Jenny May - Architectural Historian, Heritage Management Services

Strange’s and Co.

Listen to this story
It was quite a magnificent four storey building which for me always had a look of the Haussmannisation of Paris, which is probably gilding the lily a little bit, but it was a beautiful classical building.

Jenny May

Haussmann's Renovation of Paris, or the Haussmann Plan, was a modernization program of Paris commissioned by Napoléon III and directed by the Seine prefect, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, between 1853 and 1870.

Strange & Co.

This building was the third department store run by Strange and Co. which was the first department store in Christchurch. Strange and Co. established a London office so that the most modern products could be purchased immediately and shipped to Christchurch for sale.

The development of the firm can be traced through the early career of its founder William Strange (1834-1914). Strange was apprenticed into the drapery trade at the age of twelve. He arrived in New Zealand in 1863 and soon after opened a drapery shop in Christchurch in a small weatherboard store in High Street. He soon developed a reputation for quality and value for money and as a 1900 article said:

'if a lady, even in the remote sixties wanted something really novel or particularly 'nice' in gloves or mantles, hats or bonnets ... she generally made for "Strange's" confident that she would find what she sought there.'

In 1874 Strange was able to buy more land in High Street to build a larger shop. He bought the site previously occupied by Christchurch's first and second ill-fated Town Halls, and commissioned William Barnett Armson to design a building for him. Armson, one of the foremost architects in the nineteenth century, designed a store in the Italian Renaissance style, commonly used in Victorian times for mercantile buildings. In 1882 Strange left Christchurch to try his hand at sheep farming, leaving the firm in the hands of his brother. After ten years he returned to the city and reinstated himself as head of the firm.

In 1893 a further building was constructed for Strange and Co, which adjoined the High Street store and fronted onto Lichfield Street. The business expanded from being a retail drapery into a department store that both imported goods and manufactured their own. From 1899 they manufactured furniture, wire mattresses, and Venetian blinds, and other factory and retail buildings were erected for Strange and Co. around Christchurch.

In 1899, at the height of the firm's success, the architectural firm Armson founded - Armson, Collins and Harman - were asked by Strange and Co. to design a new store for the corner of High and Lichfield Streets. They designed a four-storey, Oamaru stone-faced building that wrapped around the corner.

Again in an Italianate style, this building had an elegant verandah and was topped by a parapet and spiked urns, all of which were removed in the 1940s.

Strange and Co was a substantial business by the turn of the nineteenth century and a major employer. However, after Strange's death in 1914, the store began to decline and it ceased to operate by the 1930s.

This building was a physical remnant of the earliest department store in Christchurch and was an excellent example of commercial architecture in the Italianate style.

At one time the building was part of a stylistically unified complex which included Strange's 1874 building. In 1984, however, the 1874 building on High Street was demolished along with two thirds of the 1893 building, although the front part of the 1893 building on Lichfield Street remained prior to the 2010 / 2011 earthquakes. The 1899-1900 building survived and the decorative carving on its facades remained as a significant feature. Conservation work on this building in the 1980s brought back some of its former glory.

  • Image: Courtesy of Christchurch City Council
  • Image: Courtesy of Christchurch City Council
  • Image: Christchurch City Council
  • Image: Christchurch City Council
  • Photo by Doc Ross
  • Photo by Doc Ross

Building information

Strange’s and Co. 219 High Street. Date: 1899- 1900 Architects: Armson, Collins and Harman Previously registered as a Category 1 historic place