The Early Days Of Canterbury: 12. Some More Old Identities

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 12

 

 

Some More Old Identities

 

 

There are doubtless many old boys who vividly recall Charles Cook the erstwhile master at the old High School and proprietor for many years of the well known and popular boys' school opposite the present Art Gallery in Durham Street - Melville House. Although small of stature Cook excelled in the corporal chastise­ment of offending pupils, but withal was a most excellent teacher, many of his students occupying high commercial positions in various parts of the Colony in later years.

 

An outstanding figure was C. T. Ick, the auctioneer whose premises were in Colombo Street on the land today occupied by Kincaid. We recall Ick's picturesque personality, with white bell topper, high collar and old fashioned cravat tie. In visualising old identities, one is struck by the punctilious regard they had for the fashion of the period. There is no doubt that the mid-Victorian modes of dress were infinitely more becoming than the "go as you please" styles of this bustling Georgian age in which we live.

 

Cogitating along this line of thought, two immaculately groomed men are before my mental vision: handsome John Cameron, who lived on North Belt near Colombo Street, and George Fletcher, the early town's doyen tailor. Cameron was familiarly known as "Honest John Cameron," not, I presume because of his monopoly of that

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excellent virtue, but on account of the respect in which he was held by his fellow townsmen. His face was of the Matthew Arnold type, and he was a familiar figure in his faultless morning suit and bell topper hat. Fletcher was a fine example of the Mid-Victorian business man, his face being a striking reproduction of that of Charles Dickens. For long years he held pride of place in his particular line of life, and many of our citizens were indebted to Fletcher for their cor­rect Bond Street appearance.

 

Peter Cunningham is remembered by every contemporary as one of our most prominent citizens, as is also his prototype, A. J. White, who devoted his life to the development of the furnishing business which still bears his name.

 

And little Ruddenklau of the City Hotel we all envisage with his diminutive legs and white bell topper. Ruddenklau was a worthy citizen, although of German nationality, and took his full share of civic responsibility with its administra­tive problems, and occupying the post of chief magistrate at one period of his popular public life.

 

Another citizen who aspired to civic honours was Bill Samuels. In the early sixties the land­lord of the White Horse Hotel (which today is incorporated with the offices of C. S. McCully in Tuam Street), where he boasted of having the best bowling alley in the town.

 

One of Samuels's daughters became the wife of Lord Letchmere, who took her to his ancestral home in England, where she passed away at a

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comparatively early age. We recall the face of William Gavin, the draper, of Cashel Street West, and his two maiden sisters, all of whom took keen interest in local philanthropic movements. Davenport, the grocer next to the Criterion Boot Depot in High Street, will be remembered as the vendor of superb coffee, roasted and ground on his premises.

 

And there was Abbott the nurseryman of Papanui Road with stalwart frame and white beard - a perfect encyclopaedia on the flora and fauna of our infant Colony, and that fine old type of rugged Scot - Nairn, of Spreydon, who for long years carried on the nursery today owned by his son who is recognised as having an uncanny knowledge of the habits of almost every indigen­ous and exotic plant. Nairn senior, with his face shaven in the fashion typical of his period, and his flat topped hat and laird-like personality, was a very familiar figure in Christchurch in the mid-Victorian days of our history.

 

David Christie, the baker, is remembered as starting his career in Gloucester Street in succes­sion to Thomas Wilson, and in later years as adjacent to Chudley the seedsman, next to Daye the Gas fitter in Colombo Street. And a well known figure who might have been related to Dickens's Trotty Veck was Howard Smith, who in the early seventies was in the biscuit manufacturing busi­ness of Bruce and Coe, progenitors of the well known firm of Aulsebrook & Co. This business was commenced upon the land now occupied by Taylors Ltd., in Colombo Street, and Smith

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served his employers faithfully for a long period, during which he made every shilling a prisoner and invested his savings to such good purpose that when he died a few years ago it was found he had amassed a fortune seldom exceeded in the history of Christchurch. Smith was a Benedict of frugal habits, his daily perambulation of the streets as he admired the tempting window dis­plays making him one of the "institutions" of our town.

 

Another familiar old face was that of Richard Smith the painter, of High Street, who succeeded A. Whincop, one of our earliest and most reliable tradesmen. Smith lived on Stanmore Road and, among his fellow tradesmen was very popular.

 

Joe Carder, the Customs House Agent - well known to us all as "Boffin," the name under which he wrote paragraphs for the "Globe" evening paper of his day. His services as a tenor "warbler" were always in great demand, his star song being "Maid of Athens."

 

Thinking of musicians one recalls Rowley the flute player of no mean order, whose services were always freely given for any charitable object.

 

And Miss Taylor who was an expert performer on the concertina, and Arthur Landergan the organist of St. John's Anglican Church, whose home, "Little Godington," was on the present site of the Y.W.C.A. Hostel. And Charlie Martin never failed to score in his topical skits upon local cele­brities. And Charles Bennington and Bunz, and J. M. Thompson and Ben Button and Spensley, and Miss Carandini and others are vividly remembered

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as star performers of the seventies. Many of us remember Richard Walton, the patriarchal white-bearded auctioneer, immaculately dressed, with perennial flower in his coat lapel, with his curious mannerism of swinging his arms across his body instead of at his sides. And Colin Aikman, another wielder of the gavel whose personal appearance was the antithesis of Walton's. Aikman's Auction Room will be remem­bered as just west of Pratt's drapery store (now Ballantyne's) in Cashel Street West.

 

C. J. Reader, the clerk of the Mechanics' Institute (afterwards called the Public Library) and his two tall thin daughters who assisted him at the library, will be recalled by many folks who took advantage of this indispensable means of gaining knowledge in those days when everything but yellow backs was very scarce and expensive. Mills, who was Collector of Customs in the early seventies, tall and lithe, could often be met on his way to the Customs Office, which was next to William Wilson's seed shop in Cashel Street. His favourite walking method was in his shirt sleeves, with his coat thrown over his arm.

 

And Jacob Ladbrooke, the knight of the whip, whose livery stables were on the site of the premises occupied in after years by Ford and Newton in Cashel Street, will be easily remem­bered with his clean shaven, ruddy, weather-beaten face mounted on the box seat handling with masterly grip the ribbons of the four-in-hand team.

 

And Joe Page with his flat-top hat of design

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peculiar to his taste and contemporaneous with Ladbrooke, we easily recall to mind. And T. P. Baber, the grain broker, bent almost double with rheumatism, his spectacles perched on the end of his nose, was a very familiar figure in Cashel Street.

 

And Urquhart, the old Scottish jeweller who succeeded Asmusson in the shop in Colombo Street next to Wheeler the photographer, was one of our leading watchmakers, following the lonely life of a bachelor on the premises behind his shop, his only vices being his pipe and the Scottish pastime of bowls.

 

And Urquhart's neighbour, Purdie, the dentist, tall and handsome, with his pince nez suspended to a black silk ribbon (the correct fashion of the period) was for many years among the leading practitioners in the somewhat primitive days of the art of "gum digging."

 

And that weird old Irishman, J. C. Corr, the poultry farmer at Styx, who aspired to the legal profession, and endeavoured unsuccessfully to practise in the city. Tall and slim, with tightly fitting clothes, elastic side boots, and white "topper" and hunting crop, Corr was a well known son of Erin, who provided lots of Irish wit and mirth in the Magistrates' Court in the days of J. L. Mellish, the "Beak.”

 

And who does not recall little Baynes at the letter delivery counter of the post office, to whom we had to be very civil in order to get our love letters, which of course could not be addressed to our parental abodes for obvious reasons!

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A familiar face was that of Andrew Duncan, with auburn curly hair and beard, whose seed shop was in Cashel Street next to Cashel House and his nursery on the present site of the railway cleaning sheds at Ensor's Road.

 

And Henry Gain, the popular town salesman of Wilson, Sawtell and Co., the merchants whose premises occupied the present site of the High Street Post Office, and his confrere Claude Revans were both familiar figures in the late seventies. Henry Gain's name suggests that of Kilgour who was in the Government Service, and who with Gain was a very efficient and enthusi­astic oarsman in the Canterbury Rowing Club. And, thinking of rowing, we recall long thin J. 0. Jones of the Union Bank, and the Lanauze brothers and others, who were prominent oars­men in the early history of the club.

 

And continuing my muse, my mind wanders along Cashel Street and I recall Hughes, the stationer, almost opposite the old Al Hotel. It was in this shop in after years that Williams (who in later years joined Simpson and carried on the business in High Street which has for a couple of generations been a household word where school requisites and stationery have been in demand) learned his trade. An old friend of mine recalls the fact that in those days when Williams as a lad went to work for Hughes, business was often so quiet that the youthful apprentice was sent out with Hughes's baby in the perambulator for the young hopeful's daily quota of fresh air, and had to run the gauntlet of his

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companions' sarcasm at his elevation to the posi­tion of nursemaid, much to young Williams' disgust. Doubtless this apprenticeship experi­ence, though not provided for in his articles, proved of value, and in after years it may be fairly assumed Mrs Williams reaped some benefit from her husband's early apprenticeship!

 

Charles Robinson the chemist, who combined with his trade the profession of a dentist (whether qualification was a sine qua non I know not), had his spacious shop next to Hughes, Mrs Robinson carrying on the chemist's department of the store for many years after the death of her husband, and eventually becoming the second wife of Mr Dann.

 

Catchpole's fish shop, afterwards run by Warnes (who forsook his drapery trade for the fish and chips line of life) was next to Robinson's, which was later on merged into the old estab­lished business of Dennis Brothers, now of Colombo Street.

 

Nathaniel Suckling's boot shop will be recalled as being carried on in portion of a long shed on the present site of the Cafe de Paris Hotel, the remaining part of the premises being the work­shop of Piper the tinsmith. One of our best known tailors was William Pengelly, whose shop was in the Triangle opposite the original Wesleyan Chapel, and William Stringer had a shoe store nearby, while old Mrs Allchin, who had previously kept the Star Hotel in Tuam Street (the old building still stands, and is used

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as a store by P. and D. Duncan) had an eating house, which she designated "Uncle Tom's Coffee House," in the same block.

 

An advertisement in a shop window close to Ruddenklau's City Hotel, depicted a man of rotund proportions, bearing the irresistible invitation, "If you want to look as I look, do as I do, and dine at Uncle Tom's Coffee House"! This place was afterwards carried on by Mrs Lodge who was associated closely with the temperance movement in Christchurch.

 

And in the Triangle on Colombo Street we envisage Cohen the pawnbroker who was suc­ceeded by Bowman, and Lonsdale the Jeweller, and Bashford the confectioner, while Temperton, the originator of the firm now known as Whitcombe and Tombs, had his shop in the vicinity of where Frank Steel's butchery business is established today.

 

Tea rooms at this early period had not come into vogue, as people foregathered over a glass of port or sherry and biscuits, consequently many refreshment shops had wine licenses. This social habit had its demoralising effect upon many of its devotees, and more than a few grocers' monthly accounts contained debits for wine under the nom de plume of sugar or some other household com­modity which Dad would not be likely to call in question! However the phase passed, and tea and coffee came into their own, and common sense has brought about their almost habitual use for social intercourse.