Jun 5, 2008

Canterbury's Largest Hotel

It's often been noted that a shrewd wife is a most useful adjunct to an aspiring commercial magnate...

Alfred Joseph White, a Currier from Devon, made good in the remote frontier town that became our Nation's first city. So good in fact that he was able to acquire most of the real estate in the block enclosed by High, Manchester, Tuam and St Asaph Streets. Sixty-one year old Alfred died in 1895, but the canny Eliza presided over the substantial growth of A J White's furniture warehouse and the family's wider commercial interests.

In the first decade of the last century Fred's widow was responsible for the construction of most of the substantial buildings within the block. At the South-east corner of Manchester and St Asaph Streets the city's largest hotel was built in 1909 for the Eliza White Trust.

Known as Cockayne's Leviathan Hotel it had 180 guest rooms and even a private dining room for Ladies. Situated on the principal thoroughfare that connected the inner city with the railway station, there was a row of small shops along the Manchester Street frontage.

The hotel was subsequently leased to the Salvation Army and became known as the People's Palace. However, that army's interests in the hospitality industry eventually focused in other directions and their Manchester street hostelry became the Railton Hotel.

Familiar to generations of Christwegians the poorly maintained Railton closed in 1970. The, by then, mismanaged Eliza White Trust offered the building for sale at $270,000, but there was no interest. The following year the City Council offered to lease the bare site and the hotel was demolished. Like the sites of too many of our city's heritage buildings, it has remained a car park ever since.

See where these photographs were taken.

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