Victoria Square: Cradle of Christchurch
Geoffrey W Rice
328 pp, Hardback
260 x 190 mm
Victoria Square, that green and peaceful oasis in the centre of Christchurch, has a special claim to fame: it is the only city square in the world with a river running through it. And it has a rich and varied history, starting in 1850 when, as Christchurch’s Market Place, it was the centre of commerce in the fledgling settlement. Before long it was home to little wooden shops, busy hotels and flourishing businesses, and to the city’s law courts. Much later it was the site of a splendid town hall.
There have been many changes over the years, by far the most drastic those that followed the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. All the buildings on the square’s eastern side, and most of those to the south, were demolished, along with the eye-catching tourist hotel that had occupied its north-west corner from 1988. Until the earthquakes Victoria Square was regarded as the most successful urban space in New Zealand, and even in Australasia, and that admired layout, dating from the 1980s, survives, though it may yet be modified as the city rebuilds.
This lively and entertaining book, illustrated with 250 photographs, many never before published, is written by an author with a deep knowledge of and love for his city. It is a fascinating architectural survey of a unique civic space but, much more than that, it is the story of a place and its people, of protests and processions, of concerts and dances, of festivals and fights, of busy department stores, of hotels and tourists, of judges and courtrooms. Geoffrey Rice brings to life many of the stories and events connected with Victoria Square and the colourful personalities who have lived and worked there for over a century and a half.
Geoffrey Rice is Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, where he taught for nearly 40 years until his recent retirement. He has written illustrated histories of Christchurch and Lyttelton, a biography of Sir Heaton Rhodes, and two books about crimes and scandals in nineteenth-century Christchurch, all published by Canterbury University Press. His account of the 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand, Black November, was shortlisted in the History section of the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.