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:
- Manufacturing & Construction
- Postal Workers
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”.
The Built Heritage Incentive Fund
The fund helps with conserving, restoring, protecting and caring for Wellington's heritage-listed buildings and objects.
Our current focus is on earthquake strengthening.
Find out if your project is eligible for funding