St Mary’s Cathedral, often visible in historic photographs of Thorndon, went through three distinct phases which make it a useful marker for dating images. When Bishop Viard had it built in 1851, it was a barn-like structure with a low tower base shorter than the main nave. In 1866-1867 the designs of Christian Toxward gave it a longer nave, spanned with decorated buttresses. A belfry with short spire was constructed, with a cast-iron statue of St Mary on the eastern face. In early 1880, concerns about excessive movement of the spire led to its temporary removal. This became permanent mid-year with a design by Thomas Turnbull of a squared-off tower with 17-foot spikes at each corner. This was the form of St Mary’s when it burned down in 1898.
This provides three dating windows: low tower and no buttresses (1851-1866/67); buttresses, belfry with steeple (1866/67-early 1880); spikes with no steeple (1880-1898). It is not hard to find mis-dated images, such as the ATL photo of the Thorndon foreshore dated 1863 (reproduced in On Golder’s Hill p.16) showing the 1867 steeple.
Written by Peter Holm, firstname.lastname@example.org.