Thomas John Edmonds was born in Poplar, London in the year 1858. As a young man he worked for a several different confectioneries where he learnt the mixing of different kinds of cooking powders. It was here that Thomas began to get ideas about making his own baking powder.
In 1879, Thomas married Jane Irvine and the pair emigrated to Lyttelton the same year. They opened a grocery store that was situated on the corner of Edmonds (so named since 1886) and Randolph Streets in Woolston. While Jane managed the store, Thomas was working away at perfecting his mixing and remixing of what would become ‘Sure to Rise’ baking powder.
He was so confident in his product that when he began to market the new baking powder, he gave away free samples, telling those who took an interest that they could pay him if they were happy with the results.
In the early 1890’s, the Edmonds moved to the corner of Ferry and Aldwins Roads, building a shed out the back of the house where Thomas could continue to make his living. The shed would soon give way to the Edmond Factory and prize-winning gardens – which even included hot houses filled with many tropical plants which were also open to the public.
Thomas and Jane would have 8 children; 3 of their sons and one of their sons-in-law took an active role in the family business. As the Edmonds climbed up the social standing in Christchurch, they never lost sight of the city’s needs and poured a lot of money into the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Plunket and the Y.M.C.A to name a few.
In 1901, the family moved to 203 Worcester Street. This is where the plans for the 50th anniversary of their arrival in Canterbury became a hot topic around the dining room table. They approached the Christchurch City Council with the offer of £5000 for a project that would further beautify the city of Christchurch. Being a great fan of brass bands, Thomas wanted to build a new band rotunda plus shelter, a phone cabinet that would not only house a phone but also a mail box and a drinking foundation, 16 specially designed street lamps, and a clock tower – all bearing the name of Edmonds.
Unfortunately, the band rotunda has been red stickered and has been be demolished due to earthquake damage. The Dome has been saved though.
By November 1929, these famous Christchurch icons (The band rotunda, phone booth, clock tower and street lamps) were opened in celebration of one of the most influential families in town. The area was named Poplar Lane – for two different reasons. Poplar, London was where Thomas was born and the other reason was the Poplars trees that curtained the Avon River just across from the band rotunda, over Madras Street.
If this wasn’t enough to be remembered by, they also poured funds into some of Christchurch’s buildings and parks. The Theosophical Theatre in Cambridge Terrace (badly damaged and condemned but still standing), the Repertory Theatre (demolished due to earthquakes) and Bickerton Park on the corner of Wainoni Road and Avonside Drive. The park is in memory of Professor Bickerton – a controversial Canterbury University teacher and a very good friend of the Edmonds.
The Edmonds Phone Cabinet, the drinking foundation around to the left. Over the top of the doorway is CHRISTCHURCH GARDEN CITY ON THE AVON. Note the base of the Edmonds Clock Tower in the background to the right.
Strangely after all these grant openings, Thomas and Jane left Christchurch and spend the next few years living in L.A. and Sydney. Back in Christchurch by 1932, Thomas died of peritonitis. He is buried at Linwood Cemetery.
Jane never recovered from losing her husband, moving away to live in Wellington the following year. Tragically Jane was killed in 1938 after being hit by a car.
The Edmonds Factory was demolished in 1990 under great protest. The gardens still remain where a band of volunteers attend the grounds and chat with those who pass through. The Edmonds live on the Edmonds Cook Book – would be hard to find a New Zealand home without a copy these days.
The photos of the phone cabinet and the clock tower were taken 2 months before the 22nd February 2011 earthquake. The tower is now in two pieces, basically cut in half for safety and repairs (as of 2013).
* The Edmonds Phone Cabinet and the Edmonds Clock Tower images courtesy of Mike Powell*
* Band Rotunda image courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com *
* Edmonds Baking Powder can image courtesy of http://longwhitekid.wordpress.com *
* Photos taken by Annette Bulovic*