Tick, tock: Timepieces of Christchurch

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend (clocks back one hour on Sunday morning, folks) and while changing the time on various clocks and watches around the house can be a chore, it must surely be less hassle than having to change the time on a floral clock or a clock tower?

So here’s to the custodians of large clocks everywhere, but especially those in Christchurch!

Here are some of my favourite big timepieces; some still ticking, others now lost.

Central Post Office in Cathedral Square
Central Post Office in Cathedral Square, 1963, Flickr File reference: HW-08-FE-08, Private collection Christchurch City Libraries

Looking rather fetching here in the 1960s, complete with belfry, the chief post office clock was installed in 1879 but is not currently in place, with the hole where the clock should be covered up. Here’s hoping it comes back eventually.

Also in Cathedral Square, who could forget the Government Life Building digital clock? With it’s alternating time and temperature information, it was always satisfying to look up on a hot day and have it confirmed that actually, yes, it IS hot.

The Government Life Building was demolished in 2014.

Government Life Building showing clock 12:45 4 July 1963 CCCPlans Government-Life-11-2
Government Life Building showing clock 12:45 4 July 1963 CCCPlans Government-Life-11-2

Still in the central city, the Victoria clock tower, originally known as the Jubilee Clock, was previously at the High/Manchester corner (as it is pictured below).

The clock tower, Christchurch [ca. 1925]
The clock tower, Christchurch [ca. 1925] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0019
It wasn’t until 1930 that the clock tower was moved to Victoria Street where it can still be seen today. Following the quakes it has had a lot of restoration and repair and was officially unveiled by Mayor Lianne Dalziel on 22 October 2014.

89 to 91 Victoria Street: Jubilee Clock Tower after the 22 February Earthquake
89 to 91 Victoria Street: Jubilee Clock Tower after the 22 February Earthquake by D M Robertson in Kete Christchurch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Who remembers this one on the old M. E. D. building (later Southpower, then Orion) on Manchester Street? I love the square shape and minimalist look, not to mention the steps and gantry that provide access to anyone who had to adjust the time on it.

Orion Clock, 218 Manchester Street
Orion Clock, 218 Manchester Street by CityScape in Kete Christchurch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

But in my opinion it’s not a patch on the original clock installed when the building was new, in 1939. The bold octagonal shape for the face, a rockstar font for the sign above it, neon on the hands and numbers… now THAT was a clock.

Close view of M.E.D clock, 1939
Close view of M.E.D clock, 1939, File Reference CCL-MED-0100

Out at New Brighton, another 1930s clock tower that has pride of place in front of the library has an interesting history. It’s perhaps not the most large or impressive clock tower in the city but I do like its vaguely nautical, art deco styling. This is another clock tower that has suffered some quake damage but repairs are planned.

New Brighton clock tower,
Cracks in Clock Tower – September 2010 39 by CityScape in Kete Christchurch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

And who could forget this beauty? The floral clock. Sitting in the northwest corner of Victoria Square it was donated to the city in 1953 and has a face 8.5m in diameter. It’s by far the prettiest of all the public clocks featuring, as it does, 7000 individual plants.

Floral Clock, Victoria Square
Floral Clock, Victoria Square [1963], File reference: HW-08-FE-14. From Kete Christchurch and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives 3.0 New Zealand License

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The New Brighton clock tower

New Brighton LibraryThe 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.

Victoria Clock Tower

On Thursday 7 February 2013, the Environment and Infrastructure Committee of the Christchurch City Council recommended the historic Victoria Clock Tower be restored to full working order due to its heritage and architectural significance.

Find out about the history of Christchurch’s “town clock”.

The Clock Tower – neglected by the Government, admired by the People on the Lost Christchurch website  reveals its trials and tribulations in various locations. It also reveals interesting facets of its history. The Clock Tower was a gathering place for pre-World War One anti-militarism:

During 1912 and 1913, the Clock Tower became the rallying point for passive resisters and anti-militarists. Addresses were given there on most Saturday nights, and these caused obstructions to traffic, resulting in police summonses and what were called in the media, the ‘clock tower’ cases.


Clock tower, High Street, Christchurch ca. 1913

Victoria Street clocktower
1 February 2013.