On the night of 6th February 1908, a fire broke out in a furniture display showroom belonging to the Strange’s Department Store (New Zealand’s largest at the time), at the intersection of Manchester, High and Lichfield Streets. Due to the time of the disaster, there were no deaths or injuries.
Fanned by an easterly wind, soon the whole corner of High and Lichfield Streets were ablaze, destroying buildings that housed businesses such as the D.I.C. Department Store, the White Hart Hotel (Christchurch’s first hotel, operating since 1851) and Hallensteins. Those who witnessed the fire said it was like “…watching the heart of Christchurch burn…” as the fire raged on.
After the arrival of the fire brigade, it took a further 20 minutes to pump water from the Avon with the fire hoses stretching all the way along Cashel Street. As it was before the time of a high pressure water system, there was little that could be done to fight it. The complete insurance pay out added up to £300,000 – the highest amount paid in New Zealand’s history at that time.
First opening on High Street in 1863, in a small wooden building, William Strange had grown up in a family of drapers. As his business grew, neighbouring land was bought and additions took place in 1874. The building we came to know in recent times as the Java cafe was completed in 1900. Strange’s Department Store closed for good in the 1930’s and the building took on many different lives until its demolition in 2011 due to earthquake damage.
* Image courtesy of Canterbury Heritage – http://canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz/