Christchurch earthquake: Demolishing history

By Derek Cheng

The Smith family with their Hambledon mansion in the background before the demolition. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Smith family with their Hambledon mansion in the background before the demolition. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A historic 155-year-old Christchurch mansion was reduced to a pile of dust and splintered wood today while the owner and his family looked on with glassy eyes.

A small crowd gathered on Bealey Ave, just outside the CBD, to watch a construction digger rip through the condemned three-storey Hambledon mansion and Bed and Breakfast about midday.

"It's a beautiful, historic home. I've had hundreds of emails from around the world from people who have stayed here. I had a woman on the phone, crying, from England who had stayed here. You can't do anything about it. It's just gone," said owner Brent Smith.

"I've got all my linen sitting in that cupboard up there, that I want to go and grab," he said, pointing up at half of the original building.

"There are two bedrooms sitting up there untouched. Under that there's a beautiful antique four-poster bed sitting there all made up. Hopeless."

The mansion was red-stickered after the September 4 earthquake, and the family have not been able to live there since and have only been able to recover a few personal items, such as photos. All of the rooms were still immaculately made up. But after Tuesday's earthquake, it was ordered to be destroyed.

"It's hard watching it, seeing all your belongings just being pulled out," said Mr Smith's daughter, Shannon, 21.

"All the stuff people gave you and made for you, things that nobody will be able to replicate. That's the stuff you wish you'd grabbed."

Her sister, Bryony, 18, said the demolition was difficult to watch.
"Looking up a thinking, 'That's our corridor, that's my bedroom, that's my kitchen' ... it's so surreal.

"The books we had when we were kids from our childhood, our soft toys ... We never thought this would be happening, and after the [September] earthquake we thought it's going to be saved. We didn't sense any urgency.

"And now looking at it I'm thinking about all the things I wish I'd gone and grabbed. But at the end of the day, we're safe, our family's safe, so we have nothing to complain about."

Mr Smith said the family were living in a campervan at the moment, because they had to evacuate their other home.

"I've lost my home, I've lost my business. But it doesn't matter. I'm walking around fit and healthy, my kids are fit and healthy.

"The money we made from this business we always put back into the house.

The house has never been renovated. It's always been maintained. And now it's a big pile of firewood that will go to the dump, no doubt."

The house was named after the part of England that the first owner, George Gould, came from. It was the first house ever built on Christchurch's Bealey Ave.

Mr Smith said there was a lot of history attached to the house.

"When [Mr Gould] died in the house in 1889 there were 70 carriages outside the house. The funeral procession went down to the cemetery. Bells were tolling at the Cathedral. The Anglican Bishop lived here for a few years. It just has huge history. And it's a part of history again today, I guess, because it's coming down."

- NZ Herald

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