I think we can all agree that our lights are some of the most spectacular Christmas decorations in the country! Personally, I am always thrilled to see them go up again each year and I’ve been bothering people all week to see what I can find out about them.
In 1975, Tony Sleigh, at the time Timaru District Council’s City Electrical Engineer, travelled to the UK with his family for a sabbatical. While there he spent some time talking to the Regent Street Association who, since 1954, had been responsible for the famous annual Regent Street Christmas lights display.
On his return to Timaru Tony put forward the suggestion that we design and install our own set of high quality Christmas lights for the city. The idea was quite radical as there were very few Christmas street lights in New Zealand at the time. Great debate and discussion within the Council followed as the concept was not only radical but also a relatively expensive one to implement. The then MED helped out by purchasing the lights and gifting them to the city.
Tony, in conjunction with Allan Shaw, well known for the Theatre Royal’s lighting, managed the construction and installation of the lights. The original designs were stars and the moulds for these were made in a Dunedin factory.
Over the years they have been progressively added to and upgraded, the pretty hanging side lights are a newer addition and the incandescent bulbs have been replaced with LED bulbs. A lot of work goes into ensuring they are up to date with current electrical standards and they have to be robust enough to withstand our weather, wild winds and hail storms in particular.
They are unique to our city and have been place now for more than 40 years providing a continuing seasonal delight to us all. What a wonderful show of foresight and an ongoing legacy from Tony Sleigh and his team to Timaru.
Thanks so much for reading our column this year, wishing you a Merry Christmas from the Timaru Civic Trust.
8Elizabeth Rhodes was one of the first European women to settle in South Canterbury. In 1954 she rode down as part of a group that included her husband, George Rhodes. It took seven days, through trackless tussock and across unbridged rivers. A courageous journey for a young, newly married English girl and an adventure, to ride along a route that no European woman had travelled before.
George and Elizabeth moved into a small cottage that sat on Timaru’s shoreline, nowadays the site of our Landing Service Building. After a short time here they moved to The Levels Station where they spent many happy years raising their family and living a pioneering life in a fairly basic slab hut.
George died in 1864 at the young age of 47. The Levels was sold but, determined not to leave the region she had such happy memories of, Elizabeth purchased Linwood House which stood behind the present Council chambers.
In 1867 Elizabeth married Arthur Perry, a charming young barrister from Tasmania who had commenced a law practice in Timaru. They remained at Linwood until 1873 when they purchased Beverley from Henry Le Cren. A large house on 8 hectares of land at the junction of Wai-iti Rd and the Great North Road, now Highway 1. It was to become a garden of note in the district.
There were no plant nurseries to purchase trees from in those days, the early settlers bought seed with them from England and Elizabeth was no exception. She sowed many seeds over the years and one of her great pleasures was to see the trees they grew into.
She decided to move one of these trees, a young Wellingtonia Gigantica she had nurtured from seed that her first husband, George Rhodes, had given her some years before. Her brother in law, Major Wright, laughed in a friendly way, at her plan to move the tree from Linwood to Beverley and said “That tree is far too big to be moved, Lizzie, I will bet you a case of champagne that is does not grow”
The young tree arrived at Beverly in a wheelbarrow, I don’t think history records who pushed the barrow but the tree grew and continues to do so today. Wright lost the champagne, Elizabeth won her bet and we have our Timaru Christmas tree.
Almost all the other trees and shrubs from Beverley have long gone and this remains one of our oldest and tallest trees at more than 34 metres high, it’s has lost its top, gained a star and is well cared for these days by the current property owners here in Timaru.
When Joseph Orford was looking for a site on which to set up his long envisaged Preparatory School he settled on the village of Winchester in South Canterbury, an area he had been repeatedly drawn to on his travels about New Zealand in the early 1900’s.
Even then Winchester had a rather English charm to it with its tree lined lanes and fishing streams so he purchased a 15 acre block just over a kilometre from the village. His piece of land was rather more windswept than Winchester itself was and the land was covered in stones, broom and gorse. However closes proximity to the railway station made it the perfect choice.
Photos of the school at the time show how bleak the site was but over the years Joseph Orford planted wind breaks in an effort to combat the winds that used to roar and gust through the grounds as well and many trees and shrubs, some of which are still standing today. These days you would never know how open the area was to the weather and it appears to be just as English as the village Orford was drawn to in the first place with a lush setting of beautiful trees and hedges and views across to the plains and mountains beyond.
In 1907 construction was begun on his School House. It was completed on 5 September the same year and welcomed its first 3 pupils. The building was constructed of wood with room for the Orford family and the classrooms as well as a dorm room and basic boarding facilities. The family rooms were separated from the School rooms by a curtain. The building grew over the years and more buildings appeared on site.
These days the original house area is for offices and administration. It’s a beautiful old building which still retains its original charm and lends an established air to the school. Smartly painted, it’s in great condition, and presents an appealing presence as you drive into the school from the Main Highway entrance.
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