Marking Time in Sydenham
In 1912, the impressive Sydenham Post Office stood as a sentinel on the busy corner of Colombo and Brougham Streets. It was a huge post office which served a large community of citizens living around this suburb and commercial street.
The photograph appears to have been taken on a quiet summer morning -the clock says it is 9.25am. The street is virtually empty so we might assume it is a Sunday morning when businesses are closed and families are attending church. To the left (partially obscured by the trees), is the old, stone Wesleyan Church which no doubt, would have been full with parishioners attending a service at this time of the morning.
An electric tram trundles towards the photographer. It has carried passengers from the suburb of Papanui to the city’s centre. It made a stop at Cathedral Square before it arrived at this Sydenham section. It would then continue its long route up Colombo Street to the bottom of the affluent suburb of Cashmere Hill – an extension completed in 1898. Large houses continued to spring up the treed slopes, making this Christchurch’s most fashionable and affluent suburbs to live in. This is where many of the city’s professionals and retired businessmen chose to build their homes during Edwardian times. It enjoyed a northern aspect, shelter from Easterly winds and a panoramic view of the Victorian city.
Strong Working Class Roots
Below, the suburb of Sydenham had strong working class roots. Many of the dwellers worked for the railway, as domestics in wealthy households or in factories lining the city of Christchurch. In December, 1909 the local Burgesses’ Association was dissatisfied with their humble post office so wrote to the Government requesting an office which was more up to date. Plans were put into action and by December, 1911 the foundation stone for a brand new post office was laid by the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward.
Turn around 180°, from a window of the post office tower, one can see a clear view of Colombo Street and Sydenham Park. It was a popular venue for local band concerts, sports’ matches and gatherings. The 14 acre park was acquired by Sydenham Borough Council from the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association who used it for their annual shows before moving to the Addington show grounds. The vast open space hosted weekly hockey, cricket and football matches. On summer evenings, when the municipal and visiting bands would perform a selection of old-fashioned popular airs, the ground around the rotunda comes alive with people.
The Sydenham Fire Station and the local library are visible on the left hand corner of the park. The ninety foot water tower which had been constructed in 1903, supplied the suburb with water.
In 1945, the removal of Sydenham Post Office’s clock tower reduced some of the status and importance of this striking Edwardian building. It became more utilatarian in its stone block shape.
- Photographer Frederick G. Radcliffe Source: Source: Auckland City Library, IMG0089, Class No: 995.71 C55 (7).
- Photograph taken by Steffano Francis Webb. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-005377-G.