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Hidden places: Power and pumps in Christchurch

Wednesday, June 9, 2021   Posted in: Signatory Notice Board By: Administrator With tags: heritage, built environment

Christchurch City Council Newsline: 9th June 2021

The mystery of the curious little brick buildings that dot the city dates to colonial Christchurch.

There were serious drainage problems with the city developed on a flat, low-lying, waterlogged site. Cesspits, polluted rivers and groundwater prompted the creation of a Drainage Board in 1875-76 to deal with a host of problems.

Revealed as remnants of that heritage infrastructure, the familiar brick and concrete pump houses and substations – supporting drainage and electricity – signal the move from a small town to a fast-growing city from the late 1800s to the 1930s.

Today, several early pump stations and substations remain along the Avon River Ōtākaro or among homes in older neighbourhoods, representing the work of local architects. Several also remain protected in the Christchurch District Plan.

The first technologically advanced station – known as The Pump House – still sits in Tuam Street. The brick structure with arched windows and doors originally housed engines and pumps and is one of the oldest remaining parts of the city's 19th century sewerage system, dating from the 1880s.

Now home to a salvage yard, the remaining pump house – a Highly Significant protected heritage place – is also the subject of one of the city’s most famous artworks painted by Doris Lusk in 1958.

Several early pump houses sit on the banks of the Avon River Ōtākaro, with the protected (Highly Significant) ornamental-style Bangor Street No.3 Pump – built in 1907 – still in place. Pump No. 24 (1926) – with wide eaves and a decorative turret – can also be seen on the edge of hotel grounds in Riccarton and remains protected.

Christchurch’s electricity network expanded during World War I, with about 25 substations supplying the city following the opening of the Lake Coleridge hydroelectric power station in 1914.

A protected Ferry Road structure - built in 1914 - is one of the few surviving substations from the first decade of electricity reticulation. It also features unusual brickwork.

A 1934 temple-style substation in Linwood Avenue includes a triglyph frieze while a 1928 ornamental substation in Milton Street, Sydenham now hosts events. Both buildings remain protected, along with a large, former converter station and substation – that backs onto Rauroa Park – on the corner of Armagh Street and Manchester Street. It was built in the 1930s and the art deco style is rare in the city.

A 1930 substation in Gamblins Road shows the influence of one of the world’s most famed architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, while the 1948 substation on the Weka Street-Tui Street corner in Fendalton illustrates the Dutch modernism style.

Anyone can contact Christchurch City Council to find out more about the history of a city building.

Find out more about the heritage of Christchurch pump houses and substations [PDF].

Healthy Christchurch Champions

  • Canterbury District Health Board
  • Christchurch City Council
  • Environment Canterbury
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ngai Tahu
  • NZ Police
  • Pegasus Health
  • University of Otago, Christchurch