James Tait stonemason's yard
formerly at the corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets
This land was in or near Puari pā, an extensive settlement originally inhabited by Waitaha. More generally, Otākaro, its surrounding wetlands and waterways, were highly valued and extensively used by successive iwi. So Māori probably used this site, gathering food and materials, journeying across it, or living on it, for hundreds of years before Mr Tait.
Today most people who work on the site are still construction professionals, including architects, engineers, and project managers.
The man who built Christchurch
James Tait (1833-98) was born in Ayrshire, Scotland.
In 1851, Tait migrated to Victoria, Australia, and lived there for ten years.
In 1862, he came to New Zealand. After a few months in Otago, he settled in Christchurch.
In the 1870s, Tait built a house for his family at 23-25 Cashel Street, which is now listed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga as a category 2 historic place. Tait lived there until he retired to Sumner.
He was a Christchurch City Councillor, then Sumner’s second Mayor.
What buildings did Tait build?
J Tait Ltd helped build some of Christchurch’s most well-known stone buildings, including:
Parts of Christ Church Cathedral. Extant records show Tait was paid for construction of the nave (two contracts totalling £10,186) and the west wall up to the bottom of the rose window.
Anderson’s Foundry (erected 1869, demolished 1959)
Canterbury Museum (first section opened 1870)
Fisher’s Building (erected 1880, demolished 2011)
English by design
The colonial settlement of Christchurch was organised by the Canterbury Association, set up by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley. The Association was backed by the Church of England, and its members included notable parliamentarians. Godley and others had attended Christ Church College at Oxford University.
The new settlement was intended to be English, and Church of England, by design. “The settlement envisaged by Wakefield and Godley was to be a recreation of an older, pre-industrial, almost mediaeval England in which there was to be a clear, but benevolent, distinction between the different grades of society. The settlement was to see a civilisation transferred intact, with all the institutions of a well-ordered, hierarchical society established in the new land from the start.” (https://www.ccc.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Culture-Community/Heritage/Christchurch-Contextual-Historical-Overview-Revised-2013.pdf page 95)
Where did the stone come from?
At least some of the stone for Tait’s work came from his own quarry, at the south end of Colombo Street.
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