Wellington Trades Hall

The long standing heart of Wellington union activities is now stronger. Thanks in part, to a grant from the Built Heritage Incentive Fund.

Inside the entryway of Wellington Trades Hall, facing back towards the front door.
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About the Trades Hall

Wellington Trades Hall is a great example of mid-1920s neoclassicism. It was also connected to important industrial events such as:

  • setting up the eight-hour day/40-hour week during the 1930s
  • the 1951 Waterfront Dispute where it was the starting point for protest marches
  • getting equal pay for women including equal pay for work of equal value.

The Trades Hall is also a permanent shrine to the 1984 Trades Hall bombing. It remains the symbolic home of Wellington Unions, some of which still use the building.

The inside of the front door of Wellington Trades Hall.
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The strengthening project

In late 2017 seismic strengthening work started on the Trades Hall. The solution considered the heritage fabric, nearby heritage shop fronts and pedestrian traffic.

Grants totalling $70,000 from the Built Heritage Incentive Fund helped fund:

  • the design work
  • the construction costs
  • an archeological assessment
  • the professional fees.

The Lottery Grants Environment and Heritage Committee also supported the project.

Work involved:

  • installing a ground beam, anchor piles, shear walls and collector beams
  • installing new floor tiles to match existing tiles where excavation occurred
  • finishing the new walls with handmade tiles (which are a modern and sympathetic match to the original tiles)
  • installing delineation tiles to express the difference between old and new.

The end result conserves the original building as well as retaining the heritage features of the attached shops.

A plaque in the Wellington Trades Hall
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The future of the Trades Hall

Strengthening of the Trades Hall means it can continue to be a centre for trade union activity.

Unions that still use the Trades Hall are developing the building as a place to learn about union history and view union memorabilia. As part of this, the original foundation stone was recovered and installed. A plaque that commemorates the founding of the 8-hour day by Samuel Duncan Parnell in 1840 is also displayed. Funding for the plaque was by public subscription in 1893. It was on display at a drinking fountain outside the public library until 1942.

Graeme Clarke, President of Wellington Trades Hall Inc, says “It’s great that we can keep Wellington’s heritage alive. The funding from the Built Heritage Incentive Fund has helped us to do that”.

A long and remarkable history

In the late nineteenth century construction of trades halls overseas led the Trades and Labour Council to search for a suitable place for their own trades hall.

In 1923 the Council bought the Vivian Street site and architect William Fielding drew up plans. The then-leader of the Labour Party Harry Holland laid the foundation stone. Work on the building finished in 1927.

Originally the Wellington Trades Hall housed most private sector unions. Many of these unions did not need more than one room for an office. 1937 saw the founding of the Federation of Labour to help bring the unions together. It made its home in the Wellington Trades Hall.

The Trades Hall building also:

  • functioned as an institution of higher learning for working people
  • included classrooms for the Workers’ Educational Institute
  • housed a publishing press which printed the Labour journal ‘New Zealand Worker’ .

In 1961, there became a need for more union officials to represent workers. This resulted in changes being made to the building, with extra offices being built and the glass roof being covered.

The 1980s saw further changes. The first was the result of the 1984 Trades Hall Bombing. On 27 March someone left a suitcase with a bomb in it, in the building’s foyer. The bomb went off and killed Ernie Abbott, the building’s caretaker, when he moved the suitcase. The bomber and their motive is still unknown. The damage caused by the blast resulted in changes to the foyer, including a security lobby and concierge booth.

In 1988, a building boom led to the removal of both the original assembly hall at the back of the Trades Hall and bridge that connected the two buildings.

The late twentieth century saw the decline of union membership as a result of changes to New Zealand’s industrial law. While many unions now choose to be in other locations, the hall is still occupied by some unions including:

  • Tramways
  • Manufacturing & Construction
  • Furniture
  • Postal Workers
  • Unite.

The Built Heritage Incentive Fund

The fund helps with conserving, restoring, protecting and caring for Wellington's heritage-listed buildings and objects. Our focus is on earthquake strengthening. Find out if your project is eligible for funding through the Built Heritage Incentive Fund.