A new colony in New Zealand? A place they are going to call Canterbury? How fascinating! This was Benjamin Lancaster’s thoughts as he handed £150 over to the Canterbury Association in 1850. This opened the door to Canterbury for Benjamin in the form of land, even though he had no intention of moving his life there.
His 2 ¼ acres in Cathedral Square (near Chancery Lane) and Gloucester Street were soon leased out but it would be his 50 acres on Ferry Road that would have a future in the sport crazy city of Christchurch. By 1861, the 50 acres were in the care of Richard Harman and Edward Cephas John Stevens who represented land investors from New Zealand and all around the world. A deed was drawn up between Benjamin and neighbouring farmer John Marshall to lease his back paddocks for 11 years. This area soon became known as the Lancaster Block.
With the formation of the Canterbury Cricket and Athletics Sports Company Limited in 1880, land begun to be sourced for a sports area and where a club house could be built. They purchased 10 acres of the Lancaster Block for £2841 and named it Lancaster Park after its original owner who backed the project with great enthusiasm.
Opening Day had been planned for the 8th October 1881 with a cricket match but rain soon put the brakes on that and it was the athletics that stole the day on the 15th October by being the first event to take place there.
By 1912, Lancaster Park was in very bad debt and was threatened with being subdivided and sold off. A ‘Floral Fete’ was held to help raise the much needed funds and in 1914, the Canterbury Rugby Union entered the picture when they became co-owners. I’m sure that helped to pay the bills. This didn’t stop the grounds from being ploughed the following year so potatoes could be planted to help the war effort.
It was 1957 when Lancaster Park had its first real big upgrade. The embankment was expanded and the park could now host 33,000 people. With the opening of 2 more stands in 1965, the capacity went up to 38,500. In 1995, the Hadlee Stand was opened to honour the Hadlee family and sadly was the first stand to be demolished due to quake damage. 2006 saw the opening of the DB Draught stand (now known as the Tui stand) and 2010, it was the Deans stand in preparation of the 2011 World Rugby Cup Games that were to be hosted by the city. As we all know, the quakes soon took that event off the calendar.
In 1998, the name of Lancaster Park came under threat when Jade Software Corporation purchased the naming rights and after 126 years, Cantabs had to get used to another name – I’ll safety say it really didn’t stick. We were hit again in 2007 when AMI Insurance purchased the naming rights. Just today in my study, I have been very happy to learn that the term of Lancaster Park has gone nowhere; it’s the stadium that sits on it that has experienced the name changing exercise.
So the AMI Stadium at Lancaster Park was the city’s premier event place for cricket, rugby and cycling – where sporting records were made and broken. Unfortunately, with the damaged caused by the quakes of 2010, 2011 and 2012, the future of Lancaster Park as Christchurch’s main sports centre is in doubt. No agreement has been reached about saving the old place (as of early 2014) and the city’s blue prints for the future Christchurch show a new stadium within the four main avenues.
What will become of Lancaster Park? …maybe it will return to its original natural state and become a reserve with storyboards telling us the story of the great heights a simple dream in Christchurch can reach.