Historical Significance or Value
The Oxford Lock-up (Former) has historical significance. It is a good representative of small lock-ups constructed in small towns throughout New Zealand and adds to our understanding of the early penal system and law and order in the colonial town. Constructed in 1879, the structure exhibits clear physical evidence of previous use and as such has a powerful ability to recreate the atmosphere of the time when the Lock-up was in use.
Architectural Significance or Value
The Oxford Lock-up (Former) has architectural significance or value as it reflects the characteristics of a particular building type, namely that designed specifically to contain and restrain those who have in some way fallen foul of the law. Although there was variation in the types of design and lay-out for Victorian and Edwardian lock-ups, there are certain standard features common to almost all. Oxford Lock-up (Former) is an excellent example of what was built in New Zealand at this time and its standard features include a rectangular plan, a hipped roof of corrugated iron, exterior weatherboards, perforated steel plates above each cell door, heavily constructed doors and an inspection holes with a cover. The Oxford Lock-up is a two-cell variation, and adds to our understanding of Victorian lock-ups. The small interior space and lack of fenestration, together with the thickness of the doors and the strength of the hardware used to construct them speak eloquently of the building's function.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Oxford Lock-up (Former) is clearly identifiable as a building type representative of New Zealand’s history of our penal system, law and order. It has recognisable features associated with lock-ups, especially those constructed next to police stations in small towns throughout New Zealand in the nineteenth century.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The local community and visitors enjoy the Oxford Lock-up (Former) as a place of interest and to take photographs. The building is cared for by a voluntary group called Keep Oxford Beautiful, which is part of a Keep New Zealand Beautiful Society Inc Programme.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The presence of the building in a public area on the Main Street in Oxford, has high potential for public education. The cells have a powerful ability to transport visitors back to the time to when offenders were held in the lock-up. This is chiefly due to the small nature of the cell rooms, and to the doors with their large locks. Local school groups make specific visits to the place for educational purposes.
The town of Oxford sits between two major rivers and lies close to the foothills of Ka Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps). Both the Waimakariri and Rakahuri (Ashley) rivers were utilised as ara pounamu (pounamu travelling trails) and mahinga kai were dotted alongside and in between the two rivers. The Oxford area was an extensive beech forest where Ngai Tahu seasonally snared rats and kereru as well as gathering specifically utilised resources of weka, kiwi, kakapo and ti kouka.
Archaeological discoveries confirm early occupation. When the bush was cleared off the View Hill (Otauaki) in about 1872, three Maori ovens were found on its northern slopes near a small flax swamp. Evidence of seasonal clear-ings were noted in the bush near Gammans Creek (Pekapeka) and stone adzes were found at the ‘Ram Paddock’ (Tutae tarahi), just over one kilometre north of the Eyre River.
The first European settlers came to the Oxford district in the late 1850s and established timber mills for the beech in the area. Oxford, in the county of Ashley, was formerly divided into two parts, known respectively as East and West Oxford. At the turn of the nineteenth century around 300 people were living in East Oxford, while West Oxford had 176. Each district originally had their own railway station, post office, churches, school and police station with lock-up.
From 1859 police control in the Oxford district was entrusted to the publican at Redfern’s Accommodation House in Oxford. The publican at Oxford was one of nine in the Canterbury District to be appointed as a special constable in 1859. In February 1861 a mounted constable was appointed in Rangiora but covering the district, including Oxford, when required. In 1867, Oxford had its first resident sergeant appointed and the first lock-up, relocated from Heathcote Valley, was in place in 1869. In 1874 it was considered that the location of the Oxford Police Station would be inconvenient when the railway line between Rangiora and Oxford was completed, so a new police station was proposed for West Oxford, where it was built in a paddock. From 17 July 1876, all communications for the Oxford Police Station were to be addressed to the Police Station, West Oxford.
On 5 February 1879 it was reported in the Star that the lock-up at the West Oxford Police Station had at last been re-erected, the district having been without one since early September 1878. The newspaper account described this new lock-up building as being of a more substantial nature than the two previous ones, which were both blown away in severe nor’ westers. Evidently, in one of those earlier storms, the Sergeant of Police spent several days in search of the blown-away lock-up and the prisoner who was said to be in it, but without success. The replacement lock-up built in 1879 for the West Oxford Police Station was originally located on the corner of Commercial Road and Depot Road, not far from the West Oxford Hotel. The architect is not known, but the building would have been designed at the time when Pierre Finch Martineau Burrows (1842-1920) was Architect in Charge of the Public Works Department.
Although often referred to as the Oxford Gaol, it appears to have functioned like most lock-ups associated with police stations, namely as a secure place to hold offenders for a short period until either their release or relocation to long-term incarceration in a gaol. Frequently drunks were put in the lock-up to sober up, and stories continue in Oxford today of people locked up there for this reason in through to the end of the 1940s. Wayward juveniles from the Burnham Industrial School were often held in the lock-up in the early twentieth century. Possibly the most notorious association with the Oxford Lock-up (Former) relates to an horrific murder of a young woman at View Hill in 1917. Arrested rouse-about Charles Butler was held at the Oxford Lock-up for over a week until his trial where he was found guilty. While held at the Oxford Lock-up, Butler is quoted as saying ‘I suppose I won’t see Oxford again’.
It is not known when the building ceased to function as a lock-up, but it was in private hands by mid 1950s. In 1974 its site was gazetted for road purposes and at that time the Oxford Lock-up was moved several metres to make way for a new road, now Depot Road. It was used as a storage shed for 34 years and during this time a central dividing wall to create two cells was removed. The building was in a dilapidated condition when it was purchased in 1996 by the Keep Oxford Beautiful Committee. In 1998 the Oxford Lock-up building was shifted to a temporary site for restoration, and once this was completed it was resited to its present position on the Main Street in January 2002. Mayor of Waimakariri District, Jim Gerrard, and District Commissioner of Police, John Reilly, officially re-opened the building at the new site on 3 March 2002.
A number of timber lock-ups survive in New Zealand. The small ones similar to the Oxford Lock-up are structures that were relatively easy to shift around, and accordingly there is a history of such buildings being moved within the same site or shifted for use as other purposes, especially storage sheds. A trend in recent decades has been for former lock-ups to be moved to public locations, such as domains, often on or near a main road, to act as a tourist attraction. Some Canterbury examples include the Darfield Lock-up on South Terrace in Darfield, the Rakaia Lock-up at Rakaia Domain, and the Lock-up/Gaol at Kaikoura Museum on Ludstone Road in Kaikoura. Relocation, restoration and interpretation of such lock-ups often involves community volunteerism and reflects the public esteem associated with the present-day educational function of these buildings. Some lock ups do remain in their original location, such as the former lock-up associated with the former Police Station at Charleston, now used as a storage shed.
It appears that there is considerable variation in the types of designs and lay-out for Victorian/Edwardian lock-ups. Nevertheless there are certain standard features common to almost all, and it has been suggested that these probably emerged during the time when Pierre Finch Martineau Burrows was Architect in charge of the Public Works Department (1877-1884). These standard features are as follows: a rectangular plan; a hipped roof of corrugated iron; plain or rusticated exterior weatherboards; minimal sub-floor space; boxed eaves; cover boards (on the corners); perforated steel plates above each cell door; ceiling ventilation; heavily constructed doors of two skins of tongue and groove boards, strap hinges, a heavy sliding bolt and padlock, an inspection hole with a cover. Individual variations of these standard features would appear to be: the number of cells (either 1, 2 or 4); the presence or absence of a passage; the presence or absence of windows with steel bars on the outside; the presence or absence of ceiling vents; the presence or absence of door peep-holes with iron covers. The Oxford Lock-up has most of the standard features listed above, with the variation that it has only two cells. Absent in the Oxford building are: a passage; windows; a central ventilator.
Comparisons with other small scale timber lock-ups include examples at Moawhango, Rawene, Bulls, Petone and Richmond. Oxford Lock-up (Former) appears to be most similar to the lock-up at Rawene and one which was previously at the Takaka Police Station at 92 Commercial Street (later removed). In his Conservation Report for the Petone Police Station and Lock-up, Elizabeth Street, Petone (30 June 1993), Chris Cochran notes ‘A lock-up of the Edwardian period, and to a lesser extent a small police station building, are relatively rare building types in New Zealand’. Victorian examples, such as that at Oxford, are equally relatively few in number.
Oxford, in the Waimakariri District in North Canterbury is a linear town, approximately two kilometres long. It is located at the inland edge of the Canterbury Plains, approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Christchurch, about 30 kilometres from Rangiora to the east, and the townships of Sheffield and Darfield to the west.
The Oxford Lock-up is a small (3.6 metre square) building located on the north side of the main road set back from the footpath and flanked by native shrub planting at 72 Main Street in Oxford. The Oxford Museum is located approximately 41 metres to the north-east.
The building is a single storeyed timber structure with a corrugated steel hipped roof. On the south front elevation are two exterior doors with peepholes. The bolted doors have a large padlock which includes the words V.R. below a symbol of a crown, and this refers to Victoria Regina (Queen Victoria). Some of the exterior weatherboard timbers are replacements, especially those at the base of the structure. On the interior steel plates and bars are present. The interior central steel bars appear to have been installed as part of interpretation at the time when the building was shifted from its original location.
Reports that the Oxford Lock-up is built from kauri from the Oxford forest have not been verified.
Small scale Victorian lock-up
Lock-up relocated to present position at 72 Main Street, Oxford
Lock- up shifted to temporary location for restoration
Timber; iron; corrugated steel
25th November 2013
Report Written By
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
Thomson, Barry, Sharing the Challenge: A Social and Pictorial History of the Christchurch Police District, Christchurch, 1989.
A fully referenced copy of the registration report is available on request from the NZHPT Southern Region office.
The Oxford Gaol is open to the public.
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.