Early Transport in North-west Christchurch

At first settlers walked or rode on horseback while their goods were brought by river to Christchurch. Road construction in Canterbury began almost as soon as the first Europeans arrived. Most roads, though, were no more than muddy quagmires in winter or rutted tracks with a sprinkling of loose metal in summer. Construction of a road between Christchurch and Riccarton was undertaken in 1851 and this was not to be sealed until 1919 which meant an incredible dust problem in the district for a long time. The land in this area was swamp and almost uncrossable but timber was transported by wagon as soon as the road was formed. Great logs of wood were often to be seen floating down ditches as the road was too soft to support such heavy loads.

The road to Fendalton was formed in the late 1850’s; many such roads beyond the city grew from bullock tracks. Bridging the Avon River gave extra problems but Hagley Park Road and the Carlton bridge were public works that had been undertaken by 1857.

In early Christchurch, people used horses both for business and pleasure. The mail to Riccarton was carried on horseback in the late 1850’s.

The earliest vehicles in Christchurch were heavy, unsprung conveyances, used mainly for cartage. As the road surfaces improved, wheeled vehicles became lighter with springs. A popular four-wheeled vehicle was the brougham. Mrs Annie Townend, later of "Mona Vale", imported a one-horse brougham from England in 1900. This vehicle can be seen at the Yaldhurst Transport Museum.

It was not until the late 1870s that the Riccarton district had a coach service of its own operating - largely because of slow settlement in the swampy area. The first regular transport from Christchurch central to Riccarton was established in 1878 by Charles S. Lewis who carried passengers from the Bush Inn (Coach Corner) to High Street in a horse-drawn coach - commonly called a "drag". The Horse and Jockey Inn stood at the Riccarton terminus and Lewis was its proprietor.

In 1879 a tramway was built from the Railway Station to the Square and for 25 years horse trams served the city. By 1900 there were three privately owned tramway systems, all using horses; there was no such service to the north-west because of the slower growth in the population. Later a two-horse coach, with two rows of seats outside behind the driver and facing seats inside, left the Square outside the Post Office, a little in front of the United Service Hotel.

At a public meeting of ratepayers held in St. Barnabas’ Hall in March 1902, it was decided that the granting of a concession to a company wishing to run a steam tram service on Riccarton Road should be opposed; it would be preferable to wait for an electric tram service.

Because of rival services resulting in competition for passengers, the Christchurch Tramway Co. was forced into liquidation. It emerged with added capital as the Christchurch Tramway Board, with a new board elected in 1903. Frederick Waymouth, then owner of Mona Vale, was to represent Riccarton, Spreydon and Halswell.

Construction of tramlines led to road improvement. The road had to be wide enough for vehicles to pass on both sides of a tram and many residents gladly gave land to enable road widening. Road construction was done with pick and shovel.

The first electric trams ran on June 5, 1905, the first Fendalton service to Holmwood Rd began 2/11/09 with a later extension to 87 Fendalton Rd. (for many years the site of a dairy). The service to Clyde Rd began 18/12/12; Riccarton to Clyde Rd 2/11/05 and to the Racecourse 12/3/06 firstly with a steam service, changing to electric in March 1906. The service was never extended past the corner of Burnside Rd and Clyde Rd and passengers alighted there and walked no matter how far their destination or the state of the weather. At busy times the electric trams hauled trailers.

The electric tramway brought social change and increasing suburban development, especially in Riccarton where people working in town would buy a cheap section and commute to the town centre to work by tram. Small shopping centres sprang up at the Holmwood Rd terminus and the terminus at the intersection of Clyde and Fendalton Rds.

The Fendalton automatic electric substation which boosted power to the trams was built in 1922 in Idris Rd near Glandovey Rd and is now used by the Masonic Lodge.

The tramway system was not a financial success : the population was too small and it was spread-out as was the tram network, yet the trams were the fastest vehicles on the road in Edwardian times. From the 1920’s motor vehicles became serious competitors with the trams. The Fendalton service closed 5.2.50 and the Riccarton service 14.6.53 and was replaced by petrol/diesel buses. The old tram sheds at Riccarton remained for many years.

The Boon number 152 tram, one of six double-truck cars that entered service in 1910 and travelled regularly the Fendalton and Riccarton routes is one of the trams now operating along the tramway on the Worcester Boulevard. It was the first example in the world of a drop-centre design tramcar which originated in Christchurch. Tramcars were built to the same design throughout Australasia.


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