The clock tower and the New Brighton Library stand together as distinctive features of the suburb. The story of how the clock tower came into being is a lively one with family and organisational squabbles and even a possible bomb threat.
Richard Edward Green, retired builder, came to public notice in the 1920s when he wrote a long series of reminiscences of early Christchurch in the Star and commented on the recollections which other people sent in. The articles are the basis of the Canterbury Pilgrims’ and Early Settlers’ Association scrapbook held by Christchurch City Libraries and Canterbury Museum.
The New Brighton clock tower was one of three toxic gifts from R. E. Green to the citizens of Christchurch, the others being the Sumner clock tower and the J. E. FitzGerald statue near the hospital.
It was commonly believed that Green had fallen out with his family and that he was hell-bent on cutting them out of his estate by divesting himself of his wealth and paying for the creation of statues and clock towers. Some of Green’s family were in poor financial state, including a son who had been wounded in World War I.
Green stated that the clock towers were in memory of his father, Edmund Green (1829-99) who was involved with the introduction of the telegraph to New Zealand. The city council went so far as to reject the FitzGerald statue which was erected on Christchurch Domains Board land. When the Domains Board ceased to exist, the city council took over its properties, including the FitzGerald statue.
There were rumours that family members would disrupt – even bomb – the ceremonies where foundation stones were laid and items unveiled. Certainly, members of the family wrote letters about Green in which he was described as being given up to all forms of debauchery. He had at least one niece who had only kind words for her uncle’s character.
On 14 December 1934, Irene Leaver, daughter of E. A. M. Leaver (mayor of New Brighton 1931-1935), laid the foundation stone of the New Brighton clock tower. Her friends asked her where she had found the glamorous hunk who escorted her at the ceremony. The answer: “That was my detective.”
The honorary architect was Benjamin Ager who designed the North New Brighton Peace Memorial Hall and St. Elmo’s Courts.
This information came from Richard Greenaway – 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.
Greenaway, Richard, ‘Rocks about the clock’, Pegasus post article, 1977
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.