Chief Post Office (Former)

31 Cathedral Square, Christchurch

  • Chief Post Office (former), Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/12/2001.
  • Chief Post Office (former), Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: C Whybrew. Date: 21/01/2014.
  • Chief Post Office (former), Christchurch. 'The Post Office, Cathedral Square, Christchurch City' c.1910. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Ref no. 1/2-049501.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Taken By: Steffano Webb (1880?-1967).

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 291 Date Entered 2nd April 1985 Date of Effect 2nd April 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 82408 (RT CB47C/1021), Canterbury Land District and the building known as the Chief Post Office (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 3 DP 82408 (RT CB47C/1021), Canterbury Land District

Location description

Note: the land parcel is not numbered on the LINZ map but is located between nos 13 and 31 Cathedral Square.


The first Post Office in Christchurch was sited in Market Square, now known as Victoria Square. The Chief Post Office in Cathedral Square was designed by William Clayton, the Colonial Architect, and built in 1877-1879 at a cost of £14,521.17.3. Tasmanian-born Clayton had trained in England and worked in Tasmania before arriving in New Zealand. Clayton died soon after the foundation stone for the Chief Post Office was laid and his senior assistant, P.F.M Burrows, carried out the supervision of the building of the Post Office. Burrows, who replaced Clayton but never received the title of Colonial Architect, also designed the later addition to the westward end of the northern façade in 1907.

The Christchurch Chief Post Office was built in an Italianate style combining classical and Venetian Gothic elements, such as the pointed arches over the upper windows. Peter Richardson has argued, in his thesis on government architecture in New Zealand, that both the Lyttelton Government Buildings, and the Christchurch Chief Post Office recall Clayton's earlier Italianate design for the Government Buildings in Wellington. These two later buildings differ in the materials used (brick instead of timber), and in the use of Venetian Gothic elements on the facades, a stylistic preference which Clayton saw as particularly appropriate to Canterbury. On the east façade is a clock tower with the British coat of arms above the main entrance.

Initially the building housed Immigration, Customs, and Public Works as well as the Post Office. In 1881 the first telephone exchange in New Zealand was installed in the building, where it remained until 1929. (After that date the telephone exchange was housed in Hereford Street.) In 1907 the building was extended by the addition of a third gabled bay to the western end of the north frontage. From 1913, when the Government Buildings on the other side of Cathedral Square opened, the Post Office was the main occupant of the Chief Post Office, although the Tourist Department retained a bureau there until the 1950s.

The Chief Post Office had been threatened with demolition since the 1930s when the need for a new Post Office was first mooted. However it was not until 1989 that construction started on a new seven storey building, which was erected behind the original north and east wings to provide Telecom with a new telecommunications centre. Some of the original building was demolished during this process.

The Chief Post Office has been a notable feature of Cathedral Square since its completion and provides an important nineteenth century element among the varied buildings around the Square. It is historically significant as one of the early major post offices in New Zealand and as the home of the first telephone exchange in New Zealand.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burrows, Pierre Finch Martineau

Burrows was born in Norwich, England, and arrived in New Zealand about 1863. He began working under W H Clayton in the Colonial Architect's Office in 1874 and became Chief Draughtsman in 1875. When Clayton died, Burrows took over his duties, but he did not receive a designation of Colonial Architect.

Burrow's most important buildings include the Post Office at Christchurch (1877), the Supreme Court House, Wellington (1879), and the Mount Eden Prison (begun 1883). He was also responsible for a number of smaller post offices and courthouses. His brother Arthur Washington Burrows was also an architect, practising in Auckland and Tauranga.

Clayton, William Henry

Born in Tasmania, Clayton (1823-1877) travelled to Europe with his family in 1842. He studied architecture in Brussells and was then articled to Sir John Rennie, engineer to the Admiralty, in London. He returned to Tasmania in 1848 and worked in private practice until he was appointed Government Surveyor in 1852.

He resumed private practice in 1855 and was involved with surveying in the Launceston area. In 1857 he was elected an alderman on the Launceston Municipal Council. By the time Clayton immigrated to Dunedin in 1863 he had been responsible for the design of many buildings including churches, banks, a mechanics' institute, a theatre, steam and water mills, breweries, bridges, mansions and villas, in addition to being a land surveyor and road engineer.

In 1864 he entered partnership with William Mason. Mason and Clayton were responsible for some important buildings in Dunedin including All Saints Church (1865) and The Exchange (former Post Office) (1865) as well as the Colonial Museum, Wellington (1865). These were two of the most prominent architects of their day in New Zealand.

In 1869 Clayton became the first and only Colonial Architect and was responsible for the design of Post and Telegraph offices, courthouses, customhouses, Government department offices and ministerial residences. His acknowledged masterpiece is Government Buildings, Wellington (1876) a stone-simulated wooden building and the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Clayton was a prolific and highly accomplished architect both within the Public Service and in private practice, in New Zealand and Australia.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1877 - 1879

1907 -

1989 - 1991
Telecom. Addition of seven storey block behind the original building. Demolition of part of south and west portions of building

Completion Date

11th December 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

New Zealand Federation of University Women, 1995

New Zealand Federation of University Women, Canterbury Branch, Round the Square. A History of Christchurch's Cathedral Square, Christchurch, 1995


Richardson, 1997

Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997


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.