Beckenham mural (and an apology)

Firstly, an apology to some of my readers and followers:  I understand that in the last few days some of you have commented on my postings, but unfortunately (for a reason I haven’t yet ascertained), your comments haven’t come through to me.  So I just want to reassure you that I’m not ignoring you, it’s just that I haven’t been aware of your comments!  I hope I can work out or find out why this is happening and rectify it, so please don’t let it stop you from commenting – I’ll be doing my best to make sure that I do get to see them in future 🙂

And now on to today’s post.  On my way over to the South Library last week for my camera class, I spotted this lovely mural on the side of the wall of a local shop in Beckenham.

Beckenham mural 2

Beckenham mural

In days gone by, the loop of the Opawaho or Heathcote river that is now Beckenham was marshy land, covered in raupo, tussock and grasses.  In the early days of European settlement, areas close to town such as Addington and Sydenham grew quickly, while outlying districts such as Beckenham were farmland, with just a few people owning big properties. The Fisher brothers, who came to New Zealand from Kent in 1850 on the Charlotte Jane, each owned half of present day Beckenham. 

James and Harriet Fisher were given Rural Section 21 as a wedding present by Harriet’s father. This was a 100 acre (40.5 hectares) block known as the Fisher Estate, and later on the district was called Fisherton.  James and Harriet drained the swamplands and grew wheat, but later turned to dairy farming. 

Stephen Temple Fisher bought the 100 acre block (Rural Section 49) north of his brother James’ property, calling it Beckenham Farm, after the English town the brothers came from, now part of London.  Stephen and Anne Elizabeth Fisher had five children and farmed their Beckenham property in the 1870s.   Stephen Fisher died in 1897 and his land was bought by Richard May Morten, who owned a great deal of land in Christchurch. The land was subdivided and streets began to be formed.

Colombo Road (now Colombo Street) was formed in 1878, and around this time trams were introduced to Christchurch, and this is part of the reason that Beckenham developed when it did. Trams made an enormous difference to people, enabling them to live further out from the city and still travel in and out quite easily. “Tramway suburbs” such as Beckenham developed quickly. The trams came down Colombo Road to Devon Street in 1880. Later they ran as far as Tennyson Street and, in 1898, the line was extended to the foot of the hills. In 1906, over 200 people lived in Beckenham. Many of these worked in the city, using the trams as transport.

At the time that all this subdividing and building was going on, Beckenham was administered by the Heathcote Road Board. However, many of the new residents felt they would rather be part of Christchurch, and in 1907 Beckenham joined Christchurch city.  The land south of Corson Avenue was known for a while as Riverview Estate and used for small holdings and market gardens, so the area still retained a semi-rural appearance.

Photo of State cottage for workers, New Zealand International Exhibition, Hagley Park, Christchurch, 1906

One type of state cottage for workers, New Zealand International Exhibition, 1906

About 1907, the Government built houses for working people, such as railway workers, in Longfellow and Seddon Streets. This was known as the Camelot Settlement and was one of the earliest examples of state housing. Unfortunately, because the rents were high (9 shillings a week, nearly a sixth of a worker’s weekly wage), the scheme did not succeed. 

Gradually Beckenham developed to become the residential suburb it is today. In 1912 electricity was laid on. Sewerage and drainage systems were connected about ten years later. Before this, people had backyard toilet sheds called dunnies. There was a seat with a hole in it placed over a can. When it was dark, the night soil man would call and take away the contents of the can.

In the depression of the 1920s and 1930s, jobs and money were scarce, but families had large gardens and hens to supply vegetables, fruit and eggs. Roads were gravelled rather than asphalted until the 1930s: very dusty when the nor-wester winds blew. The river was a popular playground for children, along its banks or on home-made rafts constructed out of old petrol drums and spare timber. The river often flooded on to roads and people’s properties, and this problem was only fixed in the 1970s.

The trams which had helped Beckenham grow were phased out in 1954, as buses took their place.

(Source:  Christchurch City Libraries http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/LocalHistory/Beckenham/)

The mural depicts some of this history of the area, with emphasis and/or cameos of some of the more important ‘icons’ of the day such as the Baptist Church, the nearby malthouse (now a community theatre and costume hire venue), Beckenham Park, the local pharmacy, Beckenham Library (no longer in operation) and a local garage.

DSCF4387 DSCF4385 cropped DSCF4384 DSCF4382 Car cropped DSCF4389 cropped

At the foot of the mural a small community garden has also been established, with some prolifically-growing pumpkins which look as though they’ll yield a great harvest in the months to come:  someone must be watering them, for sure, as they certainly wouldn’t be this good with the skinny amount of rain we’ve had in the city over the last two months! 🙂

It’s a lovely community record of the area’s history, now even more important given that a number of the older buildings in the area have been demolished following the earthquakes:  congratulations to the movers and shakers who initiated and completed this wonderful project!

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