In 1870 the catastrophic Great Fire of Lyttelton razed much of the town centre despite the heroic efforts of the town’s ‘hook and ladder’ brigade, Gaol inmates, and random seamen who doused the Mitre Hotel with buckets of beer, all followed later with the arrival of the Christchurch Fire Brigade by train. Spurred on by the reputed £80,000 damage, the Lyttelton Borough Council’s Fire Brigade Committee established the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade just three years later in 1873, complete with excellent new £1 uniforms and boots. However, it would be another 27 years before the Brigade would find a permanent home.
It was in 1901 that the Council decided to invest in a new Fire Station to house its modern steam powered fire engines, with plans for such commissioned from the prestigious Christchurch architects, Armson, Collins and Harman. Responsible for such notable colonial landmarks as the Union Bank on Hereford Street in Christchurch, St Mary’s Anglican Church at Timaru, and the Rhode’s mansion ‘Te Koraha’ in Merivale, amongst many others, in 1887 the firm had also designed the Lyttelton Borough Council Chambers and Magistrates’ Court at 1 Sumner Road on the corner of Oxford Street. The Lyttelton Fire Station was then built on the opposite corner at 2 Sumner Road in a similar grand Italianate style to complement the Borough Council Chambers, with construction completed in 1902.
After having resided for some 35 years in the old Colonist’s Hall just up the street, Canterbury’s oldest library, the Lyttelton Library, moved into the new Fire Station building some months after the Fire Brigade, occupying the upper floors. For almost seven decades the Fire Station (plus Library) building was a vibrant social centre for the town until, in 1967, the Lyttelton Volunteer Fire Brigade was forced to move to a new Fire Station on London Street due to its brand new fire engines being too large for the old basement. The Library followed a decade later in 1978, moving just across the road to the old Borough Council Chambers.
For over a century, these two fine buildings – the original Fire Station (plus Library) and Borough Council Chambers – stood sentinel at the Sumner Road main entrance to the town of Lyttelton. In its later years the old Fire Station was also known to locals as the Stanaway’s building where Brent and Ann resided until their home was demolished in the 2011 earthquakes. A sad reminder of Lyttelton’s recent past, the historic corner remains an empty lot.