Wellington architecture #3 – the evolution of Parliament.

When New Zealand’s capital, or Seat of Government as it was known then, moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865 Parliament’s “House of Assembly” moved in to the existing Provincial Council Chambers.

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Photo: ATL – Swan, George Henry, 1833-1913. Provincial Council building, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-003739-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22494909

It was a convenient place to start but obviously not big enough. Additions to accommodate debating chambers for Upper and Lower Houses, committee rooms, the members’ restaurant (very important) and offices were added in stages until the original became part of a much bigger complex.

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Photo: ATL – Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-011625-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22795018

Restricted by Sydney Street on the left and Hill Street on the right, architects had to build over the back yard. Twenty years later, the side view from Sydney Street looked like a Gothic fantasy castle made in wood.

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In the 1890s, when the overflowing Parliamentary library demanded a new fireproof home, architect Thomas Turnbull went full circle and put his masonry extension in front of the original Provincial Council Chamber.

Pre 1907 postcard image of Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

It should have been a three storey building but political bickering over cost saw it redesigned by the Government’s architect with two storeys. Turnbull resigned from the project and asked for his name to be removed from the foundation stone. Fortunately, fireproof rooms and doors remained part of the design, despite budget cuts.

Parliament fire

On 11th December 1907, the tinder-dry wooden buildings burned down. The library and most of its contents survived, was rebuilt, and can still be seen today.

Parl library

The destruction of everything else disrupted Parliament for years to come and brought about a dramatic change in the landscape. The Governor abandoned his official residence, Government House (see previous post), and it became a “temporary” House of Assembly. An architectural competition for a new building was won by John Campbell – the Government’s own architect – with a grandiose design. The shallow gully that was Sydney Street was filled in and the site levelled to accomodate it. Construction began in 1912. And then came the Great War.

Work dragged on despite the lack of manpower available but when the war ended enthusiasm waned. An already small population had been decimated by conflict and the Spanish flu pandemic, materials became difficult to source, and the country was short of funds – again. Construction stopped in 1922 when the new House of Assembly was literally half the building it was meant to be. It has never been completed.

Parliament buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.

The building you see today is only half of the original concept, which is why the entrance steps are at the left instead of in the centre. The “Beehive” Executive Wing was added in the late 1960s to make a bold statement about “modern” New Zealand.

Whether or not you think these buildings “work” together is a matter of personal taste, but they have their own story to tell and represent three distinct periods in the architectural history of Wellington.

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Wellington architecture #2

From the Cyclopedia of New Zealand.

Government House, Wellington, is built on one of the most favoured sites in the City. The location is immediately between the Houses of Parliament, where the laws are made, and the Government Buildings [previous post], where they are administered. The grounds have an area of about six-and-a-half acres….. The House itself is a two-story edifice in the Italian style, 165 feet in length, and slightly less in depth, the top of the tower being eighty feet above the ground level.

Vintage postcard image of Old Government House, Wellington.

Government House up till 1868 was a very unpretentious affair, and only remarkable from other humble buildings of those days by the flagstaff and the two guns in front. Originally erected for and occupied by Colonel Wakefield, of the New Zealand Company, it became the first Government House on the removal of the Administration of the Colony [from Auckland] to Wellington [in 1865].

The present building was completed in 1871, and contains two spacious drawing rooms, which open out into each other, a dining-room, a ballroom, a billiard-room and conservatory, together with a full suite of offices for the Governor and his staff, and the Executive Council. There are upwards of twenty bedrooms, and the servants’ quarters are commodious, and arranged with all the conveniences modern ideas of comfort suggest. Ventilation has had due attention paid to it through-out, and gas and electricity are both laid on.

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An imposing view of Government House with shops on Lambton Quay in the foreground.

The stables are situated at the south-west corner of the grounds, and are built with loose-boxes ten feet square, brick floored, and with every convenience for feed, water, etc., for ten horses. There are two coachhouses, in which are kept five carriages, and adjoining are the cottages for the accommodation of the grooms and gardeners.

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This rear view taken in the 1870s shows Government House and grounds in the centre with part of the Parliament Buildings at left. A gate from Hill Street (foreground) leads down to Sydney Street. The stables are on the corner.

The out-of-door staff consists of two coachmen, and three gardeners. There is also a lodge at the main entrance, where a bombardier and three privates of the Permanent Artillery are constantly on duty, one being always on guard, and the squad being relieved at 9 a.m. every morning; there are also three of the same force always in attendance at Government House itself, one attending at the door, and the other two acting as messengers. The domestic servants consist of four employed in the kitchen, three housemaids, one schoolroom maid, two ladies’ maids, one butler, and a man and boy for odd jobs. The laundry is occupied by one of the permanent force who is employed on duty at the House.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897. [abridged]

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This photograph, copied from an old postcard, was taken sometime before 1897. Government House, at left, and the Parliament Buildings, right, are separated by the tree-lined Sydney Street, which no longer exists. I’ll explain why in my next post. The church tower in the background belongs to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hill Street.

This fine old building lasted until 1968, by which time it hadn’t been used as a Governor’s residence for decades and was in very poor condition. It was demolished to make way for the new Executive Wing of Parliament, a controversial design by Sir Basil Spence, and a building more commonly known as the Beehive for obvious reasons.

Govt_Parl beehive

#3 on Monday.

Wellington architecture #1

Govt offices

The Government Buildings, built on newly-reclaimed land in 1876 and photographed by James Bragge soon afterwards. Wellington would continue to spread into the harbour for most of the next century.

To many, the gem of Lambton Quay, undoubtedly one of the finest structures the Dominion has to offer, is the Government Buildings, erected in 1876 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing civil service, a beautifully proportioned block somewhat resembling a wooden replica of Somerset House, and standing in grounds which, though limited, serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of the Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood, and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.

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c. 1902. The original “ugly” corrugated iron fence was replaced by railings, and the gardens improved, in the 1890s.

And what wood! A list of the materials used – a million feet of them – sounds like a building contractor’s dream. For the main block, the framework of Tasmanian hardwood, the weatherboards and interior of kauri, For the wings, added later [1897 and 1907], the framework of rimu, the piles of totara, the weatherboards and flooring of matai, the interior finishings of kauri – an epitome of all the most precious of New Zealand forest products. The thought comes uppermost: “What forests passed beneath the axe to rear its walls!”
‘The Streets of my City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1948.

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The civil service had outgrown its old offices by 1990 and left them empty. In recognition of its status as a heritage building, government sponsored restoration and conservation began four years later. Most of the interior is now leased to the Victoria University School of Law but parts of it are open to the public and well worth a visit.

The city has grown around (and above) it as cities do, and it’s a little sad to see the old building, that used to dominate its surroundings, being overshadowed by modern office blocks.

Govt offices 4

This is the first of three loosely connected posts about the New Zealand capital’s early architecture. Next – Government House, 1871.

Railway uniforms and the English class system.

The London and South Western Railway garments are issued to the staff in the spring and autumn. Generally trousers are supplied every six months; light coats and vests every other summer; and heavy coats, vests and overcoats every other winter. At the Stores the garments for each man are made up into a separate parcel, duly labelled with his name, grade and place of employment. ….

railway serviceIt is impossible to mention all the articles of clothing that are served out on the different railways to various classes. Some men are supplied with leggings and mackintoshes; oilskin suits and clogs are required by those whose duties call for the use of water, as in carriage-washing, etc. Blue blouses are worn by men engaged in fruit and meat loading; the sailors on the railway steamers wear blue jerseys; tunnel men are clothed in flannel suits; and electricians, boiler-inspectors, policemen, firemen, dining-car attendants, Royal train officials and the hotel staff all require garments of widely differing character.

Platelayers, as a rule, are not supplied with clothing by the Company. Some of these men, however, are employed in fog-signalling, cold and cheerless work, for which warm clothing is very necessary. They are therefore provided with thick overcoats, the collars of which are covered with scarlet cloth. These garments are generally second-hand ones that have been returned to the Stores after two years’ wear by officials in higher grades. There are also various other servants, not entitled to new clothing, who are favoured with similar garments.

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Station Master, two porters, and a train guard.

A great many of the left-off garments of railway employés find their way to the “shoddy” mills for conversion into cloth of the cheapest kinds, but garments that are worth it are fitted with new collars and cuffs and then find a ready sale among farm labourers and other classes whose work calls for rough clothing. The articles for which there is no demand at home are sent abroad. Upon many of the sugar and cotton plantations of India and the West Indies and in the mines of South Africa it is not uncommon to see a native clothed in a strange medley of garments.
‘The Wonder Book of Railways’, Ed. Harry Golding,
Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd. Eleventh edition, c.1924.

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
Augustus De Morgan (1806 – 1871)

Then and Now – Greytown

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Main street, Greytown, New Zealand, c.1875. The Greytown Hotel at left.

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State Highway 2, Greytown, New Zealand, 2017. The Greytown Hotel at left.

The Greytown Hotel is believed to have been established in 1860, no great age by European standards, but it is rare, if not unique for a New Zealand pub to be still doing business from it’s original premises after 157 years. These old wooden buildings had a tendency to burn down.

Despite alterations and additions, the front of the hotel today is still an obvious match for the one in Bragge’s photo at top.

The Greytown Hotel, North Island, New Zealand, was established in 1860.

The present owner is from Dublin, which explains the flag.

James Bragge (1833-1908) – who has been featured here before and will be again -was a photographer based in Wellington. He was well known for his views of the city and landscapes of the surrounding regions of Wairarapa and Manawatu. His work is easily recognised not only for its quality but for the inclusion of his horse-drawn mobile darkroom in many of the pictures. Foreground interest and advertising at the same time.

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Greytown, by the way, was named for Governor George Grey and not because the town was grey, dull and boring!

Buy British

In the last thirty years the British motor industry has grown rapidly and mass-production of moderately priced cars has increased the standard of living of millions of citizens. English cars, unsurpassed for their quality and reliability, are in demand throughout the world and ably demonstrate our national aptitude in engineering skill. These photographs were taken of work in famous factories at Cowley and Birmingham.
‘England Today in Pictures’, Odhams Press Ltd, 1947.

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Austin 10 family saloons at the Birmingham factory. 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a blistering 1 minute 55 sec!

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A production line for the Morris 8E – made by humans, not robots – at Cowley, Oxford.

We might have a more demanding definition of “quality and reliability” today, so those words should be understood in their historical context, not to mention their propaganda value for a country struggling to recover after WWII. Petrol (gas) was still rationed in 1947 and a large proportion of new car production was exported to boost the economy. A new car was actually out of reach for “millions of citizens”. Consequently, second hand pre-war vehicles held their value well into the 1950s.

Oxford Circus

Sepia postcard image of Oxford Circus, 1920s or 30s.

Oxford Circus, London. Junction of Regent Street and Oxford Street. One of the principal shopping centres of the world. Noted for its magnificent Buildings.

[Oxford Street] has seen in our time a marvellous transformation, for those who are not even old remember the day when men smiled at Mr. Selfridge coming from America and setting up his great shop at the wrong end of Oxford Street where nobody came. People come today in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, and all the world knows Selfridge’s, the greatest shop in England that has no need to put its name on it. Its massive row of stone columns stretches for 500 feet along the street. Its windows are one of London’s annual shows at Christmas, and in summer its roof is a daily delight.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

Postcard image of Oxford Circus from Regent Street c. 1930s.

Approaching Oxford Circus from Regent Street.