Hagley Park

“…the land commonly known as Hagley Park, shall be reserved for ever as a public park, and shall be open for the recreation and enjoyment of the public…”   and boy, have we Cantabs expected this law passed by our Founding Fathers in 1855 to be upheld and respected today or WATCH OUT!

From the beginning of the dream that was Canterbury, the Anglican based Canterbury Association were as sure that Christchurch would have its fair share of town reserves like they were sure that Christchurch would have a Cathedral and a college.

Historians have argued over the Association’s decision of the placement of Hagley Park.  Some say the Deans brothers – who had been settled on the Canterbury Plains since 1843 and won the right to stay on their land – had asked that the large reserve be placed between Riccarton and Christchurch; whereas others say that placement of the Park was the Association’s way of keeping this stubborn Presbyterian Scottish family beyond the boundary of the settlement.  Whatever happened, amazingly Riccarton remained its own borough until 1989 – 42 years after the Deans sold their Riccarton Estate to the Christchurch City Council!

Hagley Park – named after the Association’s Chairman Lord Lyttelton’s country estate where he later killed himself in 1876 – appeared on Christchurch’s first map in 1850, drawn up by surveyor Edward Jollie.  Along with Hagley Park, then referred as the Town Reserve, there were 3 other reserves in the plans that are now known as Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley Square – the latter now Cathedral Square.  Also included within the future Hagley Park was an area called the Government Domain.  All up, it was nothing more than 500 acres of swamp, scrubs and creeks that feed the Avon River.

In 1862, when it was made public that the Christchurch Hospital was to be built within Hagley Park – as it was thought by some that the park environment would do much for sick patients – the public outcry I’m sure surprised all involved.  The ‘Hands Off Hagley Park’ rally of a few thousand Cantabs was held and this was the first of many public oppositions concerning Hagley.  As our public hospital sits on the eastern border of Hagley Park, you can guess that the public lost that particular battle but over the years, many projects have been dropped due to the public response.

On Edward Jollie’s map of 1850, he had drawn up that the future Christchurch Botanical Gardens would sit on Barbadoes Street, beside the Anglican Cemetery – now known as the Barbadoes Street Cemetery.  Hard to imagine that placing these days.
Luckily in 1864, the Canterbury Horticultural and Acclimatisation Society was formed and plans were changed.  It was decided to turn the Government Domain into the Botanic Gardens.  Made sense as the year previous, the first tree was planted in this domain.  Now called the Albert Edward Oak, it was planted to celebrate the marriage between King George VII to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.  This Oak still grows strong today!

Over time, Canterbury’s infamous ferns, tussock, cabbage trees and flaxes were replaced with English trees such as Beechs, Elms, Chestnuts and Oaks as well as many other trees from around the world.  In 1867, Enoch Barker was employed as the first gardener.
The trees that border Hagley Park, along the side of our main avenues, were planted by him.   Before Hagley grew and developed into what we know today, the wasteland was ploughed and used for grazing.  As these grounds were also used for sporting events such as cricket, golf, horse races and even hosted the first of what would become the A & P Show, you can imagine quite a few games were interrupted by wandering hoof-stock.

In 1870, the first groups of pines were planted by Enoch in the north eastern corner and today are proudly signposted.  These still grow alongside Harper Ave and are worth a look.

The Christchurch Public Hospital wasn’t the first intrusion on the public reserve.  In 1856, Christ’s College moved in.  Established in 1850 in the Lyttelton Immigration Barracks, the school had moved to Christ’s Church –now St Michaels and All Angels – in 1852.  The land swap that happened between the Anglican Diocese and Christ’s College in 1895 showed that maybe, the Hagley site for the college hadn’t meant to be long term.  From the very beginning, the Association had wanted the Cathedral and the college to be on the same land, such as Cathedral Square but it was soon realised that this would limit the college’s growth and the land swap of 1895 was the size of 9 acres.

In 1897, as a part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a 1 acre swamp was made into the 4 acre Victoria Lake.  Sadly, some now extinct native flora was removed during this project.

Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens have remained a great recreation area for us Cantabs, just like the Canterbury Provincial Council of 1855 had hoped for.  It is a place filled with great history, for example – Settler’s Corner (by the tennis courts) was where some V-huts were erected by some of our first families and close to where the Godley’s were farewelled in 1852 – and it is a place that we want to have in our future – untouched or altered, to be treasured by all.

*All photos taken by Chris and Annette Bulovic*

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