On the 3rd March 1862 – in the old timber land office on the corner of Worchester Street and Oxford Terrace – the first meeting of the Christchurch Municipal Council or the Christchurch Town Council as they have also been called, held their first meeting.
The building they used was fitting for such an historical day. Built in 1851, it was still under construction as our settlers gathered outside to select their land through a ballot system. Next it was the city’s first law courts and public library. Then, in 1862, it housed a small group of men who would decide the way Christchurch would go – socially, economically, environmentally and culturally.
Sir John Hall was the first Chairman, the forerunner to the Mayor position. Quite the man of the people, Hall had been a member of the very first Canterbury Provincial Council in 1853. He then had the job of being the 4th Colonial Secretary in 1856. But he really took the cake when he served AGAIN as Christchurch Mayor in 1906 when one would think he would be putting his feet up after such a political career. Almost forgot to mention that he also served as the 12th Premier of New Zealand in 1879, the forerunner of the Prime Minister position!
On the 16th March 1886, the foundation stone for a new Municipal Chamber was laid, sadly at the cost of the old land office. Just over a year later on the 24th March 1887, the building was opened. Designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, the building was like nothing else in New Zealand; Seager had opted for the “Queen Anne” style. The first meeting of the council in this new home was on 4th April 1887.
Across Worchester Street, on the land between Oxford Terrace and the Avon (where the Scott Statue now stands), the council built their yards. Quite fenced off and regarded as an eyesore, it was the home of the clock that would eventually be used in the Diamond Jubilee Clock. It had been intended for the Canterbury Provincial Chambers but it proved too heavy for the structure. With the provincial government abolished in 1876, the clock became the property of the C.C.C. It finally found its home with the city’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s jubilee anniversary.
By 1922, the council had outgrown its home. On 16th December 1922, the foundation stone of the new civic offices in Manchester Street was laid. The Council moved in on 24th March 1926. After WWII, the Council exploded in size and overflow buildings were soon rented. It took till 1980 for the Council to regroup in a new building on Tuam Street, the old Miller’s Department Store. In 2010, the Council moved on to their latest home on Hereford Street.
Surprisingly, the Christchurch Municipal Chambers is the only council building of the past that has survived the earthquakes of 2010/2011. Although badly damaged and repairs needed, the cost has a question mark hanging over it. The Civic in Manchester Street and the offices in Tuam Street are now gone.
The Christchurch City Council of the present and future certainly faces a new Christchurch ahead. In many ways, today’s city council is like the council of 1862 – facing the building of a city with land, money and safety concerns. Just like back then, Christchurch will rise in spite of great odds and she was and always will be, worth the fight!
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 12, IMG0032 *