Cakes & Confectionery on High Street

Sandwiched between the White Hart Hotel and the Universal Boot Depot at 223 and 225 High Street, was the business founded by Mr James Freeman, pastry cook and caterer.

After browsing through Messrs Strange and Co.’s establishment, the 1906 Christchurch shopper could use the passage-way leading from there into the premises of James Freeman Ltd, where they could obtain ‘First-class Refreshments and Confectionery’.

From 12 o’clock till 2 p.m, three courses served with tea or coffee could be had for one shilling. Baron Solomons, one of Sydney’s ‘greatest’ piano solo players, performed with his orchestra each afternoon from 2.30 to 5 p.m., during which time a sumptuous afternoon tea would be served.[1]

Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 25 AUGUST 1904 p016 . Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19040825-16-1
High street, 1904. The premises of James Freeman is at the right of the Universal Boot Depot. [2]

A section of High street during the 1880s shows the three storey Empire Hotel and to the right is number 210 where James Freeman opened his first High street shop. Source: Burton Bros. Image: Museum of NZ Ref: C.011597.
A section of High street during the 1880s shows the three storey Empire Hotel and to the right is number 210 where James Freeman opened his first High street shop. [3]

From Market Place to the High Street

In 1882, James and his brother Frank had established a small catering and confectionery business in Market Place  on the right hand side from Victoria St. Their shop, dwelling-house and bakehouse was in the ‘Victoria Buildings’, just over the Victoria street bridge on Whately road (later Victoria street). After Frank’s untimely death a year later, James carried on the business single handed. He moved the business to 210 High street, which was between the Empire Hotel and Milner & Thompson’s Music Warehouse, erecting a bakehouse in 1889. He then moved the business to new purpose-built premises at 223-225 High Street in 1891 located next to the iconic White Hart Hotel. Before opening, the building had undergone extensive renovations, making it into one of the city’s finest refreshment rooms of the time. [4]

Squads of bricklayers, carpenters and other workmen’ had been carrying out extensive work on the building for several weeks in preparation for the opening on September 5th, 1891. The result was all but a new building – one of the city’s finest and most modern refreshment rooms. [5]

Out front, a handsome and lofty verandah made of glass and iron, spanned the width of the footpath, protecting pedestrians from the elements. The entrance doorway was flanked by large plate glass windows, over eight feet in length and six feet tall, with coloured leadlights above, and solid brick window stalls ‘designed to exclude rats and mice which might endeavour to make their way into the shop, in order to eat the good things therein’.

Poster for Chocolats, Thés, Compagnie Française by Jean de Paleologue (1860 – 1942).
Poster for Chocolats, Thés, Compagnie Française by Jean de Paleologue (1860 – 1942).

Stepping inside the main doorway, the visitor would have entered into a large room – 64 feet in length and 30 feet wide – which was divided into three spaces by large kauri and rimu framed glass show cases. One space formed the shop, with a kauri counter, and shelves and cases full of exotic products: ‘bon-bonnieres from the Compagnie Francaise, handsome plush and satin jewel cabinets, glove and handkerchief boxes all filled with the most ‘recherché assortments of French and English confectionery ever imported into the Colony’.

Three Wenham lights cast their glow over the shop, said to equal the illumination of the electric light. To the right of the shop was the ladies’ room, enlarged in 1896 to cater for a growing patronage, with an adjoining lavatory which was supplied with its own hot and cold running water. Quite the luxury.

At the back of the shop was the refreshment room, about 26ft square, lit by three large windows and warmed by a fireplace. The walls were painted in French grey enlivened with a frieze of stencilled foliage encircling the room. Chinese matting covered the wall to form a dado, and the floor was protected with oilcloth.  In one corner was a small pantry with hot and cold water service and a gas stove.  Patrons could sit down to a-la-carte, chops and steaks at an arrangement of small tables and chairs which filled the room. [6]

Between the refreshment room and the bakehouse was the storeroom. A pantry for the catering department opened on a right-of-way fitted with shelves and cupboards for crockery, glass and cutlery, and was supplied with hot and cold water.

From the left hand back corner of the shop a covered passage lead to the bakehouse. Dishes and tins of pastry were passed into the shop through a half door with a sliding sash.

The bakehouse was a new brick structure with an iron roof and concrete floor. The opened timbered roof was fitted with two skylights and large louvered ventilation. Two large ovens dominated the bakehouse. One of 10 x 8 feet was fitted with a saddleback boiler forming the sides and crown of the furnace, and it supplied hot water to the entire establishment. The other oven was heated by coke burning in a grate at the side, under which was a damper, producing what was known as a “flash heat’ for browning or giving a “bloom” to the baked items. Both ovens were lined with fire bricks and had floors of Oamaru stone. A hot plate was used for boiling jam, and there was a large table and kneading bench, with all the necessary appliances needed in a late 19th century commercial kitchen.

With a booming business in 1896 a second refreshment room was added upstairs, providing cold lunches and afternoon teas, in the space that had been originally fitted out for private luncheon parties and wedding breakfasts. A dozen small tables and furnishings of ‘light and tasteful’ design, furnished the thirty feet by nineteen feet space. Privacy from the gossip and prying eyes of surrounding guests was achieved by the careful placement of large screens. [7]

A shop woman with good business references had a place in James’ new High Street premises. Business was going so well for him that he needed to employ a swag of bakers and pastry cooks. At one stage he was seeking six waiters at the same time. [8]

High street 1907. Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 25 APRIL 1907 p016. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19070425-16-1.
High street 1907. [9]
Part Two: Bread and Cakes for Toffs


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Monica Beaumont says:

    Hi my name is Monica Beaumont, I have been actively involved with trying to save the commercial heritage on High St, well until the CCDU swooped in.
    I have a lot of images of CHCH city heritage before the demo companies were called in and thinking of what best to do with them.
    I am also in talks with an auction house in Auckland about a heritage charity fundraising art and furniture auction.
    Plus other things related…
    I am now trying to touch base with as many like minded individuals to see if I can establish a greater network. Interested in your feedback

    regards Monica


  2. Chrisanthi Freeman says:

    George Neugeschwender who purchased Freemans Cafe was my father-in-law’s paternal uncle.

    George and his 3 brothers – August Francis, James Johannis and Leslie Herbert – decided to change their surname Neugeschwender due not only to the difficulties in pronunciation and spelling but also due to the anti German sentiments aroused as a result of the outbreak of of the First World War.

    When the change of name was contemplated Goerge Neugeschwender waned change the name to FREEMAN since he owned and operated Freeman’s Cafe and was known to many as “Mr Freeman” The others agreed and the surname of the 4 brothers was duly changed to FREEMAN by Deed Poll in the Supreme Court of Christchurch on May 20th 1919.

    All the descendents of these 4 brothers owe their name to Freeman’s cafe!


  3. Hello,
    I am trying to find the ‘new’ name for Park Road – in particular the Felton family who lived there.Does anyone know where it is/was? Thank you.


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