9-11 London Street
Date of building: 1915
Construction materials: Brick, stone-faced façade, iron roof
Style: Renaissance style
Situated on Town Site 31, Town of Lyttelton
The site of what was to become the Empire Hotel was originally part of the Town Site 31, on London Street. TS 31 was sold by the Canterbury Association to C.T. Maunsell in 1851, who also purchased the adjoining TS 30. Maunsell was a member of the Society of Land Purchasers in the Canterbury Settlement and a founding member of the Canterbury Jockey Club. Following his death in Limerick, Ireland, in 1859, TS 30 and 31 were put up for sale on behalf of the trustees.
By 1863 TS 31 had been subdivided and the Empire Hotel site was owned by Joseph Dranfield. The Lyttelton Assembly Rooms were built on the site, opening in 1865 with a performance by the Lyttelton Choral Society of selections from Handel’s Messiah. The Assembly Rooms, sometimes referred to as “Mr Fairhurst’s Assembly Rooms” were subsequently used for a variety of entertainments, from a fund-raising Fancy Bazaar, to electoral meetings and visiting theatrical performances.
1868 rates records from the Lyttelton Borough Council record Joseph Dransfield as the owner, but not occupier of TS 31, and refer to the building on the section as variously “The Assembly Rooms”, “The Shades” and “The Billiard Room”. From this it would appear that the building met a range of needs in the community with the occupier Edward William Roper advertising the opening of a “Shades”, or wine vault with lounge attached, in 1866.
The Great Fire of 1870 which started at the rear of the building opposite on London Street also destroyed the building on TS 31. A new wooden building, a hotel named “The Empire”, was built on the vacant site, despite difficulties with the Lyttelton Borough Council. The Council Surveyor’s report in April 1871 described the foundations for the new hotel as “unsatisfactory and unsafe”. Apparently the new building was to be two-storeyed, and the usual foundation requirement for this size building was 18 inches, not the 14 inches that had been laid. In addition, clay had been used instead of mortar, and in the opinion of the Council Surveyor, the safety of the building was compromised. However Mr Dransfield’s own surveyor was of the opinion that even if the foundations did fail, the building would not be affected. It appears the Council was powerless to prevent the completion of the building but did record their protest so that if the event of any accident, they would have covered themselves.
One licensee of the Empire was a W. Kiddey, who announced the opening of a “Dive” under the hotel in 1872. Joseph Dransfield died in 1879, and in 1883 his heirs transferred ownership of the section and building to George Nelson Haxell, hotelkeeper. And two years later a further transfer took place, this time to the Crown Brewery Company who leased out the building to a succession of licensees until Edmund Hill took it over in 1914. The Lyttelton Licensing Committee had ordered structural alterations to be made before renewal of the license to the previous licensee, and this may have prompted plans to rebuild.
In 1914 plans were made to demolish the old wooden hotel building and replace it with a new brick one. Advertisements were placed in The Press for the auction of furniture and effects from the old Empire, including bedroom furniture, a piano, and a 12 foot dining table.
There had been a boom in the building of hotels from 1900 on, and a popular style was referred to as the “Renaissance Style”. In the new Empire Hotel this was reflected in the use of a cornice with balustrading above, and repeated below the first floor windows. These windows were edged with contrasting quoins and square-headed with a central keystone supporting a moulded hood above, as opposed to the ground floor windows which were segment-headed, but arched with keystones and capping. The brick building was finished with a stone-faced façade, and an iron roof. The chimneys were large and corniced.
Edmund Hill died in 1918 and his wife Myrtle took over running the Empire for the next three years, with occasional appearances in court for failing to keep to the terms of her license by serving customers out of hours, culminating in the transfer of her license to William Candy. A further succession of licensees followed.
In 1927 the Empire Hotel was the subject of calls for sale by tender from the then owners New Zealand Breweries, with the current lease due to expire in March 1928.
Over the years frequent changes were made to the interior, with a major repainting and refurbishment carried out in 2006. By then it was known as the Empire Hotel and General Store.
The earthquake which hit Canterbury on the morning of 4 September 2010 threatened the stability of the façade of the Empire. It was propped with a view to further strengthening but the violent impact of the 22 February 2011 earthquake forced a complete demolition of the almost 100 year old building.
- Lyttelton Library Information File: 9-11 London Street Empire Hotel.
- Johnson, John. The story of Lyttelton, Lyttelton Borough Council, 1952
- Rossie, Liza. Original research notes and material on Lyttelton built heritage.
- Papers Past