May 8, 2009

The Limes Private Hospital 1880-1963


A recent response from a regular reader concerned the last address of her GGG grandad John Kennedy, a 70 year old News Vendor who was living at 84 Kilmore Street, when he died in 1918. The reader understood that this was probably a house almost opposite the 1972 Town Hall. However the photographic record indicates that the presumed location continued to be occupied by early commercial premises until 1958 and further research indicated that number 84 was actually on the southern side of Kilmore Street on the site now occupied by the Town Hall's auditorium.

With a southern boundary on Cambridge Terrace, John Plank had built a two storey wooden boarding house facing Victoria Square on the quarter acre section by 1862. But in 1880 it was demolished and across the site and its adjoining section (originally occupied by the Blacksmith William Gosling), the newly arrived Dr James Irving built a substantial brick hospital, which was soon extended with a new wing to the east. The Limes Private Hospital derived its name from the trees which occupied the Cambridge Terrace river bank and although informally referred to as being in Victoria Square, the official address of The Limes Hospital Ltd was 84 Kilmore Street.

At the time of John Kennedy's demise the hospital was also providing care for invalid and convalescent soldiers from the Great War of 1914-1919.

The Scottish James Irving had arrived at Lyttelton as the ship's doctor aboard the Shaw Savill Line's sailing vessel Crusader in 1879, with eight children (subsequently enlarged to six sons and five daughters) and a Nanny. Prominent in the Social Purity Society, Beautifying Association, Chrysanthemum Society and New Zealand Medical Association, Irving was the Surgeon-Major of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and also donated the Cathedral's High Altar in gratitude for his family's safe voyage from England. Aged sixty-four, Irving died suddenly at his hospital in the evening of the 26th of October 1900 and was buried in the Barbadoes Street Cemetery. Appended below is an excerpt from Dr Irving's letter book, which gives an interesting perspective of Christchurch in 1879.

James Irving's son William followed his father into the medical profession and was subsequently Honorary Secretary of the New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association, Medical Superintendent of the St Helens Hospital in Durham Street South and then with the St George's Hospital in Papanui. However, having been qualified for less than three years at the time of his father's demise, the superintendency of The Limes passed to the Edinburgh trained Dr Alexander Paterson who had come to Christchurch in 1897.

James Irving's daughter, Dr Hannah Margaret Irving (1881-1972) was the last burial in the Anglican section of the Barbadoes Street Cemetery.

Many local residents either began or ended their mortal span at The Limes, not the least being the twin brothers Dr David and Sir Hamish Hay, born in 1927.

In 1963 the Christchurch City Council purchased the old hospital and it was demolished in favour of a car park by 1965. In 1969 construction of the new Town Hall began, which includes the commemorative Limes Room conference facility.

An excerpt from Dr James Irving's letter book for Wednesday, the 24th of September 1879 (with the editor's comments in parenthesis).

We are being quietly tugged up the harbour of Port Lyttelton - a beautiful one - with precipitous hills on either side, green down to the water's edge, the scenery not unlike some parts of Wales and Scotland. The pilot came out to us in the night about two o'clock, the steam tug (ss Mullogh) soon followed, and we shall soon be alongside the wharf.

Evening: The medical officer of health came on board about ten - found us all healthy - congratulated me as medical officer in charge, and we went alongside the wharf at once. Off immediately to the train to go up to Christchurch, some seven miles, and whose face is the first seen but my brother, who came here some three weeks since; a very agreeable surprise for all, as we did not know that he was here.

We took a buggy and drove round and about Christchurch. It is a perfectly flat, square city, containing about 20,000 souls; within the town is a mile square, all the streets run at right angles and quite straight, except one which runs corner-wise. The Cathedral - so much of it as is built - is in the centre of the mile square, and all the streets are named after a Bishopric. Our hotel is in Hereford Street (the Occidental), with Latimer Square just in front, Cranmer Square being on the other side of the town.

The houses are mostly of wood and are very picturesque; the town has been divided into quarter-acre sections, hence most of the houses stand back from the street, in their section, with a verandah and flower garden in front. Many houses are only one storey, but there is a degree of neatness and comfort about them, which is quite refreshing after the dull brick of most of our English towns.

Appearances are studied here, but convenience and utility not sacrificed. In England appearance is seldom thought of; at least in and around Newark, though there are some exceptions. One part of the town is within what is called the "fire block" (probably Colombo from Hereford to Cashel Streets), there the houses are of brick or stone, and closer together; wooden erections are now prohibited. All the streets are wide. An open drain made of cement on each side of the road, next the footpath, with a continual stream from the artesian wells. The footpaths are broad, and one half of them is asphalted. The kerbing is of wood, 2½ by 9 or 11 (inches).

Many of the houses and shops have verandahs extending right over the footpath, some covered with corrugated iron, some with glass painted so as to subdue the light and diminish the heat. All paths are asphalted - no slabbing. As any further description of the country cannot be very interesting to strangers, I shall close here, and write what I have to say of the country and its prospects in a future letter.

The men wanted here are small working farmers with five or six hundred pounds. They do their own labour, have none to pay for, and consequently reap all the benefits of the products of rich land.


Sarndra said...

Well how absolutely fascinating! Thank you so much for going so intensely in to the query on 84 Kilmore Street! Now i shall have to try and find out where his usual address was before The Limes hospital! :-)

Canterbury Heritage said...

I'll have to confess to a degree of personal interest in the story of the Limes Hospital; in the early 1950s we lived just around the corner in Durham Street North. I knew the hospital well and seem to recall that it had begun life as Dr Irving's family residence and consulting rooms, with the private hospital role coming somewhat later.

I'd love to find a photo of it in later years as by then its Victoria Square facade was shaded by huge Lime trees, giving it a most attractive semi-rural quality. Next to the hospital and all the way to Colombo Street was a block of elegant two-storey terraced brick houses originally named "The Limes," but more commonly nicknamed as "The Bricks."

I left NZ in 1961, and when returning later for a holiday found that the whole lot had sadly been replaced by Miles Warren's concrete bunker - such is progress.

maggie3005 said...

I also have an interest in this hospital as my husband, Alan Stewart Andersen is the son of Cicily Joyce Irving, the gt. grandaughter of Dr James Irving.
I have a copy of the book The Clipper Ship Crusader 1865 - 1910 Published by Turners Ltd., 631 Colombo St., Christchurch, New Zealand, but sadly no date of publishing.
I must also confess to being a mature and avid Family Historian, at present studying for a BA Hons at the new university in Ipswich, Suffolk, England and would love to have any more information regarding the family IRVING.
Thanks in advance for any information anyone can provide,
Maggie Andersen
Tel +44 7877 923 474