Victoria Street Bridge

Victoria Square (Bound By Colombo, Armagh, Durham And Kilmore Streets) Crossing The Avon River, Christchurch

  • Victoria Street Bridge. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 28/07/2013.
  • Victoria Street Bridge.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: P Wilson. Date: 1/02/2004.
  • Victoria Street Bridge. Bridge in its pedestrian form, revealing its sub-structure.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: P Wilson. Date: 1/02/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 1832 Date Entered 2nd April 2004


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the bridge and land the bridge sits on.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

There is no legal description or Certificate of Title for the Avon River and its banks.


The original Canterbury Association survey of Christchurch in 1850 provided the nascent town with a regular grid pattern of streets, bisected only by the Avon River and diagonals providing access to the port of Lyttelton and the northern hinterland respectively. The route north, known initially as Whately Road and later as Papanui Road, grew rapidly in importance. In particular it provided a link between the commercial and administrative centre of the young city in and around Market Square, and the burgeoning settlements of Papanui (with its bush), and further afield, Kaiapoi.

An immediate impediment to this vital line of communication was the River Avon, bordering the northern and western edges of Market Square. In 1852 a wooden one-way cart bridge was erected, and became known as the Papanui Bridge. This was reconstructed and widened to 16 ft in 1855-6.

In September 1863 the Provincial Council declared the 1855 bridge unsafe and had it closed - much to the inconvenience of travellers. Sir Charles Fox (in London) was contracted by the Council to prepare a design and specifications, and call for tenders for a permanent replacement. The successful tenderers were iron founders Head Ashby of Stockton. Sir Charles advised a total cost for the ironwork of £605. When ready for shipping, the ironwork was found to be unsatisfactory, and had to be recast. Meanwhile the Provincial Council called for tenders for the erection of the bridge to the design of James Wylde (Assistant Provincial Engineer 1862-4), including stone abutments and inclusive of the cost of the ironwork. The successful tenderer (at £2, 375) was engineer E. G. Wright. Wright began work in January 1864, although the ironwork did not arrive at Lyttelton until July. Then three of the girders were found to have been damaged during the voyage, which necessitated repairs at the foundry of John Anderson. The 27 ft. 6 in. wide bridge finally opened on 26 September 1864, reputedly the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand.

In 1875, the bridge was widened by engineer Samuel A'Court with the addition of wing piers and a wooden outrigger footpath. Trams began running across the bridge in June 1880, and did so until September 1954. Perhaps as a consequence of the unintended weight, the city surveyor reported in 1882 that two of the iron girders were fractured. Repairs were carried out, again by John Anderson. In 1885 the decision was made to widen the bridge once more, this time to 66 feet. The work was undertaken by Walter Bory Scott at a cost of £1, 918. Scott was also engaged in erecting the Worcester St Bridge at this time. To mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the section of Papanui Rd from Colombo St to Bealey Av. was renamed Victoria St., Market Square became Victoria Square, and the Papanui Bridge became Victoria Bridge.

A century later, in 1988, the bridge closed to traffic when the section of Victoria St. through Victoria Sq. was closed as part of a redevelopment. The following year a section of deck was lifted to expose the girders. This central void was surrounded with a new cast aluminium balustrade in the same pattern as the original. To commemorate the completion of the Victoria Square redevelopment in 1989, the Victoria Bridge was renamed the Hamish Hay Bridge as a tribute to the former mayor.

John Anderson (1820-1897) was born in Scotland, and arrived in Christchurch aboard the Sir George Seymour in 1850. A foundryman, Anderson set up a successful business which, as Anderson and Sons, survived into the 1980s. In 1868 he was second mayor of Christchurch.

Edward George Wright (1831-1902) was born in Woolwich, Kent, the son of a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery. Training as an engineer, he was engaged in building gasworks in Rome and at the naval dockyards in Woolwich before emigrating to NZ in 1857. Wright worked for the Wellington Provincial Government and in Napier, but moved to Christchurch in 1862 to become a private engineer and contractor, after being passed over for the position of Hawkes Bay Provincial Engineer. In Canterbury he was responsible for many roads and bridges. Wright was also an active public figure - an MP and member of a number of local bodies and other organisations.

Engineer and blacksmith Samuel A'Court (1842-1913) was born in Somerset, and arrived in Christchurch in 1863. As a contractor, A'Court was involved with several bridges on the Avon.

Builder and contractor Walter Bory Scott (1851-1922) was born in Norwich. Emigrating to the USA in 1871, he moved on to Christchurch after a few years. In 1902 he went to Africa, but returned to the city in 1907 to found a motor company.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Historical significance as an indicator of the importance of the Victoria Square/Market Square area in early Christchurch, and as a symbol of permanency and progress - an expression of the confidence of Christchurch's settlers in the prospects of their young town.

The Hamish Hay/Victoria Bridge has technological significance as the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand; aesthetic significance for the graceful form of the bridge arch and the neo-gothic ornamentation of its balustrading, which add to the attractive riverside environs of the Avon as it winds through the central city; architectural significance for the manner in which it established the pattern for the majority of later central city bridges, and tied the bridges into the neo-gothic idiom characteristic of public architecture in Christchurch.

(a) reflects the economic and social importance of the establishment of a transport network in the fledgling city;

(b) is associated with a number of early engineers in Christchurch, particularly Anderson, whose company was later of national significance;

(e) is held in high esteem by the public of Christchurch, which saw it become central to the redevelopment of Victoria Square in the 1980s;

(g) is of technical value as the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand;

(h) commemorates the significance of Victoria Square in early Christchurch; and (with plaques) the tramway system in the city and Sir Hamish Hay, mayor 1974-89;

(k) established the style for the six historic neo-gothic bridges in the central city, and more broadly contributed to the neo-gothic tone of central Christchurch.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wylde, James

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Fox, Charles

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Wright, Edward G (1831-1902)

Edward George Wright was born in England in 1831. In 1847 he joined Fox, Henderson and Company, a firm of engineers and contractors and in 1853 he was appointed engineer in charge of the construction of Rome's gasworks. He later worked in England on the naval dockyards.

In 1857 Wright and his family emigrated to New Zealand following his engagement by the Wellington Provincial Government to oversee the construction of the Pencarrow Lighthouse. When the lighthouse was completed in 1859, Wright took up the position of director of harbour improvements and public works at Hawke's Bay. In 1862 he moved to Christchurch setting up in business as a private engineer and contractor. In that same year Wright help found the Christchurch Gas Coal and Coke Company, and, as its first engineer, was responsible for the switch from oil to gas for lighting Christchurch. He was the company's chairman from 1877 until his death in 1902. Wright was also responsible for building many of Canterbury's roads and bridges, as well as the West Coast Road, and the Ashburton to Rangitata section of the South Island main trunk line.

Wright became a large landowner in the Ashburton area and in 1879 became the member of the House of Representatives for Coleridge (1879-81) and, later, Ashburton (1881-84, 1890-93 and 1896-99). He was also involved in a number of local bodies and other organisations, including a member of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, the Ashburton County Council, North Canterbury Education Board and the Christchurch Drainage Board. He died at his Windermere property on 12 August 1902.

A'Court, Samuel

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Scott, Walter Bory

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Ashby, Head

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Anderson, John

The information below is from the registration report for the North Island Main Trunk Line Historic Area (Revised 16 November 2009).

J & A Anderson Ltd

J & A Anderson Ltd was founded in 1850 by John Anderson Senior (1820-97) who was one of the earliest settlers in Christchurch and a prominent citizen having founded, or been a director, of large boards and companies in the region, and he was also an original member of the Christchurch Town Board, 1862. His sons, John (1850-1934) and Andrew (1851-1927), were sent back to John Senior's native Scotland for their education and engineering training. John Junior joined the company in 1873, and Andrew followed later in 1881 after working for the PWD and then the Christchurch Drainage Works. John Junior and Andrew were partners in the firm during the time that the company was responsible for the construction of the Waiteti, Makatote, Mangaturuturu, and Manganui-o-te-ao Viaducts on the NIMT.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

A single span cast iron bridge with decorative cast iron railings and stone abutments and piers.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1863 - 1864

1875 -

1885 -

1989 -
Alterations, including lifting of portion of deck.

Construction Details

Cast iron and stone.

Completion Date

7th September 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Lawrence, Morag & Peter Lawrence. 'Wright, Edward George 1831 - 1902', updated 22 June 2007


Wilson, 1999

P Wilson, Let's Cross that Bridge: Christchurch Heritage Week Walks 1999.

Ince, 1994

John A. Ince, 'An Historic Bridge Lives On' Old Ways in a New Land: The First Australasian Conference on Engineering Heritage Christchurch, 1994.

pp 45-49.

Ince, 1998

John A. Ince, A City of Bridges. A History of Bridges over the Avon and Heathcote Rivers in Christchurch, Christchurch, 1998

pp 59-67.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

NZHPT Field Record Form

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.