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Our Environment: Issue 20 Spring 1999

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

Edmonds Telephone Cabinet

For more than a decade the Edmonds Telephone Cabinet in Oxford Terrace stood in a sad state of neglect. The services it offered had long since been consigned to a past era. However, despite the apparent neglect, this solid little building erected in 1929 was physically in good shape. A little TLC - and money - was all that was needed to bring it back into service.

Telecoms giftTowards the end of 1998 the Council sought Telecom's assistance to restore one of our smaller, but by no means lesser, heritage buildings as part of the redevelopment of the Oxford Terrace area. By early 1999 the project was well underway and in June the Edmonds Telephone Cabinet was reopened for service by Cr Anna Crighton, who unveiled a bronze plaque to commemorate the occasion.

Situated on the Banks of the Avon in Oxford Terrace, the telephone cabinet was part of a gift to the City by Thomas Edmonds to celebrate the 50th year of his residence in Christchurch. The gift comprised a band rotunda, clock tower, balustraded walling, seating and lighting which were to be part of the Christchurch Beautifying Association's scheme for the inner city area of the Avon known as Poplar Crescent. The name served a dual purpose; not only was it a reference to the trees which lined the banks, but it was the name of the suburb Poplar in London where Edmonds was born.

Today the name Edmonds is synonymous with baking products in New Zealand. In the fifty years from the initial founding of the business in 1879, Thomas and Jane Edmonds had seen their baking powder business produce 2.5 million tins and grow from back room origins in their Randolph Street grocery store to a modern three-storey purpose-built factory on Ferry Road. Designed by J S and M J Guthrie, this 1923 building, with its Sure to Rise symbol and signage on the principal fašade, became a Christchurch landmark and New Zealand icon. Regrettably, and amid considerable controversy, the building was demolished in 1990. Happily other buildings associated with Thomas Edmonds remain as a significant part of our city's built heritage: the Radiant Hall (now Repertory Theatre), the Theosophical Society building, the Band Rotunda, the clock tower and the telephone cabinet.

Edmonds Telephone Cabinet The Edmonds Telephone Cabinet along with the clock tower was for many years on an 'island' split by the roading configuration of Chester Street East and Oxford Terrace. After recent roading changes and landscaping the area became an attractive integrated part of this section of the Avon River bank.

Of classical stylistic conventions, the unusual telephone cabinet was designed in 1929 by Francis Wills, architect of a number of notable Christchurch buildings such as the Repertory Theatre in Kilmore Street, the Spanish Mission New Regent Street shops and the Edmonds Clock tower. Built in a circular plan of volcanic rock with Mount Somers limestone facings, the little building once provided a number of services. You could make a telephone call, post a letter and have a drink. The drinking fountain on the north fašade, supported by a stylised acanthus leaf, no longer operates.

The classical motif continues around the parapet of the flat-roofed building in the form of projecting stylised acanthus leaves placed at regular intervals. Carved on the deep entablature are the words Christchurch the Garden City on the Avon that leave no question as to the intention both Thomas Edmonds and the Christchurch Beautifying Society had envisaged with their efforts to landscape this area of the river.

Placing modern telephone equipment in the cabinet has been achieved with no loss of original fabric. A modern Telecom card phone was fitted onto the existing 1929 glazed tiles and the multi-paned fenestration has been restored and glazed.

Telecom said it was delighted to be involved in this restoration project of one of the more unusual payphones in the country and monitoring shows it is being well patronised. The reinstatement of the telephone proved its worth at the re-opening ceremony. A call was needed to locate Telecom staff from Auckland in Christchurch for the opening. With no cell phones on hand among Council staff, a Telecom pay-phone card was produced and the situation quickly rectified.

Jenny May
Heritage Planner

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