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Caversham, New Zealand facts for kids

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South Road, Caversham, looking west towards the start of the Caversham Valley
Location of Caversham (shown by red dot) within Dunedin
Basic information
Local authority Dunedin
Date established 1850s
Population 5,058 (2006)
North Maryhill
Northeast Mornington
East Kensington
Southeast South Dunedin
South Forbury, Kew
Southwest Calton Hill
West Lookout Point
Northwest Balaclava

Caversham is one of the older suburbs of the city of Dunedin, in New Zealand's South Island. It is sited at the western edge of the city's central plain at the mouth of the steep Caversham Valley, which rises to the saddle of Lookout Point. Major road and rail routes south lie nearby; the South Island Main Trunk railway runs through the suburb, and a bypass skirts its main retail area, connecting Dunedin's one-way street system with the Dunedin Southern Motorway. The suburb is linked by several bus routes to its neighbouring suburbs and central Dunedin.

The suburb was founded by wealthy pioneer William Henry Valpy, and its name reflects his family connections with the town of Reading, in the English county of Berkshire. Caversham grew rapidly during the Central Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s because of its location on routes south to the Otago hinterland. By the end of the 19th century, Caversham was heavily industrialised, and its population included many skilled or semi-skilled tradespeople. This, combined with the community's strong Protestant roots, led to the area's generally left-leaning political stance. Caversham's early history has been the subject of the Caversham Project, a major historical and archaeological study by the University of Otago. Caversham was a separate borough until 1904, when it was amalgamated with Dunedin city. It is currently administered as part of the city's South Dunedin ward. At a national level, it is part of the Dunedin South electorate.

Caversham is now predominantly residential, with some industrial premises in the east (notably the Hillside Railway Workshops) and a retail district centred on South Road and Hillside Road. Residents are generally of low socio-economic status. Caversham's notable buildings include the heritage listed Lisburn House and several prominent church buildings. Another landmark is the suburb's war memorial, which is the main gate of Caversham School, one of the suburb's two primary schools. Caversham also contains a special needs school. The nearest secondary schools are located in St Clair, 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the south.

Caversham has strong sporting connections, and is the location of Carisbrook, until recently one of the city's main sports venues. The suburb is home to the Southern Rugby Football Club, and gives its name to Caversham Football Club. Several notable sportspeople have associations with Caversham, among them Test cricketer Clarrie Grimmett and father and son rugby union administrators "Old Vic" and "Young Vic" Cavanagh. Other notable people with Caversham connections include politician Thomas Kay Sidey, architect Edmund Anscombe, and surveyor John Turnbull Thomson.


Caversham lies at the mouth and in the lower reaches of a valley in the west of Dunedin's main urban area, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) southwest of the city centre, and 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of the Pacific coast at St Clair. To the south lies Calton Hill, a spur of Forbury Hill, on which the suburbs of Calton Hill, Corstorphine and Kew are located.

The suburbs of Balaclava and Maryhill lie to the north, close to the western end of the ridge that runs along the northern edge of central Dunedin. These hills were all once part of the rim of the Dunedin volcano, the long-extinct crater of which now forms Otago Harbour. Other suburbs nearby include Forbury, South Dunedin, Kensington, and Lookout Point.

Caversham Valley has long been the major route out of the central city to the south. The suburb is located close to the start of the Dunedin Southern Motorway (part of State Highway 1), the main road access to central Dunedin from the south, and close to the South Island Main Trunk railway. The creation of the Dunedin Southern Motorway redirected traffic away from South Road, the main thoroughfare through Caversham.

The railway provides the suburb's most important industry, through the Hillside Railway Workshops, which are located in the southeast of the suburb and in the adjoining suburb of South Dunedin. Despite this, there are no longer any public railway stations or halts in Caversham, the last station having closed in 1962.

The hill slopes to the north of Caversham are less densely populated, and still retain some tree cover. This, along with the steepness of the land, forms a natural barrier between Caversham and the suburb of Maryhill. Only a few winding roads traverse this barrier, most notably Glen Road, at the eastern end of Caversham. At this end, the suburb draws close to the foot of the hills, and a natural valley, known locally as "The Glen", provides easier road access to the hill ridge.

To the northeast of the Glen, a hill spur including a 20-metre (66 ft) cliff separates Caversham from the central part of the city. Though the name is rarely used, this spur is called Montecillo Ridge, named for the mansion of early settler W.H. Reynolds. It is occasionally referred to as "Hillside", after the house of the city's founding father Captain William Cargill which was located here. This ridge overlooks "The Flat", as the plain stretching across to the Pacific coast was (and is still) locally known. South Road winds around the spur, connecting with the southern end of Princes Street. One of the city's older and more historic cemeteries, Dunedin Southern Cemetery, lies on the inner city side of this spur.

Lookout Point

From Lookout Point, Caversham Valley Road descends rapidly. This image shows the view east across South Dunedin to Otago Harbour, with Otago Peninsula in the background.

At the top of Caversham Valley are a ridge and the saddle of Lookout Point. Lookout Point commands views to the southwest past the outer suburbs of Burnside and Green Island to Saddle Hill, as well as providing a view to the east across the southern part of the central city to Otago Harbour and the Otago Peninsula.

The most prominent building in Lookout Point is the local fire station, which also serves both Caversham and Green Island. This 1956 structure is located immediately to the north of the saddle and is a prominent landmark upon entering or leaving Dunedin. Not far from the fire station to the north-east is Dunedin's tallest tree, a eucalyptus measuring an estimated 100 metres. The Dunedin Southern Motorway officially begins at the Lookout Point saddle, between Calton Hill and Maryhill, and sweeps down over broken hill country past Green Island to Mosgiel and the Taieri Plains.

Lookout Point is also the home of the former Caversham Industrial School, located to the northeast of the fire station on Mornington Road. Established in 1869, the school was later a boys' home, and is now an adult training centre. Lookout Point's main streets include South Road, Caversham Valley Road, Riselaw Road, and Mornington Road.

The Māori name for Lookout Point is Ko Raka-a-runga-te-raki. It was the burial site of chief Rangi-Ihia, a late 18th century Kati Mamoe chief who was largely responsible for joining the Kai Tahu and Kati Mamoe iwi. He was buried here so that "his spirit might see thence his old haunts to the southward."

A 3.4-hectare (8.4-acre) forest reserve is located on the upper slopes of Caversham Valley below Lookout Point. Purchased by the Dunedin City Council in 1994 with the assistance of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, it is home to various native bird and invertebrate species, including one species of velvet worm believed to be endemic to the Dunedin area.


Caversham Presbyterian Church

Caversham was named for Caversham, Berkshire, a suburb of Reading, by William Henry Valpy, a wealthy early settler who farmed the areas around the lower slopes of Forbury Hill; his initial farm, "The Forbury", was located in what is now St Clair, close to a street which now bears his name. A member of Valpy's family was born in the English Caversham.

In the early days of Dunedin, it was impossible for a dray to reach the Caversham Valley in wet weather unless it went by a circuitous route around the hills. Valpy solved this problem by hiring men at his own expense to build a crude road from the southern end of Princes Street to his farm at Forbury. This formed the basis for later roads into the suburb. The road curved around the edge of the hills at the Glen to avoid a large swamp, the site of which is currently occupied by Carisbrook sports ground.

St. Peter's Anglican Church, Hillside Road

Settlement in the area was slow, though Caversham Valley was a preferred route south out of the city. The Central Otago Gold Rush of 1861 led to rapid changes when thousands of people began using the road on their way to and from the gold fields. The suburb began to expand rapidly at about this time, and the first public house, the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, was erected in 1861. By the end of the decade, Caversham had its own school, post office, drill hall (from the Southern District Rifles), and Anglican and Presbyterian churches. A third church, for the Baptist denomination, followed in 1872.

Several charitable organisations have had properties in Caversham, including the Otago Benevolent Institution home for invalids, and an IHC New Zealand centre at Kew Park. The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind still has its Otago premises in Hillside Road.

Caversham rail tunnel was designed for twin tracks but is now only used by one.

Early industries in the area included C & W Sheil's brickworks, which had quarries in Forbury, St Clair and Caversham, and Caversham Gasworks, which operated from 1882 until 1909. The last buildings of the gasworks were a local landmark, and were not removed until the construction of the Caversham bypass in the 1970s and 1980s. Other noted industries in early Caversham included breweries, a tannery, and a match factory.

Construction of the South Island Main Trunk railway south of Dunedin that began in 1871 led to the construction of a 865-metre (2,838 ft) tunnel beneath Lookout Point, connecting Caversham with Green Island. A second parallel 1,407-metre (4,616 ft) tunnel – the first double-track tunnel in the country – was built starting in 1907, and all rail traffic moved to the new tunnel in 1910. Caversham was served by its own railway station until its closure in 1962. There has been a long-running campaign to have the older tunnel converted into a cycleway, though this scheme has never gained wholehearted council support.

By the 1870s the population of Caversham was growing rapidly, and in 1877, with the population at around 4,000, it was declared a borough. It held this status until amalgamation with Dunedin city in 1904. The borough's area included much of modern Forbury and St Clair, as well as what is usually regarded as Caversham today.

Caversham Project

The early history of the suburb and surrounding parts of southern Dunedin has been the subject of a major ongoing archaeological and historical research project into early Dunedin by the University of Otago, known simply as The Caversham Project. Over the course of the last 30 years, a database has been compiled of life in early South Dunedin, focussing on the borough of Caversham. This database is unique in its size for a historical study within New Zealand or Australia, containing some 9.4 gigabytes of data, and has allowed for the examination and publication of details relating to the socioeconomic and demographic mix of early Dunedin.

The multidisciplinary nature of the study has resulted in information being gathered on subjects ranging from urban planning to gender studies. By using both quantitative and qualitative analyses, and by including considerable amounts of oral history, it has allowed for a vivid recreation of the society of early urban New Zealand. Several books have resulted from the project, among them Sites of Gender: Women, Men and Modernity, 1890–1939, edited by B. Brookes, A. Cooper, and R. Law (Auckland University Press, 2003) and Class and Occupation: The New Zealand Reality by E. Olssen and M. Hickey (University of Otago Press, 2005).


Unlike most of Dunedin, which was settled by Scots, many early settlers in Caversham were English. This led to some degree of antagonism by the councils of the city and Caversham borough in the early days of settlement; Dunedin had been settled by the Presbyterian church, whereas Caversham's population was largely Anglican, Methodist, and Baptist. There is little evidence of this distinction in modern Caversham, other than the origins of local street names, several of which reflect the names of English counties and early English settlers.

Caversham began largely as a lower-middle to working-class suburb. Many of the early residents were skilled or semi-skilled tradespeople. In its early days, Caversham was known as "The carpenters' borough", as a high proportion of the skilled workers within the borough were employed in the building trade. The socioeconomic mix of the borough, combined with the Protestant religious make-up of Caversham, led to strong traditions of egalitarian and social humanitarian politics in the borough.

The left-leaning politics of the area is still reflected to some extent in local political views. The Dunedin South electorate, of which Caversham is a part, tends to return New Zealand Labour Party Members of Parliament and support this and other left-of-centre parties. In the 2008 New Zealand general election, 54.8% of valid party votes cast in Caversham's two polling stations were for the Labour Party and 10.4% were for the three other main left-of-centre parties (Green, Alliance, and Progressive). The vote for these parties over the whole Dunedin South electorate was 46.7% and 9.4% respectively. The equivalent figures for New Zealand as a whole were 34.0% and 7.7% respectively.

Many residents of Caversham are still of relatively low socio-economic status when compared to those in surrounding hill suburbs. A 2007 Dunedin City Council report indicated that a high proportion (39%) of the suburb's houses were one- or two-bedroom dwellings.

Caversham's 2006 population was 5,058. The suburb has a slightly higher proportion of elderly residents than the Otago average, with 15.8% of residents aged 65 and over. It also has a considerably higher proportion of residents of Māori and Pacific island descent than the Otago average (10.3% and 4.4% respectively). Caversham also has nearly twice the average Otago proportion of one-parent families (26.5%). Ownership of and access to home telecommunications (such as the internet) and to private motor vehicles is considerably lower than the Otago average.


Lisburn House

Hillside Railway Workshops dominate the southeast of Caversham and the neighbouring suburb of South Dunedin. Established at this site in 1875, the workshops are the main railway construction and repair shop in the South Island. The workshops cover 8 hectares (20 acres), of which 3 hectares (7.4 acres) are covered floor space.

To the north of the workshops is Carisbrook, Dunedin's former main sports venue. Opened in 1883, the ground had a capacity of 35,000 people, and was floodlit from the 1990s. Used primarily for rugby union, but also for other sports (notably as a Test cricket venue), Carisbrook lost its pre-eminence among the city's sports arenas with the construction of a new stadium in the northern end of the city in 2011; demolition began in 2013. The ground is named for the former home of early colonial settler James Macandrew, which in turn was named for Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight in southern England.

Lisburn House is one of the finest surviving 1860s townhouses in New Zealand. Now run as a bed and breakfast establishment, this house was built in 1865 for the Fulton family, a pioneer farming family at their "Ravenscliffe" property on the Taieri Plains. The house was named for the family's origins in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, and is Category I heritage listed. William Clayton designed the 12-room house, notable for its steeply angled slate roof and polychromatic brickwork. Two other Category II heritage buildings are on Fitzroy Street: Faringdon Villa, and an untitled house.

Other buildings of note in Caversham include the suburb's churches. The Presbyterian church is located on Thorn Street, roughly halfway between the South Road retail area and Forbury Corner. It was built in 1883 following the destruction of the previous building by fire. The current building, built in Port Chalmers bluestone with Oamaru stone facings, was designed by T. B. Cameron.

The ropewalk of Donaghy's Industries is one of Caversham's more unusual structures – it is over 100 times as long as it is wide.

Caversham's Anglican church, St. Peter's, is located on Hillside Road. Designed by H. F. Hardy, the foundation stone was laid in 1882. The original design called for the church to have a spire, but because of problems with the tower's foundations (which left the tower leaning 6 inches (15 cm) from the perpendicular) this was never constructed.

Caversham Baptist church is located at the corner of South Road and Surrey Street, close to Caversham School. Unusual among Dunedin buildings, this church has a formal Classical style, with its brickwork augmented by pediments and square columns. The foundation stone for the building was laid in 1906. The former Baptist Church, in Playfair Street, is now used as a Gospel Hall.

A further church, located in South Dunedin close to the southeastern edge of Caversham, is the South Dunedin Wesley Methodist Church in Hillside Road. This building, constructed in 1893, was threatened with demolition in 2009.

Part of the factory of Donaghy's Industries, adjacent to the eastern edge of Bathgate Park, is notable because of its unusual shape. This structure, which is less than 4 metres (13 ft) wide yet some 380 metres (1,250 ft) in length, serves as a ropewalk for Donaghy's, who have been manufacturing rope and twine at this site since 1876.

A somewhat controversial recent addition to Caversham was the opening, in October 2013, of Whakamana Cannabis Museum, New Zealand's first museum dedicated to the history of cannabis use. Cannabis, while still a criminalised drug in New Zealand, has moved some way towards grudging acceptance, at least as a subject for open discussion. The museum, run from a former residential house in David Street, is designed to be an information centre on aspects of the history and legislation surrounding the drug, and also a national centre for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, a minor single-issue political party.


Cars sweep southwest over the Lookout Point saddle at the start of the Dunedin Southern Motorway. The brick building on the right is the local fire station.

The suburb's main road is South Road, which at its eastern (Glen) end winds around the flanks of hills before joining with Princes Street and Dunedin's central business district. A slip road connects South Road with State Highway 1 at the foot of these hills, just above Carisbrook.

Hillside Road, which runs parallel with South Road several hundred metres to the south, is an arterial route connecting South Dunedin (at its eastern end) with Dunedin's southwestern suburbs. At its western end is Forbury Corner, a road junction linking Hillside Road with suburban arterial routes to the suburbs of Saint Clair (Forbury Road) and Corstorphine (Easther Crescent), as well as David Street, the major road link between Hillside Road and South Road. Numerous other small residential streets run parallel with David Street between Hillside Road and South Road. The suburb's other main roads include Caversham Valley Road, Playfair Street, Surrey Street, and Glen Road. The latter of these lies at the Glen at the eastern end of Caversham, providing a link between South Road and the hill suburbs of Maryhill, Balaclava, and Mornington.

A Caversham bypass was constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was officially opened in 1987. It now carries State Highway 1 away from the retail heart of the suburb, connecting at its northern end with the city's one-way street system. With the construction of the bypass, Caversham Valley Road was truncated close to its junction with South Road, and the upper stretch of the road continued as part of State Highway 1, connecting the bypass with Dunedin Southern Motorway.

Until the construction of the bypass, South Road and Caversham Valley Road formed the main route out of Dunedin to the south. State Highway 1 followed South Road through the main retail area, then followed Caversham Valley Road to Lookout Point. Above its retail area, South Road winds around the flank of Calton Hill; Caversham Valley Road forms a straighter, steep route that originally continued from the end of South Road's retail area. For this reason, the part of South Road running through the retail area is also sometimes referred to as part of Caversham Valley Road. Improvements to Caversham Valley Road to ease congestion and increase safety began in 2011. A junction at the north end of Caversham's main retail area connects South Road with the bypass.

Caversham was served by a suburban railway station on the "South Line" between Dunedin and Mosgiel. Services ceased on this line in 1982. The railway station buildings were demolished several years later.

Trams served Caversham between 1880 and 1954, operating in Hillside Road, South Road, and David Street. Several bus routes now serve Caversham, connecting it with the heart of the city. Citibus and Dunedin Passenger Transport run routes from the city centre to Saint Clair and Corstorphine via Hillside Road, and to Lookout Point via South Road. Dunedin passenger transport also runs services between The Octagon and both Mosgiel and Brighton via South Road. Cargill's Corner, at the South Dunedin end of Hillside Road, is a major suburban bus hub.

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