From around 1856 in Woolston and Opawa, small businesses began to spring up alongside the Heathcote River. For the busy ferry service, it was standard practice for those with personal luggage to collect their goods on Ferry Road (close to Radley Street Bridge) but some industrial cargoes would continue their journey up stream into Christchurch. Before the introduction of the railway, this was the easiest way to transport cargo into the city – our first real life source.
In 1874, eight wool scourers and seven tanneries opened in Woolston. The largest of these was owned by Gustav Lindstrom. His business became known as the ‘Woolston Tannery’ and sat on seven acres. These early businesses helped to cement the suburb of Woolston as Christchurch’s earliest industrial area.
Another iconic business to share the site was ‘Bowren Brothers Co. Ltd’, ran by William and George Bowren. The brothers arrived from England in 1880 and in that same year they opened their own export and trading business. They grew to be the biggest of their era in all Australasia.
In 1954, the ‘Woolston Tannery’ went into receivership and smaller businesses moved into the associated buildings. Over time, structures were demolished and land sold. It soon became an infamous eyesore and a toxic danger to the nearby Heathcote River.
Capturing the imagination of property developer, Alisdair Cassels in 1994, he bought the property for a personal project. In a lovely twist, the original owner, Gustav Lindstorm, is an ancestor of Cassels. Feeling his deep historic connection with the area, he felt something had to be done to save what was left.
Cassels was born in Northern Ireland and moved to New Zealand in 1958. He studied engineering at the University of Canterbury before going on to establish numerous Christchurch businesses. With a great love for Christchurch, he then took an interest in land development.
In 2009, he opened ‘Cassels & Sons Brewing Co.’ at the tannery with two of his sons, investing a further $20,000,000 after envisioning a Victorian Shopping Arcade for the rest of site. He had marked a few buildings to be taken down, but the 2011 earthquake took those choices out of his hands. Grateful to have what was left, he pushed forward undeterred, seeing ‘The Tannery’ as a much needed Phoenix – rising out of the ashes of damaged city. Today, many earthquake damaged Christchurch-based businesses have since made ‘The Tannery’ their place of operation – there now being 70 tenants in all.
* Image courtesy of Romany Rambler – http://romanyrambler.blogspot.co.nz*