Jun 17, 2009

The 1878 Destruction of the Second A1 Hotel


At 2.15 am on the 23rd of January 1878 the four year old second A1 Hotel on the south-east corner of Cashel and Colombo Streets burnt down. The short-lived 12 bedroom room hotel had replaced an earlier building dating from 1859 and was soon rebuilt in a two storey reincarnation that would survive until 1935, being replaced by the Beath's department store, now known as The Crossings bus terminus.

The fire commenced in the back of the Colombo Street premises of J. Barrett, hairdresser, quickly consuming the adjacent premises of Roberts, the watchmaker. Flames then made their way through windows in a brick party wall of the A1 Hotel. Within three hours the three storey hotel and its stable at the rear were completely destroyed. The hotel building was insured for £2,300, with stock valued at £300, furniture £800, and fixtures at £20.

The back of the adjacent 1860 Argyle House (Left) on Cashel Street, premises of the draper George Low Beath (1827-1914), were destroyed, and the stock in the front of the shop damaged, but the business survived to become, over the next sixty years, one of the city's largest and most renowned department stores.

Restored here, this is only the third known photograph in which the second A1 Hotel appears and we're greatfully indebted to Steven McLachlan of the Shades Stamp Shop at 108 Hereford Street for the extremely rare original. Thanks also to Early Canterbury Photographers for the extensive research.


The Star, 23 April 1873,

City Improvements. — The great activity in building which commenced about 18 months ago continues with increased rather than diminished vigour. Scarcely a week elapses without a new building for business purposes being commenced in the city, and there are perhaps more improvements of this kind on the tapis now than there has been at anytime during the period mentioned. It is scarcely possible to particularise them all in one notice, but a few of them may be adverted to. To commence with the A1 Hotel, it may be stated that the present building, the main features of which are a low roof and a superfluity of gables, is about to be replaced by a very handsome hotel, designed by Mr Jacobsen. The Cashel Street front will be 49 feet and the Colombo Street 51 feet, the height of the walls to the top of the parapet being 29 feet.

A Grecian style of architecture has been adopted for the street elevations, and it has been so worked out as to produce a very excellent effect. On the ground-floor there are two doors and three sets of large plate-glass windows in Cashel Street, one set with door being so arranged that 14ft of the frontage may be let as a shop. There is a large door at the corner of the two streets leading into the public bar, and on the Colombo Street frontage there are two triple windows of plate glass, a double door, and two single plate glass windows beyond. On the upper floor there are five large plate glass windows looking into each street, flanked with pilasters and surmounted by pediments, a heavy cornice and handsome parapet marking the summit of the walls.

The cellarage will consist of an excavation 49 feet by 20 feet. On the ground floor there will be a public bar 23 feet by 14 feet, with three entrances, kitchen, larder, sitting room, hall, two bar parlors, and private bar, which is to be very elegantly fitted up with panel work and large mirrors on the London principle. On the upper floor, there will be a private sitting room, twelve bedrooms and a bathroom. All the party walls will be of brick, but the fronts elevation will be executed in wood. When the building is erected, it will make a great improvement in the appearance of this part of the city, which will be further increased by three brick shops Mr Pratt is about to erect on the opposite corner of the street...

The Star, 2 March 1874

NEW BUILDINGS. - The A1 Hotel, which has a somewhat primitive appearance in comparison with some of its neighbours, is about to be replaced by a new and more pretentious structure, Mr Jacobsen being the architect. A tender for carrying out the work according to the plans prepared by Mr Jacobsen, and already described, has been accepted, and the contract is to be entered upon forthwith. The cost of the building will be considerably over £2,000. It is also probable that some improvements will be carried out on the opposite side of Colombo street, where it is said that Messrs Hobday and Jobberns propose to extend their premises about forty feet in a southerly direction. The extension, if carried out, will be of brick with stuccoed front, and will be a very welcome substitution for the small wooden shops which now occupy the ground. (the Hobday and Jobberns building burnt down on the 3rd of October 1888)

The Sun, 17 June, 1933 (excerpt from an article by R. E. Green)

There is much that is still fresh in my memory that I could relate regarding this locality, but I must pass on to the corner of Cashel and Colombo Streets, where stood the original A1 hotel. Perhaps it will interest many if I go back to when the original building on this corner was erected. It was in 1859 that Mr James Mann had erected what he called “Mann’s A1 Christchurch Restaurant."

It was first opened for that business on December 14, 1859, by Mann and his wife, who conducted the house on first-class lines. There was a commercial room and a special room for women, both supplied with stationery and papers, and there was a mail bag for the convenience of patrons. Mann had also a large display advertisement in the local paper setting forth his bill of fare and the hours for meals. A special feature was “Tripe on Tuesdays and Fridays, and supper from 8 to 10 p.m., and a change of fare each day. Mann and his wife kept their house in perfect order, and worked hard to make it a success.
In May, 1861, Mann was granted a wine and beer licence for his restaurant. Then, in 1862, James Hair, who became the proprietor, was granted a publican’s licence, which he held till 1863. In 1864 James Blake and William Lippard were the proprietors. In 1865 Lippard went out of the business and Blake had the house to himself. In 1866 Blake’s licence was renewed, and be retained it till well on into the 1870s.

The hotel had often been threatened by fire. The first occasion I remember was May 23, 1861, when a fire broke out in Wilmer’s Brewery, behind what is now the east end of Beath’s, This fire cleared a space right up to the A1, but it was saved from destruction. Again on December 26, 1869, another more serious fire broke out almost in the same place in a straw store. For want of water this fire grew to large proportions; however, one length of hose was taken on to the roof of the A1, where three firemen sat hose in hand and swathed in blankets, and by sheer doggedness they subdued the outbreak right under their feet. One fireman was overcome and fell to the ground, and was taken away unconscious, but he recovered next day. The A1 was again saved. It was this fire that made the Christchurch Volunteer Fire Brigade famous.

The A1 had another blaze nearly, but seemed to be immune from fire, and held its own until 1873. This was when Matthew Allen and Sons came in and entered into a contract with Mr James Blake to pull down the original A1 and build on the same site a three-story building to the plans of J. S. M. Jacobsen, architect. At that time I was just finishing my apprenticeship, and it was in the joinery shop that it fell to my lot and that of another young fellow named D. H. Brown to make all the sashes for that three-story A1 hotel which, however, had but a short life, for it was burned down on January 23, 1878, together with two shops facing Colombo Street...


Jayne said...

Lovely architecture, fires so often destroyed our heritage.

Canterbury Heritage said...

It was possibly the city's first three storey building and was quite close to the Fire Station in nearby Lichfield Street, but being built mainly of wood in that era, there were a number of major fires between 1864 and 1908, that destroyed blocks of buildings in the principal shopping district.

Canterbury Photography said...

The architect of the second A1 Hotel was J. S. M. Jacobsen. The builders were Matthew Allen and Sons, who also had contracted to put down the old hotel. All the window sashes for the new hotel were made in Allen's joinery shop by R. E. Green and D. H. Brown. The Allens also build "Ilam House" in 1871 for Leonard Harper and the Theatre Royal in Gloucester Street in 1876. (From an article by R. E. Green, The Sun - Saturday 17 June 1933 page 20)

Canterbury Heritage said...

Many thanks to Anthony for the extensive research into newspaper archives, which now comprise addenda to the article.