Christchurch City’s Heart – the Cashel and High Street Intersection

The junction of High and Cashel Streets, circa 1913
The junction of High and Cashel Streets, circa 1913. [1]
This intriguing photograph taken at the junction of Cashel and High Street draws us back to a typical summer day in Edwardian Christchurch in February 1913.

A summer rain fall has just cleared, allowing pedestrians to walk and shop, unimpeded by umbrellas. However the road and tram tracks are still shiny wet and the women in their long dresses are careful to avoid the mud and rain puddles, which adds to the scene’s sense of purpose and movement.

The composition has a vibrancy and movement about it, as the passersby, trams and cyclists, cut across the busy scene in strong compositional diagonals.  Interspersed through the foreground, four men stride along the pavement with a sense of urgency.  An older woman dressed in black and carrying a folded umbrella in her hand, carefully crosses the road.  Several young girls dressed in pretty white lace dresses and straw hats run to keep up with their mothers. One girl, tries to stop her hurrying mother, by softly touching her on the shoulder to draw attention to something.  Unaware of being captured in time,  each person, has unknowingly added their individual story to this moment in time.  As they hurry by, we are left only imagining who they are and what their story might be.

Within this fast moving scene, our eyes are able to rest on two young boys who stand gazing up at the camera.  Their stillness and solemnity intensifies their presence.  This is not co-incidental.  Edwardian boys were expected to remove their caps to acknowledge those they met. And so, ninety eight years later, we are able to have a tantalisingly yet fleeting moment with them, leaving us to ponder on who they might be and what became of them. Questions that will never to be answered by their silent stares.

On the left is Bonnington’s Chemist.  Beside it down Cashel Street are the two iconic department stores – D.I.C. Limited and Beaths. In the centre is the menswear store, Hallenstein Brothers.

Leonard Bonnington, son of founder George Bonnington, built the four storey Bonnington building at the corner of Cashel and High in 1911. The company occupied the ground floor of the building until the early 1970s.  If you have ever wandered down the Victorian Street exhibit at the Canterbury Museum, you would have seen the model chemist shop which is based on Bonnington’s earlier shop.

Bonnington’s is probably best known for its cough syrup, developed by George Bonnington, and still in production today. Up until the 1950s, ‘Bonnington’s Irish Moss’ was said to contain opium and morphine which no doubt contributed to its popularity.

High and Cashel Street intersection, 1925
High and Cashel Street intersection, 1925. [2]
In the same scene,  twelve years later the Weekly Press, 17th December 1925, reports,

“The city of the present day literally pulsates with life. The picture, taken from the intersection of High and Cashel Streets, shows a small portion of the ceaseless stream of traffic that every day proclaims the business activity of Christchurch.”

The inclement weather on this day is unusual for the summer month of December, but the clear sky shows promise of warmer weather.  In a decade, the busy intersection has considerably changed as the more modern modes of transport have been introduced to Christchurch.  A motorbike with sidecar, eager to make a quick turn left into Cashel Street,  has been forced to pull up behind a slow cyclist who also approaches the corner.  Several horse drawn cabs and a wagon make their way past Hallensteins.  Their use will soon be over as the popularity of the truck and motor car soon take over.  Men on bicycles negotiate the tram tracks.

Fashions have also radically changed since 1913. With the years of World War One and women’s opportunities changed considerably, womens’ fashion has become less restrictive with hemlines raised to below the knee and hats smaller and more practical.  Two smartly dressed women in fur coats and hats wait at the kerbside, before negotiating crossing the road to catch the waiting bus which is parked outside Stewart Dawson Jewellers.  In the centre of the intersection, another fashionable lady in coat and hat, clutches her handbag as she walks purposefully south across the street down Cashel Street.


  1. The Weekly Press on February 12th, 1913. Image: Christchurch City Libraries Reference CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0070.
  2. The weekly press, 17 Dec. 1925, p. 1. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 5, IMG0076.

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