King Edward Barracks construction begins – This week in history 10-16 July

The Foundation stone for the King Edward Barracks was laid on the 13th of July 1905 by the Right Hon. R.J. Seddon, Premier and Defence Minister, though construction had already started.

King Edward Barracks, corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0067

The official ceremony narrowly missed being delayed as there had been an accident with the Foundation Stone: a special saw had been required for the inscription in the particularly hard stone, and the saw broke. The job then had to be completed by the masons by hand, dulling several more of their tools in the process.

King Edward Barracks Foundation Stone by Sepia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch P1180490

It amazingly only took 25 days to complete the building on the corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets. To accomplish this remarkable feat, workmen worked after dark by gaslight, and it was remarked upon on the day in the Star newspaper:

The apparent apathy with which the authorities long seemed to treat Christchurch’s need of a habitable drillshed has been followed by a display of building energy which easily surpasses anything ever seen in the city.

The contractors and architects were Luttrell Brothers of Christchurch. Utilising an innovative design, of which Alfred Luttrell claimed there were only two existing examples in England, it would cover a large space for little money. The drillshed was designed as a large arched building and to be fire proof, unlike its predecessor which burnt down in 1903.

Constructed of 21 iron girders that weighed 6 tons each and enabled the building to be 36.5m x 91m and 12m tall with no obstructive structural columns. A brick mobilisation store, gun store and officers rooms were also built on the site.

Building the King Edward Barracks, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0084

As well as being the site for military activities such as holding drills for soldiers, hearing court-martials, demonstrations for cadets, assembling military areoplanes and giving gas mask training, it was also used for civic occasions and to host all sorts of entertainment. These included a World’s Fair, flower shows, car shows, circuses, pet shows, poultry shows, and training sessions for the All Blacks. These types of events were often illustrated in the newspapers, and some can be accessed through Paperspast.

The riverside site was an important food gathering area for Māori and was associated with the New Zealand Army from 1864. The army left the site in 1993 and Ngai Tahu Property purchased the Barracks site and the buildings were removed in 1997. The site is currently under going post-earthquake commercial redevelopment.

48 Hereford Street, Christchurch by KeteCCL is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch kgP1060549.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

King Edwards Barracks: Picturing Canterbury

King Edwards Barracks
Building the King Edward Barracks, Christchurch [1905]

The building of the King Edward Barracks, which are to replace the old drillshed destroyed by fire, has now fairly commenced. The drillshed will consist of a large arched building (of one span with no posts) 120 ft wide, 300 ft long and 40 ft high. Twenty-one iron girders, each six tons, will be used in the construction, and our picture shows several of them on the ground ready to be erected. In addition to the drillshed there will be a Mobilisation Store, built in brick. The store will be 128 ft long and 30 ft wide and will consist of two storeys; the contract price for the whole being £7500. The contractors and architects are Messrs Luttrell Bros of Christchurch and they expect to establish a colonial record in the matter of the building, by completing the contract by the first week in August.

Building the King Edward Barracks

King Edward Barracks, corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets, Christchurch

This photograph shows the army barracks under construction in 1905. Sidney Luttrell (1872-1932), who is pictured in the right foreground with his brother Alfred on the left, designed 21 latticed, curved steel girders to span the 36.5m width as economically as possible and to support the curved, corrugated iron roof. The girders, constructed by Scott Brothers, each weighed six tonnes. Twenty-five working days after it was begun the building was complete and opened on 26 July 1905.

It was used for drilling soldiers and later for civic functions and social occasions until the army withdrew in 1993 and the site was purchased by Ngai Tahu. The building was transported to Hornby where it was re-erected as a distribution warehouse in 2000 (only about three quarters of it was reused ).

Motor show at King Edward Barracks, Christchurch, between 1921 and 1925

Samuel Heath Head
Motor show at King Edward Barracks, Christchurch, between 1921 and 1925
Reference No. 1/1-007232-G
Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand