The bridge that never was

Richard Greenaway is an expert on the local history of Christchurch. Some of you might have been on one of his fascinating cemetery tours. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories. This one concerns the people behind unsuccessful plans to build a bridge across the Estuary.

James Mawson Stewart (1883-1949) was born at Orange, New South Wales, but came with his family to Christchurch as a small boy. He began his working life as a clerk in a mercantile office and, later, became works clerk and then, cashier at a venerable institution, the Christchurch Gas Company. While still a young man, he set up the firm of Stewart Beckett and Co., public accountants. He became ‘one of the best known businessmen in Christchurch’.

A long-time member of the Stock Exchange, Stewart was a director of local companies, first president of the Christchurch Public Accountants’ Association and became president of the New Zealand Society of Accountants’ Association. He was instructor in accountancy at the Christchurch Technical College (now CPIT) and chairman of the Fendalton Domain Board. He dwelt at 39 Hamilton Avenue.

Stewart was interested in racing, being a member of the Canterbury Jockey Club and, from 1932 to 1946, steward of the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club. While his health allowed it, he was a keen golfer. A member, and president of the Christchurch Rotary Club, Stewart … took a leading part in the charitable work of the club, notably in the Depression years when hampers were distributed at Christmas to those in distress. His personality made him a valuable member of committees appointed at that time to raise money in the annual street appeals.

The 1936 volume In the public eye has the verse:

Jim you smile so air-ily,
poised so debonair-ily,
auditing so warily,
backing odds so mare-ily,
springing jests so dare-ily,
bearing loads so share-ily.
We greet you, James, Rotar-ily.

In youth Stewart and his brother, Arthur, bached at New Brighton. There exists a photo of seven dapper young businessmen sitting or standing near the beach and, before them, a leg-pull notice: ‘Inmates of the Old Men’s Home, New Brighton’. At either end of the middle row sit Arthur and James.

The onset of maturity drew many away from the seaside suburb. James and Arthur retained a business interest in the area. During World War I, they were major figures in the South New Brighton Land Company which consisted of a host of small shareholders, and the Southshore Syndicate, whose members were substantial businessmen.  The two companies bought the wasteland where the suburb of Southshore now stands and sold it at a low price. It was stipulated that every purchaser should donate 15 pounds towards the cost of a bridge which was to take people across the Estuary to Sumner. Seven hundred pounds was collected, plans drawn up and a track – the future Rockinghorse Road – hacked out of the wilderness.

After the war, the company and syndicate were wound up. James continued to hope that the area might progress. In 1927 he attempted to persuade the Government that the bridge should be erected at public expense but without success. The property owners became very disillusioned.

Stewart’s last years were blighted by illness; the 1947 deaths of his brother, Arthur, and son, Mawson, in Ballantyne’s Fire; and that of his wife, Margaret, 61 on 11 May 1948. James Mawson Stewart, 66, died on 29 June 1949. The development of Rockinghorse Road after World War II and the rest of the Southshore area owed much to George Skellerup and his son, Peter.

‘Brighton breezes’, Star, Saturday articles, 1914-30
Greenaway, Richard, ‘The Estuary bridge which is still awaited’, Press, 10 April 1976, p. 11
In the public eye, 1936
New Brighton Borough Council archives
, 30 June 1949, p. 3 and 9

The library has some great photographs of New Brighton capturing its life as one of New Zealand’s premier seaside suburbs, full of life and character. New Brighton residents have been good at recording their local history and the place has inspired novels and biographies.

One thought on “The bridge that never was

  1. linda blackwell 11 November 2012 / 6:24 pm

    i really liked what was written,i found that so interesting thankyou

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