Cafe Continental, Sumner’s Fabulous Edwardian Cafe 1906 – 1909

Sadly, Sumner’s sumptious famous Edwardian Cafe Continental only stood on the Esplanade opposite Cave Rock in Sumner for three years. Built in 1906, by Mr Martin Ridley of Christhchurch firm, Ridley and Sons, Tea Importers, this gracious seaside hotel and tearooms cost a colossal £10,000 to build – £8000 for construction and £2000 for the interiors and furnishing.

The Cafe Continental, Sumner between 1906-1909
The Cafe Continental, Sumner between 1906-1909. Source: The Star, 16th January 1988, page 19. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Ref: IMG01266

Opening on 1st September, 1906, the Cafe Continental offered forty bedrooms at a tariff of 30 shillings to 2 guineas, a smoking room, a ground floor tearoom and dining room. Hotel guests were treated to panoramic views from the guests’ dining room on the first floor. They would have also been able to take the health benefits of breathing in the bracing easterly sea breezes which rolled off the Pacific Ocean. What a novelty it was for day patrons visiting the ground floor tearooms to be able to climb up to its fourth storey observation deck and take in the breath taking views of Cave Rock and Pegasus Bay. Beside the Cafe, to the left, was a small fruit shop and a private two storied home on the right. It was opened just prior to Christchurch’s International Exhibition in Hagley Park and no doubt its bedrooms would have been full with visitors from all over New Zealand:-

Cafe Continental from the Pier
Cafe Continental from the Pier.

“The Cafe Continental in Sumner, overlooking the famous Cave Rock and Sumner Beach, has just been completed, and contains forty bedrooms, besides a lounge, smoking and other rooms. The tariff is moderate and no extra charge made during the Exhibition. Letters and telegrams to the Secretary, Cafe Continental, Sumner, Christchurch, Telephone 891.”

Unfortunately, the Cafe Continental mysteriously caught fire at about 3.45 am on Sunday morning, 13th June 1909. A young man by the name of Mr. Frank Hibell spotted the bright light and flames from his home nearby and ran down to the Cafe where he alerted the sleeping residents. It was winter and so the hotel was not at its full capacity. Luckily all fifteen guests, including six children, six maids and two male employees escaped unharmed thanks to Hibell. Despite rain that was falling quite heavily through the night, a strong north easterly wind blew hard across the sea and acted as a natural bellows to the flames. Although a message was immediately telephoned through to the Christchurch Fire Brigade, no fire engines arrived.

The Cafe Continental, Sumner after its Complete Destruction by Fire
The Cafe Continental, Sumner after its Complete Destruction by Fire. Source: The Canterbury Times, 13 June 1909, p.3. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference: Photo CD 9, IMG0062

Later it was found that a decision had been made not to come as there was enough water in Sumner to fight the fire and it would take nearly one hour for the fire brigade to get there – far too tiring for their horses. However the Sumner mains appear to have been broken at the time and the water pressure was so low, the local brigade was unable to save the burning building. Burning for many hours, the only saving grace was that the neighbouring houses did not also catch fire (however they were extensively damaged from falling debris). By the next day, all that was left of the Cafe Continental was a wide chimney stack. It was never replaced.

Cafe Continental viewed through Cave Rock.
Cafe Continental viewed through Cave Rock.
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