Historic Place Category 1
On east side of Christ's College quadrangle. Borders Rolleston Avenue.
*Pt Res 25
Christ's College began in April 1851, as the Collegiate Grammar School, run from two rooms at the immigration barracks at Lyttelton. The Canterbury Association had planned for such a school before its ships left England, stating that it was to be based on 'the great Grammar Schools of England'. It is not surprising that the Canterbury Association, with their attempts to transpose a cross-section of English society to New Zealand, modelled their first school on the public schools of England with their reputation for turning out an élite ready to administer and defend the British Empire. Christ's College is now the oldest and one of the most prestigious private boys' school in New Zealand.
In 1852 Collegiate Grammar moved to Christchurch and by 1857 was established on its current grounds adjacent to Hagley Park. The buildings of the school were laid out around a quadrangle following the English tradition.
The dining room at Christ's College was designed by Cecil Wood (1878-1947), a noted Christchurch architect, who had a long association with the college. Designed as a memorial to the Old Boys of the college who served in the First World War, it was built in 1925. Of the former pupils and masters of Christ's College who had served in World War I, 44 percent had been killed or injured. Numerous World War I memorials were erected by New Zealand schools, particularly by the large boys' schools. Such memorials were often elaborate and costly structures, with the Christ's College Memorial Dining Room costing more than twice that of the Bridge of Remembrance, one of Christchurch's major World War I memorials.
That the war memorial at Christ's College took the form of a dining hall was due to a 1917 decision by the school board of governors to have a common dining room. It was subsequently decided that this much needed facility would be an appropriate memorial to the dead and wounded. The Old Boys' Association raised £23,000 for the construction of the hall, over eighty percent of the final cost.
There was some debate over the siting of the hall. Eventually the wishes of the new headmaster, E. C. Crosse, were adopted and the hall was sited on Rolleston Avenue, in order to provide the College with a physical presence on the street. Wood's design for the hall, described as 'one of his finest', established a square tower at the south end of the hall to connect it to the adjacent 1886 block, designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort. An administration wing was housed both within the tower and in a utilitarian three-storeyed block attached to the south end of the hall. The buttresses are a prominent feature of the building and enliven its rectangular bulk, as does the use of white Oamaru and red Redcliff stone facings.
For many years the north wall of the dining hall was plain unornamented brick, as it had always been planned to extend the hall at this end with an office block and gateway. Wood was asked to draw up plans for such an extension during the 1940s but lack of funding meant his proposal was never built. A new block, to house the school's administration offices and boardroom, was eventually built at the north end of the hall in 1986-1988 to a design by Sir Miles Warren.
The interior of the dining hall was based upon the medieval manor halls of England and in particular on the Great Hall at Christ Church, Oxford. It is timber panelled to halfway up the wall and some of the panelling is linenfold, that is ornamented with a stylised representation of linen folded vertically. The upper part of the wall was lined with Oamaru stone. As was typical of medieval halls (and later collegiate examples) there is a raised dais at one end of the hall, which is lit by the two oriel-bay windows, and a 'musicians' gallery at the other end. The timber roof is supported on hammerbeam trusses, a style of construction made famous by its use in Westminster Hall (1394-1406). The carvings, in both wood and stone, that decorate the dining hall were undertaken by the noted Christchurch carver, Frederick Gurnsey (1868-1953).
Nearly twenty years after the hall was completed, Gurnsey also carved the lectern, to Wood's design, which holds the memorial register. This register was designed in the form of an illuminated manuscript by W. A. Sutton, a prominent Canterbury artist, and it lists the names of all Old Boys who served in the war. Traditionally a page is turned and read each day at lunchtime.
Christ's College Memorial Dining Hall has been described as Wood's masterpiece. At the time it was opened it was greatly appreciated by the architect Samuel Hurst Seager, who saw it as a fine example of traditional architectural principles with a modern note, and it was praised in contemporary newspaper reports. It is an important part of the Christ's College complex of buildings and part of the Gothic Revival townscape of Rolleston Avenue which includes the Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Arts Centre. The architecture of the hall reflects the school's English origins and traditions and although it is a later addition to the quadrangle, it blends in with the earlier buildings. The hall is a significant memorial to the former pupils and staff of Christ's College who fought in the First World War and one of the major First World War memorials in Christchurch. It played a major role in increasing Wood' s reputation and stands alongside the best of contemporary Collegiate Gothic buildings in both Britain and the United States. The hall also contains many fine examples of Gurnsey's work.
Originally a white frieze ran above the timber panelling, on which Wood planned to write, in black, all the names of the Old Boys who had served in the war. Although an important part of his design this frieze was never completed as the board of governors and the old boys' association continued to debate who should be recorded there. Eventually the frieze was panelled over.
- Original Construction: 1922 (circa) - 1925 (circa)
- Addition: 1986 - 1988 (circa)
- Designed: 1919 (circa)
- Don Hamilton, The Buildings of Christ's College 1850 - 1990, Christchurch, 1991,pp.58-60.
- Don Hamilton, College!: A history of Christ's College, Christchurch, 1996
- Ruth M. Helms, 'The architecture of Cecil Wood', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1996,pp.123-131
this page is correct to the best of the Trust's knowledge. If you have any additional
information you would like to share with the Trust, please
contact the Registrar.
You may wish to contact the Trust to view our paper records.