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FIRE ALARM TOWER – City Rail Link Media Release

  • Posted on: 03, 10, 2022
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10 March 2022

       City Rail Link uncovers “breathless” buried secret 

Building for Auckland’s transport future with the City Rail Link (CRL) project has discovered fragments from the city’s past that would most probably have left many of its colonial users gasping for breath.

Contractors at CRL’s Aotea Station site in central Auckland uncovered concrete foundations and timber footings used to support a landmark wooden fire bell tower built in Albert Street near the intersection with Victoria Street. Watchmen had to huff-and-puff their way up five sets of steep stairs to reach the tower’s lookout perched almost 23 metres – roughly the length of a cricket pitch – over a town built mainly of wood and brick and vulnerable to the threat of fire.

“The city’s given up another of its buried secrets – an archaeological snapshot of the past and a reminder of what it was like to live without all the mod cons we take for granted today,” says City Rail Link Ltd’s Chief Executive, Dr Sean Sweeney. “The tower would have been a critical part of the pioneer town’s fire-fighting infrastructure.”

Built in the early 1880s, the tower was topped by a heavy bell known as “Big Ben”.  There was no electricity at the time and watchmen had to use hydraulics to ring “Big Ben” and raise the alarm. It could be heard 11 kilometres away – providing it was a still day with no wind.  The number of the bell’s gongs indicated the location of a fire.

“Big Ben” and the tower were decommissioned in 1902 when the city’s main fire station moved to opposite its present site in Pitt Street.

The tower’s foundations were exposed when Link Alliance contractors were excavating earth along Albert Street for CRL.

“They were in pretty good nick considering they had been underground almost 150 years,” says Matt Sinclair, Aotea Station Manager for the Link Alliance. “The wood has been identified as kauri and some of the segments we found still lock together in a set.”

The foundations have been inspected by an archaeologist and will be preserved in a new location that appropriately fits their fire-fighting past.  The CRL project has donated them to the Auckland Fire Brigade’s Museum & Historical Society.

“It’s a real treat to have such an amazing piece of our history back – something that we have only ever seen photos of before. We also now know the exact location of the tower in Albert Street,”  says Colin Prince, Secretary and Archivist for the Museum.

The fire tower foundations are the latest is a growing list of artefacts from Auckland’s past uncovered by CRL.

Discoveries include an old well, bricks used for buildings and drains, an old boiler, part of a seawall, wharf piles, bottles, the remains of a scrubbing brush, and fragments of two trees buried for almost 30,000 years.  A colonial kauri cottage was removed from the Mt Eden site and shifted by truck to a new location.

Two significant features of Auckland’s pioneer past will continue to serve the city.    CRL re-opened a restored heritage-listed Central Post Office a year ago as part of the Britomart Station, and work will start at the end of this year reinstalling a 19th century bluestone wall temporarily removed stone-by-stone to make room for project construction at Aotea.

City Rail Link on-line at cityraillink.co.nz

Ngā mihi | warm regards

Ewart Barnsley
Media Manager

City Rail Link Ltd | Level 2, 25 Teed Street, Newmarket, Auckland 1023
PO Box 9681, Newmarket, Auckland 1149, New Zealand

+64 27 275 6868 | E ewart.barnsley@cityraillink.govt.nz

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