History of the Building
The Lyttelton Times reported that “one of the finest Malthouses in New Zealand” was erected on this site for a sum in excess of £2000. In 1870 an additional oasthouse was added on the South elevation which increased the capacity to 20,000 bushels per annum.
The malting of barley is central to the production of beer. There are 3 stages – steeping, germination and kilning. The barley is initially steeped in water and then spread on long malting floors (upstairs theatre space) and turned frequently by shovel until germination took place. After 5 days the sprouted barley was spread in the “oast” (our green room) where heat from a furnace flue stopped germination and developed flavour and colour. The finished product was removed after about a day and delivered to the Victoria Brewery on Antigua Street and City Brewery on Colombo Street.
A corrugated iron lean-to with a stone and concrete basement added to the North elevation.1923 – New Zealand breweries was formed and the Malthouse joined the conglomerate.
Malting ceased and the Malthouse was sold to Aysons Seed Company for storage. The oasthouse ventilators were lowered and the brick furnaces removed.
The building was purchased by Canterbury Children’s Theatre and renamed “The Malthouse”. This included ownership of the former manager’s cottage which sits adjacent to the South.
The interior was remodeled and a concrete block addition was made to the North elevation to create performance space, storage and toilet facilities.
Tonnes of reinforced concrete poured to replace metal grill flooring in oasthouses. Extensive renovation to provide wardrobe storage, set construction areas and a green room.
The roof repaired with the yard re-laid and the frontage landscaped. The exterior timber and iron repainted specifically to enhance the stone building.
New access stairway built and foyer area repainted and re-floored. Makeup room built and sprinkler system installed throughout the building. Malthouse Costumes began trading.
Seismic strengthening undertaken. The outside walls re-poured internally and tied into the foundations and extensive steel beams spanning the upstairs performance space installed.
Earthquakes in Canterbury. Malthouse remained operational with the exception of the north extension. Months of planning and restoration began.
18 months of restoration and upgrades completed. New north extension with toilet, laundry, office and kitchen facilities. Complete concrete foundations replaced and all exterior stone facades restored. Full wiring and alarm system upgraded. Fire doors and alarms installed. New drainage and front yard completed and upgrade of cottage facilities.
This building contains 14,000 square feet of floor space and eight different levels offering a fascinating glimpse of history mixed with the work of a modern theatre company. Areas once used for the storage of barley and malting now house an array of sets, stage props and theatre memorabilia. The Malthouse Trust administers the building which includes Malthouse Costumes and all profit generated assists with the continuing preservation and maintenance of the Malthouse.
For many years, the Malthouse has been financially self-sufficient, with the costume hire business generating more than enough income to enable the Trust to not only maintain, but also preserve the Malthouse building. This included extensive earthquake strengthening during 2004-2008 which showed wonderful foresight by the then trustees of the Trust. Without that work, the Malthouse would have almost certainly been lost in the Canterbury earthquake sequence commencing 4 September 2010. As it was, the building suffered minimal damage, and was declared fit for use within two days, with business being able to continue uninterrupted.
Unfortunately, the earthquakes have had an unforeseen impact, particularly on the costume hire business. And so, we now find ourselves in a position that we could never have previously imagined. The Malthouse Trust is fast running out of money. Although the Malthouse is a glorious building, its overheads and maintenance requirements are significant. The costume hire business is no longer generating the income we have previously enjoyed.
The Malthouse has served Canterbury Children’s Theatre well for over 60 years – help us keep her here in the heart of the local community.