Throwback Thursday: Cawthron Steps


The Cawthrone Steps, better known as the Cathedral Steps is probably one of the more popular lunch spots in the Nelson cbd but how much do you really know about it?

We may have left foot prints on the familiar granite of the steps but so too did celebrating locals, soldiers that did not return, royals, and protesters from the Springbok Tour.

The steps were first built in 1858, ten years after the land was given to the Church of England. Made simply from wood, the steps soon fell into disrepair and plans to replace them were finalised in 1911 thanks to Thomas Cawthron who offered to cover the costs.

Work began in late 1912 with light cream Tonga Bay granite from the Abel Tasman National Park quarried and shipped into the port. Designed by Nelson architect, Arthur Reynolds Griffin and constructed by Messers J. and A. Wilson Ltd, the gothic style steps turned many heads.

The Colonist called the steps “a massive and imposing structure… [which] will be in every way in keeping with the beautiful eminence it is to adorn.”

Officially opened on Dominion Day, 20 September 1913, the steps drew a large crowd and Mayor William Lock thanked Cawthron, coining him, “Nelson’s grand old man.”

When World War One broke out the steps hosted a series of troop farewells and welcomes for injured returning soldiers.

During the 1920s the steps were more a place of celebration, with royal visits from Edward, Prince of Wales in 1920 and the Duke and Duchess of York seven years later.

However, war broke out in 1939 and the steps became a place to farewell troops once more.

The 1950s saw Nelson celebrate the 150th anniversary of Trafalgar Day on the steps and three years later Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, descended the steps after attending a service in the cathedra.


[twentytwenty]now then[/twentytwenty]

1952 marked the beginning of the steps as a protest location.

From 1952 to 1955 unsuccessful rallies protested the removal of Nelson’s railway while in 1962, large crowds protested Government abandonment of Stoke’s cotton mill at Stoke.

In 1981 the Springbok Tour divided the nation and crowds clashed with police around the steps on several occasions and in 1982, Nelsonians proudly marched to the steps in aid of a nuclear free world.

The steps remain a hot spot for protests and demonstrations to this day but it hasn’t been all royals and protests, the steps are the perfect location for community events like the annual light show and at the beginning of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the steps were overrun by Nelson College students with a mass haka.

Reaching their centennial in 2013, the Cawthron Steps will continue to be one of the region’s more popular landmarks for a long time to come.