The moving of the Post Office from Market Square to its new site in Cathedral Square, was a significant development in Cathedral Square’s importance in Christchurch business and city life.
The building was designed by the English trained government architect , William H. Clayton, in a stately Italianate Renaissance Palazzo style. Unfortunately Clayton died in 1877, soon after the foundation stone was laid and so his assistant, P.F. Burrows was forced to oversee its completion and opening on 14th July 1879.
From its prominent position on the corner facing the cathedral, it exuded the rising importance of the technology the telegraph (and soon to be introduced telephone) in colonial New Zealand. Originally intended to house several government offices including the Government Life Insurance, the Customs, Immigration, Public Works and Inspector of Telegraph Departments, it soon proved too cramped. This forced an additional part to built over the rear outdoor courtyard. However in later years, the other departments shifted out and it was eventually the Telegraph and Post Department had sole occupation.
The building’s fine proportions, attractive towering clock tower and solidity in brick and carved stone facings from quarries at Halswell and Amberley, make it one of the most admired buildings of its era. It has two handsome facades, of which the north is intersected with the main entrance doors. Its ninety foot high clock tower was designed to be fitted with a replica of the Big Ben clock. It was fitted four months after the building’s opening.
The clock’s chimes were disconnected during the 1930s due to guests’ complaints at the United Services Hotel next door.
Outside the office, beneath the statue of Sir Robert Godley, delivery horse and carts wait in readiness to take post and parcels around the city. The men stand in a line beside their carts. One man holds his little companion dog.
The huge advances made in telegraphic technology was like the advent of the computer age. Telegraphists could be compared to the first computer technicians of the new age. Telegraphy meant a rapid change in the way New Zealand communicated. No longer did slow letters have to be sent. Now messages could be relayed immediately between the telegraph centres.
The Post Office was extended on the westward end of the northern façade in 1907. The Telegraph Exchange moved to Hereford Street in 1929. In the 1980’s, Telecom built a seven-storey building behind the north and east wings within the structure, destroying some of the original building.
Today, it is occupied by the Information and Visitors Centre, offices and a cafe.