The First Bridge Is Built In Central Christchurch – February 1851

With the Opawaho (Heathcote River) and Otakaro (Avon River) weaving their way through the future site of Christchurch – not to mention the countless swamps and lagoons – crossing the newly named Canterbury Plains wasn’t for the fainted hearted.  There wouldn’t have been many times that our Canterbury Association surveyors would have bedded down for the night in completely dry clothes; after spending the day on ground that would give way under their own weight.

Possibly the earliest mention of a bridge being built comes from a letter written by William Deans at Putaringamotu (Riccarton) on 6th September 1843: 

“Close behind our house is a fine grove of trees [Riccarton Bush] of about 200 acres, and in front of the house [Deans Cottage] there is a stream [Avon River] a little larger than the Avon [in Scotland] where  the Gavel joins it at Snabe.  Across this stream in front of our house we have made a bridge, and thereby have separated the dwelling from the farm buildings [now Chch Boys High]”.

This simple timber construction – its brick descendent now known as the Kahu Road Bridge – also appears in the earliest drawing made of the Deans’ farm, dated 12th April 1844. Apart from being used to cross into their farm land, the brothers also hung barrels underneath it, the cool running water helping to keep the meat inside refrigerated and fresh.

By 1848, just as the association’s surveyors were beginning to start their work, a second bridge had already been constructed from two felled Totaras.  Known as Crawford’s Bridge, it was the first ever bridge to cross the Heathcote.  It sat very close to where the current Wilsons Street Bridge sits.  This bridge was updated in 1851, 1862, 1881, and 1891 with the bridge we know today being built in 1964.

As for central Christchurch, the first very bridge was also constructed out of a felled tree in February 1851.  As it attached the two ends of Worcester Street, understandably it became known as the Worcester Street footbridge.  And a footbridge it remained (even after it was upgraded in 1860) until it was damaged in the 1868 flood.   It was decided by the Christchurch City Council the following year change the footbridge into a single lane cart bridge at the cost of £340.

The Worcester Street Bridge we know today was constructed in 1885 at a cost of £1984.  No specific designs were drawn up as the blueprints for the Armagh Street Bridge were used.  It has remained substantially unchanged except for one interesting fact:  Today, this bridge is only for tram and foot traffic only but funnily enough, the trams never used this bridge until they were reintroduced to Christchurch in 1995.

*photo taken by Annette Bulovic*
*letter entry taken from the ‘Pioneers of Canterbury – Deans Letters 1840 – 1854’ complied by John Deans III.

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