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Preserving Treasures Of The Past - 8
Ferrymead Historic Park, Christchurch
Dorothy - 28/7/00

Ride the steam train and the tram and visit the historic village.

Volunteers rebuilding history
If you were to ask me what I enjoyed best about visiting Ferrymead Historic Park I would find it difficult to weigh one exhibit against another. What I most enjoyed was the sense of going back in time, and being able to walk around a village that reflected New Zealand Edwardian life. I especially valued the dedication of the volunteers whose hours of voluntary work have created this place. People of all ages have donated their time, their expertise, their energy in back-breaking physical work, and their precious possessions to make Ferrymead what it is today.

Ferrymead Railway
Ferrymead is a most appropriate site for an historic railway. In the early years of the Canterbury settlement from 1850 to 1863 goods were brought by sea from the port of Lyttelton, taken through the Avon-Heathcote Estuary to Ferrymead and then carried by drays to the small settlement of Christchurch. You can still see the piles of the original wharf where the goods were unloaded.

The Canterbury Provincial Railway contracted George Holmes & Co from Victoria, Australia, to build a railway from Christchurch to Lyttelton with a half-mile branch line to Ferrymead. He built a railway to operate on a 5.3 ft gauge as this was used in Victoria. The line from Christchurch to Ferrymead was built first and on 1 December 1863 the first railway in New Zealand was opened. In 1867 the tunnel through the Port Hills was completed and the railway ran through to Lyttelton - an amazing achievement for such a small settlement as Christchurch, only seventeen years after it was founded.

With the opening of the tunnel the branch line to Ferrymead was not needed, so it was closed in 1867, becoming the first railway in New Zealand to be opened and the first to be closed. It was nearly a century before work began to re-open the line. The gauge for the restored line is 3.6ft - Cape gauge - which is standard throughout New Zealand.

We began our day at Ferrymead by talking to Alan Burney, former General Manager of Railways at Ferrymead. He is in charge of the rolling stock and spends Sunday and often the whole weekend at Ferrymead. He has been involved there since 1967 and has had his steam ticket since 1987. On days when the train is running he has to be there at 7 a.m. to be sure that the engine has steam up by 10 a.m.

Alan Burney
Alan Burney

Locomotive Wd 357 pulled a passenger train on the Port line between Lyttelton and Christchurch from July 1901. In the 1930s it was sold to the Timaru Harbour Board to cart stone for the breakwater. It was given to Ferrymead in 1964 and took two years to restore.

When we climbed on to the train and rode from Moorhouse Station to Ferrymead Station everything went smoothly and the average passenger has no idea of the work that had to be done to give us that ride.

The crew consisted of the stoker and driver, the guard and assistant guard, the shunter, the station master (or should I say 'person') and the signalman. On the day when we visited the "station master" was Alison Lorimer. Work had started for the day at 7 a.m.

Specialist groups
Different groups of enthusiasts work on each aspect of the railways - carriages, locomotive, railcars, diesel engines, signals, tracks, buildings and gardens.

The carriages on the train we rode on were built in 1896 at the Addington Railway Workshops where Alan worked as a fitter until the workshops were closed in November 1988.

The interior of a carriage on the railway.
The interior of a carriage
on the railway.

Shane Murray is one of the volunteers. "As a kid I used to go to the Barnados Centre near the Lyttelton line and was fascinated by the trains," he said. "I started working as a volunteer in 1994. On the days when the trains are running I am at Ferrymead by 6.30 a.m."

Garth Beardsley has been a volunteer since 1963 when there was a celebration of The Centenary of Rail in New Zealand. "My early interest in steam dates from living near where the steam trams used to haul wagons full of rock to build the causeway across McCormacks Bay. I used to get up early to watch the trams get steam up using coke from the old Christchurch gasworks."

Garth recalled the problems the volunteers had bringing to Ferrymead the locomotive Wd 357. "It weighs 43 ton and was loaded by crane on to road transport," he said. "That transport was grossly overloaded, and blew out tyres. The day of the move, a Saturday, was race day in Ashburton, half way between Timaru and Christchurch, which meant that there was a lot of traffic on the road. The engine was left to wait in a paddock and was finally brought to Ferrymead at 6 p.m. on the second day."

Of the twenty volunteers some are professional railway workers, but most are amateur enthusiasts.

The volunteers are skilled at making use of anything that is donated. The workshop in which they maintain the present rolling stock and restore old locomotives was moved from Flemings Flour Mill. It had been used for only a short time after a fire at the mill and was in good condition.

There was no track on the bare land which Ferrymead leased from the New Zealand Railways Department. Old tracks were lifted manually from closed country lines and re-laid. Old sleepers were used until there were enough funds for new ones. A track one kilometre long was laid from Ferrymead to Moorhouse on the original embankment of the Canterbury Provincial Railway. Between the stations the train crosses Truscotts Bridge. Here the stonework built for the original railway may be seen in the abutments.

The signal box was moved from Templeton to Ferrymead. The Ferrymead railway is believed to be the only preservation railway with a fully operating signal system.

The station at Ferrymead - built as a copy of a typical Edwardian station
The station at Ferrymead - built as a copy of a typical Edwardian station

While we were at Ferrymead Station we bought postcards showing the vintage trains to send to a grandson who is a young railway enthusiast.

The railway timetable
The trains run weekly from December till Queen's Birthday weekend in early June. Because of the cost of coal they run only for special occasions in the off season during the winter. The railcars which use diesel make trips during the winter.

The tram
The next highlight of your visit will probably be a 1.5 km ride on one of the electric trams which ran in Dunedin and Christchurch, or a Kitson steam tram dating from 1881. The problem with the steam tram is that it used coke from the Christchurch gasworks and with the gasworks closed it is becoming increasingly difficult to procure coke. A recent donation of coke has enabled this tram to run in the midwinter school holidays.

The tram
The tram

Museum displays
If other forms of transport are your special interest visit:
  • The Hall of Wheels exhibitions of transport through the ages, plus stationary engines, but this is more than a hall of wheels having everything from entertaining distorting mirrors to old household items.
  • The aeronautical display where aeroplanes are being restored
  • The model railway museum
  • The Hall of Flame where fire appliances and fire fighting equipment are on display.
The Rural History Museum
This shows the equipment used by farmers in earlier years and a typical workshop. (Open Wednesday and Saturday)

Moorhouse - an Edwardian Township
To glimpse what daily life was like in the Edwardian era you can visit the interesting old buildings in the village.

This is the name of a house which was prefabricated in England in 1859 and then shipped to St Albans, Christchurch. It was the home of the first Town Clerk, Mr Gordon, and his family, and is named after a race course near his home in Ireland. It is beautifully equipped with Edwardian furniture, furnishings, ornaments and kitchen utensils. It is possible to make a reservation for a group dinner at Curragh. The Edwardian style meal is cooked on the coal range in the kitchen.

An outside building houses the copper and tubs and the bath. Hot baths would be taken in water ladled from the copper.

The garden is planted with flowers popular in the period and also a medlar tree, which is somewhat rare in gardens now.

Cob Cottage and No. 5 Bowman Street
The cob cottage was reconstructed in the simple style of the Christchurch pioneer houses and No. 5 Bowman Street is an original two room cottage dating from 1851, built shortly after the settlers arrived in 1850.

The Church
This building was moved from Ellesmere in 1978. It was rededicated in 1988 and is available for weddings and naming services. Some weddings have also booked train or tram travel and brought the bride or the wedding party and guests to the wedding by tram or train.

The Post Office
This building is an old cottage which is used for the Post Office and Communications display. It is a working post office open every day with its own date stamp. It was even open on the first day of the millennium.

The school
This is a replica of the nineteenth century school built at Coutts Island. It has rows of old style desks with seats attached, old fashioned inkwells, photographs of King Edward VIII and Queen Alexandra on the wall, and an old-fashioned globe with British colonies shown in red.

Groups of children from Canterbury schools visit the Ferrymead school to see what school life was like at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Most feel more satisfied with modern schools on their return!

The Print shop
This is a working museum of the history of print from Gutenberg to linotype. Its printing is done only for societies within the Ferrymead Historic Park. It does not accept outside printing orders as printers in Christchurch have given the museum a lot of help.

Functioning businesses
There are also operating businesses - a bakery, cooperage and livery stables.

Ferrymead Bakery
This shop has been operating for twelve years. It is an interesting and tempting place to visit. The old ovens are wood-fired and bake beautiful bread. The bread is baked in the traditional shapes like the old style white quarter loaf which can be broken in two, to leave a kissing crust.

Bread baked in the Ferrymead bakery
Bread baked in the Ferrymead bakery

The cakes baked are those popular in the Edwardian era - afghans, Shrewsbury biscuits, apple squares, custard squares, lamingtons, chocolate button biscuits, chocolate fudge, Belgian biscuits, Auntie Francie's square, raspberry shortcake, pies, apple turnovers and cream buns.

Don't get too much of a surprise when you walk in. The bell is loud to ensure that the staff hear your arrival when they are in the kitchen.

Debbie Lee will be glad to hear from you if you want to place an order before you visit to ensure that she has not sold out of your favourite cakes or bread. Phone (03) 384 1133

A journey with Ferrymead's Clydesdales
If you visit the livery stables you can choose between riding in a covered wagon pulled by two Clydesdales, Jock and Bess, or in a horse-drawn buggy.

Passengers climb into the covered wagon outside the livery stables at Moorhouse
Passengers climb into the covered wagon outside the livery stables at Moorhouse

Ferrymead Radio Station 3XP and the Museum of Sound and Radio
We ended our tour with a visit to the museum and the radio station. The programme operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at weekends and on public holidays. It is staffed entirely by volunteers responsible for the technical side and for continuity. Ann Fraser who was on duty as announcer when we visited explained that everything that is played is at least twenty years old. On the day of our visit the featured artists of the week included Rod Derrett whose recordings were very popular in the 1960s.

Until you have time to visit Ferrymead you may like to listen to Radio Ferrymead on 1413 and perhaps ring with a request. The first day I tuned in I listened to recordings of Deanna Durbin, Louis Armstrong and Max Bygraves - a musical journey into the past.

My suggestion - pack your picnic basket and allow a whole day to explore Ferrymead.

Any enquiries - phone 384 1970

Click here to see more Ferrymead photos

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