History & heritage  |  9 Jun 2021

The mystery of the curious little brick buildings that dot the city dates to colonial Christchurch.

With the city developed on a flat, low-lying, waterlogged site, there were serious drainage problems. Cesspits polluted rivers and groundwater, prompting the creation of a Drainage Board in 1875-76 to deal with a host of problems.

Revealed as remnants of that heritage infrastructure, the familiar brick and concrete pump houses and substations – supporting drainage and electricity – signal the move from a small town to a fast-growing city from the late 1800s to the 1930s.

Today, several early pump stations and substations remain along the Avon River Ōtākaro or among homes in older neighbourhoods, representing the work of local architects. Several also remain protected in the Christchurch District Plan.

The first technologically advanced station – known as The Pump House – still sits in Tuam Street. Originally housing engines and pumps, the brick structure with arched windows and doors is one of the oldest remaining parts of the city's 19th century sewerage system, dating from the 1880s.

Now home to a salvage yard, the remaining pump house – a Highly Significant protected heritage place – is also the subject of one of the city’s most famous artworks, painted by Doris Lusk in 1958.

Several early pump houses sit on the banks of the Avon River Ōtākaro, with the protected (Highly Significant) ornamental-style Bangor Street No.3 Pump – built in 1907 – still in place. Pump No. 24 (1926) – with wide eaves and a decorative turret – can also be seen on the edge of hotel grounds in Riccarton and remains protected.

Christchurch’s electricity network expanded during World War I, with about 25 substations supplying the city following the opening of the Lake Coleridge hydroelectric power station in 1914.

A protected Ferry Road structure, built in 1914, is one of the few surviving substations from the first decade of electricity reticulation. It also features unusual brickwork.

In Linwood Avenue, a 1934 temple-style substation includes a triglyph frieze while a 1928 ornamental substation in Milton Street, Sydenham now hosts events. Both buildings remain protected, along with a large, former converter station and substation – that backs onto Rauroa Park – on the corner of Armagh Street and Manchester Street. Built in the 1930s, the art deco style is rare in the city.

In Gamblins Road, a 1930 substation shows the influence of one of the world’s most famed architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, while on the Weka Street-Tui Street corner in Fendalton, the 1948 substation illustrates the Dutch modernism style.

Anyone can contact Christchurch City Council to find out more about the history of a city building or check out the Pavilions, temples & four square walls publication.