There is always something very special about those abodes and buildings in Christchurch that just don’t quite fit in…not only in a historic way but also in style and materials.

Such a place exists on the corner Durham and Wordsworth Streets – Blackheath – as it states so proudly on its Durham Street frontage for all to see.

Bricklayer Frank Hathway Hitchings (1843 -1921) and his young family emigrated from Blackheath, London in 1869.  The Hitchings settled into a rental and Frank supported his family by not only bricklaying but also cleaning chimneys.  Finally in 1876, they had saved up enough money to buy their own piece of land on Durham Street.  There, Frank built a small brick house and in the backyard, an observatory as he was a passionate star gazer and studier of the sun.

As his family grew, he decided to build a larger home next door.  With his kin now settled into the new house, he not only rented out the old place but built two more homes in the gap in between.  He named his small empire ‘Blackheath Place’.  And then Frank just kept on building.
As his sons were coming up to the age of learning a trade, they all helped Dad with Blackheath, all deciding to stay in the brick laying business as a result.  If you look at the photo of Blackheath from Durham Street, the two different level rooflines indicated the different eras of building between Frank and his sons.  10 tenant houses were built all up and those who lived there were happy and content with their small community.

Blackheath remained in the family until 1983 when it was sold to a developer.  The following year, Blackheath opened as a series of commercial suites and since then it has been restored and enlarged – all improvements keeping in the style of the original 10 tenant houses.

A real gem of Durham Street and a welcomed piece of Christchurch’s heritage, it has survived the quakes of 2010/2011 and 2012 with great grace and looks to be with us for many more years to come.

*all photos taken by Annette Bulovic*

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