It can be funny how a stretch of land seems destined to know only one purpose. I have come across this from time to time and it is amazing how many different sets of feet can walk that land and yet they all entwine into a wonderful themed history.
This is the case of Middleton Grange School, New Zealand’s largest evangelical Christian School, situated in Upper Riccarton.
The land that would be first known as the ‘Middleton Block’ was purchased by Canterbury Association Committee member, Rev. Thomas Rowley in 1850. It would be for his son, Thomas Rowley Jnr. who was part of the main body of Canterbury Association’s settlers. The young, Thomas Jnr. arrived in Lyttelton aboard the ‘Minerva’ – the association’s 26th ship – in February 1853. The land in Upper Riccarton was not his only lot; he had ownership of numerous prime locations in central Christchurch (including Cathedral Square) as well as great rural properties in Sandy Knolls (mid-Canterbury) and Barry’s Bay (Banks Peninsula). He served Canterbury as a Member of Parliament. When Thomas Jnr. became engaged to Emily Mathias (the eldest daughter of Rev.Octatvius Mathias) in 1855, he built a cob cottage at Middleton in preparation for married life. The couple was to remain at Middleton until 1861 when the cottage and 100 acres of its land was placed on sale.
Middleton Block was purchased by Rev. Croasdaile Bowen (his family arriving on the ‘Charlotte Jane’, the Canterbury Association’s 1st ship on16th December 1850), the first Vicar of St Peter’s Anglican Church at Church Corner, Upper Riccarton – the spiritual home of the Rowleys. Funnily enough though, Middleton was never the home of Croasdaile but it did become home to his brother, Charles Christopher Bowen, and his family.
The Rowley’s eventually sold off all their land and moved back to England where Thomas died in Suffolk in 1903. Rowley Peak near Fairlie is named in memory of this family’s history with the Canterbury Association.
As with most new house owners, the Bowens made Middleton their own, adding a second story in 1875 along with a new kitchen, study and more bedrooms. It wouldn’t be until 1878, with the input of Canterbury’s famed architect (and fellow ‘Charlotte Jane’ passenger) Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort that the property would become known as Middleton Grange – due to the additions of dormers to the house.
Both Bowen brothers were instrumental in the establishment of the educational system in New Zealand. Charles is known as the main promoter of free education for all children, while Croasdaile designed how a state school should function, including the non-intrusive use of the bible. To list all the achievements of these men would add pages on this post but just know they helped shaped the lives of New Zealanders and Cantabs in many different ways.
As for Croasdaile, his first love would all remain the church and he held the position of Archdeacon of Christchurch for 32 years. He preached the Word of God right until his last few months of life. In fact, his voice was suddenly stolen by a ‘…paralysis of the brain…’ while he was right there in the pulpit. When he died in 1890, the bells of the Christchurch Cathedral tolled 58 times, 30 seconds apart, to acknowledge his 58 years of service to Canterbury.
Croasdaile’s wife, Annette, managed a girls’ school after his death. She would later recount that she had no idea where the courage came from to take on such a job as she had no previous experience. Nevertheless, she was a huge success and over the years the school moved from site to site before finally coming under the care of Anglican nuns and ending up in Merivale as St Margaret’s College in 1910.
Charles Christopher Bowen died in 1917; his wife Georgina followed him 4 short years later. Middleton Grange passed down to one of Bowen’s daughters and then to her son. He sold the land out of the family in the 1940’s. By the time the Christian School Trust took an interest in Middleton Grange, the house had undergone further extensions, with the front and side verandahs now gone. It had also been covered in stucco.
In 1964, Middleton Grange School opened as a completely independent Christian school with just 64 students and 4 teachers. In 1996, the school was integrated into the state system with over 1300 students, ranging from Year 1 to Year 13.
What a fitting continuation of its history for such a piece of land!
There seems to have been no other destiny for this fine ‘…example of domestic architecture in Christchurch…’ following in the path of the lives of the Rowleys and the Bowens – two families who loved God and a good education.
*photos taken by Annette Bulovic*