South Lambton Quay Historic Area

Lambton Quay, WELLINGTON

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GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The land on which the area is located has considerable historical significance as a focal point in the early development of the city of Wellington. The corner between Lambton Quay and Willis Street, where Stewart Dawson's now stands, was known as Clay Point or Windy Point in the early days of Wellington beachfront settlement. In the early 1840's it was the site of the prominent flagstaff of Major Charles Heaphy, the draughtsman for the New Zealand Company. In 1843, the Wairau conflict so alarmed Wellingtonians that they built the Waterloo redoubt on Clay Point. The fortification, under the command of Captain William Mein Smith, was defended by three heavy guns. It was dismantled several years later when the area began to be developed commercially. It was in front of Clay Point that the first extensive reclamation in Wellington was carried out. The initial purpose of the reclamation was to create space for a better road around the steeply rising slope of Clay Point which was so close to the sea that travel was difficult at high tide. At the same time, the precipitous slope of Clay Point was being cut back, the rubble being used as fill in the earliest widening of the beachfront. Between 1857 and 1863, reclamation was carried out in earnest, until almost eight acres had been reclaimed from the sea. All of the buildings in the area, on the seaward side of Lambton Quay stand on this reclamation. Plimmer's steps have early historical significance through their association with John Plimmer, an early settler and successful businessman. One of his first warehouses was "Plimmer's Ark' which was the wreck of the Barque Inconstant, which ran aground on Wellington Heads. Plimmer had the wreck relocated on the then waterfront and used it as a wharf and warehouse. Plimmer later built the brick warehouse located on Plimmers Steps, and planted an oak nearby in what was then his garden, possibly from an acorn given to him by Sir George Grey. Plimmer's steps, like Dawson's corner, have become a well known Wellington landmark. The historic area has been the site of some of the earliest buildings built in Wellington. One of the most notable was the Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, located just north of Plimmers Steps. The first Athenaeum was built in 1850, but a much grander building was built in 1877. The Institute served an important cultural function, with its library, lecture rooms and concert hall. the building was demolished in the 1930s. The historic area has been a focal point in the city's commercial development. The BNZ has continuously maintained its central Wellington office on the corner site of Lambton and Customhouse Quays since reclamation. A branch office of the BNZ was opened in Wellington in 1862, and a permanent branch office opened on this corner site in 1863. Other companies have maintained a long association with the area. The South British Insurance Company had offices on Lambton Quay from the 1870s on the site of the present South British building. The AMP Society erected its first office building in 1877 on its present day Hunter St - Customhouse Quay corner site.

South Lambton Quay Historic Area. Looking down Featherston Street at southern end of Lambton Quay | Helen McCracken | Heritage New Zealand
South Lambton Quay Historic Area. 19th Century Street Lamp. Image courtesy of | Minicooperd – Paul Le Roy | 13/02/2016 | Paul Le Roy
South Lambton Quay Historic Area. Plan of Historic Area from registration report. | 27/10/1994 | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Area


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

10th October 1994

Date of Effect

10th October 1994

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

This area encompasses the structures, land and objects in the area surrounding the juncture of Lambton Quay, and Willis St, including Plimmer's Steps. B.N.Z. Building (#212) B.N.Z. Building (#1336) B.N.Z. Building (#213) B.N.Z. Building (#1337) United Fruit Company (#3620) Stewart Dawson's Building (1871) City Meat Co Building (3619) Whitcoulls (#1455) Plimmer's Emporium (Halfway up Plimmer's Steps) A.M.P. Building (#209) A.M.P. Building (Hunter/ Featherston Street) Former Commercial Travellers Club Building (Northern Building) (#3595) South British Building (#1430) C.B.A. Building (1346) Prudential Building (#1417) M.L.C. Building (#1406) Plimmer's Steps (Lambton Quay up to Boulcott St) Plimmer's Oak Nineteenth Century Lamp (Traffic island outside A.N.Z.)

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