Lyttelton Township Historic Area


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The Lyttelton Township Historic Area and its setting is an excellent surviving example of a planned colonial settlement dating from 1849. The plan, which retains high integrity, reflects both mid 19th century colonial planning models and the realities of the requirements of building and settling in the dramatic volcanic landscape with its steep topography. The idea of Lyttelton port and township was conceived by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley, who formed the Canterbury Association as part of their planned programme of systematic colonisation. The planned settlement of Lyttelton set itself apart from earlier Wakefield settlements in New Zealand (Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson). Backed by influential English peers, members of the British Parliament and clergy, the Canterbury Association had the ambitious aim of gaining high land sale prices in order to attract a high class of settlers and fund the foundations of a specifically Church of England settlement. With separate port town (Lyttelton), capital town (Christchurch), and outlying market towns, the Association's notion of a relatively decentralised village society rather than concentrated cities or urban areas reflects a deliberate move away from industrialised cities of Europe. The Canterbury Association Chairman was George William Lyttelton, the fourth Baron Lyttelton, after whom the Lyttelton township and port is named. Lyttelton Township Historic Area is the town associated with Canterbury's main port. Sited on the remains of an extinct volcano, the original town grid layout remains clearly legible. The historic area includes numerous steep streets, paths and steps, residential buildings closely strung along the hillside, as well as commercial and institutional buildings, and a predominance of red volcanic stone walling. Beneath part of the western side of the township is a railway tunnel which, when completed in 1867, was the first in the world to cut through the rim of an extinct volcano. It enabled exponential growth of the port and region. Unlike the port area, which has grown many times its original size, the Lyttelton Township Historic Area has remained relatively undeveloped. It retains a small scale human dimension as an open township where the properties are easy to see and have a high degree of interconnectivity. The high proportion of 19th century buildings throughout the town sit alongside later buildings so that the architectural development of the town can be clearly seen. Lyttelton's buildings are like a reference book of architectural styles. Although generally not grand in scale or design, these include physical traits and features commonly associated with identifiable building types and architectural periods (Colonial 'But-and-Ben' and 'Saltbox' style, Gothic Revival, neo-Georgian, Italian Renaissance, Regency, Spindle Style, Victorian Villa style, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, and Bungalow) articulated in a colonial vernacular mostly using locally available materials. The Lyttelton basin's almost fish-bowl like topography means that the spatial pattern of these representative house styles is not obscured by later development or infill. The streetscapes have variety and in many streets it is possible to traverse several decades of architectural developments in short 100m sections. The makeup of commercial buildings and nooks and crannies in the main street is a result of rebuilding since a devastating fire of 1870 and of change in ownership and use over time. A handful of larger scale buildings built in the town in the 20th century reflect expansion of businesses associated with the port and of services typical of New Zealand towns and cities at the time (post office, banks, and cinema). Until the road tunnel was cut through the Port Hills in the early 1960s, the topography meant that Lyttelton was far more isolated and self-sufficient and this sense of the place being quite distinct from Christchurch remains. Lyttelton encapsulates much of New Zealand's early pioneer, social and economic history. It is easy to imagine what life was like there in the 19th century and early 20th century. The Lyttelton Township Historic Area has aesthetic, architectural, historical, social and archaeological significance. The visual links within the town, the variety of buildings including the numerous 19th century timber cottages, the ever-changing port activity, the crater rim and harbour are a significant aesthetic element of the Historic Area. The town plan is significant as a classic example of new urbanism: a durable, small scale, somewhat diverse, pedestrian-friendly town with strong elements of social cohesion, which worked both historically and continues to work well today. Lyttelton's places interconnect and all tell stories. The predominance of workers dwellings inform us about social demographics and provide a strong social link between the history of the township and the port. The commercial buildings of the central business district tell us about the great fire of 24 October 1870, New Zealand's worst urban fire to this date, and of the technologies subsequently employed in preventing such disasters. The remains of the very large gaol and associated gaol buildings, located right in the township, the police station, and the infrastructure completed using prison labour (including much of the red stone walling) tell us about the presence of law and order in the township. The distribution of cemeteries and churches tell of the early presence of various religious groups despite the town originally being planned as a Church of England settlement. The relatively high numbers of hotels and lodges for the size of the town, together with places like a Sailors' Home and Seamen's Institute, reflect how the public domain of Lyttelton's past is male-dominated, and these places tell the stories of social activities of local men and visiting seamen (and from the early 20th century, soldiers and explorers). The schools reflect New Zealand's national move to set up equal opportunity, though the location of the Lyttelton Borough School immediately adjacent to the gaol was purely a result of availability of land within the geographical constraints of the town. The extensive water supply, drainage and sewerage systems developed over time tell the story of improving health and hygiene standards. Archaeological remains associated with places no longer standing (such as the immigration barracks, gaol, hospital, cottages and commercial and industrial buildings) as well as surviving structures that were built prior to 1900 (including the Victorian brick barrel storm water complex underground) contribute to the archaeological significance of the Lyttelton Township Historic Area.

View of Lyttelton Township Historic Area from Timeball Station | Liza Rossie | 01/06/2005 | NZ Historic Places Trust
Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Extent of Registration map | 01/08/2009 | NZ Historic Places Trust
Lyttelton Township Historic Area. Image courtesy of | Francis Vallance | 30/09/2012 | Francis Vallance



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Area


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

8th August 2009

Date of Effect

8th August 2009

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes almost all of the township of Lyttelton (appellations are compiled as a bound copy in a Legal Descriptions folder, file 32003-137 Southern Regional Office, NZHPT) and include the following 39 streetscapes: Brenchley Road, Bridle Path, Brittan Terrace, Canterbury Street, Coleridge Terrace, College Road, Cornwall Road, Cressy Terrace, Cunningham Terrace, Days Road, Donald Street, Dudley Road, Dublin Street, Exeter Street, Flimwell Lane, Gladstone Quay, Godley Quay, Hawkhurst Road, Jacksons Road, Joyce Street, Keebles Lane, London Street, Norwich Quay, Oxford Street, Randolph Terrace, Reserve Terrace, Ripon Street, St Davids Street, Seaview Terrace, Selwyn Road and Lane and Parade, Simeon Quay, Somes Road, Sumner Road, Ticehurst Road and Terrace, Upham Terrace, Voelas Road, Webb Lane, Winchester Street, and the underground storm water brick barrel drain system. Streetscapes are defined as the combined composition of elements in a road or street, and may include features such as walls, buildings, street furniture, open spaces, footpaths and steps. Elements of the streetscapes that contribute to the historic area are described in Volume 2. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information). The port has not been assessed for registration. [Many of the buildings in the Lyttelton Township Historic Area were damaged in the Canterbury Earthquakes, including the Timeball Station and three churches on Winchester Street. Nevertheless, most of the key elements of the Lyttelton Township Historic Area remain.]

Legal description

The legal descriptions for properties included within the extent of the Lyttelton Township Historic Area have been compiled by the NZHPT based on rates information supplied by the Christchurch City Council (NZHPT Southern Region file 32003-137).

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