State Housing

Most people believe that state housing began with the Labour Government in 1937, but government involvement in providing housing for low income workers began as early as 1905. Richard John Seddon’s Liberal government passed the Workers’ Dwelling Act of 1905 which allowed the State to set aside land and for the first time to build houses for lease to workers at modest rentals.

Sydenham was home to many of the workers employed in the local factories, so it was appropriate that the first group of state houses was built there.

A second group of workers’ dwellings was built in Riccarton in 1909. This was the Walker Settlement situated on 1.25 ha of land in Mandeville St. It was named after William Campbell Walker, a former speaker of the Legislative Council and Governor of Canterbury College. The land had been allotted to him when he had bought his high country sheep station. This allotment he gave away to be divided into sections for working people. The Walker Settlement was near the Addington Railway Workshops and the stockyards and it was from these local industries that the Government hoped to attract workers to live in its houses.

Six houses were built in ferroconcrete and a seventh house already on the site was extensively renovated. Ferroconcrete was used on a trial basis; the Government architect believed the use of ferroconcrete should be encouraged as much as possible. It was felt that houses built of this would be more durable, meaning less maintenance. Ornate wooden verandahs and porches were added to make the houses more attractive. A further ten houses were built in 1912.

However when applications for the government houses closed only two had been received from railway employees. The rents were too high and the government was not prepared to build lower quality houses. Cheaper accommodation was available in nearby Crewe township, an area bounded by the north railway line, Riccarton Road, Chinamen’s Lane (now Mandeville St), Pigeon Lane (now Clarence St) and Lincoln Road. Around the cottages and workshops were Chinese market gardens and paddocks used for grazing dairy cows and also polo ponies belonging to the two large property owners in the area - the Beaths and the Halls.

Joseph Hoy was an early tenant in one of the early state houses, 23 Mandeville Street. Joseph Hoy and his family had emigrated from Scotland before World War I and he had obtained work with the Halls as a gardener, with his wife helping out in the house. Henry Joseph Hall’s house, built in 1857, was at the corner of Riccarton Rd and Mandeville St., built behind a sandy hillock which is a reserve today. The Beath’s home on Riccarton Road, built in 1870, belonged to G.L. Beath (founder of Beath & Co Ltd) and also provided some employment for those in the government houses. In the rear of both properties were extensive gardens, orchards and stables.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Joseph Hoy enlisted and was overseas until 1918. As a reward to returned servicemen, the government made it much easier for them to purchase their state houses and by 1923, 23 Mandeville Street was freehold and various generations of the Hoy family have lived there ever since. The house is now the only one remaining of the Walker Settlement. The first houses were demolished when Mandeville Street was realigned and Blenheim Road put through. The neighbourhood also changed very early from residential to industrial. In the 1920’s Butler’s Timber Mill and Fletcher’s asbestos cement factory were thriving industries; these have been replaced by others.

23 Mandeville Sreet built under the Workers’ Dwelling Acts of 1905 and 1910, is important as a reminder of the first attempt by a N.Z. government to house people.

The Labour Government of 1935 decided to make state rental housing available once more. It established the Department of Housing Construction with its own architectural staff. State homes were modern bungalows with lower stud heights and smaller rooms, and usually included three bedrooms, a living-room and kitchen. This layout soon became the typical N.Z. bungalow. Northwest Christchurch has several areas of state house development from this period. One example is Tika Street in Riccarton.

The Northcote Housing Settlement was built in 1920. At that time no one was interested in living there and it soon became a group of derelict houses. Later the State Advances Corporation took over the scheme and made renovations. John A. Lee, under-secretary in charge of Housing Construction, visited in 1937 and saw the area as a future model development.

Another Labour Government, that of Walter Nash, from 1957-60, suggested using part of Burnside Park, then under Crown ownership, for state housing. However this did not go ahead and the area was gazetted a reserve and added to Burnside Park.

In 1956 the government announced another scheme for state housing in this area. At least 400 houses were to be built on an area of just over 128 acres near Lake Bryndwr, south of Wairakei Road and north-west of Grahams Road. A school site, a shopping area and a reserve were planned. Kendal School opened on 27 February 1962. Provision was made for shopping sites on sections almost opposite the school gates. At this time Bryndwr was one of the most rapidly growing areas in New Zealand.

Another area of state housing is Otara Street in Fendalton. It is thought that Duncan Rutherford sold a block of land to the government in the post-war era to allow these to be built.

Further blocks of state houses in the heart of Fendalton were built in Thornycroft Street and the north side of Glandovey Road between the round-about and the railway line. Most of these homes are barely recognisable as state houses today.


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