Old Library and Fire Station
2 Sumner Road
Former Fire Brigade Station, Library
Location: south-east corner of Oxford and London Street
Date of building: 1902
Architect: J. Collins and R.D. Harman
Construction materials: Brick, stone-faced façade
Style: Italianate public building
Situated on Part Reserve 34, Town of Lyttelton
2 Sumner Road originally formed part of Reserve 34, where the Immigration Barracks were first located in 1851. This designation is shown in the early land deeds of the Canterbury Association pre 1851 when the Lyttelton Town Sections were first laid out. The Immigration Barracks were built to provide accommodation for new immigrants arriving in Lyttelton. They were permitted to stay at the barracks usually for one week before making the trip over the Bridle Path to start a new life in Christchurch or on the Canterbury Plains.
In 1863 the Lyttelton Municipal Council, which had been established the previous year, took ownership of Reserve 34 and leased parts of the property out to different leasees for a variety of purposes. In 1867 the Immigration Barracks were sold and removed and within a year there were several rateable buildings on the site.
Following the great fire of 1870, the need for a fire brigade housed in a dedicated building was regarded as a priority for the town. When an application for a loan to build a fire station was turned down by the Colonial Treasurer, funding for the new build was secured out of the town’s revenue.
In 1901 Christchurch architects Collins and Harman called for tenders to erect a Fire Brigade Station on the section at 2 Sumner Road. They were an established architectural firm responsible for the design of a number of public buildings in Christchurch, including the offices of both the Lyttelton Times and The Press, and the Canterbury Public Library. They were also the architects of the council offices at 1 Sumner Road.
The Fire Brigade Station building was a three storied brick cube with Italian Renaissance styled ornamentation on three facades. Arched windows with keystones featured on both floors with additional colonnades and pilasters on the second, and a balustrade on the top level. The station was less ornate than the council offices built in 1887 across the road, but did feature iron pillars in the interior to support the embossed ceiling made from zinc plates. The capitals of these pillars were decorated with foliage to echo the Italian style of the exterior. Tongue and groove panelling was used extensively throughout the building but the main feature was the large staircase leading to the upper floors.
A foundation stone for the new building was laid in a ceremony on August 9 1902, the same day as the coronation of Edward VII. The bell-tower of the new station was intended to be a coronation memorial, so although the building was completed in August 1902, the foundation stone laying ceremony was delayed to coincide with the coronation celebrations. The new station was officially opened soon after on August 20.
The fire station building was designed to meet a range of needs, not just house the brigade’s equipment. Different floors in the building accommodated a billiards room, a reading room, meeting rooms, a library and bedrooms.
The Lyttelton Public Library had started as a reading room in John Godley’s house on Sumner Road, charging a subscription of one guinea for the year – this opportunity was taken up by 40 subscribers in the first year. By 1867 the library service had moved to the newly-built Colonists’ Hall in Oxford Street. Twenty years later the library was taken over by the Borough Council when it opened its new offices at 1 Sumner Road. It was later co-located with the Fire Brigade in the new 1902 building.
A Miss Kenner was the librarian for 34 years until her retirement in 1930. In 1945 the library abandoned its subscription and became a “free” library. The part-time librarian’s role was made full-time, and a professionally trained librarian appointed. Major renovations were carried out and a “Request Service” was instigated. In 1945 library membership increased to over 700, and two years later the Council introduced a library levy as part of the town’s rates.
The Lyttelton Library continued operating at 2 Sumner Road until 1978 when library services were relocated over the road to 2 Sumner Road, in the old Council offices. Library services were delivered there until 1989 when the library relocated to its current location in the former Post Office and Credit Union building.
The Fire Brigade moved out in 1962 as the old building could not accommodate modern fire-fighting engines and equipment. For some years after that the basement which had previously housed the fire engines, was used by the council’s electricity department for storage. The last connection with the fire brigade was lost in 1972 when the bell tower was dismantled and removed to Ferrymead Heritage Park.
The future of the library building at 2 Sumner Road came under debate in 1983 with interest in restoring and reopening it as a craft centre.
By 1989 the upper levels of the building had been converted to a private residence. The former library, now fully a private residence, was badly damaged in the earthquake in February 2011 and was demolished later that year.
- Lyttelton Library Information File: 2 Sumner Road, Library, Fire Station.
- Chapman, R.A. The Lyttelton immigration barracks 1850-1867. Type-written manuscript, 1998.
- Johnson, John. The story of Lyttelton, Lyttelton Borough Council, 1952
- Watson, James D. The first 100 years: municipal government in Lyttelton, Lyttelton Borough Council, 1962
- Rossie, Liza. Original research notes and material on Lyttelton built heritage.
- Papers Past