Edmonds’ Clock Tower

Chester Street East And Madras Street, Christchurch

  • Edmonds’ Clock Tower.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Zoe Roland. Date: 1/08/2008.
  • Edmonds’ Clock Tower. From: Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Walgert. Taken By: Walgert. Date: 18/04/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 3106 Date Entered 26th November 1981

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 1 SO 19042 (Schedule 3(32) Christchurch City (Reserves) Empowering Act 1971), Canterbury Land District, and the structure known as Edmonds’ Clock Tower thereon.

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 19042 (Schedule 3(32) Christchurch City (Reserves) Empowering Act 1971), Canterbury Land District

Location description

The Christchurch City Council have the primary address as 295F Madras Street, Christchurch.

Summaryopen/close

The Edmonds’ Clock Tower on the corner of Chester Street East and Madras Street, Christchurch, was built in 1929 as part of a riverbank beautification scheme funded by prominent businessman and philanthropist, Thomas Edmonds, to mark the completion of 50 years’ of his residing in Christchurch. It is part of a wider heritage complex and has historical, aesthetic and architectural significance.

Famous for his company’s product, Edmonds’ ‘Sure to Rise’ Baking Powder, Thomas Edmonds was an enlightened employer and civic-minded. Towards the end of his career, he donated large sums of money for various civic improvement projects. One such project was the 1928-29 riverside beautification scheme at the newly named ‘Poplar Crescent’, so-named due to the poplar trees already planted there and also referencing Poplar, the London district where Edmonds was born. The key features of the scheme were a band rotunda, rest house and balustrades beside Cambridge Terrace and the Manchester Street Bridge, and a clock tower and nearby telephone cabinet beside Oxford Terrace/Chester Street East and the Madras Street Bridge. All items were completed in 1929.

The Edmonds’ Clock Tower was designed by architect Francis Willis in the ‘Free Style’, an architectural style characteristic of the interwar period, with sculptural elements created by well-known sculptor, William Trethewey. It was constructed in stone and reinforced concrete by the Rennell Brothers as builders. The stone used was widely sourced. A newspaper account at the time of its unveiling stated that the clock tower is constructed of stone brought from Halswell, the Rakaia Gorge, Glenmore, Otira Gorge, Lake Kanieri, Heathcote Valley, the Buller Gorge, Nelson, Alford Forest, Gore Bay, Peninsula Bays, Connemara (Ireland) and from the Vatican, Rome. The clock tower is just under ten metres in height. Buttresses extend from each corner of its square plan. A timber door on the east side allows entry into the tower, the paving in front of which is the wording ‘Poplar Crescent 1929’. Louvered windows are situated on each elevation, above the line of the buttresses and in the roof, and on the east and west sides are two clock faces. Sculptural elements include stylised acanthus leaves and fauna, lion head gargoyles, classically inspired inscriptions FAITH, HOPE, PEACE and CHARITY and, a pair of identical medallions portraying Thomas Edmonds as ‘Father Time’.

The Edmonds’ Clock Tower suffered damage in the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-11. In May 2012 the upper portion of the tower was temporarily removed and over 2013-15 repairs and strengthening was carried out.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Trethewey, William

William Trethewey (1892-1956) was born in Christchurch. He left school at the age of 13 and began work as a wood carver, studying at night at the Canterbury College School of Art, where he came into contact with Frederick Gurnsey. In 1914 he moved to Wellington and studied life modelling under J. Ellis. Trethewey returned to Christchurch and decided to shift from wood carving to stone, and for the remainder of his life worked as a monumental mason, 'supplying angels and carving headstones for the people of Canterbury'. He became aware of the potential for memorial sculptures at the end of the First World War and his first commission in this line was a St Andrews cross as a memorial for Elmwood School. In 1920 he submitted a piece, 'The Bomb-thrower', to the annual Christchurch Art Society exhibition. This piece aroused a great deal of public interest, and the Society purchased it for their collection. It was considered unsuitable for a war memorial, because it was a realistic portrait of a New Zealand soldier about to hurl a grenade, rather than the idealised image of heroic youth that was preferred for war memorials. Despite this, in 1920, Trethewey was awarded the commission for the Kaiapoi war memorial, which, when unveiled in 1922, was described by the mayor as being a 'typical Anzac' down to the 'broken boot-lace'.

Other sculptures of Trethewey's between 1920 and the early 1930s include a bust of Hyman Marks, the statue of Captain James Cook, in Victoria Square, Christchurch and a statue of Maui Pomare for Manukorihi Pa in Waitara. He began his most famous work, the Citizens War Memorial in Christchurch, in 1933 and it was unveiled in 1937. This memorial is, arguably, the finest public monument in New Zealand. Subsequently he was commissioned to sculpt most of the statuary for the centennial exhibition in Wellington. The only piece of this to survive is the statue of Kupe.

The interest in monumental sculpture waned over the course of the twentieth century, and Trethewey spent the last years of his life making clocks. He died in 1956.

(Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, 'The Sorrow and the Pride : New Zealand War Memorials', Wellington, 1990.)

H Francis Willis

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Rennell Brothers

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1929 -

Completion Date

11th October 2016

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council Environmental Policy & Planning Unit, The Architectural Heritage of Christchurch: 8. The legacy of Thomas Edmonds, 1993

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Southern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.