“Gone Forever” was a headline in The Press commiserating Bishop Victoria Mathew’s announcement that Christchurch Cathedral will be demolished. Predictably, the decision has sparked heated debate. Indeed, the Cathedral was more than just an Anglican stronghold. It was part of our psyche. The Cathedral identified by its soaring spire (65.5 m) was the city’s treasured centrepiece. It was a key feature on our heritage tram route. I recall one tourist from England being amazed when, in my commentary, I mentioned it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a renowned Gothic revival architect. Much of its construction (1864 – 1904) was supervised by our own Gothic-style architect Benjamin Mountfort who added his own touches. Despite being a long-time lapsed Anglican, I enjoyed visits to the Cathedral. One Cathedral guide told me, almost modestly, an overseas visitor had told him it was “a church for all people.” A lovely comment and one I often included in my tram commentary. That the Cathedral was a credit to our pioneers there is no doubt. When construction started Christchurch boasted a grand total of 444 adult men. I suspect few of them were stonemasons. No wonder construction spanned 40 years. Tram commentaries often claimed the Anglicans kept running out of money. That may be true but I also heard from a pulpit that at the time our city fathers were more interested in pubs and brothels than seeing the Cathedral completed. I preferred the more colourful explanation but also mentioned much of the stone was carried from Halswell quarries in Ox-hauled carts. With so much history, not to mention distinctive architecture, lost the fierce debate was to be expected. The bishop had to make a tough call re the Cathedral. She has been the butt of intense, arguably unfair, criticism. I wonder if she is targeted, partly because she sounds different – she is Canadian. Do us one-eyed Cantabrians object being told what is best by an outsider?
Personally I agree, albeit reluctantly, with Bishop Victoria Mathews. I look forward to a time when our trams will be trundling beside a strong earthquake-resistant 21st Century Cathedral, a symbol to a proud future. Seems that will be the reality.
While on history
Did you know the first recorded fatal collision with a Tramcar was in Christchurch on February 22, 1908. A car swerving to avoid a stray horse crashed into an Electric Tramcar. The car’s passenger, 43-year-old Sidney Raymond, was thrown from the vehicle and died from head injuries a week later. Speed was considered to be a factor with the car estimated to have been travelling at 48km /h.
Interestingly, over the 15 years of the new Christchurch Tramway, there were no serious accidents involving injury. An excellent record for any tourist-oriented organisation.