Magistrates Court

85 Armagh Street, Christchurch

  • Magistrates Court.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Registered List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 5308 Date Entered 22nd August 1991

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Section 319 & Pt sec 317 & 318Gaz 92-1520 TS 1182

Summaryopen/close

The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed [20 Aug 2001]:

The first part of the Magistrates' Court was built in 1880-1881 on land which had been owned by the Crown since 1863. It was designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort, one of the foremost architects in Victorian New Zealand. Other buildings he was noted for include the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings and the Great Hall at what was Canterbury College, now the Arts Centre. The building Mountfort designed for the Magistrates' Court was single-storeyed, with a two-storeyed central block, and was described as 'sturdy [and] simple....in appearance'.

In 1908-9 a second building was joined to the south end of Mountfort's. The architect for this building was A.F. Macrae who apparently worked for the Department of Public Works at the time. The eastern end of this building is two-storeyed and Macrae's design incorporates similar details to that of Mountfort's earlier building.

This is the oldest purpose-built court building in Christchurch, and has an association of over 100 years with the people of Christchurch as a courtroom. It is still in use today as the Family Court. It is a fine example of public buildings erected in Victorian and Edwardian Christchurch. The first building is an example of Mountfort's design skills, while the second is an unusual example of a Department of Public Works design in the style of Gothic revival.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Having served Canterbury for 109 years (1881-1990) the Magistrates' Court has historical associations with the community of this region and with the development of New Zealand's judicial system. It is the oldest purpose-built court building in Christchurch.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

ARCHITECTURAL QUALITY:

Somewhat eclectic in that it combines round arches with steeply pitched roofs, gables and ornamental window heads which allude to lancet arches, the Magistrates' Court is a fine example of public buildings erected in Victorian and Edwardian Christchurch. The earlier, unpretentious portion is the work of Mountfort, New Zealand's pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect. It is a simple but refined example of his prodigious design talents. The later portion was designed in sympathy with Mountfort's original design, and is a rare example of Public Works Department gothic architecture. Together, the two portions of the building constitute an important contribution to a precinct of exceptional Gothic buildings.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK VALUE:

The Magistrates' Court makes an important contribution to the Armagh Street streetscape, although this has been reduced by the demolition of the neighbouring Supreme Court (1869), and it relates to Mountfort's Provincial Council Building (1859-60) directly opposite

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mountfort, Benjamin Woolfield

Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-98) trained as an architect in England, in the office of Richard Cromwell Carpenter, a member of the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society). He arrived in Canterbury in 1850.

Mountfort was New Zealand's pre-eminent Gothic Revival architect and, according to architectural historian Ian Lochhead, 'did most to shape the architectural character of nineteenth-century Christchurch.' The buildings he designed were almost exclusively in the Gothic Revival style.

During his career he designed many churches and additions to churches; those still standing include the Trinity Congregational Church in Christchurch (1874), St Mary's Church in Parnell, Auckland and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, Christchurch (1884). In 1857 he became the first architect to the province of Canterbury. He designed the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in three stages from 1858 to 1865. The stone chamber of this building can be considered the greatest accomplishment of his career. He was involved in many important commissions from the 1870s, including the Canterbury Museum (1869-82) and the Clock-tower Block on the Canterbury College campus (1876-77). He was also involved in the construction of Christchurch's Cathedral and made several major modifications to the original design.

Mountfort introduced a number of High Victorian elements to New Zealand architecture, such as the use of constructional polychromy, probably first used in New Zealand in the stone tower of the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings (1859). Overall, his oeuvre reveals a consistent and virtually unerring application of Puginian principles including a commitment to the Gothic style, honest use of materials and picturesque utility. The result was the construction of inventive and impressive buildings of outstanding quality. He died in Christchurch in 1898. A belfry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Phillipstown, the church he attended for the last ten years of his life, was erected in his honour.

Macrae, A.F.

It would appear that A.F. Macrae was employed in the Public Works Department, but little else is known of him.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Trachyte masonry and Oamaru limestone stonework.

Construction Details

Base course of green Heathcote trachyte; walls of Port Hills trachyte; facings of Oamaru limestone. Some offices are plastered, others are lined with brick and stone. Roof of 1880-81 portion now clad with corrugated iron; roof of 1908-09 portion clad with slate.

Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

DESCRIPTION:

Courts were established in New Zealand in 1841 following a Royal Charter (1840) which gave Legislative Council the power to make laws for peace, order and good government in New Zealand. By the 1860s a three-tier system of courts had emerged; Resident Magistrates' Courts, District Courts and the Supreme Court. District Courts were abolished in 1925 leaving a two-tier system of Magistrates' Courts (now known as District Courts) and Supreme Courts (now known as High Courts).

The land on which the Magistrates' Court stands, Section 319 and part of Sections 317 and 318, was transferred to the Crown in 1863. The 1880-81 portion of the building replaced an earlier wooden one built elsewhere on the site.

The Magistrates' Court had "ordinary and extended jurisdiction within the city of Christchurch and district". The building was extended in 1908-09 and continues to be used as a courthouse by the Justice Department.

Completion Date

20th August 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Andersen, 1949

Johannes C. Andersen, 'Old Christchurch in Picture and Story', Christchurch, 1949

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

PWD 24921, PWD Series 33 Contract 1417, PWD 23424, Works (Christchurch) 4/5 1952-61, dated 2 May 1951

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 3, Canterbury Provincial District, Christchurch, 1903

Wilson, 1984 (2)

J. Wilson, Lost Christchurch, Springston: Te Waihora Press, 1984.

Hayward, 1987

Bruce W. Hayward, 'Granite and Marble: a guide to building stones in New Zealand', Geological Society of New Zealand Guidebook, No.8

Lyttelton Times

Lyttelton Times

18 August 1908, p10

Press

The Press

30 July 1879, p2

12 March 1880, p2

30 July 1909, p8

16 January 1965, p14

Ministry of Works and Development

Ministry of Works and Development

60092 dated 15 July 1924

Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Justice

Maurice, Kidd, Unpublished Notes on New Zealand Courthouses. NZHPT Canterbury/West Coast Office

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.