Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower

The design and the build of the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings were such a great achievement for the young colony of Christchurch. The designer, Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, I’m sure had plans for a clock tower from the time he began to draw up the plans.

As Benjamin designed the iron work that would encase the clock, Christchurch’s second Superintendent – William Sefton Moorhouse – laid the foundation stone for the council buildings in 1858. In 147 boxes, the clock and iron work arrived via the sea in 1860.

The original idea had been to place the iron clock tower on top of the first wooden section of the buildings. After some debate, the clock was considered too heavy for such a position. The clock ended up in the building’s stone tower, facing out to Armagh Street and the iron works became the centre piece of the courtyard.

Sadly, the clock did not remain in its tower for long. The sea journey had caused some damage. It was put away in storage where it would remain for the next 30 years. When the Provincial Government came to its end in 1876, the clock and iron work became the property of the Christchurch City Council.

With Queen Victoria celebrating her diamond jubilee in the late 1890’s, Christchurch wanted to acknowledge the occasion. Out came the clock and its iron work along with a competition to design the rest of what would be called the Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower. It was won by Christchurch firm ‘Strouts and Ballantyne’. The clock was returned to England for repairs.

In 1897, the iron work and clock were placed on their fine stonework base on the intersection of Manchester, Lichfield and High Streets. There it remained until 1930.

In 1930, the clock and tower were in need of repairs. Also, the traffic demand on Manchester Street had increased to the point that the tower was considered a road hazard. It was moved to its current location on Victoria, Salisbury, Montreal Streets and Papanui Road. Unfortunately, the clock had to be replaced. The tower went under further restoration in 1978 and 2003 – including earthquake strengthening. Although very damaged due to the 22th February 2011 earthquake, it has been braced and will be repaired to its former glory. As an eerie reminder of Christchurch’s darkest day, the clock hasn’t worked since the 22 February, its hands frozen on the time of 12.51pm.

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