10088/97808

MacFarland, K., & Vokes, A. W. (2016). Dusting Off the Data: Curating and Rehabilitating Archaeological Legacy and Orphaned Collections. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 4(2), 161-175. https://doi.org/10.7183/2326-3768.4.2.161

Rite in the Rain – History, 2023 September 14, https://www.riteintherain.com/rite-in-the-rain-history

Wylie, A. (2016). How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Strategies for Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 42(2), 203-225. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243916671200

 

 

 

 

The Christchurch Public Library

When you take a walk or drive around a city, certain buildings often stand out as recognisable landmarks. Sometimes it’s because of their distinctive architecture, their height or size, or their location, and sometimes it is because of nostalgic memories you associated with it. As a result of the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes, Christchurch lost a number of its recognisable building landmarks around the city. While many of these buildings were readily identifiable to Cantabrians who frequented the city prior to the quakes, not all of us know the story of how they came to be. Today on the blog we are outlining the process by which one of the Christchurch’s most recognisable former public buildings – the Christchurch Public Library – came to be constructed during the 19th century and early 20th centuries.

Photograph looking west towards the former Christchurch City Library building located on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, 2023.

When the city of Christchurch was surveyed into town sections and reserves by the Canterbury Association’s surveyor, Edward Jollie, in 1850, the land that would later become the site of the Public Library was surveyed as Town Sections 405 and 406.

Detail from Jollie’s 1850 map of Christchurch showing future Public Library property surveyed as Town Sections 405 and 406. Image: Jollie, 1850.

Charles Thomas Maunsell, one of the original subscribers of the Canterbury Association, owned Town Sections 405 and 406 between 1851 and 1863 but did not develop the sections during his ownership. Fooks’ 1862 map of Christchurch shows no buildings present on Town Sections 405 or 406.

Detail from Fooks’ 1862 map of Christchurch showing no buildings present within Town Sections 405 and 406. Image: Fooks, 1862.

The Christchurch Mechanics’ Institute purchased Town Sections 405 and 406 in July 1863. Mechanics’ Institutes were educational organisations established for the purpose of disseminating knowledge on a wide variety of topics through lectures and libraries. The Christchurch Mechanics’ Institute had been established in 1859. They initially utilised premises within the Town Hall, but they always intended to obtain premises of their own (Lyttelton Times, 21/5/1859: 4, 1/6/1859: 4, 15/6/1859: 4, 9/11/1859: 3). When the Provincial Council granted the Mechanics’ Institute £250 in 1862, they were able to purchase Town Sections 405 and 406 for the sum of £262 10s (Lyttelton Times, 7/12/1861: 4, 9/7/1862: 4).

Having secured a building site, the Mechanics’ Institute utilised the common practice of holding an architectural competition to find a suitable design for a building. From December 1862 to January 1863, they advertised for competitive designs for a building to be erected on their recently acquired site, with £20 to be the prize for the winning entry and £10 for second place (Press, 13/12/1862: 10). The competition was won by Christchurch architect, Samuel Charles Farr, whose offices were located in Lichfield Street (Lyttelton Times, 5/8/1863: 3). Farr had spent the previous twelve years in Akaroa, before coming to Christchurch in 1862. The Mechanics’ Institute is believed to be the first building Farr designed when he moved to Christchurch.

Farr advertised for tenders to construct the Mechanics’ Institute building according to his designs in February 1863 (Press, 14/2/1863: 7). The tender for the construction of the building was won by local builders, Augustus Balcke and Daniel Brouard, for the sum of £1169 (Lyttelton Times, 5/8/1863: 3). Balcke and Brouard worked on a number of prominent construction jobs in Christchurch during the 1860s, including Matson and Torlesses stone buildings in Cathedral Square, Kiver’s stone buildings in Cashel Street, and Church of St John the Baptist in Latimer Square (Lyttelton Times, 12/11/1864: 11, 13/4/1865: 5, 14/7/1865: 7).

At the fourth annual meeting of the Mechanics’ Institute in early August 1863, it was reported that the new building was rapidly advanced toward completion, with the hope that by 1st of September it would be ready for occupation (Lyttelton Times, 5/8/1863: 3). By the following month the building was completed, and the Mechanics’ Institute held their first meeting in their new building to consider a general statement of the affairs of the Institute (Lyttelton Times, 9/9/1863: 3). The requisite books and papers were then placed on the shelves in the new premises, and finally, in October 1863, the Mechanics’ Institute’s new reading room was opened to its various members (Lyttelton Times, 31/10/1863: 5). A photograph taken from late 1863 shows the Mechanics’ Institute building present on Town Section 406 fronting on Hereford Street. The building was somewhat plain in design, resembling a dwelling house more than a public institution, but the link dormer and rounded hood windows add a touch of elegance to the otherwise plain building.

Photograph looking north to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street in c.1863, showing the Hereford Street frontage of the original Mechanics’ Institute building on Town Section 406. Image:Hocken Collections, c.1863.

The ‘Christchurch Mechanics’ Institute’ changed their name to the ‘Christchurch Literary Institute’ in January 1868 (Press, 9/1/1868: 2). Dartnell’s 1868 map of Christchurch shows the ‘L’ shaped footprint of the newly renamed Literary Institute’s building present on Town Section 406. A photograph taken some time after January 1868, shows a sign displaying the new ‘Literary Institute’ name on the side of the 1863 building.

Detail from Dartnell’s 1868 map of Christchurch showing the footprint of the Literary Institute building present on Town Sections 405 and 406. Image: Dartnell, 1868.

Photograph looking north to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street after 1868, showing a sign baring the building’s new name ‘Literary Institute’. Image: Wilson, 1982.

The Canterbury Provincial Council were seriously discussing the need to establish a free public library in Christchurch in 1873 (Lyttelton Times, 3/5/1873: 3). The public were quick to support the idea, and by May of that year private promotors had already raised more than £600 in subscriptions for the purchase of books for the proposed project. The Literary Institute were also in favour of the proposal, and they entered into negotiations with the Council to hand over ownership of the Literary Institute building and premises for the purpose (Press, 29/5/1873: 2). The Council placed the sum of £5,000 in their budget and drafted the Canterbury Public Library Act, 1873 for the purpose of purchasing the Literary Institute’s premises (Press, 14/11/1873: 2). By the end of 1873, the Council had successfully negotiated the purchase of Town Sections 405 and 406 and the associated literary buildings (Lyttelton Times, 24/12/1873: 3). The Canterbury Provincial Council placed the management of the newly acquired Public Library premises under the authority of the newly established Canterbury College Board of Governors at the beginning of 1874. The Canterbury College Board of Governors would continue to manage the public library premises and facilities for the next seventy years.

The reading room in the new Public Library was opened to the public in January 1874 (Press, 13/1/1874: 2). The library’s lending services took a further month to prepare before they were ready for the public, as the Board of Governors needed to take stock of and catalogue their new inventory (Press, 30/1/1874: 2). Finally, on 7th February 1874, the Board of Governors published their rules for lending books and the full functionality of the Public Library was made available to the public.

The Canterbury Public Library’s rules first printed in the Press in February 1874.

It was not long after the Board of Governors took over management of the Public Library in January 1874, that they began discussing the need to provide additional facilities on the premises (Press, 30/1/1874: 2). The Board requested four well-known local architects (William Armson, Samuel Farr, Benjamin Mountfort and Frederick Strouts) to submit designs for a new building in April 1874, with the sum of £15 to be paid to each of the architects for the designs they furnished (Lyttelton Times, 1/5/1874: 3). The Board accepted William Armson’s design on the condition that a few modifications were made in July 1874 (Press, 10/7/1874: 2). Armson’s appointment was not without its controversy. Firstly, because he had handed in his initial design after the specified deadline, and secondly, because it was over a year before the Board and architect could finalise the design and associated building costs (Lyttelton Times, 19/7/1875: 3, 15/9/1875: 2; Press, 10/7/1874: 2). But, in September 1875, the Board finally approved Armson’s design for a simple brick and stone building that was to be connected to the extant 1863 library building by a wooden corridor. A detailed description of the building was provided in the Star later that month:

 

The new building is to be erected thirty-four feet North of the present one, the two being connected by a covered corridor built of wood and 7ft 6in wide. In the centre of the corridor and fronting on Cambridge Terrace, there will be an ornamental porch to serve as the entrance to both the new and old buildings. The visitor, on entering the porch, by turning to the left, will gain admission to the old building through the present doorway, or by turning to the right will gain admission to the new building. The latter, it may be said, is to be 60ft x 40ft in the clear, with a space of 20 ft from floor to ceiling. The front elevation looks on to Cambridge Terrace, and has a triple light window in the centre, with a single one on each side. The windows have stone sills, arches, and mullions, the latter having carved capitals and bases of the same material. These with a stone cornice, on which the words “Public Library” are to be carved, will form a pleasant contrast with the brickwork of the walls (Star, 16/9/1875: 2).

Architectural plan showing the proposed extension to the Public Library premises in 1875. Image: Armson, 1875.

Architectural plan showing the proposed extension to the Public Library premises (right) in relation to the existing 1863 building (left). Image:Armson, 1875.

Tenders were called for the construction of the new Public Library building designed by Armson in September 1875, and the tender of Joseph Wood for just under £4000 was accepted by the following month (Press, 17/9/1875: 4). Wood lost no time in making a start on the construction of the building, and by June 1876 it was noted to be ‘fast approaching a state of completion’ (Lyttelton Times, 14/6/1876: 2). In December 1876 that the Board finally took possession of the premises and began moving the designated books and periodicals from the old library premises into the new building Press, 15/12/1876: 2).

The new Public Library premises was opened to the public on 28th December 1876 (Press, 28/12/1876: 2). Strouts’ 1877 map of Christchurch shows the footprint of the original 1863 portion of the library and the 1876 extension present on the property. A photograph said to have been taken in 1897 (but likely taken prior to 1893) shows the 1863 timber portion of the library and the 1876 brick extension present on the property at this time, connected by the timber corridor and porch fronting Cambridge Terrace. Armson’s design was in the Venetian Gothic style, with red brick walls set with bands of contrasting glazed brick and decorative roundels. The French pavilion roof was capped by a ventilator turret and wrought-iron cresting. Although the red brick was somewhat austere in its appearance the decorative roundels, the pointed sash windows with stripped voussoirs, and the detailed turret, gave the building an inviting and unique appearance which would be easily recognised by visitors for generations to come.

Detail from Strouts’ 1877 map of Christchurch showing the footprint of the two phases of the Public Library building (indicated with dashed lines) present on Town Sections 405 and 406. The third building on the property is the Librarian’s House. Image:Strouts, 1877.

Photograph looking northwest to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street in c.1897, showing the original 1863 Literary Institute building fronting Hereford Street and the 1876 brick addition on the right. Image:Christchurch City Libraries, 1897.

The building premises constructed in 1863 and 1876 continued to provide ample space for housing the Public Library until the early 1890s, by which time the accommodation was beginning to be inadequate for the growing collection of books (Lyttelton Times, 11/7/1893: 2; Star, 9/12/1893: 6). In 1892 alone the library reported adding over 1087 books to their collection (Lyttelton Times, 30/1/1893: 4). The need for additional space was apparent, and the Board of Governors approved a design by the architectural firm of Collins and Harman for an additional building to be added to the premises in March 1893 (Lyttelton Times, 28/3/1893: 2). Collins and Harman, being the architects for the new addition, appears to have been an organic choice for the Board, as the firm had originally been started by the Boards’ former architect of choice, William Armson, who had employed John James Collins in 1871. Following Armson’s death in 1883, Collins took over the firm and brought Richard Harman into partnership in 1885. Collins and Harman continued to be the Board of Governors choice of architectural firm for several decades into the 20th century (University of Canterbury, 2023). Collins and Harman designed a rectangular brick building with concrete foundation that connected into the southwest corner of Armson’s 1876 building. The building was in the Neo-Gothic style, which reiterated some of the materials and motifs of Armson’s 1876 building.

Architectural plan showing the addition of a reference library in the southwest corner of the library complex in 1893. Image:Collins and Harman, 1893.

Tenders were called for the construction of Collins and Harman’s additional wing in April 1893, and a tender for £684 was accepted the following month (Lyttelton Times, 14/4/1893: 8, 30/5/1893: 2). The new building was to function as the library’s ‘Reference Library’. Formerly, Armson’s 1876 building had functioned as both the library’s ‘Reference Library’ and its ‘Circulating Library’, with the building being divided in the middle to create two separate areas. The addition of a separate building to house the library’s reference collection, meant that Armson’s 1876 building could be altered to allow for the circulating collection to utilise the full space of the older building with the room divider removed and the building redecorated (Lyttelton Times, 11/7/1893: 2). The additional building was completed in December 1893, at which time a description of the building was provided in the Star:

 

The reference library […] is newly erected. It is 49ft x 31ft, the walls 25ft high, with an open roof with varnished beams and timbers and lit by six large skylights. It has 1500ft of shelving, with accommodation for about 10,000 volumes. These shelves are in cases about 8ft high, so made that at some future time a gallery may be built round the room. They are arranged in the alcove system, and the necessity for the old objectionable, noisy ladder-steps exists no more. The room is warmed by an extension of the hot air pipe system by which the other room is heated. Gas is laid on and fourteen burners give ample light during the evening. In the centre of the room large tables are arranged, on which magazines, art journals, musical periodicals, &c, are laid. It will be seen that in both rooms there is ample space for the number of books which are being constantly added to the libraries (Star, 9/12/1893: 6).

 

As the new building was located at the rear of the two early buildings, very few contemporary photographs could be found showing the 1893 addition. However, a photograph taken from the Hereford Street bridge in c.1895 shows the corner of the new brick building peeking out from behind the 1863 timber building and connecting into the 1876 building. The three connected buildings which made up the Public Library premises (constructed in 1863, 1876, and 1893 respectively) continued to be utilised for the remainder of the 19th century.

Photograph looking northwest to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street in c.1895, showing a small portion of the brick addition constructed at the rear of the Public Library premises in 1893 (red arrow). Image: Hocken Collections, c.1895.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Board of Governors were already discussing the need to make considerable additions and alterations to the Public Library premises (Press, 14/6/1900: 4, 25/9/1900: 2). Collins and Harman were again called upon to design additional building premises for the library. They designed a new reading room along with additional librarian’s office and rooms which were to replace the older 1863 portion of the extant buildings as well as the wooden corridor and porch that had been constructed to connect the older building to the 1876 Armson building. It is interesting to note that the Collins and Harman’s plan included the option to extend the building along the full Hereford Street frontage at a later date.

Architectural plan showing the proposed new Reading Room in the southeast corner of the library complex in 1901. Image:Collins and Harman, 1901.

Tenders were called for the construction of the new building designed by Collins and Harman in April 1901, and the tender of Andrew Swanston for £4307 was accepted the following month (Lyttelton Times, 26/3/1902: 3; Press, 23/4/1901: 2). As the new building was to replace the old 1863 building and adjoining porch, the wooden buildings and their stone foundations were sold at auction in June 1901 and they realised the sum of £80 3s 5d (Lyttelton Times, 14/6/1901: 8; Press, 28/5/1901: 2). Although the old building had been simple in its design and had by no means been considered an imposing structure, it had stood on the property for thirty-eight years (a long time in a young colonial town) and was already considered by many of the public as an “old land-mark” (Lyttelton Times, 18/6/1901: 3). However, the public do not appear to have been particularly upset about the loss of the old building (especially after significant rot was found during its demolition) and instead appear to have been eagerly anticipating the new structure (Star, 25/6/1901: 3). The wooden buildings were required to be removed from the premises by the 1st July 1901, by which time the library was renting a room across the road to act as a reading room until the new building was completed (Lyttelton Times, 26/3/1902: 3).

Once the old buildings were removed, Swanston quickly got underway with the construction of the new building and by March 1902 the Board of Governors were indicating the building was approaching completion (Lyttelton Times, 26/3/1902: 3). The building was officially opened on 1st May 1902 (Star, 2/5/1902: 1). A photograph taken in 1904, shows the new brick building standing on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace. Part of the 1876 Armson building is visible on the right-had-side of the photo, and part of the 1893 building on the left-hand-side. The new building was designed in the Neo-Gothic style and reiterated some of the materials and motifs of Armson’s earlier 1876 building. Unlike the old wooden building, the new building was visually striking and ornate. The contrast of the red brick and white Oamaru stone gave the building a bright and distinctive pattern, and the conical pinnacles and pyramidal turrets added an imposing height. The new Public Library was a building Cantabrians could be proud of, and it appears that the premises were well patronised with the Christchurch Library estimated to have had about 800 more subscribers than any other similar institution in the country (Lyttelton Times, 14/4/1902: 3).

Photograph looking northwest to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street in 1904, showing the newly constructed reading room building at the Public Library premises. Image:Kinnear, 1904.

When Collins and Harman had designed the new reading room building in 1901, they had included on their architectural plans the option to extend the new building into the southwest corner of the property along the Hereford Street frontage. By 1922 the Board of Governors were ready to construct a new building in this location, and called upon Collins and Harman to design it (Press, 27/6/1922: 11, 26/9/1922: 4, 20/10/1922: 10, 28/11/1922: 5). The plans they produced in January 1923 allowed for the construction of a new juvenile library department and an extension of the reference library wing.

Architectural plan showing the proposed new children’s library and reference library extension in the southwest corner of the library complex in 1923. Image: Collins and Harman, 1923.

Tenders were called for the construction of the new children wing of the library in February 1923, and the tender of Mr H. Hinkey was accepted by the following October (Press, 24/2/1923: 18, 18/10/1923: 4). Hinkey made good progress with the construction of the building, and by March 1924 it was reported that the roof was being added to the new building and the floors constructed (Press, 20/3/1924: 4). The building was far enough advanced by October for the children’s books and the reference collection to begin their migration into the new premises (Press, 1/10/1924: 5, 29/10/1924: 12). The building was complete by November 1924, at which time a description of the premises was provided in the Press:

 

The new juvenile library, which is divided from the old portion of the building by means of a leadlight screen, is 42ft by 32ft. Directly above it is a lecture hall of the same size. At the rear of these rooms a reference library extends 31ft on either floor […] Like the old, the new portion has been erected of brick, with Oamaru stone facings, a bluestone base, and slate roof (Press, 25/11/1924: 8).

 

The new children’s wing and reference Library was officially opened on 3rd December 1924 (Star, 4/12/1924: 7). In contrast to their usual neo-Gothic architectural design, Collins and Harman had instead designed what would become known as an “interwar commercial classical building” with the only hint of Gothic being the use of the vestigial flattened Tudor arch. However, the use of the same brick and limestone palate as the 1901 building ensured a continuity with the older sections of the premises.

Photograph looking north, showing the Hereford Street frontage of the 1924 children’s wing of the Public Library. Image:Cafe Cecil, 2005.

Aerial imagery from 1973 shows the building complex present on the premises at this time, with the four phases of construction dating from 1876 to 1924. These buildings continued to function as Christchurch’s Public Library until the early 1980s, by which time the requirements of the library had exhausted the available space within the old buildings (Press, 2/1/1981: 10). When the decision was made to construct new buildings in Gloucester Street, there were many in Christchurch who were outraged at the thought of the old buildings being demolished and they began campaigning to have the landmark buildings preserved (Press, 18/7/1980: 10, 25/7/1980: 12). When the City Council opened new library facilities in Gloucester Street in 1982, the library facilities were removed from the Cambridge Terrace premises.

Aerial imagery from 1973, showing the Public Library premises on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street. The construction dates of the extant phases of the building complex are indicated in red. Image: LINZ, 1973.

Following the removal of the library facilities from the premises, the construction firm Paynter and Hamilton Ltd purchased Town Sections 405 and 406 in 1982 and made alterations to the former library buildings to allow for the use of the buildings as separate offices. The actions of Paynter and Hamilton were praised by public who were keen to have the buildings preserved and the “site’s interesting links with the literary and architectural tastes – and politics – of colonial Christchurch maintained” (Press, 2/1/1981: 10, 5/3/1981: 30, 1/8/1981: 16). The architectural and historical value of the buildings was also recognised by Heritage New Zealand and the Christchurch District Council who both recorded the buildings as sites of significance. Although no longer used as public library premises, the buildings continued to be a landmark for those in the city, not only for their distinctive architectural design but also for the nostalgic reminiscences which the buildings evoked – with one visitor to the buildings noting they were “haunted by the ghosts of thousands of overdue library books” (Press, 8/12/1982: 38).

The buildings continued to be utilised as offices until they were irrevocably damaged during the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes. After standing on the site for 135 years, the former Christchurch Public Library buildings were required to be removed and Christchurch lost one of its recognisable landmarks. Prior to their demolition the damaged buildings were recorded by Underground Overground Archaeology and hopefully the information gained about the old historic buildings during this process will be the topic of a future blog.

Photograph looking northwest towards the former Public Library buildings in March 2011, showing some of the damage sustained during the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Image: Kenney, 2011.

The former Public Library buildings on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace were a recognisable landmark within Christchurch for 148 years. The distinctive red and white patterns and the ornate decoration of the blended design styles made the buildings stand out from their surroundings. But these distinctive buildings did not just appear overnight, they were constructed over time to meet the literary needs of the colonial township. They made an important contribution to the identity and sense of place and history for those Cantabrians who frequented the premises, while the blended architectural designs show the changes in tastes and available funding for public institutions during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the demolition of the buildings after the 2010-2011 earthquakes resulted in the loss of one of the city’s landmarks, the currently empty site offers an opportunity to develop new and distinctive buildings which may become future landmarks for the city, and we look forward to seeing what comes next.

Lydia Mearns

References

Wilson, P. R., 1982. The architecture of Samuel Charles Farr, 1827-1918. [Thesis] University of Canterbury: Master of Arts in Art History.

 

End of the Line: short life and strange death of a white elephant

At shallow depth, just inside of the gates of the Linwood Cemetery, lies buried the remains of a white elephant, or, perhaps more accurately, just the archaeological trace remains of her 19th century tracks. More than eight years ago now I wrote one of my first archaeology blogs, which was about the archaeology of our old city tramways. Back then, lots of old tramline remains were resurfacing as a result of the post-earthquake   SCIRT infrastructure rebuild. In that blog I made brief mention to the tram line that once ran out to the Linwood Cemetery, and the strange saga of the Council’s tramway hearse. I was excited to discover that not only part of that 1880s cemetery tramline still survives to this day, but of all the many old tram routes the city once had, this particular one had perhaps the most interesting tale to tell. And so, some eight years down the track (no pun intended), the time has finally come to further flesh out the story of the city tram that once went out to the Linwood Cemetery, (or sort of once did), and the tramway hearse that, for better or worse, never got a chance to fulfil its true potential (or at the very least, fulfil its intended function). So, dear readers, the time has finally come to buy the ticket and join us for the ride, (don’t worry, in this instance a one way ticket is fine), for today we get off at the last stop, the cemetery at the end of the line.

Map of the Linwood Cemetery. Image: Christchurch City Council [online].

The Linwood Cemetery

Located off Butterfield Avenue behind Bromley Park, the Linwood Cemetery is the fifth oldest public cemetery in Christchurch, established in 1884. Although now surrounded by suburbia, 139 years ago this was a sparsely populated rural spot that was located a safe distance outside the city limits. This was important, as by this time there were genuine public health concerns about the practice of continuing to bury the dead in cemeteries that were located within built up urban areas. Christchurch’s biggest cemetery, in Barbadoes Street, was filling up fast (with over 300 internments a year), and the Council were starting to receive complaints from local residents about the objectionable odours that emanated from the swampy cemetery grounds, and of fears that the groundwater in their backyard wells would become contaminated by the decomposition of the dead (Bowman et. al. 2009). And so, in October 1883, the City Council formed a cemetery committee (made up of Councillors Bowman Vincent, Louisson, and Kiver) to look into finding an appropriate new spot where the dead could be buried a safe distance away from the living (Star, 16/10/1883: 4). The chosen location in Linwood was a most suitable one. It wasn’t too close to town but not too far away (something of a ‘Goldilocks Zone’). Spread out across a rolling sand dune, the sandy ground here was easy to dig, with tests confirming that except for the spots where there were hollows, no groundwater was encountered at a depth less than six feet (Press, 29/11/1883:3). In a peculiar irony, the first person to be buried here was Sarah Ann Freeman, the wife of the cemetery’s first sexton (caretaker/gravedigger), on 10 July 1884, a few months before the cemetery was officially opened in October (Burgess et. al 2006:12).

Gated entrance to the Linwood Cemetery, off Butterfield Avenue. Meet you here sometime, Morrissey Photo: Hamish Williams.

The Corporation Tramline and the tramway hearse

In March 1884, while the cemetery site was still being prepared, the City Council decided that given its location out of town, they would need to construct a tramway linking the city and cemetery, in order to make it easily accessible. This tramway, (which became known as the Corporation Line) was intended to have a threefold function. Firstly, it would be used to convey funeral traffic to the cemetery. Secondly, it would be used to convey rubbish and nightsoil to the Council’s rubbish and nightsoil reserve, which was located just past the cemetery, near what is now Rudds Road. And thirdly, it would serve as a passenger service. The council would operate the rubbish and nightsoil service themselves under the cover of darkness, while during the day the business of conveying passengers out to the cemetery (both dead and alive) would be leased out to private contractors (Alexander 1985:11). A substantial loan was taken out by the council to cover the costs of the trams and the building of the tramline, which ran from the Council’s yard on Oxford Terrace, via Worcester Street, Linwood Avenue, and Buckleys Road to the new cemetery and the rubbish reserve. John Brightling won the tender for laying the three miles of track, which took four months to complete, and was officially opened on April 23, 1886 (Alexander 1985:11).

It was Councillor James Bowman, chair of the Council’s Cemetery Committee, that championed the call for the city to invest in a custom-built tramway hearse to operate on the new Corporation Line. The intention was that the tramway hearse, otherwise known as the Corporation Hearse, could be leased out, evidently to funeral directors, to provide Christchurch’s less wealthy citizens with a low-cost funeral transportation option. Local coachbuilder William Moor and Son won the contract to build the special tram hearse, which was delivered to the Council yard in September 1885 at a cost of £300 (Alexander 1985:11). Capable of carrying up to four caskets at a time, it was a painted a dignified black colour, had fine wooden panelling, elliptical plate glass windows, and up top had decorative brass railings where one could fix floral tributes. When not in use, the tram hearse lived at the council yard in a purpose built storage shed.

The only known picture of the infamous tramway hearse. Image: Press 21/2/1970:5.

As well intentioned as the idea of a tramway hearse was, unfortunately, the concept of ‘funeral procession by public transport’ never ever took off and in the end, there would be no [under]takers keen on using it. To make matters worse, little money was to be made from leasing out the line to private operators for a daytime passenger service. Of the three original intended functions of the Corporation Line, the only one that proved to be of any value was the nighttime conveyance of rubbish out to the rubbish reserve. Nightsoil removal by this time was not so much of a pressing issue for the Council, as the Drainage Board’s new sewerage system was well in operation. The night-time rubbish removal trams kept operating on the line until 1902, by which time city rubbish was being dealt with by burning it in town instead of carting it away and burying it. Interested in finding out more about the Municipal Destructor? – we wrote a blog a while back about that too, check that out here.

Sitting idle in the Council yard, the reality that the tramway hearse was in fact just a white elephant soon set in. In late 1887, Councillor Gray considered the tramway hearse to be a useless asset and suggested that it might be sold or otherwise repurposed into something the city might find useful, like a dust-cart (Star, 15/11/1887:4). But the £120 cost of conversion was not considered economical, so it was decided that for now, the council best just retain it as it was, just in case the city was struck by a ‘municipal emergency’ like an epidemic (Timaru Herald, 11/1/1888: 2). Thankfully no big epidemic came, and three years later the Council decided to try to sell the hearse, hoping to recoup at the very least the £90 cost of the 5% interest on the loan raised six years earlier to help pay for its construction (Press,17/3/1891:6). Unfortunately, not a single soul was interested in buying the tram hearse. In 1892, Councillor Gray again brought up the subject of the useless ‘Corporation Hearse’ that was languishing in the council yard and how it might be repurposed or otherwise disposed of (Press, 7/6/1892: 6). Little however came of this, short of Gray having to make a formal public apology to the community, and especially to Bowman’s widow, in respect to his callous character attacking of the recently deceased former Councillor (Press, 14/6/1892:3). It appeared that the Council might possibly just be stuck with this white elephant forever. By July 1894 the Council had still not managed to get rid of it, but at least they had managed to free up some space in their storage yard. The hearse was finally relocated out to the cemetery, where here the proverbial ‘white elephant on wheels’ got a new lease on life, being fixed up by the sexton and transformed into a fowl house (Star, 31/7/1894:2). Fresh eggs anyone?

At the end of 1897, what to do about the hearse again came up for discussion in Council meeting – and whether the undercarriage of the tram hearse could be repurposed into something useful, like a water cart (Press, 7/12/1897:3). The undercarriage was inspected, but determined unsuitable for conversion, but that it would surely fetch a good price at auction (Press, 21/12/1897:6). Sadly, again no so soul came forward with an interest in buying it (Lyttelton Times, 5/2/1898:3).

For sale: one tramway hearse, mint condition, never been used. Image:  Lyttelton Times, 5/2/1898:3

Eventually, in August 1901, the tramway hearse would finally be sold at auction, for the sacrificial sum of just £3. Local MP Samuel Paull Andrews brought it and gave it a new lease of life. Andrews relocated it to his St Andrews Hill quarry, where it served as an explosives store until about 1906 or 1907. Thereafter, his sons Hastings and George built a wooden pontoon and placed the hearse on it, turning it into a houseboat (or hearseboat?) that had four bunk beds and a collapsible table. It was moored for some time off what was known as Moncks Jetty in Redcliffs, near the site of what is now the Christchurch Yacht Club, and the boys spent many summers living on it. One night, just before World War 1, a storm broke it free from its moorings and carried it across the estuary, beaching it on the New Brighton Spit. It was towed back across the estuary to Mount Pleasant and beached up near the site of the present bowling green. The pontoon had by this time begun to leak badly and often needed a great deal of pumping to stay afloat. The fate of the hearseboat after that time remains something of a mystery (Press, 24/2/1970:18). Do any of our readers know what ever became of the hearseboat? If so, we’d really love to hear from you.

The approximate last known location of the hearseboat, as far as we can tell. Image: Jamie Hearfield.

Archaeological trace remains of the original 1885 Corporation Line tram tracks still survive today within the Linwood Cemetery grounds, and these are well worth a visit to check out. Although since covered over by a thin layer of asphalt, you can still make out where the 2.2 m long timber sleepers were placed in alignment some 139 years ago, set apart at approximate 600 mm intervals. Over time the sleepers have all seemingly rotted away, leaving behind shallow depressions into which the asphalt has sunk and settled, marking their location. There is also a small section where the iron rails, nailed to the sleepers (at the standard gauge of 4ft 8 and a half inches) remain in-situ, because for whatever reason back in the day these weren’t ripped up and removed for reuse elsewhere.

Tram tracks in the cemetery. Image: Hamish Williams.

Tram tracks in the cemetery. Image: Hamish Williams

Tram tracks in the cemetery. Image: Hamish Williams

Tram rails in the cemetery, laid at the standard gauge of 4ft 8 and a half inches. And four-legged archaeologist. Image: Hamish Williams.

Although good intentioned, the fact that the Bowman’s tramway hearse was rejected by the community it had been built to serve and was never used for its intended purpose of transporting the dead – reflect strong feelings of the time that no matter how poor people are, all people deserve more respect and dignity than being transported, en masse, by means of public transport, to their final resting place (Burgess et. al 2006:65). A fine reminder that inextricably tied in with the surviving physical bits of the past that constitute an archaeological site, are the intangible, and sometimes elusive – thoughts, feelings, values, and intentions of the past peoples whom that physical stuff once related to. God bless, everybody.

Hamish Williams

References

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

Bowman, I., Wilson, J., Beaumont, L., and Watson, K. 2009. Conservation Plan, Barbadoes Street Cemetery. [online]. Available at:  https://ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Culture-Community/Heritage/BarbadoesStreetCemeteryFinalPlan.pdf

Burgess, R., Bowman, I., May, J., and McKenzie, D. 2006. Conservation Plan, Linwood Cemetery. [online]. Available at: https://ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Services/Cemeteries/FinalConservationPlanLinwood.pdf

Lyttelton Times [online]. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

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

Star. [online] Available eat: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Timaru Herald. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/