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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]



As it has already been observed, the city of Christchurch does not in the aggregate produce an impression of architectural dignity or splendour. The large buildings are scattered, the meaner structures of the early days are still interspersed among later erections, and the town is so flat that only a little of any portion of it can be seen at a time. In spite of these disadvantages, Christchurch will, in individual buildings, compare most favourably with any city in New Zealand. In the commercial part of the city there is a constantly increasing number of handsome warehouses built of brick or blue stone, and almost invariably faced with a white limestone which, though easily worked, weathers well and admirably lightens the general aspect of the buildings. Such erections as the warehouses of Sargood Son and Ewen in Lichfield Street, Strange's in High Street, the Direct Importing Company's shops in Cashel Street, the Grain Agency Buildings in the Triangle, Tonks mid Norton's new and handsome offices in Hereford Street, and Morton's Buildings in Cathedral Square, would beautify any colonial city; but they are scattered far apart. For the same reason the large shops—for example, Ballantyne's, Strange's, the D.I.C.—though in themselves magnificent, are not close enough to one another to produce a combined effect. The diagonal streets already noted—High Street, Victoria Street— form with the other streets various triangular spaces, the chief of which, known distinctly as the Triangle, between High Street, Colombo Street, and Cashel Street, is the nucleus of commercial Christchurch. Hereford Street is the Lombard Street of the city, as here four out of the five banks are located. The Bank of New Zealand, a handsome building with classic pillars and portico, has long been one of the chief landmarks of the town. But the real centre of the city is, as it was designed to be, Cathedral Square. This splendid area, twenty-five years back still grass-grown and shaded with trees, is now completely asphalted, brilliantly lighted, and surrounded on all sides by imposing buildings. The Cathedral is the chief architectural glory of Christchurch, and the finest work of its kind in the colony. It was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott in Gothic style, and is built of Hoon Hay stone. The tower and spire, which were erected at a cost of £10,000 by the bounty of the family of the late Mr. George Rhodes, combine grace and dignity to a degree seldom seen in colonial architecture. The summit of the spire is 210 feet from the ground. The building is still unfinished, but a great portion of the £20,000 required for its completion has already been subscribed, and on the 20th of December, 1900, the work of completion was inaugurated. Within, the Cathedral is panelled largely with encaustic tiles, and is adorned by the beautifully-executed Selwyn Memorial pulpit and by the tomb of Bishop Harper. The organ, the choir, and the fine peal of bells render Christchurch Cathedral a worthy rival of many English provincial cathedrals centuries old. Facing the Cathedral is Woolner's statue of John Robert Godley, the founder of Canterbury. In the southwest angle of the Square is the Post Office—an imposing structure of brick, faced with limestone. The Australian Provident Society's Buildings on the west, Morten's Buildings on the south, and Hobbs's Buildings on the north, are all worthy of their central position; and with its trams and cab stands, its drinking fountain and incandescent lamps, it is hard indeed to realise that Cathedral Square of to-day is the sand and shingle bed of only fifty years ago.

Morten's Buildings, Cathedral Square.

Morten's Buildings, Cathedral Square.

The Cathedral, of course, dwarfs all the other eccleciastical institutions, in size and dignity; but Christchurch is especially well supplied with large and imposing churches. As the South Island is comparatively free from earthquakes, the precautions that have made wooden buildings popular in Wellington and Auckland are here unnecessary; and people have almost forgotten that, in 1887, the cross and the top of the Cathedral spire were shaken one morning from the summit of the tower. Most of the Christchurch churches are substantial and handsome stone or brick buildings. The Roman Catholic Church in Barbadoes Street, an old wooden building, has been removed from its site to make way for a new and page 43 larger structure, of which the foundation stone was laid on Sunday, the 10th of February, 1901, by Archbishop Carr, who came over from Melbourne for the purpose. The Wesleyan community has three fine churches, the Durham Street Church being one of the largest, most solid and impressive of Christchurch public buildings. St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Cashel Street, with its lofty domed tower, the Trinity Congregational Church in Manchester Street, and the ivy-clad St. John's Episcopal Church in Latimer Square, no less than the huge battlemented Salvation Army Barracks, give proof of the liberality and zeal with which religious movements are supported. Of the wooden churches the most interesting is St. Michael's, with its detached belfry, the first built of all Christchurch churches; and St. Andrew's, on the Riccarton Road, is the church around which centre all early Presbyterian recollections of old Canterbury.

The people of Canterbury have good reason to be proud of the importance which they have always attached to education, and of the sacrifices they have made to establish it on a secure and permanent basis. The schools and colleges of Christchurch are not unworthy of the high purpose of the Pilgrim Fathers. Of the primary schools it is sufficient proof of their magnitude to say that four of them—East Christchurch, West Christchurch, Sydenham, and Normal—each daily accommodate over 1000 children. The West Christchurch School on the Lincoln Road— the first specially endowed High School of Christchurch—has a remarkably attractive exterior, and a graceful spire and clock tower. The Normal School, built in Gothic style of grey stone on the north of Cranmer Square, is probably the finest structure of the kind in New Zealand; and it combines with the ordinary day school a training school for teachers. On the south side of Cranmer Square is the Girls' High School, one of the institutions managed by the Canterbury College Board of Governors; and in Worcester Street, between Montreal Street and the Museum, lie the other schools and colleges—including the Boys' High School —subject to their authority. They are uniformly built of grey-blue stone, faced with limestone. Canterbury College itself contains three sections or wings of lecture rooms, as well as an engineering college, a physical science laboratory and a hall. This hall, lit by beautiful stained glass windows and panelled throughout with New Zealand woods, is a magnificent witness to the prosperity of the institution. The Biological Laboratory stands a little apart within the same grounds, and contains an observatory with a four-inch telescope, due to the generosity of the late Mr J. Townshend. The School of Art, in the same block, has been described by many critics as architecturally the most beautiful building in the city. On the other side of Antigua Street, facing the College Hall, is the Museum, the finest on this side of the line. Certainly no other New Zealand city can boast of such magnificent educational institutions.

There are many other detached buildings well worthy of note. The Christchurch Hospital enjoys a beautiful situation on a terrace that runs back from the Avon, and is surrounded by well laid out grounds. The Hyman Marks Ward and the new Nurses' Home dwarf, but do not spoil, the low picturesque facade of the older building. Christ's College Grammar School, the pride of the early settlers, “the Eton of New Zealand,” is a curious mixture of buildings of different dates and styles. The old school room with its tremendously high pitched roof, the pretty chapel, and the new hall adjacent are full of interest and attractiveness. The City Council Chambers, a building in the style of the Belgian or Flemish Town Halls, between Canterbury College and Cathedral Square, is certainly the most artistic erection in brick work to be found in New Zealand. The stone portion of the old Provincial Buildings in Armagh and Durham Streets is an interesting example of the Gothic style; and the Provincial Council Chamber still forms one of the most ornate of New Zealand public halls. The Supreme Court, between Armagh and Victoria Streets, is a singularly handsome structure in the Italian Renaissance manner. The Australian Mutual Provident Buildings, in Cathedral Square, a massive erection in grey stone, contains a splendidly decorated hall, in which the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce holds its meetings. One of the most significant proofs of the progress and prosperity of the province is to be found in the Agricultural and Industrial Hall, which was completed in time to accommodate the Jubilee Exhibition in December, 1900. The work of erecting the Hall for exhibitions and other public purposes, was undertaken jointly by the Industrial Association and the Agricultural and Pastoral Association. The buildings occupy the block long owned by Dr. Prins, between Manchester, Gloucester, and Worcester Streets. The entertainment hall, with seating accommodation for over 2000 persons, is the finest of its kind in New Zealand. The building, without the land, cost about £20,000, and its handsome facade of brick and stone, though fronting on a narrow street, is justly regarded as one of the architectural glories of the city. All that is needed to render the appearance of Christchurch worthy of its wealth and prosperity is the removal of some of those survivals of the early days, which, however interesting from the antiquarian point of view, are a serious blot upon the architectural symmetry of the town.