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Christchurch Now & Then #3 | by Mara Pito²
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Christchurch Now & Then #3

The Italianate Criterion House at 225-227 High Street (to the Left in the upper image) was built in 1883 to the design of Thomas Stoddart Lambert (1840-1915). The building occupies the site of a pair of early wooden two storey premises, one of which was was a branch post office and grocers, the other being the fancy repository of Montague and Company.


Scotsman Lambert, a City Councilor, also designed the now demolished Jewish Synagogue (1881-1985c) in Gloucester Street West and the United Service Hotel (1885-1990) in Cathedral Square. The only other of his buildings known to have survived within the city are the former Tuam Street Hall (subsequently known as the Opera House), also built in 1883 and the earlier Church House on the Northwest corner of Cashel and Manchester Streets.


The Left hand third of Criterion House was occupied by George Hartley Bonnington (1837-1901), a Chemist and Druggist of Woolston. In the mid 1860s his Pharmacy was situated in a small wooden shop next to the Northeast corner of High and Lichfield Streets. George is probably best remembered for his remarkably successful Bonnington's Irish Moss cough mixture. By 1906 James Henderson Cobb, a Commercial Traveler, occupied the first floor as showrooms, the windows of which had been expanded to double their width sometime after 1908.


The Right hand two thirds of Criterion House were originally the premises of the Drapers Black, Beattie and Company. This was the first building in New Zealand to be fitted with a pneumatic document carrying system, which connected the shop counters with a central cashier to whom the customer's payments would be dispatched. The Cashier would then return the change and receipts to the shop assistants in cartridges that were driven along overhead pipes by compressed air.


Robert Black (1820-1887) had previously occupied a small shop on the corner of High and Lichfield Streets, but went into partnership with Robert Beattie from Dunedin in 1883. Black and his son Robert William managed the drapery shop while Robert Beattie (1844-1897) traveled the South Island as the company's sales representative. Beattie's wife was drowned at Kaikoura in 1892 and five years later he died in London while taking his two daughters to England for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.


To the Right of Criterion House are the premises of W. Strange and Company. Designed by William Barnett Armson (1834-83) and built in 1874, this building occupied the sites of the first Town Hall (1857) and the adjoining second Town Hall of 1863 (both destroyed by fire in 1873).


William Strange (1834-1914) was a highly successful Draper and added another two floors to his building between 1900 and 1907. Strange expanded his business into Criterion House before 1909 and also built the extant 1899-1900 premises at the corner of Lichfield Street, which had been the site of Victoria House, his first Draper's shop in 1863. Strange's 1874 premises endured until 1984, being replaced by the Ministry of Social Development's Central Service Centre.


About 1988 Criterion House burnt and the two upper floors have been vacant since then. The building was purchased in July 2006 by the KPI Rothschild Property Group. Restoration work began in January 2007, with completion expected in March 2008.


But Criterion House is not the oldest survivor in this High Street block, that distinction lurks behind the modernised facade of the building currently occupied by Hunters and Collectors at number 235 (far Right). Melbourne House was built by Polish Ironmongers Solomon and Hiram Nashelski to replace their single storey hardware shop of 1864, which they shared with Hermann Issac, a watchmaker and Solomon Nashelski's son-in-law. One could purchase a revolver over their counter in the late 1880s and business was good; they had added a fourth storey before 1900. Although gutted in the Great Fire of 1908 it was refurbished and subsequently became Ashby, Bergh and Company when Solomon Nashelski of Armagh Street died in 1890.


Edward E Ashby and the Norwegian Ludwig Bergh (1848-1895) had both begun work at the original Ironmongery in 1864, and although their names remain incised into the Limestone facade, the 143 year old ghost of the Nashelki brother's humble enterprise lingers on as the automotive parts retailer Repco.


To the extreme left of the older image can be glimpsed the corner of Alfred Jones' single storey Boot and Shoe Depot.


Canterbury Heritage, a journal of the province's social history and cultural heritage.

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Uploaded on December 20, 2007