Cranmer Courts

“….having spread the mortar, the stone was lowered to its place, and striking it with the mallet his Excellency said, “I declare this stone to be well and truly laid, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” ~ Lyttelton Times 1873
What a proud moment for Canterbury’s Superintendent, William Rolleston as he stood close by as these actions were done and these words spoken by New Zealand’s Governor, Sir James Fergusson.
A teacher by trade, William Rolleston in all his political dealings, education had always been a topic close to his heart. And now, New Zealand’s first teacher trainee/mainstream school – to be named Normal School – was being built right there in his Christchurch.A Normal or Model School is a school where trainee teachers can observe a classroom first hand. This was New Zealand’s first Teacher’s College.It’s never been an easy road for the Normal School built on the triangle of Kilmore, Montreal and Victoria Streets. As it was the site of one of Christchurch’s first public artesian wells, the area was boggy and difficult to lay foundations in.Samuel C. Farr, the architect whose concept building won ahead of 11 other architects, designed the school in Christchurch’s typical building theme of the Era – Gothic Style. He was answering to the idea that had been talked about in the Provincial Chambers for the last decade. Cranmer Square should become an educational precinct.
Christchurch Girls High sat on the corner of Armagh and Montreal Streets – gracing the southern edge of Cranmer Square.
A sister building was to be built to mirror this education facility achievement on the northern corner – Normal School.

Cathedral Grammer – on Chester Street West – was also erected to be part of this precinct.

Samuel, along with the builder, Daniel Reese, knew the site wasn’t going to be the healthiest choice for those who were to use the building. Things did not improve when it was decided that the facade was to face out onto Cranmer Square for appearance sake. This resulted in no sunlight so the classrooms were cold and children were always sent home sick – sometimes with illnesses as serious as Diphtheria.

11 children were transferred from a small school in Durham Street and the roll increased to 40 in its first year.

An extension was made in 1878 – adding more rooms for the trainees and for the establishment of a Kindergarten.
The gem of the building remained the octagonal room (pictured during the 1920’s) that sat on the corner of Kilmore and Montreal Streets and was used as the Principal’s office.

The 1888 earthquake shook the school to its foundations. Four chimneys split away from the western wing, some of the spires buckled and gables were displaced.

In 1954, with the opening of Elmwood Normal School, the children were moved on. The trainee teachers stayed on in what was now known as Christchurch Teachers Training College. They moved on to their Ilam site in 1970 leaving the old building empty for its 100th birthday.

Unloved, unused and vandalized for the next 11 years, the building fought hard to remain a part of Christchurch. It passed through a few hands and its fate argued about within the Christchurch City Council.

It was finally bought by a development firm that turned the old school into 22 residential apartments. The octagonal room was opened as a restaurant and was known by the fitting name of The Principal’s Office! The complex was renamed Cranmer Courts in 1985.

With the 4th September 2010 earthquake, Cranmer Courts was classified as unlivable. Time has been running out for the Courts since unfortunately.

Attempts were made early in 2011 to make the building safe and water proof but the continuous shakes have taken its toll.

The facade is still savable but the lack of money for repairs has almost been fatal. Demolition was started on the Courts early October 2012 but has been halted due to the protests over how the demolition was being performed. A faint hope still remains that the much needed funds will be found.  This did not happen and the Courts were demolished while dismayed protestors watched on.

*photo courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/*

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