Outside the City Hotel, a stream of Hackney and Hansom cabs wait for fares at ‘Cabstand Corner’ (later known as the ‘Triangle’.) The year is 1884 and it appears that the photographer has asked the group of people standing in the foreground, to stand still so as not to have a blurred image. With hands in pockets, several of the men stand talking while behind them, a young mother stands demurely, as she rests her hand on the handle of the toddler’s cane perambulator. Others within sight of the lens, have not had the patience to stand still and their images remain unrecognisably blurred in this composition.
Outside the City Hotel (built in 1862) is one of the city’s essential ‘fuelling stations’ – a stone water trough for thirsty horses to drink from . Beside it, stands a sturdy hitching post for visitors to leave their horses tied to while going about their business.
On the left corner is the Venetian Gothic Fisher’s building which had been designed by the city’s leading commercial architect, W. B. Armson in 1880. It was constructed by a Scottish immigrant, John Tait who possessed a fine understanding of construction and stone masonry. Tait’s building expertise was not his only ability. He was appointed as the second mayor of the beachside suburb of Sumner for some years.
The building’s owner was Thomas Richard Fisher, a local Wesleyan clergyman and successful business man who had emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand c.1870. On his arrival in Christchurch, he had first set up a tea and grocery shop called the ‘Alliance Tea Company’ before turning to art dealing and picture framing.
By the time Fisher commissioned this building, his sons were running the business and his interests had turned to more philanthropic projects. At the time of Fisher’s death in 1890, he was one of Christchurch’s most successful businessmen and had left a vast estate of £50,000.
On a clear and sunny day the photographer has set up in a window of the United Services Hotel to capture a bird’s eye view of High and Colombo Street’s intersection in 1910. The roads are now gridded with lines of the trams and overhead wires Wagon and cyclists wheels are caught in a static motion which creates a rhythm to the composition. Within the dozen or so male cyclists navigating the busy intersection is one lone woman cyclist who seats aloft her seat in a beautiful white hat and coat. It is no longer a social ‘faux pas’ for a woman to be seen in public, straddling a bicycle seat.
Again, as in all compositions of the time, the crowd on the street is a wide variety of citizens of all ages – there is one older man with a physical disability. He holds a newspaper under his arm while struggling on his crutches to cross the tram tracks.
The advertisements on the awning of Fisher’s shop are for Juno tobacco. The City Hotel forecourt is still used as a crowded area where cabs await their fares.
Step ahead 40 years and the horse drawn cabs have been replaced with cars and buses. Cyclists still peddle their way through the streets, and the tram lines are still in evidence.
An elaborate illuminated sign advertising travelling by train sits above the former City Hotel.
Robilliard Jewellers occupies the striking triangular Fisher’s Building on the corner of High and Hereford Street.
The Fisher Building is resplendent as one of the few remaining examples of late 19th Century Venetian Gothic architecture in the inner city. The prominent verandah remains as it was in all the earlier photos, providing the only shelter for pedestrians waiting to cross the busy intersection, but the chimney pots on the roof have long gone. The tram lines have also disappeared from this part of town, replaced by buses and private cars.
The tangle of overhead wires that appeared in the 1900s have also disappeared, cleaning up the skyline which is now dominated by featureless multi-story buildings which cast long shadows over the streets.
Neither youth nor beauty were spared when it came to the February 22nd earthquake. Both the Hotel Grand Chancellor and the Westpac buildings, that stood like sentries over the Fisher Building, were fatally damaged, yet their demise will not be as lamented as that of the Fisher Building.