The Early Days Of Canterbury: 10. Round About the Town

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 10

 

 

Round About the Town

 

 

The Market Room which was in later years the General Post Office and Richard Brunsden's coal store, were the two earliest buildings to be erected in Market Square, now known as Victoria Square. This locality is more fully dealt with in another chapter. Brunsden was the original manager of the public weighbridge which was a sine qua non to the expediting of business, necessity compelling an almost universal use of this machine by the farmers when selling their produce. The weigh bridge was afterwards managed by Morgan Laurenson, the father of George Laurenson, for many years Lyttelton's representative in Parliament.

 

The name of Albert Chadband revives mem­ories of evil smelling oil flares on the cart of this perennial cheap jack whose locale for carrying on his business was at the back of the Godley statue in Cathedral Square, when many tall Blue gum trees grew upon its open space and carriers' carts encircled the enclosure on which the founder's monument at that 'time stood. Many a time, as a youngster, have I stood open mouthed, listening to the wonderful patter of this old cheap jack. I remember on one occasion hearing him discourse thus, on holding up for the inspection of the crowd of yokels and others in from the rural districts for the Saturday night's market trade, an obviously brummagem hand-saw: - "Now, I'm

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going to show you something that you'll all buy - here's a saw. You never saw a saw that would saw as this saw would saw, if you were to saw until you were ever so sore. And I'm not going to ask for a pound, crown, or half-crown, but to save my lungs and your time eighteen pence buys the lot." This was delivered in not more than two breaths and needless to say the stock of saws was disposed of in double quick time.

 

The Square was used in early days for all sorts of purposes, show tents being set up for the exhibition of various freaks such as six-legged sheep, enormously fat children, a piebald boy and other equally hair-raising monstrosities. At the northern end religious services were conducted by Nathaniel Suckling, whom we lads knew as "The Archdeacon of the Blue Gums," because his dis­courses were given under the fine eucalyptus trees in the Square. On one occasion - a lovely night and the eve of the opening of the duck shooting season - the "Archdeacon" was leading the meeting in prayer and all was calm. Suddenly a flock of paradise ducks flew over the Square on their journey back from Bottle Lake to Lake Ellesmere, when a wag in the audience called out in a shrill voice, "Oh, look at the ducks!" The effect was electrical, and the "Archdeacon's" prayer was never finished!

 

The Police Barracks originally stood on the Market Square, where the Queen's statue now is, and some years later they moved their quarters to the premises now used by the Health Depart­ment, adjoining the present Winter Garden Hall

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in Armagh Street East. The old Volunteer Fire Brigade Station with its out-of-tune bell and its clever staff under Superintendent Harris, occupied the site for many years, before moving to Lichfield Street where up-to-date appliances were housed next to the old Oddfellows' Hall, opposite the residence of Mr Backhouse. The new police barracks also served as a public pound for stray­ing animals, the memory of which is imprinted upon my mind by reason of the fact that an insubordinate Billy goat, of which I was one of the proud owners, used, about once a week, to be found roaming on the public highway, and was always to be recovered on application at the pound and payment of half-a-crown fine.

 

The original Provincial Council Chamber in the picturesque pile of Government Buildings between Gloucester and Armagh Street bridges was designed by Mr B. W. Mountfort and opened for use in the late fifties, the original seating accommodation provided for being twenty-six.

 

Under the regime of the Moorhouse adminis­tration in 1863 the number of members of the Council was increased to thirty-five.

 

The foundation stone of the Government Offices in this Provincial Block was laid with due ceremonial on January 6, 1858, the contractor for the work being Frederick Jenkins. At this function, which incidentally cost £73/9/10½ according to the records, the Christchurch Brass Band supplied the necessary music, being paid a gratuity of five pounds for its services. A gunner from the Lyttelton Artillery fired a salute

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with a gun specially transported from Lyttelton via Sumner for the occasion, the inclusive cost being £93/5/-. The trowel and wooden mallet used in the ceremony cost £2/6/0 and were purchased from the hardware store of Neeve in Colombo Street.

 

Jenkins's contract for the first portion of the structure was £5,243/9/2 inclusive of extras, added to which the subcontract of Whincop, the well known painter and glazier of the period, amounted to £262/0/4, the total cost, including architects' fees and contingencies being £5757/1/2.

 

In May, 1859, a contract was entered into with Jenkins for the second portion of the block at a cost £7,958/18/0 and the total amount spent up to September 30, 1861, was £13,715/19/2.

 

The first Council Chamber did not have the much admired bay window which it now includes, this being an additional work, carried out in February, 1860, the alteration involving an expenditure of no less than £274/3/6, the work being executed by day labour plus 15 per cent commission to the contractor upon the prime cost. The carpenters' wages were 10/- a day, the masons and bricklayers 10/- a day, the labourers 8/- a day, apprentices' 5/- a day, plumbers 12/- a day, and plumbers' labourers 10/- a day. Fifty-six pounds of candles were used during the progress of the work connected with the bay window and other alterations done by candle light.

 

The glorious old pile of stone, comprising the new Provincial Council Chamber and Speaker's

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Room and Bellamy's, was commenced in 1864, the two former blocks costing £6,950 and Bellamy's £5,050, the contractors being Forgan and Son.

 

The stained glass windows for these buildings cost £277/14/0 and the tiling for the floors and walls £71/9/8.

 

 The furniture was supplied by Baldwin (afterwards Fuhrmann), Colombo Street, and R. W. Walters of Whately Road, the internal fittings being from the joinery workshops of Buxton and Mansell.

 

Surely no overseas visitor should leave our garden city, with its English "atmosphere" and its serpentine stream, peerless in the cultivated beauty which our people have so successfully striven to develop, without making a pilgrimage to this old pile of Provincial Buildings - a monu­ment to the artistic ideals characterising those cultured minds which laid the foundation of this lovely garden settlement of Canterbury more than three-quarters of a century ago.

 

Among interesting personalities of the early days one thinks of E. W. Tippetts of the firm of Tippetts, Silk and Heywood of Lyttelton and Christchurch. Stockily built with iron grey hair and flowing beard, his gold seal dangling from his gold watch chain and pince-nez hooked upon his coat lapel, Tippetts is readily remembered. His undercurrent of wit at all times made his com­panionship pleasant and profitable.

 

Long thin Carew, for many years proprietor of the stables next to the Clarendon, which bore his name, was a familiar figure to anyone who

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had any interest in horseflesh. His grey bowler hat and mutton-chop grey whiskers gave him a most dignified air.

 

George Turner who, in his day, was a cricketer of more than average ability, we recall as an artist in oils, whose landscapes of our streets and public buildings found ready sale when pictures were so scarce. Turner lived in a cottage next to William Bray's residence in Manchester Street at Hereford Street intersection, the section being planted with tall Gum trees. His boys Charlie and "Brush" we remember as celebrities in the local cricket world in the palmy days of the old Midland Club in South Hagley Park.

 

W. F. Beatson, the astute old Clerk to the Avon Road Board, was a well known figure in early times. He was responsible for the perpetua­tion, for many years, of the old toll gate at Papanui Road, which was a prolific source of revenue but an object of great resentment to the many country people who had perforce to pay toll every time they came into town by this main and only road.

 

William Harrington, the carpenter of Montreal Street, one of our earliest tradesmen, whose son married a sister of the late Judge Alpers, we envisage with his old-fashioned shaven upper lip and happy countenance, carrying out official duties at Durham Street Methodist Church, where for many years he was a humble office bearer. And J. E. March, the Immigration Officer, always well groomed, with perennial buttonhole flower in his morning coat, 'and fashionable grey bowler

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puggareed hat, taking official charge of the many assisted settlers who had landed without very definite plans of action in the infant settlement.

 

And David Clarkson, whose good wife founded the drapery business which today is owned by Ballantyne & Co., they having purchased from William Pratt who succeeded Mrs Clarkson on this site. And Samuel Clarkson, David's brother, a popular carpenter who for long years was a timber and cement broker on behalf of Shaw, Savill & Co., whose ships were ballasted with Baltic planks and cement. Very round shouldered with shaven face and bowler hat on the back of his head, Sam Clarkson was known to everyone in the seventies and eighties.

 

And J. L. Mellish and his brother "Beak" Beetham, both level-headed men, who had to control the specious and voluble Police Court solicitors in their rigid cross-examination of flustered witnesses, a by no means enviable job when men like John Holmes and Thomas Joynt and John Joyce were striving by all possible artifice to get their clients out of the hands of the law. A favourite maxim of Beetham's was "What is contrary to common-sense, can't be law," and many a vitriolic argument have I listened to from the gallery of the old police court as Holmes and Joynt earned their fees by the recondite persua­siveness of their Irish wit. The poor old Justices of the Peace, who happened to be called upon to act in the absence of the "Beak," invariably became involved in discussions from which they emerged "squashed."

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William Day, the benign, fatherly and hand­some managing clerk for J. M. Heywood & Co., was a well known figure, often to be seen standing at the door of the old Norwich Union office oppo­site Hobbs the tailor in Cathedral Square. Immaculately groomed, with silk "topper" and grey "dundreary" whiskers, Day was one of our best known "identities."

 

And Charles Hillary Parker, of rotund propor­tions, and sandy beard, was the arm of the law to those unfortunate citizens who had defaulted in payment of their just debts.

 

And Holderness, the stock inspector, with his inevitable pipe is readily recalled to mind - a devotee to my lady nicotine.

 

J. H. Twentyman, the wholesale ironmonger and saddler, whose premises were originally above de Bourbel's office, where Dalgety & Co. are now located, we all gratefully remember for his inter­est in social and religious work among the youth of our town. We specially honour him as one of the founders of the Y.M.C.A. which for the past half century has rendered such valuable philan­thropic service in our midst.

 

Thinking of the Corn Exchange in Tattersall's building in Cashel Street reminds us of the men who, dissatisfied with the unsatisfactory condi­tions under which their grain and produce were handled by a few merchants in the town dictating the prices, and combining to compel the unfortun­ate farmers to sell at prices which ensured large profits to the middlemen, conceived the bold step of launching the project which developed into the

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New Zealand Farmers Co-operative Association - a stupendous task for a mere handful of farmers. Ensor and Henderson and Mathias and Bruce and Boag and Peryman and Norman were the pioneers of this great institution which has grown to gigantic proportions since its humble inception.

 

When in reminiscent frame of mind one thought engenders another, and face after face presents itself before one's mind at a wonderful rate. Names and faces long since forgotten, reappear with realistic vividness.

 

One envisages Alf Walker the boot maker of Manchester Street - a lover of birds and a recognised authority at all our leading poultry shows. And Allen the painter of Whately Road with kindly face and grey beard - a leading lay preacher in his spare time for his denomination, the Wesleyans, and Bligh who kept the restaurant in Whately Road next to Knapman's, afterwards opening the gardens at New Brighton which were so popular for picnic parties and school treats. And little Moss the tailor of High Street, and John Morgan of Cathedral Square, and Papprill of Gloucester Street, also tailors well known to us of the seventies. And so one wanders on, living in the long past, and recognising the Divine Hand which has vouchsafed so glorious a heritage to the present occupiers of this garden province of Canterbury.