Cakes & Confectionery on High Street

Bread and Cakes for Toffs

James had many years experience working in bakehouses in the West End of London, including his family’s business in Kingston Upon Thames where they made bread and confectionery for the aristocracy. He brought that extensive business and operational knowledge to the first of his purpose-built premises in High Street, which opened in 1891. [10] A lot rode on the success of this venture. James had sold the contents of his four bedroom family home and they moved in above the new shop. A grand piano in a walnut case, Japanese screens, Brussels carpets, tapestry chairs, ‘kitchen utensils of every description’ and all manner of household items went up for sale. The contents of the Stable, the home of ‘a very quiet grey mare, broken to saddle and harness’, the carrots she feed on, young fruit trees and rhubarb roots, as well as garden equipment, fowl houses and fowls, also went under the auctioneer’s gavel. [11]

Talented bakers from throughout Europe were drawn to work for James Freeman. He had a reputation for supplying Canterbury with quality goods and catering as good as any found on the Continent. Christchurch customers were able to enjoy all manner of exotic delicacies, and James was able to develop one of the most successful and well known businesses of its kind.

“The name of Quongtart, as a general purveyor and confectioner, is as well-known in Sydney as that of Freeman is in Christchurch” Star, Issue 7346, 20 August 1892, Page 2. [12]

One such baker was Scandinavian Veygo Sorensen, who worked as foreman for James Freeman before setting up his own business in 1887. ‘Vienna Bakery and Confectionery’ created pastries and confectionery, and catering for balls, parties, suppers, schools and tea meetings. In Veygo’s premises located on the corner of High and Hereford streets and opposite the Bank of New Zealand, it was not uncommon to hear French, Italian, Spanish, German and Scandinavian languages spoken. Christchurch was developing into a European city in the South Pacific, reflecting back the best of what its immigrant inhabitants had left behind in their Mother countries. [13]

Fashionable Weddings, Christmas Strawberries and Hot Cross Buns

High-Street-Wardells-chch-clothing-co-White-HartJames Freeman became one of Christchurch’s principal confectioners, catering many fashionable weddings and events attended by the City’s dignitaries. His list of catering accomplishments included the 1890 reception for Bishop Julius; [14] the wedding cake for Mary Jollie; [15] and the marriage of the Bishop of Melanesia, Cecil Wilson to Miss Ethel Julius, the daughter of the Bishop of Christchurch. Half of Christchurch was there to witness this event, celebrated in February 1899. This huge wedding was attended by the city’s notables and ‘Church of England people’ who packed the Cathedral to standing room only. Ballantyne and Co., did well out of the event, supplying all the clothing and millinery for the trousseau. “Mr James Freeman supplied a cake of noble proportions, standing on a pedestal of palms, ferns and foliage. The cake itself was of three tiers, the first being decorated with a wreath of roses, shramrocks and thistles, the second with orange blossoms, and the third with lilies of the valley. A handsome vase and bouquet crowned the construction.” [16] James’ brother Louis, a florist, supplied the flowers, an elaborate combination of “white salpitrlossis, begonias, pelargoniums, myrtle, heath, roses, abutilons and clematis, with trailers of Irish heath and asparagus.” Louis’ shop was at 223 High Street in the same building as James’.

Despite Christchurch’s distance from European refinements, James ensured the best local foods and imported confectionery were always available for his Christchurch customers. No Christmas was complete without strawberries, so in December 1892 he ensured his customers had daily supplies of the fruit, freshly picked and brought into town from Ambrose Jackson’s berry farm in Waimate. [17] Whilst the shops of most central city tradesmen showed little signs of special treatment for the festive season, the shops of the confectioners were a notable exception. Freeman would dress his window to celebrate the season, ensuring gorgeous boxes of choice French confitures (preserves or sweets) and chocolate bonbons were well displayed as the ideal gift at Christmas. [18]

When it came to Easter, no one could beat James Freeman hot cross buns. No fewer than fifteen thousand of them would be baked for Easter 1889. So well known was the Freeman’s brand, that at Easter the public were warned against people canvassing door-to-door claiming they were taking orders for Freeman’s buns. [19]

James was very protective of his brand, he’d worked hard to build up his business reputation in Christchurch, from a small establishment in Victoria Street into the city’s premier baker, confectioner and caterer. Not far away from his first shop in Victoria Street a ‘Miss Freeman’ had opened refreshment rooms at 151 Colombo Street, near Cashel Street in 1885. Although no relation, her establishment drew comparison with James Freeman which was not always favourable. James felt the comparison keenly and spent money on advertising to notify the public that the two businesses had no connection. [20]

However, business had not always gone well for the Freeman family.

Part Three: The Baker’s Widow


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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