The Tannery - Woolston Tanneries

The Tannery at Woolston could be held up as an example in architectural upcycling, the success of this abandoned industrial block as a shopping destination borne out in regeneration of the surrounding suburb. 

The origins of the tannery site on the Heathcote river at Woolston go right back to the origins of present-day Christchurch. Like 'The Bricks' on the Avon, this stretch of the Heathcote was the furthest upstream that scows and borrowed whaleboats could bring supplies to the fledgling industries of Christchurch. Both sites had long been used by Ngai Tahu for food and transportation purposes. 

It was discovered that the Heathcote was easier to navigate than the Avon so, from the 1850s, heavier, more industrial loads were brought here, and subsequently goods transported out, as industries like flour mills, tanneries, wool scourers and soap factories took root. The shape of the city changed again with the laying down of railroad, but by then, Woolston was firmly ensconced as the industrial core of the new city. 

Seven tanneries recorded as trading here in 1871 soon became 11, then an unspecified form of a merger created the Woolston Tanneries, which grew to cover seven acres and employ up to 200 men  in several factories, an effluent cleansing area with its own water source, and two acres of gardens. The tannery survived, despite an occasional death of a workman and several massive fires, until the 1950s. A sad period for Woolston followed. The tannery buildings were sold off and some demolished. Other industries in the area followed the same fate, leaving little more than the famous Woolston Brass Band as a reminder of the working class suburb's heritage. 

The foresight of Christchurch Irishman Alisdair Cassels saw him purchase parcels of this land in 1994. His first attempt at urban renewal, a row of townhouses, was successful, so he tried another. The rest, the Cassels family might say, is history. He branched out, with his son and son-in-law, into his field of interest, beer, setting up an ambitious brewpub and then building a shopping centre around it. The pub is very popular and the highlight of the craft beer tasting tour of Christchurch.  

Some of the buildings are original and rebuilt to earthquake standards, others are replicas and newbuilds. Cassels was also reportedly inspired by Victorian-style shopping arcades, present in European centres and in Melbourne and Sydney, but which never made it to Christchurch. He imported the glass roof that creates this arcade-style experience from Israel, and other fittings from other overseas destinations. The result is a popular shopping and dining destination, which seems to be sparking a general renewal of the Woolston area. The next stage of the Tannery development is rumoured to involve a bridge over the river.