The first signs of European life for Market Square or Market Place (now Victoria Square) was the building of Christchurch’s second bridge. Named the Papanui Bridge, it was known to us as the Victoria Street Bridge until 1989.
The Papanui Bridge, and Papanui Road for that matter, were very important in the first few years of the settlement of Christchurch.
It was where timber from the Papanui Bush (now the site of the Papanui Domain on Sawyers Arms Road) was brought into the city via drays to be sold at Market Square for those wanting to build or purchase fire wood.
Market Square became and remained the main hub for Christchurch until 1870; the area housed the city’s first post office, police station, animal pound, woman’s prison and an immigration barracks.
One year, the square also hosted what could be called one of the first “A & P shows”.
In these first few years, the A & P Show took place in numerous places which also included locations such as Hagley Park.
As the city grew, concerns were raised over the safety of the old wooden Papanui Bridge. In 1862, the traffic using the bridge for one day was counted.
These were the statistics: 1000 pedestrians, 58 bullocks, 316 horses and 1 donkey!
In 1865, the old wooden bridge was replaced with New Zealand’s first iron and stone bridge. It remains the oldest of its kind in New Zealand! The iron girders were actually damaged during the sea voyage and the repairs done on them can still be seen today.
The protected bridge can still be viewed today as a memorial (pictured)
When the Christchurch City Council decided to start charging rent to those using Market Place to sell their goods, the place began to die – literally. Business was done there less and less and by 1896 the place took on a more Park-like appearance.
With the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Market Square was revamped, and in 1903 was renamed Victoria Square with the unveiling of Queen Victoria’s statue.
Up until 1988, Victoria Street actually cut the square into two halves (I so remember this), meeting up with Colombo Street.
With the building of the Crown Plaza (formerly “The Park Royal” which has now been demolished due to severe earthquake damage), Victoria Square for the first time in its history, actually became a “square”!!
The following year, the Victoria Street Bridge was renamed the Hamish Hay Bridge, in memory of one of Christchurch’s Mayors.
The main features of Victoria Square are:
• The Amphitheatre – built in 1988.
• The Floral Clock – gifted to the people of Christchurch in 1953 by Calder Mackay Co. Ltd.
• The Bowker Fountain – gifted to the people of Christchurch in 1931 by Henry Layton Bowker who had spent his working life over-looking Victoria Square from his desk. Where the fountain is placed was where the animal pound was situated.
• The Flagstaff.
• The Queen Victoria and James Cook Statues.
• The iron girders of the old historic Victoria Street Bridge.
• The Poupou – a commemorative Maori pole made of Totara acknowledging the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. A project completed by the Christchurch City Council and the Ngai Tahu.
With the demolition of the Crown Plaza, there has been talk of re-opening the Square to traffic. There has also been talk of just laying grass down and with the Town Hall due to come down too in the near future, what a massive Park it could become.
*image courtesy of http://christchurchcitylibraries.com * File Reference CCL PhotoCD 16, IMG0002