Last week I talked about the giant water chute that was a star attraction at the 1906/7 N.Z. Exhibition in Hagley Park, Christchurch. This is a follow-up post of sorts, but mostly just an excuse to share some seriously awesome photos of one of the Exhibition towers being demolished:
There is something Hindenburg-esque about this scene, in fact I’m disappointed that none of the bystanders had the foresight to pretend to run for their lives, or at the very least pretend to cower in fright, as the tower collapsed. Missed photo opportunity if ever there was one. Poor form Edwardians, poor form indeed.
As some of my more observant readers may have noticed in last week’s post, there was a circular purple cancellation on the corner of the postcard that I shared, with the intriguing phrase – ‘POSTED AT TOP OF TOWER’. I was tempted to get my postal history nerd on and launch into an explanation of what tower the cancellation was referring to, but I didn’t want to detract from the excited Edwardians on the water chute. That, and, to be honest, the Exhibition’s towers deserved to have their story told separately. So without further delay, here is the back of the water chute postcard:
“Dear Lizzie, Up on the top of tower. All well hope you are same. Mrs. A. Brown. New Brighton”.
The postmark on the far right confirms that this was sent from the N.Z. Exhibition grounds in March 1907, addressed to a Miss E. Smith in South Addington. The message is short enough to Tweet, it was sent to a recipient within walking distance and the ‘Posted at Top of Tower’ cancellation is nothing short of a geo-tag. In short, postcards like these were often used in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to how people communicate in the digital age.
The tower that the postcard was sent from was one of two that straddled the grand entrance to the N.Z. Exhibition. Imagine this scene in Hagley Park today:
The towers were erected specifically for the event and at forty nine metres in height they temporarily dominated the Christchurch skyline and offered visitors a unique view of the city. Riding the electric elevator to the top was a thrill to rival that of the giant water chute.
“As exhilarating as a waft on the wings of the morning, is a trip in the Tower Elevator. Yesterday crowds cheerfully waited ten and fifteen minutes for their turn for a TRIP TO THE CLOUDS”.
The Press, April 13th, 1907
While at the top of the tower, visitors were presented with the opportunity to purchase and send postcards to friends and family. Each of these postcards was stamped with the ‘POSTED AT TOP OF TOWER’ cancellation.
Sadly for Christchurch’s Edwardians, their frivolous tower ascending days would soon be numbered – the structures were only temporary and were scheduled for demolition soon after the end of the Exhibition. Their destruction was an attraction in its own right and was well documented by local photographers.
This fantastic sequence of photographs was taken by Steffano Webb, one of the official photographers for the Exhibition. His work was also used for many of the postcards that were sold there as souvineers.
It seems a shame that these grand towers had such a short life, but such was the nature of the big Exhibitions. While extravagant, they were also ephemeral. They often ran at a loss and the elaborate structures were almost always temporary, however they were also a chance for a city and country to shine; to show off prosperity, culture, technology and innovation.
Today the site of the former Exhibition buildings and its towers can be visited in the northeast corner of Hagley Park. It is an area frequented by joggers and picnickers, and is still occasionally used for large gatherings – including the memorial service held after the Christchurch earthquake. Christchurch is a city that has tragically lost a lot of its heritage, but there is still plenty of history to be found there, even in the parks.
© Lemuel Lyes