FIND THESE STEPS – Church Street intersects Boulcott Street just above Willis, at the Majestic Centre, 100 Willis Street; from The Terrace, between 217 and 213.
Clutched against a very steep hill stands a grand staircase that surpasses in size all others in the Wellington CBD. It is so steep that its zigzag dazzles from a distance. Approach from Willis Street, as you walk up Boulcott Street, and you would not be criticised if you were to casually pass up the opportunity to climb those stairs and instead feign an interest in the former offices of the Dominion Post newspaper opposite.
But if you do decide to venture upward – or you choose instead to descend from the top entrance at The Terrace – you have marvelous views of the city and harbour on each level. Stop frequently and appreciate the view as you climb, and save the heart. Some young sprinters use this as a training exercise and others challenge coordination and luck by reading a book while stepping with careful and measured rhythm.
F L Irvine-Smith notes in her wonderful book, The Streets of My City, that Church Street was once known as “Jacob’s Ladder, a picturesque name now discarded because of its similarity to Jacobs Place” – Jacobs Place, once the site of a local market, now seems to have disappeared entirely from Wellington’s streets.
A short block of steps and then four steep flights.
The church for which the street is named is St Mary of the Angels, built in 1916 and replacing the first Roman Catholic church in Wellington, built in 1842 by Father O’Reily. The modern church is just down the street from the steps.
I met a man on the ascent one morning who looked to be around sixty and as we paused halfway to admire the view, and congratulate ourselves for our stamina, he told me that, as a young man returning from a night out, he had stumbled near the top and fallen half the way down, breaking back, hands, legs, and feet. Then he shrugged and walked on to the top.
The view from Church Street steps around 1910. The spire on the right is St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, near the Percival Street Steps.
Reference 50010-13, Wellington City Libraries
At the top, on The Terrace.
And from the National Library’s excellent online collection of historic newspapers, Papers Past, a writer in 1913 described in detail the early construction of the steps.
Colonist, 20 September 1913, CC-NZ-by-NC-SA
And a deputation of WEllington citizens urged City Council to undertake a novel solution to the trek up Church Street steps – a subway and an elevator.
A bit of history just down from the Church Street steps in 1858. The view would be from near the top of The Terrace standing to the left of the current steps.
Intersection of Willis and Manners Street, 1858. WCC Archives 00138-0-481.