The Colombo-Gloucester corner: A sweet spot over the years

There has been much excited looking out of windows at Tūranga recently. On the north-east corner of Colombo and Gloucester Streets, where the New Court Theatre is in the very early stages of being built, an archaeological dig is taking place. We've been watching suited up (asbestos danger) archaeologists beavering away, digging holes and uncovering the past. We'd love to know what they find! Is there an Ark of the Covenant down there? Have they geophysed? Have I watched too much Time Team?

On Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga we have the resources to be able to tell the historical story of this site to complement the archaeological story. Using maps, Wises Directories, PapersPast and the MacDonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies we can build a picture of the people and organisations who have occupied this corner over the last 170 years or so. In pre-European times this was the general area of Puari, an ancient pā, and Market Square, a trading area. 

Sometimes the corner was all one block and sometimes there were two or more businesses running on the Gloucester or Colombo Street sides.

1860s to 1880s - Cake and confectionery

When Christchurch was divided in to town sections in the 1850s, this area was Town Section 588. In 1862 this section was bought by Thomas Gee, a baker and confectioner from the UK who made Robert Heaton Rhodes' wedding cake - which was apparently 3 feet tall and used 100 eggs. In 1867 the business was taken over by his sons George and Alfred. Alfred carried on the business, which had developed into a popular refreshment rooms with even more wedding cakes on display, until around 1880, when he went bankrupt (as had his father).

According to Wises New Zealand Post Office Directory (also available on Ancestry) in 1880 and 1883 the Gloucester Street side was occupied by a groom called Alfred Craven. He has proved elusive and I haven't found out anything more about him. However, on the Colombo Street side - soon to be numbered 202 Colombo Street - the confectionery theme continues with Joseph Buggey taking over part of the site. He moved his business there from elsewhere in Christchurch, and it seems to have been quite the venue. "A favourite of the ladies" indeed!

1890s to 1930s - Carey's Buildings, drapers and dressmakers

Buggey's business carried on strongly and in 1896 it relocated next to Ballantynes. Moving back around the corner to what was then 162 Gloucester Street we find that a Jane Shave had opened a boarding house there (very convenient for cake). This boarding house and Jane are also a wee bit elusive. She had first been married in the UK to a Joseph Hall who died in 1872 and then to Walter Desmond Shave (who ended up in an Old Man's Home in Ashburton in 1899). Jane died in 1902 aged 75 and is buried in Sydenham Cemetery.

Around this time we come to the first mention of one of the most stalwart businesses of this corner. Around 1888 a Toneycliffe and Carey, drapers, pops up at 206 Colombo Street. When Joseph Buggey moved his business about 8 years later they expanded to 202-206 Colombo Street. PapersPast provides a lovely description of the building on the corner at that time. And on Gloucester Street we see Toneycliffe and Carey at 160 Gloucester Street from 1903. The business was founded by Thomas Edward Toneycliffe (1855-1939) and Andrew Carey Fuller (1863-1937) who both became prominent members of the Baptist Church and their respective local communities (the former relocated to Gisborne).

In 1907 they dissolved their partnership and Carey carried on the draper and dressmaking business alone. In 1911, presumably due to the growing city, the street numbers changed becoming 730 Colombo Street and 121 Gloucester Street respectively. Carey's Building - as it was known - seems to be become something of a landmark.

Of course there were other businesses around and about Carey's Buildings, including for a while the Christchurch Meat Company, and assorted cafes (well, you need a cake after you've been to the dressmakers). One of these was the Black Cat Cafe in the later 1920s. However the owner James Wright Fynes seems to have been a right swindler, and was imprisoned for 6 months in 1928 for breaches of the Bankruptcy Act.

The name Carey's Buildings stuck well into the 1930s but the business itself wound up around 1927, and the premises were taken over by Dunstan and Dyer, a men's outfitter from further down Colombo Street. Assorted exciting events took place during their tenure: a fire and an attempted burglary. Dunstan and Dyer only lasted until 1931 when Farmers sold off their stock:

1935 to 1977 - The State Theatre (and more sweet treats)

The early 1930s saw various small businesses and tea rooms on the site. And then in 1935 the State Theatre opened, one of a number of cinemas in the area. It survived as a cinema up until 1977, bouncing back after a fire in 1938, and with various options for beverages, such a E Fisher confections, Mrs R J Gilchrist confectioners, the PDQ tea rooms and State Confectioners. No chance of a sweet tooth going unsatisfied on this corner!

Another stalwart of the corner, Bunts Florists arrived in the later 1960s and stayed until 1995 when they moved to New Regent Street.

1970s to 2011 - Duty free shopping

Various combinations of International Cameras and the International Duty Free shop began in the 1970s, and DF Souvenirs - which survived up until the quakes - began around 1988 (DF must stand for Duty Free?). I also enjoyed that in the early 1990s on the Gloucester Street side there was a shop called 'Mags and Fags' - doing what it said on the tin!

Post-quake activity

Possibly the biggest rupture on the site were the quakes, with the site mostly vacant recently. From 2013-2018 the art work Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers was on the site.

The soon to move Dance-o-Mat is almost on the site, and temporary venue, Little Andromeda, was there or there abouts for a bit. Most recently the area on Colombo St next to the Crowne Plaza hotel was in use as an outdoor exercise yard for travellers in confinement at the hotel as part of MIQ. This was moved to the other side of the hotel on Armagh St so that work on the New Court Theatre site could begin.

Colour photo of MIQ exercise yard on Colombo St, next to Crowne Plaza hotel
Exercise area, managed isolation, Crowne Plaza Hotel CCL-DW-131021 by Mo-mo, 2020 CC BY-NC

And now the Court Theatre will be opening in 2023 (touch wood), connecting back to the corner's theatrical past. Hopefully they will have a cafe, with some yummy cakes, which will connect all the way back to the Gee family, Mr Buggey and the other confectioners and eateries that have been on the site.

Anyone else feeling peckish?

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