Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sydenham surrenders...

What the developers had not quite completed in retail Sydenham, the quake has. Over the years I've watched with dismay as the old commercial buildings along Colombo Street have been demolished and replaced with tacky, jerry-built boxes devoid of character or integrity. The remaining little two-story, lightly embellished brick facades were the retail face of an early working-class and semi-industrial suburb. Now  the massive cordons on each side of Colombo Street suggest they are likely to go. I doubt they will be considered of sufficient 'heritage' value to be restored/rebuilt, though I would be delighted to be proved wrong. And it could yet be that the damage is superficial and easily repairable. One thing this quake has shown is that appearances are hugely deceptive.

We don't have a good track record as far as our industrial built heritage is concerned. Two examples from 'my' side of the city are the 'iconic' Edmonds Sure to Rise factory which was demolished to make way for a (no linger existent) petrol station and the Malt Works in Heathcote which will shortly give way to a subdivision. The Malt Works buildings could have accommodated a wonderful craft centre along the lines of Saltaire's Salt Building in Yorkshire.

Adjacent to the Governor's Bay jetty there are the remains of an old  slipway and cradle that belonged to Lionel Jeffcote the boatbuilder. A while back there was talk of tidying up this area and removing the slipway piles and rusty metal cradle. I have since thought it would be good if they could stay - a reminder of a local industry, a little bit of visual variety and a convenient resting place for the shags as they dry their wings.


  1. Yes to the slipway's ghost lingering on. There are a couple of sturdy Jeffcote boats still in the bay- or at least there were until recently.
    Sydenham is a sad sight. I mused over a documentary about the suburb at one stage. Wish I'd done it. It's not a sexy enough story for the networks, but Sydenham has a colourful history, a good part told in brick. Even without Mabel Howard and Norm Kirk.

  2. Well I think a Sydenham documentary would be a great idea. Maybe now would be the time?? I've always had a soft spot for Sydenham - and have always been interested in the Luke Adams pottery which my mum remembered and patronised.

    The other neglected area of ChCh that has always intrigued me is Woolston, around the tanneries...

  3. That Woolston area is gorgeous, yes- in a decidedly gritty way. I've imagined a lot of stories there too: it's hard to imagine it as the portal it once was- between city and sea, at least via lighters round the coast from Lyttelton.
    Woolston is full of fascinating imagery: the river, soiled but lovely, the mix of old and new industry; the cottages; the abandoned sites; the bridges.
    And the railway.
    I remember taking the train to town as a kid- walking down the stairs to the Lyttelton station, which seemed vast and cool and exciting; catching the train and ducking almost immediately into the tunnel- still, in those days, smelling of coal-smoke.
    Then slipping though town, stopping at the suburban stations: Heathcote, Woolston, Opawa, the conducter coming past with his ticket punch swinging from his belt, a shiny patch on his trousers where it rubbed; sitting down to chat or bustling on.
    And finally the enormous Christchurch station, cavernous and tiled, echoing with footsteps and bustle.

  4. My memories are of that train trip in reverse! Getting on at Opawa, then Woolston, Heathcote and THE TUNNEL... We didn't have a car so this was a big and much anticipated trip. For summer holidays we would take the train from Opawa to Lyttelton, then ferry to Diamond Harbour, with all our gear for a 2 week stay in a rented bach. Such an adventure...

    What prevents a documentary on Sydenham? $$?

  5. Money and time. Though the two are clearly related :)
    To do it well, it'd need a fair swag of archival footage- and that's very expensive these days.
    Diamond Harbour for the holidays- completely opposite, as I grew up there.
    DH did that long, sleepy childhood summer feeling very well!