Over the last couple of years I have written a number of articles that feature the Historic places of Lyttelton. These places all are of heritage merit; but they are like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, one can only fully appreciate them by looking at the bigger picture. Lyttelton is fortunate that it still has a large number of heritage buildings that reflect the story of this special place. This article summarises the part each piece plays in making Lyttelton an historic area.
Lyttelton is a natural amphitheatre; the settlement is sited upon the remains of an extinct volcano caldera. The geology has dictated the development of the settlement and its boundaries.
The first peoples in this area were the Waitahu tribe of Maori who named it Whakaraupo (place / harbour of the raupo); they were succeeded by Ngati Mamoe who named Lyttelton: Ohinehou (The Gully and stream). Mount Pleasant had an old Ngati Mamoe Pa called Tauhino-Korokio, the posts of the stockades were still visible in the 1850s. Ngai Tahu in turn succeeded them in the 18th century and settled at nearby Rapaki.
By 1829 whalers and traders (notably Daniel Cooper from Sydney) established themselves in the vicinity and Whakaraupo had become known as Port Cooper(named by a Captain Wiseman – flax trading in the Elizabeth). In 1830 Captain Morrell anchored here in the Antarctic and called it Cooks Harbour.
1848 saw it renamed Port Victoria but within a year it had been selected as a colony by the Anglican Canterbury Association chaired by Lord Lyttelton.
The Ngai Tahu sold Port Victoria to the English Crown in 1849 for £200. This sale was signed by six tribal elders, on the ridge to the East just above where the Timeball station now stands.
A sketch from the field book of Walter Mantell drawn on 21st July 1849 shows Port Victoria consisting of five houses and a smithy this can be seen in the Alexander Turnbull Library; also P.Maling’s book The Torlesse Papers 1848-51. 1849 saw an advance party of surveyors along with earlier settler and Maori labour preparing for their arrival, so in 1850 the official colonists arrived in the First Four Ships to be greeted by 300 people who had already erected thirty buildings including four large immigration barracks and a substantial landing jetty.
The local Maori had built whares on Custom House Reserve to trade with the Pilgrims but these were forcibly removed to Erskine Point on 22.12 1858. By 1861 they were found to be in the wrong place as a consequence of work on the rail tunnel so were again removed; in June 1865 a Maori Hostel was completed at Dampiers Bay.
The new name Lyttelton was officially adopted in 1857 by which time the European style settlement was well established; it is what grew from this early colony that makes up Lyttelton’s historic area. This includes the area of nine main streets that were planned and drawn up in England on a grid pattern. Those planned to run east - west were Norwich Quay, London Street, Winchester Street, Exeter Street and Ripon Street. Those planned to run north - south were St. Davids Street, Oxford Street, Canterbury Street, and Dublin Street (but with little realisation of the topography resulting in steep inclines for the four streets running north -south! This was a factor in the style of buildings here.) All these streets were laid as planned and named after Anglican Bishoprics.
The other streets were planned and developed after the arrival of the colonists and so follow the natural contours more readily; these are Brenchley Road, Bridle Path, Brittan Terrace, College Road, Coleridge Terrace, Cornwall Road, Cressy Terrace, Cunningham Terrace, Cyrus William Quay, Days Road, Donald Street, Flimwell Lane, Gladstone Quay, Godley Quay, Hawkhurst Road, Jacksons Road, Joyce Street, Keebles and Kenners Lanes, Randolph and Reserve Terraces, Simeon Quay, Sumner Road, Ticehurst Road, Voelas Road and Webb Lane. Those in the West (originally St Saviour’s parish) were the streets where Lyttelton’s more affluent inhabitants resided.
The streets were named after those inextricably linked to the social history of the early town (see Lyttelton Road names - Origins
Lyttelton in 1860.
Lyttelton in 1866.
London Street 1890.
Lyttelton in 1900.
Lyttelton has a wealth of historical buildings, which reflect the architectural styles, needs and fashions of their era and also availability and cost of timber, stone and clay, they also represent the economic and social history of the town’s development. It retains more of its historical character than most New Zealand townships.
Having early beginnings as a colonial harbour town, the cradle of Canterbury in 1849, homes began as basic shelters, (the last V- hut (A frame house) existed in Lyttelton on Canterbury Street as a garden shed until the 1940s); there were originally many Colonial Georgian one and two cell timber cottages (single gable) also four cell (often double gable) see the miners cottages on Exeter Street and Cornwall Road, also Grubb Cottage and its next door neighbour at 64 London Street. A number of these evolved over the years, with growing families or larger incomes homes and had additions built on to accommodate changes; many have ‘lean-to’ style additions at the back of the house. The result is often an eclectic mix of early architectural styles, which demonstrates the resourcefulness of Lyttelton’s early inhabitants and has created a unique environment. Some adaptations have not been so sympathetic, with some old buildings losing all their original architectural identity.
As individual buildings, these workers cottages are of interest (especially to their owners), but their historical value lies in that together they create a streetscape that reflects Lyttelton’s rich social history.
The stone and brick variety are rare in Lyttelton, these were only built when the materials were close to hand (as in the two cell stone cottage at 29, Cressy Terrace and the brick one at 30,Cressy Terrace.) Mr J Dransfield (Voelas Road), Mr Eli Salt (London Street/ Hawkhurst Road/ Ripon Street brickfields), Mr W. Graham (Brenchley Farm) and Mr W. Holmes(Dampiers Bay) owned some of Lyttelton’s brickfields and brick making businesses, but the majority of these bricks were used to build firewalls or chimneys, as timber was plentiful and therefore cheaper.
The earlier homes using kauri, matai and totara that have lasted very well in comparison to their ‘newer’ counterparts that are of rimu construction and more prone to borer. Most roofs are of corrugated iron.
Stone came from local quarries at Governors Bay, Quail Island (pale stone) and Sumner Road (red stone) this was used in much of Lyttelton’s retaining walls and in the ecclesiastical buildings. The local stonemason: Brian Weybourne used his skills to build his own home at 75, St. David Street, a good advertisement for his business.
The local building firms in nineteenth century Lyttelton were carpenters by trade and much of their handiwork still stands; decorative timber trim enhances the unique colonial character to many buildings. Notable Lyttelton firms were: The England Brothers of Oxford Street, The Mutton Brothers ;(William Samuel and Albert Thomas) and Holliss and Green c1870, later becoming Holliss and Brown c1894 of London Street.
On 24th October 1870 Lyttelton’s central streets suffered a huge and devastating fire, in these streets there are no remaining ‘Colonial Georgian’ buildings; the buildings that replaced them, in the early 1870s, were erected with a lot more thought about fire prevention, with brick fire walls between buildings that were close together. Later in the nineteenth century, larger buildings were built using the new construction methods of decorative concrete faced bricks. (e.g. the former Borough Council buildings, Oxford Street / Sumner Road corner).
The residential area
Lyttelton in 1911.
Lyttelton’s domestic timber housing has some fine examples of ‘Regency’ style: with balcony, curved veranda roof and decorative columns as seen at 29 Sumner Road; ‘Victorian Gothic’; (Gothic revival- Carpenter Gothic) with decorative bargeboards, finials, fretwork and steep roofs, seen at 20 St David Street, and 42 Dublin Street. The ‘Canterbury Farm House’ style has been blended with ‘Gothic’ at 6 Coleridge Terrace and 2 Cunningham Terrace. It is seen in its purer form at 34 Cressy Terrace and 27 Brenchley Road; Brenchley Farm now known as Brenchley House.
The ‘Gable Cottage’ allowed for roof space to be utilised and is well represented by 1 Ticehurst Road, 28 and 34 St David Street and 1 Coleridge Terrace. This style developed into the ‘Gable Villa’ seen at 6 Godley Quay with it’s distinctive triple gable and at 2 Coleridge Terrace which has one gable.
‘Railway Villas’are the humbler villa, but larger than the early cottages(see 84 St David Street). A good example of a ‘Railway Bay Villa’ is at 8 Cressy Terrace where the railway foreman lived.
Various styles of villa are evident in the historic area, these tend to be more in evidence in what was, 80-100 years ago, the more affluent West Lyttelton area and have had less alterations to them than the cottages since they were built on a larger scale; so there was not the necessity to extend. Most uncommon in Lyttelton is the ‘Queen Anne Style’ (e.g. 40 Cressy Terrace); there are good examples of some ‘Veranda Villas’ (e.g. Brittan Terrace, also 13 Ripon Street and 83 Canterbury Street); ‘Twin Bay Villas’ (e.g. 13 Winchester Street), ‘Italianate Villas’ (e.g 36 Winchester Street and 21 Sumner Road). There are some good examples of ‘Spindle Style’ (e.g. 12 Randolph Terrace and 14 Winchester Street ); ‘Bay Villas’ ( e.g. 4 Cressy Terrace and 67 Canterbury Street.) The ‘Square Villa’ is well represented by 21 Exeter Street and 38 Winchester Street.
Lyttelton’s larger ‘Square House’ that Holliss and Brown specialised in, have classic examples seen at 7 Coleridge Terrace and 47 Jacksons Road.
There are relatively few ‘Arts and Crafts’ houses in Lyttelton, but good examples are seen at 2 Selwyn Road and 8 Godley Quay. Randolph Terrace has some fine examples of unaltered ‘Bungalows’ with two good examples of timber and stone making very attractive, substantial bungalows Kumara at 96 Cressy Terrace and the residence at 85 Canterbury Street.
Lyttelton has a full range of domestic architecture retaining character from each era of its development; on their own the buildings may not be remarkable, but as groups they make up a characterful historic streetscape reflecting the social history of their day.
The Town Centre
The Town Centre commercial area has a wide range of hotels and shops reflecting the wide range of activities carried out in Lyttelton historically; the street corners display more outstanding buildings with the more ornate masonry that reflects the era of each building. Individual histories are detailed separately; but most notable are The Harbour Light Theatre ; the former Post Office; Forbes Building; Mazey’s,; the former Library and Fire Station; the former Borough Council Offices and Lyttelton Museum. Sadly the grander stone buildings along Norwich Quay have been lost.
Lyttelton is an historical treasure trove. Behind every building there’s a story – it is the people of this close knit community who have made Lyttelton valuable and given it it’s heritage. Knowing about the happenings, lives and personalities highlight the significance of the area. The tangible evidence – the buildings –, our heritage, needs to be celebrated, so that past, present and future are interwoven, so enhancing the sense of value and belonging within our community; saved for posterity and future generations of Lytteltonians.
Lyttelton history timeline
1770 ( February 16th ) – Captain J. Cook passed headland and named it Banks Island.
1809 – Captain S. Chase in Pegasus discovers it is a peninsula.
1830 – Vittoria, a Sydney barque, trades in Lyttelton on January the 10th. This is the first recorded commercial exchange.
1835 – First whaling ships operate from Lyttelton.
1847 – E.G. Wakefield and J.R. Godley meet in England in preparation of the formation of the Canterbury Association.
1848 ( June 12th ) – The Canterbury Association is formed. Kemp’s Deed between Ngai Tahu and the New Zealand Company signed lands between Kaiapoi and Otago included in the agreement.
1848 ( December 15th ) – Captain Joseph Thomas, William Fox, surveyors Cass and Torlesse arrive in the Fly they rename the harbour Port Victoria and begin preparations for the colonial settlement.
1849 ( July ) – Town survey of Lyttelton begins the construction of Lyttelton. The first harbour work was the construction of a 150 x 15 foot jetty constructed by Donald Gollan, John Grubb, James McNeil and the Allan brothers (from Port Levy).
1849 ( October ) – Major Alfred Hornbrook’s Mitre Hotel opens in Lyttelton; first recorded commercial enterprise. Mr William Pratt set up Lyttelton’s first general store and bakehouse on Canterbury Street, later moving to London Street and then founding the store in Christchurch that became Ballantynes.
1849 ( December 12th ) – Two and a half million acres are reserved for the Canterbury settlement by the New Zealand Company.
1850 ( April 12th ) – Robert Godley comes to Lyttelton; his house is built on Sumner Road.
1850 ( September ) – ‘The First Four Ships’: Charlotte Jane; Randolph; Cressy and Sir George Seymour leave Plymouth, England for Lyttelton.
1850 ( December 16th ) – The first colonists ship arrives in Lyttelton; Mary Townsend, a settler aboard, sketched an etching of Lyttelton from the Cressy showing the early beginnings of Lyttelton. Also, William Fox paints the landing place in January 1851 showing the beginnings of Norwich Quay. (Hocken Library). Within 12 months three thousand people have arrived in Lyttelton.
1851 ( July 19th ) – Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade is formed.1851 August 14th – The first meeting of the Canterbury Association is called by Godley at the Mitre Hotel to discuss where the provincial seat should be; for the first three years of establishment Lyttelton is the dominant locality for the Canterbury Association settlement.
1851 ( October 23rd ) – The Freemasons Lodge of Unanimity is formed.
1851 ( December ) – The Lyttelton Times is the first daily paper sold.
1851 – The first gaol is built (a temporary building). The first school is opened in Lyttelton. Grubb cottage is built on London Street.
1853 – The first Anglican Church is built on Winchester Street.
1854 – The first steamship Ann arrives in Lyttelton. A commission is established to report on travel / access between Lyttelton and Christchurch.
1856 – Lyttelton’s first wool cargo leaves for Britain.
1857 – Peacock’s Wharf is built. William S. Moorhouse, rail tunnel advocate, is elected as Superintendent of the province. Christchurch’s population exceeds that of Lyttelton.
1860 – The second Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, is built to replace the first, which became structurally unsound due to the green timber used.
1862 – The first Lyttelton Borough Council was formed. With the failure of the Cornish tin mines in U.K. many miners emigrate and settle in Lyttelton to work on the construction of the rail tunnel.
1863 – NZ’s first telegraph is sent between Lyttelton and Christchurch. Forbes hardware store is established on Norwich Quay.
1864 – St. John’s Presbyterian Church is built on Winchester Street.
1865 – St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is opened on Winchester Street.
1866 – The Wesleyan Methodist Church is moved to Winchester St.
1867 – The Lyttelton-Christchurch rail tunnel is completed, opened on November 9th.
1868 ( May 28th ) – Lyttelton becomes a borough led by Dr. Donald.
1870 ( October 24th ) – The Great fire of Lyttelton starts at the Queens Hotel, London Street, demolishing most of the central business area between London Street, Norwich Quay, Oxford Street and Canterbury Street. This was followed by a period of economic depression.
Lyttelton builders Holliss & Green (later Hollis & Brown) set up business in London Street. James Sinclair sets up business in Dublin Street.
1871 – The HLG (Hard Labour Gang from the Gaol) started sanitation work covering up gullies, levelling, paving, asphalting and guttering. A lot of the brick barrel stormwater gutters and drains are still in existence today.
1872 – Lyttelton Borough School opens on Oxford Street.
1874 – A benefit society is formed for the Lyttelton Lumpers at the Forester’s Hall, St. David Street. J. Millers boat builders is established. Lyttelton Post Office is opened (W.H Clayton); also Canterbury Kilwinning lodge was established. Typhoid, scarlet fever and diphtheria are prevalent. Lyttelton’s morgue is built below Norwich Quay. The Timeball commences operation (until 1934).
1874 ( October 31st ) – Lyttelton Harbour Board Act passed and came into force 1/12/1876.
1877 ( January 10th ) – First board elected and the Lyttelton Harbour Board meet. Lyttelton’s water supply is enhanced with a high-pressure water system. Trade Union Act allows registration of the Lyttelton Lumpers Union.
1877 – JT Norton is established on Oxford Street, later Lyttelton Bread Company; renowned for egg preserver also Bread improver: Dorex.Mahar’s Drapery at 33 London Street (‘New Zealand Clothing Co.) is established.
1879 – Graving dock construction commences.
1880 – Lyttelton Police Station is built, still operating in 2008.
1882 – The first trials of electric lighting are carried out in Lyttelton.
1883 ( January 3rd ) – Lyttelton Graving Dock is opened.
1883 – 1901 – Lyttelton is the country’s principle exporting port.
1885 Gun emplacements and the Torpedo boat are introduced in Lyttelton.
1886 – Andersons engineering comes to Lyttelton.
1887 – Lyttelton Borough Council Chambers and Lyttelton West School are built.
1888 – The Seaman’s Institute is opened on Norwich Quay.
1890 – The great maritime strike spreads to Lyttelton.
1895 – The first regular inter-island ferry Penguin operated by the Union Steamship Company, runs between Wellington and Lyttelton.
1897 – Twenty three private streets are taken over by the borough council.
1898 – Norwich Quay and London Street are tarred. Gaslights introduced.
1899 – Troops leave Lyttelton for the South African wars. The first car is imported into the South Island.
1901 ( November ) – Captain Robert Falcon Scott arrives in Discovery.
1902 – New Fire Brigade station is built. Signal box built. Abattoir is built at start of Cass Bay.
1904 – The Lyttelton Orphanage is destroyed by fire. Tennis courts are built on some of the land behind the site.
1906 – St John’s Ambulance extend to Lyttelton. Mr. Cyrus Williams becomes Consulting Engineer for the town drainage scheme including sewage disposal.
1908 – Shackleton departs for the Antarctic on Nimrod.
1909 – The band rotunda is erected at the end of Norwich Quay, where the road tunnel portal is now.
1910 – Scott departs from Lyttelton in Terra Nova.
1911 – The British Sailor’s Society builds its institution on Gladstone Quay.
1912 – Little Brenchley Road is renamed Cornwall Road after the many Cornish miners who lived in the vicinity. Old Governor’s Bay Road is renamed Cressy Terrace. Upper Reserve Terrace becomes Randolph Terrace.
1913 – National waterfront strike spreads to Lyttelton. J. McCombs, Social Democrat, is elected MP for Lyttelton.
1914 – Troops leave Lyttelton in Tahiti and Athenic for the First World War.
1915 – The Colonists Hall is given to the Borough School as an extra classroom.
1917 – Six o’clock closing’ of hotels begins (until 1967). The Harbour Light Theatre > opens.
1918 – Influenza epidemic.
1919 – Electricity is first installed in Lyttelton.
1922 – Lyttelton prison is demolished.
1924 – Lyttelton RSA is formed.
1925 – Quail island leper colony is closed.
1926 – Sinclair Melbourne& Co. Ltd is established in Dublin Street.
1928 – The Domain Oxford Street (Gaol site) is opened.
1930 – Sinclair Melbourne’s firm open a garage at 3 Dublin Street.
1930’s – The great depression. Unemployed work gangs construct Days Road, Upham Terrace, Lyttelton Playground and the new Mercy Convent.
1933 – Mrs E.R. McCombs becomes first woman MP for NZ representing Lyttelton. Cressy House maternity hospital is opened.
1937 – The Colonist’s Hall is demolished.
1940 – The first troop ships, Dunera and Sobieski, leave Lyttelton for WW2. The Secondary dept. of Lyttelton District High School is closed.
1942 (24th December) – A major fire starts in Rhind’s Grain Store; Lyttelton Hotel and shops and dwellings at the bottom of Canterbury Street are lost.
1944 – The Post Office’s clock and bell tower is demolished. As is Godley’s house on Sumner Road and the Plunket Rooms are built.
1945 – Lyttelton celebrates VE day, end of WW2. Lyttelton Library becomes ‘Free; non subscription. One thousand men work at Lyttelton’s Port.
1950 – Dr Charles Upham, Lyttelton’s G.P dies. It is decided to build the Upham Clock above Oxford Street in his memory. Centenary celebrations mark the First Four Ships arrival.
1951 – The Waterfront lockout lasts 151 days.
1961 – The contract to build the Lyttelton road tunnel is secured. The Sunday School and the Oddfellows Hall both on Winchester Street burn down.
1962 – The Lyttelton Borough Council celebrates its centenary. The Harbour Board open new offices: Shadbolt House, Lyttelton.
1964 – Trinity Hall opens on Winchester Street as a replacement to the old Sunday School building. Also Lyttelton’s first Supermarket opens. The start of the decline in small family businesses in Lyttelton.
1964 (February 27th) – The opening of the Lyttelton Road Tunnel.
1964 (November 29th) – Cashin Quay is opened. (After the reclamation of Buckley’s Beach).
1965 – The Lyttelton-Wellington ferry service commences roll-on roll-off operation following conversion of the TEV Maori.
1966 – Wahine, the largest and fastest vehicle ferry in the world commences Lyttelton to Wellington service.
1967 – Lyttelton Fire Brigade move to new premises on London Street.
1976 (September 26th) – The departure of Rangatira marks the closure of the Lyttelton - Wellington passenger ferry service by the Union Steamship Co of NZ after 101 years.
1978 – The Time Ball Station restoration is completed allowing NZ Historic Places Trust to open it to the public.
Compiled by Liza Rossie.