Historical Significance or Value
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms is of historical significance because it reflects the changing history of Caroline Bay. The tea rooms building was constructed when the Timaru Borough Council was beginning to seriously develop Caroline Bay as a seaside resort, as part of a move to attract more visitors to the town, and at a time when the seaside was becoming increasingly popular with New Zealanders. As the bay and its visitors changed, so too did the tea rooms, reflecting the rise and fall in the popularity of the bay – and taking tea while there. This led to the significant expansion of the tea rooms in 1931, but means that the building is now only open for functions.
Along the way, changes to the building have reflected operational and occupational changes, with the addition of living space for the leaseholder from possibly as early as 1907, perhaps suggesting the need to provide such accommodation to attract a good tenant. The loss of any outdoor dining space in 1931 also suggests a change in attitudes about where and how it was desirable to take one’s tea – or perhaps a recognition that Timaru’s climate was not quite that of the Riveria.
Tea rooms were one of the few socially acceptable places for respectable women to socialise in public and such places therefore have historical social significance. As can be seen from the Caroline Bay Team Rooms, tea rooms were also often run by women. This was, again, one of the small range of socially acceptable businesses a woman could run, and could thus provide women with a means of independence.
A further aspect of the historical significance of the tea rooms are the early debates about whether or not they should be open on a Sunday in the early years. This reflects a time when attitudes about what was socially permissible on a Sunday were changing, as well as how New Zealand society was changing, and moving away from one where religious concerns were paramount.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms is a striking building with strong clean lines, and a combination of colours – the orange of the Marseille tile roof, the green of the walls and the cream of the window surrounds – that sets these off. These colours and the style of the building are reflected in a number of the other buildings in Caroline Bay, which thus form an aesthetically pleasing and coherent whole. Likewise, although the building has changed significantly with time, the dominant feature of it today is the 1931 addition, rather than presenting as a mish-mash of styles or phases (which can have its own appeal). The bluestone piers are a pleasing nod to the use of local materials, and contrast strongly with the green and orange of the rest of the building. The setting of the tea rooms, surrounded by gardens and lawns, adds to its appeal.
Architectural Significance or Value
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms today reflects both Arts and Crafts and bungalow influences, thus typifying the period in which the last addition was built. Although the earlier parts of the building remain in situ, their architectural style is less evident, beyond the Edwardian stickwork on the west elevation of the building. The exterior of the 1931 building is simple in style and reflects key components of the Arts and Crafts and bungalow styles through the use of local materials (the bluestone piers), the simple weatherboards, the Marseille tile roof and the multi-pane windows. Other early twentieth-century buildings that survive at Caroline Bay were built in a similar style.
Social Significance or Value
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms derives social significance from its association with Caroline Bay, which remains a popular beach and still hosts a popular carnival every summer. The bay’s popularity is not restricted to the summer months, however, with the beach, the broad paths, the boardwalk, the gardens and the playground all being used year round. The bay and its amenities appear to be highly valued by local residents. Still known as the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms, the building operates now as a function venue, thereby continuing to act as a social gathering place for special events.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms reflect the increasing popularity of the seaside with European New Zealanders in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, along with their increasing mobility and leisure time. The tea rooms are also indicative of the steps taken by towns to attract tourists, a theme that continues to be important in New Zealand today. The tea rooms also represent the place of women in New Zealand society, both as a place to socialise and as a socially acceptable business opportunity.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms have an important association with Caroline Bay and the Caroline Bay Carnival, a notable local carnival run at the bay every summer since the early twentieth century. The bay and the carnival are both important parts of Timaru’s identity, and the tea rooms have been there almost since the outset of both (the bay was established before the tea rooms).
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The tea rooms forms part of the fabric of the highly popular Caroline Bay. The community hold Caroline Bay – and its carnivals – in high esteem, as attested to by the ongoing popularity of both, and the fact that carnival has run for well over 100 years. A Facebook poll run by AA Traveller found that Caroline Bay was the most popular beach in the South Island and the fourth most popular in New Zealand. Still known as the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms, the building operates now as a function venue, serving as a gathering place for special events such as weddings, parties, meetings, reunions and dinners.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms are a key component of the historical landscape that is Caroline Bay. The tea rooms are now perhaps the oldest surviving structure (aside from the railway line) in a landscape that has grown and changed over time, and continues to change. These changes reflect broader societal changes, and are interesting in and of themselves. Other significant components of this landscape include the sound shell, pavilion, hall, aviary, Trevor Griffiths rose garden, the paddling pool and the memorial wall. Together, these tell the story of Caroline Bay.
Summary of Significance or Values
The Caroline Bay Tea Rooms are significant for their association with Timaru’s attempts to develop Caroline Bay as a seaside resort in the early twentieth century, a move that reflects the increasing popularity of the seaside as a place of recreation for New Zealanders. The changes in the tea rooms reflect the broader changes that have taken place in the bay. The tea rooms are a striking structure, of a design that reflects the time at which the last addition was made. They are an important part of the broader historical landscape that is Caroline Bay.
Timaru was a pā kāinga well situated along the rich resource pathway of Kā Poupou-a-Rakihouia (the South Canterbury coastline). Extensive kaimoana resources in close vicinity to hāpua (lagoons) ensured the mahinga kai sites such as Waimataitai dotted up and down the coastal trail network supported the ‘pa no mua’ (earliest pā) at Timaru. Apart from some small reserves and fishing easements, land commissioner Henry Kemp purchased the whole of the Canterbury block in 1848. Ngāi Tahu were still in occupation when Pākeha settlers first came to Timaru having negotiated for a small 20 acre Native Reserve called Te Upoko o Rakitauheke situated at what is now known as Māori Park, at the northern side of Caroline Bay.
Whales first attracted Pākeha to Timaru in 1839, but it was land that induced them to settle and stay. In 1850, William and George Rhodes took up The Levels run, a vast tract of land in South Canterbury, and subsequently began to use the shoreline at Timaru to ship goods in and out. The town owes more than its general location to the Rhodes brothers, however, as the brothers were responsible for the initial land purchase and survey of the new town in 1853. Not to be outdone, the government surveyed its own settlement immediately in the south of this in 1856. British settlers began to arrive in significant numbers from 1859, and the town’s population and prosperity grew on the back of farming and the port. Construction of the harbour began in 1878, at the same time that Timaru was connected to both Christchurch and Dunedin by rail.
Building the breakwater necessary for the harbour was to have unintended and long-running consequences for Timaru, for it led sand to accumulate to the west of it, resulting in the formation of Caroline Bay. This process was well underway by 1889 and by 1894 there was sufficient sand for the Caroline Bay Improvement Committee to be formed, and to announce an improvement plan. It seems, however, that no work was undertaken on the improvement scheme until 1897, when Timaru residents began to volunteer their time at working bees held to improve the bay. A new improvement plan for the bay was adopted by the Timaru Borough Council in 1903, when the Council borrowed £2500 to undertake some fairly large-scale landscaping in the bay. A more minor component of this plan was the provision of tea rooms, complete with a ladies’ cloak room. This aim of this plan was to turn Caroline Bay – and Timaru – into an attractive seaside resort in the European style, complete with bathing machines, areas to promenade and, of course, somewhere to take a refreshing cup of tea. This tapped into New Zealanders’ growing enthusiasm for the seaside, increasing leisure time and the ease with which people could now travel by train.
In July 1905, Mr Marchant (architect) was asked to prepare plans for a tea room, which was to cost no more than £350 to build. The resulting design was for a 30 feet square (9 metre square) building, with a 10 feet (3 metre) wide verandah on three sides. The tea room itself was to be 30 by 13 feet (9 x 4 metres), and the tea room and verandah between them would seat 300 adults. The front of the building was to be glazed, to allow views of the bay – the beach was at this time significantly closer to the tea rooms than it is today. The building was also to contain a kitchen (12.5 by 11 feet; 3.8 x 3.4 metres), a cloak room (11 by 8 feet; 3.4 x 2.4 metres) and a closet. Miller Brothers, at £375, were the lowest and the successful tenderer for the construction of the building, while Mrs Florence Cowan, at £30, was the successful tenderer for the first lease.
The tea rooms opened with much self-congratulatory fanfare on 23 November 1905. Of particular interest from the opening is an observation by the Mayor that he believed these to be the first municipal team rooms in New Zealand. The newspaper report on the opening included a detailed description of the building:
The tea rooms are in a handsome building, standing back a few yards from the promenade, near the caretaker's house, in a piece of ground that can easily be made into a nice garden. The building is a rectangular block, but has on three sides a wide graceful verandah that gives it a most pleasing appearance. The wooden walls are painted with a ground colour of light buff, varied with a darker shade. Chocolate colour is used for the window frames, the window sashes are dark green, and the inside of the verandah is white. The tea room proper is about thirty feet by fourteen, and lies on the seaward side of the building taking up the full length. About half the wall is filled with windows, of which several sashes slide sideways. Entrance is by a central door. The ends also have windows. The walls are vertically match-lined, and clear varnished, and the ceiling is painted white. The room contains ten tables at each of which four persons can sit; and outside fourteen more tables are placed on the verandah, so that nearly 100 persons can sit at once. The verandah is about ten feet wide, and is floored with concrete. It should be fitted with bamboo blinds on the west side. The room itself, as well as the verandah, has a most pleasing outlook over the bay.
In the rear of the tea room, a kitchen and dressing room have been arranged. The kitchen is fitted with an ordinary range supplemented with a copper boiler holding several gallons. Hot and cold water is laid on to a sink placed in a convenient washing bench. The dressing room is fitted with wash-basins and plenty of pegs; and off it opens a private room. A telephone will shortly be installed for the use of the lessee.
Photographs of the original building indicate that it was very much like a classic nineteenth century New Zealand villa in appearance. In February 1906, Florence Cowan advertised that the tea rooms were open every week day, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., selling tea, coffee, aerated waters, fruits and confectionery. It seems, however, that perhaps the tea rooms did not pay as well as she had hoped, for when it came time to tender for the next year’s lease, she only offered £20. Mrs Gibson, the wife of the bay’s caretaker, was the successful tenderer, at £32.
The first of a number of additions to the tea rooms were seen in 1907, when two rooms for the use of the tenants were added to the rear of the building (see more below). The following year, the Council set a range of new conditions for the lease, suggesting that there may have been some problems with the previous leaseholder (who has not been identified):
A deposit of £5 to accompany each tender and an agreement by two persons to enter into a bond of £5O for the due performance of the contract. The licensee to occupy the buildings free of rent, and be responsible for the proper care of the premises. The Council will supply furniture specified, now in the premises, to be delivered up in good order at the end of the lease; the licensee to provide crockery, cooking utensils, the linen, etc. The tea room to be kept in a tasteful and up-to-date manner, and to be kept open for business from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on every day of the week except Sundays during the months October to May inclusive, and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for the rest of the year; the Mayor to have power to authorise the licensee to close on any wet day. Trade prices to be charged for comestibles, tea, coffee and cocoa to be sold at 3d per half-pint cup. A scale of prices for fruits, sweets, etc., to be approved by the Council.
At the same time, there was also a lengthy debate about whether or not the tea rooms should be open on a Sunday, with the eventual decision (passed 7 to 5) that they should not be. This was an issue that was to arise again several times in subsequent years, with the Timaru Herald moved to comment in 1913, ‘[T]here is no virtue in going thirsty’.
A Mr Budd, also proprietor of a confectioners on Stafford Street, was the leaseholder from spring 1910 until spring 1913, when the lease was taken over by Mrs Morrison. A major development in Caroline Bay’s history came in 1911 with the formation of the Caroline Bay Association to further develop and promote the bay, turning it into ‘[T]he Riveria of New Zealand’ and ‘the Venice of the South’. As part of this, they established the long-lived Caroline Bay Carnival. By this time, the tea rooms were open on Sunday, and this appears to have remained the case – at least there were no further debates about Sunday opening. Budd seems to have operated the tea rooms in much the same way that Florence Cowan had, although he did open in the evenings (in winter, no less) and had sand chairs for hire. Mrs Morrison’s numerous advertisements indicated that she offered a greater range of services, including ‘evening parties, smoke concerts and euchre parties’. She could make birthday cakes, had a piano on the premises, and sold various skin products , as well as offering morning teas , luncheons and high teas, and selling beach toys for children. She even grew the vegetables she used in the tea rooms, as well as selling home-grown strawberries and tomatoes.
In 1913, the Council again called for tenders for additions to the tea rooms. Although the nature of these additions is not specified in the newspaper, the cost was £290 16s 9d. This sum, and examining historical photographs, indicates that the additions were substantial, with the building being re-roofed, and the orientation of the main ridge being changed from east-west to north-south, and two decorative gables being added to the north elevation (see the images below). It is likely that the southeast corner of the verandah was enclosed at the same time, and a small lean-to added at the rear. Further additions were proposed in 1917, when Mrs Morrison asked that a storeroom be added. In response to this request, the Council asked the architect Mr Hall to prepare plans for this work, with the cost of the addition to be no more than £40. Further additions to the building were recommended in 1920. These were designed by Harold Broadhead, and the tenant was to pay 7% of the cost of them.
In September 1918, a Miss Ross took over the lease, and was succeeded shortly thereafter by Mrs and Miss McGuffog. Both continued to offer much the same services, and it is notable that Miss Ross was open till 9:30p.m. on a Sunday in the winter, and the McGuffogs were also open on a Sunday evening, although only until 6p.m. As the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms demonstrate, tea rooms were considered a socially acceptable business for a woman to run, and could thus provide women with a means of independence.
In 1931, the last – and largest – of the additions were made to the tea rooms. This was a whole new tea room, added to the front of the building. The addition was one large tea room, more than doubling the size of the building and removing the original verandah, so that there was no longer any outdoor space. The original tea room was relegated to a kitchen. The extent and nature of this addition are surely a testament to the popularity and success of the tea rooms at that time. Historical photographs indicate that this addition had no verandah (so that all tea and refreshments were now taken inside) and that the interior was lined with wooden panelling. The foundation stone on the addition notes that the architects were Turnbull and Rule and W. H. Panton, and the builders were Stoddart and Mitchell. It may be no coincidence that these extensive changes took place at the tea rooms at the same that the Caroline Bay Association embarked on a programme of publicity for the bay and Timaru, publishing both Visitors’ Guide to Timaru and Victoria Cross Records in 1929 and Views of Timaru and Caroline Bay: The Spa and Playground of the South Island in 1932.
Since the early twenty first century, the tea rooms have not been particularly viable as a business. The building remains in the ownership of the Timaru District Council and currently operates as a function venue, providing a gathering place for special events such as weddings, birthdays, reunions and meetings. It is still well known as the tea rooms and Caroline Bay itself remains extremely popular. A Facebook poll run by AA Traveller found that Caroline Bay was the most popular beach in the South Island and the fourth most popular in New Zealand.
Tea rooms were not unusual in late nineteenth and early twentieth century New Zealand, whether at the seaside, a spa resort or in towns. How many in total survive is not clear, but of those surviving examples identified in the course of this research, none are associated with the seaside. As such, the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms may have some rarity value as a surviving tea rooms associated with the seaside.
Located below the Bay Hill, at the west side of the large recreational public space in Timaru known as Caroline Bay, the tea rooms sits just to the east of the railway line and near a cluster of other buildings – Bay Hall, community lounge, entertainment complex, pavilion and the Sound Shell. Other notable features at Caroline Bay include an aviary, Trevor Griffiths rose garden, paddling pool and memorial wall.
Caroline Bay Tea Rooms is a single storeyed Arts and Crafts style building with an irregular footprint and prominent orange clay tiled hipped roof forms. Timaru bluestone piers and multi-pane glazing dominate the north, east and west elevations, while the south elevation has metal cladding.
Today, the Caroline Bay Tea Rooms is dominated by the 1931 addition, with none of the 1905 building visible from the exterior. The north-facing elevation is dominated by a prominent entrance porch, with bluestone piers, that sits proud of the building. These piers are repeated at each end of this elevation. Curiously, the piers do not extend the full height of the wall and there are weatherboards between the top of them and the roof. There are doors at each end of the entrance porch, with multi-paned windows in them, and reached by steps at west end and a ramp at the south end (which has replaced steps). The other key feature of this elevation is the numerous folding multi-pane windows. The Marseille tile roof is also a prominent feature on this aspect, complete with copper ventilator and wind vane at the apex and ram’s horn finials at the ends of the ridges. As was typical of the era, the hip roof extends well beyond the external walls.
The east elevation of the 1931 addition is the same as the north, with bluestone piers and multi-pane windows. At the south end of this elevation, two of the windows have been blocked up and one has been replaced by a door. Beyond this is a weatherboard-clad toilet block with a lean-to roof, added in 1931. There is another lean-to behind this. Inside the building, rusticated weatherboards (which were used on the 1905 building) remain on the north wall of the room associated with this lean-to, indicating it was part of the original building. The external cladding, however, is the same metal cladding used to cover the south elevation after the bedrooms, etc, at the rear of the building were demolished, indicating that it was modified at this time. Beyond this is the 1907 addition, with a hipped corrugated iron roof, and clad in the metal cladding used on the south elevation. Rusticated weatherboards are visible on the north elevation of this.
The south elevation is almost entirely clad in the metal cladding that was put up after the two bedrooms, stores, bathroom and hot water room were demolished. Some rusticated weatherboards remain in situ at its west end, and under the back entrance porch, which suggests the back door is in the same position as it was in 1907. The differing heights of the concrete ring foundations on this elevation are also evidence of the building’s history, highlighting the difference between the 1907 and 1913-14 additions to this part of the building.
The west elevation is dominated by the 1931 addition, with the same bluestone piers and multi-pane windows of the north elevation at the north end. To the south of this is what is now the bar, the external wall of which was modified in 1931 and appears to have been modified since. There are wooden double doors here, with multi-pane windows in them, and more multi-pane windows to the south of this. Beyond this is an exposed gable end, clad in rusticated weatherboards, with stickwork in the gable end. This is very similar in appearance to the west end of the 1907 addition, but that addition did not extend this far west. It is likely that this addition dates to 1920. There is a door in it today.
Inside, the 1931 entrance porch and the tea room remain largely original. The dark wooden panelling of the tea room has been replaced (although the dado rail survives) and, as noted above, a door has been added and two windows blocked up in the east wall. Further, a large multi-paned window of dimpled glass has been removed, possibly replaced by the large door into the bar. There are a number of doors leading to the various service rooms in the south wall of the room. Three of these may date to 1931, but the doors to the storage area and the men’s toilets post-date this, based on the style of the architraves. The ceiling and the cornices are in plaster, the ceiling with a geometric patterning and the cornices with a marine theme of mermaids, fish and shells. The floor is tongue and groove. On the north internal elevation, there are two multi-pane mirrors, of the same style as the windows. These are to the east and west of the main doors into the room from the entrance porch. These doors are original and are double swing doors with multi-pane windows in them.
The layout of the remainder of the building post-dates 1931, and most of the linings, etc, date to the later part of the twentieth century. It is possible to see where earlier walls have been removed, as stub walls have been left behind.
Construction of the original tea rooms.
Addition of two private rooms for the tenants.
Lean-to addition on the southwest corner of the building.
Addition of a store.
1913-14 lean-to replaced. Addition of two bedrooms, bathroom, store and hot water room?
Addition of new entrance and tea room. Part of the verandah enclosed.
Demolished - Other
Demolition of the two bedrooms, bathroom, two stores and hot water room.
bluestone, timber, Marseille tiles
6th September 2019
Report Written By
John Button, A Century of Carnivals: The Caroline Bay Story, Timaru: The Caroline Bay Association, 2011
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