The Early Days Of Canterbury: 14. Our Public Squares

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 14

 

Our Public Squares

 

 

There are probably many residents of Christ­church who can visualise in a vague general way our Latimer and Cranmer Squares as they were in the early days of the settlement, but they have possibly forgotten lots of details, and many of the folk who resided in these favourite localities. Hence my present effort to revive memories which have faded or have been entirely lost.

 

I have encountered several contemporaries whose mental storehouses have been unlocked by some chance remark of mine, and delightful reminiscing to our mutual enjoyment, has followed in each case.

 

Latimer Square was in one plot until the local requirements, consequent upon our city's develop­ment, necessitated Worcester Street being cut through its centre.

 

The first anniversary celebrations were held in the vicinity of the present Plough Inn hotel, at Riccarton, on North Hagley Park, the course being towards the Fendalton bridge, but in later years it became the recognised custom to cele­brate the auspicious occasion on Latimer Square, the town observing a close holiday and abandoning itself to social merriment. Anniversary Day sports on Latimer Square thus became an institu­tion which all settlers of those far-off days will recall with pleasurable satisfaction.

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We had long distance runners like J. Stanley Monck who could do three miles in 16 minutes 50 seconds, and sprinters like Charlie Hulston, Bill Haddrell, J. W. Davis and Pentecost, and mile champions like Charlie Bowleg, and long distance walkers like Frank Haddrell. Pentecost used to back himself against a horse for a sprint race, and invariably managed to win, owing to his advantage in getting off the mark.

 

Some of my readers will remember O'Connor, from Otago, challenging Rowley for the mile championship, the race taking place one evening at five o'clock in Hagley Park, when  O'Connor proved too good for Bowleg. This race created so much interest that most of the shops and offices closed early in order to enable the em­ployees, to be present. Things were more casual then than now!

 

It is curious how certain incidents in connec­tion with these gatherings fasten themselves in one's mind so securely. For instance, who does not recall how "Curly" Ditfort ran or walked alongside the competitors, mimicking their individual styles and eccentricities! "Curly" was a source of much merriment to the onlookers, but a perfect bête noir to the competitors. There was also the runner (who shall be nameless because he is still with us) who was so superior in pace that he invariably turned with scorn upon his rivals in the rear and "cocked snooks" at them! Then there was the task of climbing the greasy pole and the chase to catch the pig with the greasy tail, both events proving a source of

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much merriment and excitement to the crowd. Wrestling matches were very popular, Robinson, the Maori from Little River and others providing hotly contested rounds.

 

Who does not remember Richardson's Show run by the Foresters under Tom Stapleton, Tom Hobbs, Bill Hobbs, Bill Ness, Tom Fuller, Mum­mery and others? Robin Hood and his merry men were a never failing source of delight to us youngsters, and I can still hear the big drum being pounded and the bugle blown by Bill Ness, prior to his raucous invitation to "Roll up, ladies and gentlemen to see the live lion stuffed with straw, dead donkeys kicking out blind men's eyes, and lame geese walking on crutches." I can still hear Mrs Sharpies, who ran the wheel of fortune, read my ticket after I had, with bated breath, drawn it from the octagonal revolving box. It was either "a small chana moog," or "a small tooth comb," or "a watch and chain," or "a diamond ring," all of which were of course of excellent value at the price of my sixpenny ticket! The lure was "all prizes and no blanks," and a real gold watch of doubtful value was exhibited, with the assurance that someone would be the lucky winner of this valuable prize. Peter Poski (his real name we never knew) with his crown and anchor game and his confrere with his game of "Doodlum Buck," and the other chap whose voice still rings in my ears as he called out, "Pop it down, gents, pop it down. Two to one the white, three to one the red, and even on the tan. Pop it down, gents, pop it down." And we cheerfully

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popped our shillings down, being wise enough if we were lucky with our early tries to move off and let someone else have a turn at this open gamble.

 

I wonder how many of nay readers can recall the first Velocipede race ever held in Christ­church? It took place at one of these anniversary gatherings, the course being from Latimer Square via Madras Street to the railway and back. The name bicycle had not been coined at that early date, the first contraptions being designated "bone shakers," or "velocipedes."

 

In the race to which I refer, one of the com­petitors was Joe Piper, whose machine was com­posed of two wooden wheels with iron rims, made for him by Wagstaff, at the Trolloway Carriage Works in Whately Road, the frame and handle bars being home-made and of gas piping. Piper managed, on this weird machine, to win the race, and excitement ran so high that he was persuaded to raffle the velocipede, so many tickets being disposed of that he netted £24 from the sale. So ended a red letter day in the history of the "gas piper frame bone shaker"! I make bold to affirm that those days of innocent mirth were happier for most of the people than the present age, our tastes being then so simple, and our requirements so easily satisfied.

 

Our Volunteer Fire Brigade provided the climax to the Anniversary Day celebrations, and everyone turned out to take part in the torch-light procession which preceded the fireworks display in North Hagley Park at night. One's mind conjures up such names as Merson, Green, Fuller,

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Cow, Skeene, Turton, West, Cox, Richardson, Atkinson, Fraser, Harris, Smith, Samuels and Heath - all of whom were the idols of us youngsters, as they fought doggedly with their limited plant to keep the conflagration in check. Many a magnificent save was due to the consummate skill with which these volunteer firemen tackled their jobs, which in many cases, owing to the delay in arrival of the City Council's traction horses, had developed into an almost hopeless burn before the engines could be brought into operation at the scene of the fire. The services of the local police force were strengthened by the swearing in of prominent citizens as fire police, the crowd of onlookers being thus kept at a safe distance from the danger zone when a fire was being handled by the brigade.

 

Eleven o'clock closing was the licensing law in those early days, and needless to say, the landlords found business unusually brisk during the half hour preceding closing time on these festal occasions, and so year by year ended the great Canterbury Anniversary Day celebrations.

 

The residences facing Latimer Square, some of which were among the very early houses, were the three between Gloucester and Worcester Streets on the west side, which were occupied by John Ballantyne, of Dunstable House, Henry Thomson, of Coates and Co., the Jewellers, and Thomas Wallace, the well known chemist, whose shop was in the Triangle.

 

The Christchurch Club, known colloquially as "The Linen Collar Club" to distinguish it from

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the Canterbury Club or "Paper Collar Club," was erected by a number of early squatters as a home where they could foregather when visiting the town, the hotel at the southern end of the square being erected by them for the accommodation of their wives and families, and known for many years as "Collins's Hotel." On the eastern side of the Square the one block was the home of Hon. John Hall, who imported the materials from England for the beautiful residence he erected there, and which afterwards was occupied by Mr Wynn Williams in whose shrubberies many charitable functions were held. The Christchurch Bowling Club at its inception was accorded the privilege and pleasure of using Mr Williams' lawn for bowls, until they were able, largely through the support of Mr George Gould and Mr W. D. Wood, to become the owners of the green in Worcester Street which they have occupied for the past half century.

 

The opposite block of land was owned by Mr G. H. Moore, who had obtained it almost free of cost, as a bonus for his purchase of the huge block of Glenmark Estate. It became the residence of Mr W. J. W. Hamilton and the house is today incorporated in the home of Dr. A. J. Orchard. Both of these blocks were cut up into building sites many years ago and are closely built upon.

 

Cranmer Square has remained intact since it was originally planned, and provides an artistic air space of which we are justifiably proud - on the present site of Warwick House boarding establishment

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was the residence of Mr Kinnibrook, and Mr E. B. Bishop and his sister lived on the corner of Armagh Street and Cranmer Square, this house having been tenanted by medical practitioners almost continuously since Mr Bishop passed away. Mrs Cuningham and her daughter occupied the adjoining house, her sons, Major and Cleverly being prominent business men many years ago.

 

On the section north of Mrs Cuning­ham's lived Mr F. A. Bishop, while the house on the Chester Street corner was occupied by Mr Papprill. The opposite corner of Chester Street and the Square was the home of Mr Baddeley the magistrate, and Mrs Turner lived next door. Miss Smith's ladies' school, known as "Cranmer House," was adjacent, being in later years con­ducted as a boys' school by Mr Wilson, who after­wards moved his establishment to "Wirihana," Page's Road, Bromley.

 

The brick house at the south-west corner of Cranmer Square was erected by Mr Dugald MacFarlane, who had fought in the Crimea in his young days. MacFarlane had an extensive wine cellar under his house and carried on a wine and spirit business in these premises.

 

Adjoining MacFarlane's property Mrs Alabaster had one of the leading preparatory schools for boys in the early town. Mrs Alabaster's lady assistant was Miss Martin, who afterwards became the wife of Mr Robert Parker, the well known organist, who although well on. in the eighties, is still organist in one of Wellington's leading Anglican churches. Mr Warner was also

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on the teaching staff, and among the early pupils attending Mrs Alabaster's, which was a boarding establishment, were Ynr Donald, Ernest Donald, Hastings Bridge, Edmund Rutherford, George Clark, Arthur Stedman, William Hartland, Louis Gibson, Gerald Westenra, Richard Westenra, Ben Moorhouse, Holly Bruce, Harry Bruce, Mortimer Davey, Frank Davey, Jack Davey, William Wood, Henry Wood, Everard Farr, Ted Haskins, and William Hawkins - many of whom have filled honorable positions in our colony in later life.

 

George Roberts built the first residence north of Mrs Alabaster's, and Dean Jacobs occupied the Deanery at the corner of Chester Street. The Cranmer Square Tennis Club occupied the present site of St. Margaret's College, while "Old Rouse," the cabby with the four-wheeler, lived on the next section, the cottage on the corner of Kilmore Street being the home of an old man who spent his time making toy barrows and wooden horses, and step ladders. His shed was used as a dress­ing room by the members of the Christchurch Football Club, who played the Association or Soccer game, which greatly fascinated us young­sters to watch. Millton, the Cotterills, Monty Lewin, and the Andersons and Potts and Stringers were among the best exponents of the game, the dribbling being most interesting to watch.