YEAR: 1916

The Great Fire of 1916.
The bane of Committeemen and Executive Officers of Trotting and Racing Clubs and other sporting bodies is the ever-present risk of fire in grandstands and other buildings. The older type grandstands were constructed mainly of wood and the area between the seating and the facilities below were roofed with corrugated iron making the risk of fire an ever present one. Addington had more than its fair share of fires both in stands and other buildings.

The first major fire occurred during the early afternoon on Cup Day 1916 when the new Stewards and Members Stand which had only been in use for eighteen months was reported to be on fire. At about 1:15pm a Member remarked to a friend that it seemed to be extremely warm and being of an inquiring nature he prodded the floor with his walking stick in several places ceasing his investigations when his stick went through the floor and smoke and flame came out the hole he had made. The officials were notified and several got to work with small hoses from a lead of water provided in the building for emergencies and also with water buckets. Those present on the stand were quietly notified to leave which they did without any undue excitement. More drastic measures were then taken. The flooring was torn up with the object of getting to the seat of the fire and a call was sent out to the Fire Brigade who, however, did not turn up at once as the call was from outside the fire district. Fanned by the Nor’ Wester the fire soon got a strong hold and the heat was so intense that it was not long before the panes of plate glass enclosing the grandstand began to crack and fall. The Brigade by this time, had several leads playing onto the building but one hose was lost when a piece of falling plate glass severed it, rendering it useless. Shortly before 3.00pm the fire had practically burnt itself out, with the roof and all the big iron girders having fallen in leaving only the shell of the lower storey. The bottom portion of the concrete staircase giving access to the top of the building were more or less intact. The crowd forgot the racing for a time but interest in the conflagration soon waned and in a short while the totalisator was again going for the cup and except for the ruins everything looked almost normal. It is believed that the outbreak was due to the fusing of an electric cable in the building. The insurance on the stand, which cost approximately £8,000, was £7,000 and was divided between the Norwich Union, South British, Commercial Union, Royal Exchange, Ocean and National Companies. A request from a man who assisted at the fire for the replacement of his suit which was severely damaged was agreed to by the Committee.

In February 1917 the Architects, Luttrell Brothers, were instructed to prepare plans and specifications for the re-erection of the Stewards and Members Stand and to call tenders immediately. The reconstruction of the stand was completed in time for the start of the 1917/18 season.

Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker


YEAR: 1916


The big crowd at the Addington Trotting Grounds yesterday afternoon was provided with something not on the programme, for the fine new stewards' stand which has only been in existence for eighteen months of so, and was erected at a cost of approximately £8000, was utterly destroyed by fire.

The stand, which stood fifty yards or so to the north of the open grandstand, and about eighty yards to the north-west of the totalisator building, was a very fine structure of brick and rough cast, and to the casual eye looked fairly fireproof. Naturally on Cup day it was crowded, the greater proportion of those using it being congregated in the first floor and in the balcony.

About 1:15 pm, a gentleman upstairs in the stand remarked to a friend that it seemed to be getting warm, and, being of an enquiring nature, he prodded the floor with his walking stick in several places, ceasing his inquisitiveness when his stick went through the floor and smoke and flames were seen through the hole made. The officials were notified, and several got to work with a small hose and alead of water provided in the building for emergencies, and also with buckets. Those persons still in the stand were quietly notified to leave, and they did so without any undue excitment.

More drastic measures were then taken, the flooring being torn up with the idea of getting at the seat of the fire more effectively, and a call was also sent to the Christchurch Fire Brigade, who however, did not turn up at once, owing to the course being outside the fire district. Superintendent Warner, the Fire Chief, was on the course, and, when he became aware of the seriousness of the situation, he called the brigade on his own respobsibility. The well-meant efforts of those who had started to take up the flooring, apparently gave a chance to the strong draught spread the flames, more rapidly even than if nothing had been done, and fanned by the nor-'wester, the fire soon had a very strong hold of the building, tearing across from corner to corner.

The heat was intense in the enclosure, and it was not long before the great panes of plate-glass which enclosed the grandstand at its northern end began to crack and fall. Some people got to work and punched the panes out with sticks and pieces of wood. By this time the brigade had several leads of water on to the burning building. A piece of the falling plate-glass unfortunately came down on a lead of hose and gashed it severely, rendering it useless for a few minutes until fresh hose had been brought up to replenish the damaged portion.

To effect a save was quite hopeless so strong a hold had the fire got on the stand, but the firemen did what they could, and probably prevented the grandstand and the totalisator buildings from getting damaged. The first-named only received a scorching but the totalisator house, an inflammable structure, apparently received no damage at all, though spectators stated that at one time it looked as though it would certainly be destroyed.

Shortly before three the fire had practically burned itself out, the roof and all the big iron girders had fallen in, and only the shell of the lower storey was left, though the back and the concrete staircase giving access to the top of the building was more or less intact as regards the bottom portion. The crowd forgot the racing for the time being and assembled as close as the police and officials would allow, but interest in the conflagration soon waned, and in a short time the totalisator was going again for the Cup, and but for the soaking ruins everything looked almost normal.

The insurances total about £8500 divided among various offices. It is believed that the outbreak was due to the fusing of an electric cable in the building.

The stand was completed at Easter last year, but since then a good deal of work had been done to make the building complete in all its details. The concrete staircase and landings built at the back of the building, made the top available for the members of the club, and it provided seating accommodation for nearly 900 people. The erection of the massive staircase, with its wide landings, giving three approaches to the top storey, gave the stewards' stand a very handsome appearance, and it may be safely said that there was no building so well-equipped in all details anywhere in the Dominion.

The main doors opened on to a very handsome entrance hall, which with its tiled floor, polished desks and massive furniture, seemed quite like a banking chamber. The comfort of those who took part in the sport was carefully studied, and the dressing-room for riders and drivers was very well fitted with lockers and all other conveniences, including hot and cold shower baths.

Credit: The Press 8 Nov 1916


YEAR: 1912

The first fire reported on in the NZ REFEREE was an outbreak one afternoon in October 1912 when eight or ten horse boxes in the outside enclosure, adjoining the Canterbury A & P Assn’s property, were destroyed together with a number of boxes in the Showgrounds. If the fire had not been discovered early considerably more damage would have resulted. The boxes which were destroyed were replaced in time for the Cup Meeting.

Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker


In April 1948 it was decided that the installation of a sprinkler system in the Members Stand should be investigated. This resulted in the request that Wormald Brothers be asked to report on and the cost of the installing of the system in the Stewards and Members Stand.

In February 1953 the Chairman reported that an estimate had been received from Wormald Brothers for the installation of a Grinnell Sprinkler System in the Stewards and Members Stand and the main totalisator building. It was agreed that tenders should be called and these were received in May. Mr A V Just, a retired Fire Underwriter’s Inspector was asked to investigate the schemes and the tenders submitted. In June it was reported that Mr Just had carried out his investigation of the schemes and recommended that Wormald Bros’ tender of £6,913 be accepted with the work to be completed by December 1953. In August the plans were approved and the work was in hand. A certificate of approval of the installations was received from the Canterbury Underwriters Association before final payment was made.

The Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Mr L R Osmond, in reporting to the Directors stated that the water supply at the course was inadequate and it would have been necessary to have hydrants within 200 feet of the fire to be effective. He suggested a ring main should be installed and further investigations made for improvements in the system to fight any future fires. In December arrangements were made for Mr W J Taylor, the Fire Boards Inspecting Officer, to take charge of fire patrols at all the Club’s Meetings.

In February 1954 the Commercial Union Insurance Company advised that they were covering the Club under a sprinkler leakage policy pending the system being handed over by Wormalds who had advised that their insurance cover would remain in force until 8th February 1954. A final report approving the installation was received from Mr A V Just.

Problems arose in finalising the payout by the Commercial Union Insurance as the Architect, Mr A H Mason was required to provide proof of his valuations under the extra cost replacement policy. In May 1954 the Commercial Union advised that the claim of £65,400 would be met and that the extra cost payment would be made when the cost of the new stand amounted to the sum insured. Mr Manson produced plans in support of his valuations of the destroyed stand and sent an account for his fees for providing the plans. This was referred to the Company’s Solicitor and the Company advised the two Clubs that the question of the new stand would have to be held in abeyance until settlement was reached in regard to the Architect’s fees for the preparation of the drawings required to satisfy the Assessors. Manson said that the plans to support his valuations asked for by the Assessors had taken one month to complete and his assistant had been required for much of the period. The Directors refused to accept responsibility for Manson’s account on the grounds that Manson should have had sufficient data available to support his valuations without preparing new plans. After discussions with the Insurance Assessor and Manson the Company’s Solicitor was instructed to offer Manson £200 as an ex gratia payment in full settlement of his account. After further correspondence between Manson and the Company’s Solicitor regarding the ex gratia payment the Solicitor advised that Manson had returned the cheque through his Solicitor who held the opinion that Manson had a just and proper claim. In February 1955 the Company’s Solicitor suggested that as the Company was at loggerheads with Manson he should be asked for an up-to-date account covering any work he had done including the plans for the new outside stand. No word was received from Manson and in April the Chairman reported that he had requested Mr C C Lamb, Architect, to carry out valuations for extra cost replacement policies for the other buildings and Lamb had accepted the request subject to matters between Manson and the Company being settled. In May 1955 Lamb advised that Manson was not agreeable to his doing the valuations but Lamb said that matters could be forced through the Institute of Architects but that this would take time and bring about the end of friendly relations between Manson and himself. At this time the Solicitor was authorized to discuss with Manson’s Solicitor the Company’s need to appoint a new Architect to enable plans for the new stand to be proceeded with. Mr C C Lamb was appointed Architect of the stand and the Company’s Solicitor authorized to negotiate with Manson’s Solicitor for settlement of the dispute. In the following month the Solicitor advised that no finality regarding Manson’s account had been reached and Lamb’s acceptance of his appointment was received with a request that he be advised in writing that the previous Architect’s had been terminated. In December 1955 negotiations with Manson were unresolved in spite of efforts towards the end of the year by the Company’s Solicitor to finalise matters. The whole question of Manson’s claim remained in abeyance.

In March 1956 a quotation was received from Wormald Brothers for the installation of a Grinnell Sprinkler System in the inside Public Stand at a cost of £7,098. Wormald’s tender was accepted and they undertook to use every endeavour to complete the installation prior to the August Meeting 1956. Mr A V Just was again appointed to check the specifications and the quotations. By August the sprinkler system in the inside public stand was nearly completed but was not ready prior to the National Meeting. At this time Wormald Brothers advised that they could install a Grinnell System in the Tea Kiosk for approximately £2,950. In October the Directors decided to accept their firm quotation of £2,945 with the work to be completed prior to the New Year.

In May 1956 the Building Controller advised that he was prepared to approve, in principal, the building of a stand to replace the one destroyed by fire with the work to commence during 1957 at a cost not to exceed £100,000 but if the full scheme was adhered to work could not be started before June 1958. The Company’s Insurers advised, at this time, that the steps taken by Addington Trotting Course Ltd towards rebuilding the stand were, “deemed to have been with reasonable dispatch” for the purpose of complying with the requirements of the policy. The Building Controller then advised that the scheme for the erection of the new grandstand had been approved with the consent being issued in June 1958. The Architect was then instructed to prepare sketch plans for a stand costing £150,000 for the use of Members and Public and including a three storey Members Amenities Block with access to the balconies of the Main Members Stand at the top two levels.

In March 1959 tenders for the new stand were received and ranged from £137,355 to £152,758. The Directors recommended to the Committees of the two Clubs that Wilkins & Davies’ tender of £137,555 be accepted together with additional charges amounting to £17,785. The Architect advised that the contract had been signed on 9th March 1959 and that Wilkins & Davies were on site. Mr L G Fleming was appointed Clerk of Works for the project. In October 1960 it was decided that the official opening of the stand take place at 11:15am on Cup Day and that the stand be opened by the President of the New Zealand Trotting Conference, Mr C S Thomas. Nearly 7 years had elapsed since the outside public stand was destroyed by fire on Friday, 13th November 1953.

Twelve months after the opening of the opening of the new Members and Public Stand there was another spectacular fire at Addington Racecourse.

On Show Day, 10th November 1961, fire broke out in the South West corner of the Main Public grandstand at 5:00pm, twenty minutes before the starting time for the last race. A plume of smoke trailing from the kitchen window of the South West corner of the stand was the first exterior indication of the fire and two hours later the stand was a smoldering ruin with flames licking through the wreckage. The fire believed to have broken out in the kitchen caught hold in the area between the ceiling and the floor under the seating. Fanned by a strong Nor’ West wind the building was ablaze from end to end within an hour. Part of the side wall fell in with a resounding crash, a shower of sparks and blazing timber and a few minutes after 6:00pm the roof collapsed and two firemen who had been under the roof playing a hose upwards onto the flames, jumped clear just in time. The then President of the NZMTC, Mr J K Davidson, said that it would cost at least £150,000 to replace the stand.

Club officials estimated that there were about 1,000 patrons in the stand when the warning was given. The fire tender used by the Club on racedays arrived at the stand soon after the smoke was first noticed. The smoke thickened and it became apparent that the fire had a very strong hold.

The fire tender crew, assisted by racecourse staff and members of the public, ran a hose quickly from the fire hydrant near the corner of the stand to the front and played water on the fire from above until the first engine arrived about five minutes later. A few items of catering equipment piled on the ground just outside the stand were removed but most of the caterers’ equipment was lost in the blaze. By 5:30pm thick smoke was pouring out of the building and while the firemen attacked the fire the crowd spilled out onto the race track and many gathered on the embankment at the top of the straight. The crowd on the course at the height of the fire was estimated at 20,000 and many went to the inside of the track and to the birdcage to obtain a better view. It was announced over the public address system that the last race would be run later than scheduled and the crowd was asked to keep away from the fire and let the firemen get a really good go at it.

No one was injured although one of the firemen who dived clear when the burning roof collapsed was kept under observation in the ambulance room for a time before being allowed to return to duties. A newspaper report on the fire said that the first notice of the fire given to the public was a laconic announcement over the course loud speaker system “Please evacuate the stand”. There was no panic and the controlling of the crowd was no problem to the police according to Inspector J G J Fitzpatrick, who was in charge. He stated that the crowd behaved excellently. The crowd was kept well back from the Stand on the lawns in front and behind but as more firemen arrived and the smoke thickened the crowd was moved off the lawns and the concrete area in front of the Totalisators, which was soon covered with water. The extension ladder was brought into operation but failed to be of any help as the dense smoke blinded the firemen operating it.

By 6:30pm the stand was gutted and by 7:00pm only part of the end wall near the Stewards Stand and the big chimney at the other end o9f the building were standing. Flames were still licking the wreckage at 7:30pm and the Chief Fire Officer, Mr LR Osmond, predicted that it would still be smoldering the following morning. The fire which was at first thought to have started in the kitchen occurred after two earlier outbreaks in the Stand and one in the Tea Kiosk had been extinguished. The Chief Fire Officer said the fire took hold on the centre floor well inside the building and the sprinkler system which was installed after fire destroyed the outside Public Stand 8 years previously did not hold the fire and it burst away along the ceiling above the sprinklers. Mr Osmond said that the wind and the cavity nature of the construction of the building made the firemen’s efforts ineffectual and because of the nature of the construction it was almost impossible to play water onto the seat of the fire.

The New Zealand Free-For-All, the last race on the programme was run at 6:00pm forty minutes late when the fire was at its height. The event was won by Cardigan Bay with Scottish Command second and the appropriately named Smokeaway third. Before the race could be run several hundred persons had to be cleared from the track and at the conclusion the horses were driven back along the straight and led off through a small gate near the mile and five furlong barrier.

The loss of the stand was a major blow to the metropolitan Trotting Club and the administrators of the Course for it left the Club with greatly reduced accommodation and catering facilities for the Public an the third and forth days of the Meeting. At an emergency meeting the Committee decided that limited seating would be available on the Members Stand for the Public but there would be no stand accommodation for visitors. The Canterbury Jockey Club and the New Brighton Trotting Club offered assistance to the Metropolitan Club and as a result there was extra seating available on the banks in front of the stand areas. A marquee, which was used on Cup and Show Days, was retained and half the Tea Kiosk wade available to the Public as a cafeteria and the other half as a buffet luncheon area. A public bar was provided by erecting a marquee behind the burnt out stand. After investigations it was agreed that the fire did not begin in the kitchen as many thought but underneath the seating about three rows from the front at the Western end. The general opinion was that a cigarette butt was probably the cause.

Many persons commented on the extraordinary lapse of time that occurred before the arrival of the Fire Brigade. The Chairman of the Fire Board, Mr W R Campbell, stated “I have checked with the Chief Fire Officer and found that there was positively no delay. The first call was registered from the sprinkler system at 5:01pm and the first machine from Headquarters reached the fire six minutes later. Taking into account the amount of traffic on the route at the time it can be fairly said that this represented a smart response”.

Three of the four major fires at Addington occurred during the Cup Meeting, the first on Cup Day 1916 and the latter two on Show Days 1953 and 1961. On each occasion a strong Nor’ West wind had been blowing.

On the Sunday following the fire the Directors considered the problems associated with the loss and at a later meeting the representatives of Wormald Brothers explained why the stand protected by their sprinkler system had been destroyed. The System installed had conformed to the Underwriters requirements and it was obvious that these would need to be amended to include the provision of sprinkler heads in the small areas directly under the seating as was eventually in the Members Stan.

In February 1962 it was reported that the Commercial Union had paid the indemnity value on the Stand amounting to £37,500 and had admitted liability for the extra cost cover of £118,500 which would be paid when that amount had been expended on the replacement of a stand of the Club’s choosing.

It was decided at this stage to call for tenders for the provision of an emergency exit from the East end of the old Members Stand with the provision of a platform giving access to the top floor of the new Members Amenities through crash doors. The Architect had suggested that due to the time factor private tenders should be called for but the Directors agreed that as Addington Trotting Course Ltd was a semi public body public tenders should be called. The Architect said the cost of the emergency exit would be between £2,000 and £2,500. The Fire Brigade Inspecting Officer having approved the proposed egress plan, the work was given to Moore Construction Co. Ltd at a cost of £2,569.

Plans and specifications were drawn up by the Architect for a new Public Grandstand and in December 1962 a contract was let to Fletcher Construction Co. Ltd at their tender of £198,380. In February 1963 an agreement was reached with the Waimairi County Council to install a water main along the front of the stands from a pump house on Wrights Road and connecting with the Princess Street main thus providing a ring main with hydrants on the course for fire fighting. The Christchurch Metropolitan Fire Board recommended that the public address system should be extended to cover all areas inside the buildings in preference to the installation of alarm bells. In October 1963 with the new stand nearing completion it was decided that the stand be declared open by the

President of the NZ Trotting Conference, Mr W H Roache, after the first race on Cup Day, Tuesday 12th November, 1963. The new Public Grandstand complete with totalisator, catering, bar and toilet facilities and seating for 4,000 was available to patrons just three days prior to the second anniversary of the destruction of the main Public Grandstand which was built in 1910.

Credit: NZMTC: Historical Notes compiled by D C Parker

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