The Square and the Disappearing Old World of Christchurch

Cathedral Square, Christchurch [ca. 1920]. Photographer: Radcliffe, Frederick George. Image: Christchurch Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0001
Dominating a once simpler Cathedral Square, are the formidable buildings – Government Life Insurance Building, the Grand Theatre, the Crystal Palace Theatre, the Reuters Telegram Company Building and the Dominion Building.

The speed in which the city has changed after the huge impact of World War I, can be tangibly felt in this scene.

The pace of the pedestrians feet hurrying across the crowded square, starkly contrasts against the lone Hansom cab whose sedentary presence harks back to a more genteel and peaceful time. As it patiently waits for its fare amidst the busy square, one cannot help but think how much the world has sped up and oblivious the citizens appear as they stride past the antiquated form of transport.

The Women’s Suffragette Movement has also changed fashion and women’s place in New Zealand society. On the left two tall women stride along, one swinging her handbag with a new found confidence. It appears she is holding a cigarette in her left hand. Modesty has been replaced by a higher dress hems which now expose the once coveted shin and ankle.

On the right, a mother protectively clasps her young child’s hand. They stand separate from the others and as they silently stare into the distance. They appear the only ones who hesitantly look to an unknown future. Have they suffered misfortune from the past war?  Perhaps the little boy’s father was a casualty.

Whatever the case, the harsh reality is that there is a new order in post war New Zealand. The golden age has disappeared a future generation looks towards an unknown future. The horse and its antiquated form of transport will soon be relegated to the past, as the city hurtles towards the modernity and unpredictability of the 1930s and its looming unemployment and depression.

Cathedral Square 1910-19
Looking west north west from beside Christ Church Cathedral (foreground, extreme left) in Cathedral Square near the Godley Statue, circa 1918. Photographer Frederick George Radcliffe. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R301

One Comment Add yours

  1. Pat Gates says:

    I have been on a genealogy search following a long-ago relative from New York City to New Zealand and wonder what readers of this FB page might know about him. His name was Vincent M. Beebe and he married my great-aunt Lizzie Letten in New York City in 1892. From there, they traveled to New Zealand. He became prominent in Christchurch with his Beebe Ballooning Company in about 1910; then with the Beebe Vaudeville Company, aka Polite Vaudeville, for several years; and finally as managing director of the newly built Crystal Palace in about 1918 until his retirement due to poor health in 1927. His wife, Lizzie, died in 1929 and Vincent died in Christchurch in 1936. I have found numerous newspaper articles through PapersPast, but wonder if any of you have additional information about this interesting man who it appears played a significant role in bringing entertainment to Christchurch in the early 1900s.


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