Open air classrooms opened at Fendalton Primary School – This week in history 24-30 July

The first open air classroom at Fendalton Primary School was officially opened on the 26th of July 1924 by Mr E.H. Andrews, a member of the Canterbury Education Board. Professor Shelley, who was Professor of Education at Canterbury College, also gave an opening address encouraging the school and committee to continue the project.

By the 1920s most parents were being guided by the Plunket Society to realise the benefits of fresh-air and sunlight for their children and the Christchurch Open-Air League had been able to persuade the Canterbury Education Board to build some open-air classrooms. The most common type was like this one at Fendalton School, Christchurch, where on sunny days, sliding doors allowed one whole wall to be opened to allow in fresh air and sunshine. Each pupil had a desk and chair which could be carried outside in fine weather. The porch on the right-hand side of the photograph served as a cloakroom and shelter-shed
A classroom at Fendalton Open-Air School, Clyde Road, Christchurch, 1928, CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0025

This first open air classroom was viewed as an experiment in the new educational philosophy that fresh air, good ventilation and sunlight encouraged good health for the students, as well as providing space for exercise.

The classroom was designed by the Headmaster Mr A.R. Blank, M.B.E. and Dr R.B. Phillipps, the Canterbury Schools’ medical officer, along with the architects Ellis and Hall. A new architecture for classrooms was developed to cater to the new philosophy and the Fendalton examples allowed the whole side of a building to be opened up. Using wood as an adaptable building material, rather than brick, was seen as important for this new architecture to enable adaption of the buildings over time to incorporate developing ideas in educational theory.

Photograph of an open air classroom, Fendalton School, Christchurch, taken circa 1924 by an unidentified photographer. Primary school children sit in rows at their desks, facing a teacher and a blackboard.
Creator unknown : Photograph of an open air classroom, Fendalton School, Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-8863. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23185726

Mr Blank and Dr Phillipps’ belief in the ideals of the Open Air movement was so high that they guaranteed half of the £400 cost from their own pockets, and secured the other half from Christchurch Rotary Club. By opening day £170 had been raised from the public and no money was requested from the Government or Education Board for the experiment. The Department of Education was reported as being skeptical of the potential benefits of this new educational philosophy, but Mr Andrews stated in his opening speech that the Education Board had been misrepresented as being opposed.

Through the 1920s, three additional open air classrooms were built at the Fendalton Primary School. The school was often visited as an example of how open air classrooms could operate including by Dr Truby King, the Department of Education and the British Medical Association.

The Open Air Schools League was established to continue to champion the cause, and they put out a booklet The New Zealand Open-Air School in 1928 using Fendalton as the example of what can be achieved.

If you have any images you would like to contribute to a community repository of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

Week in History 17-23 July – The “Monty tour” arrives in Christchurch 70 years ago

Paton, Harold Gear, 1919-2010. Winston Churchill takes the salute as New Zealand Division marches past in Tripoli, World War II. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs. Ref: DA-02885A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23048978

Those of us who remember a certain movie from the 1990’s may jump to particular conclusions of what the “Monty tour” may be. It actually was the 1947 tour of Australasia by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Born in 1887 and active in both the First and Second World Wars, he gained two nick-names; “Monty” and the “Spartan General”.

Monty commanded many New Zealand and Australian soldiers during World War Two. He was assumed command of the Eighth Army in North Africa after the failed first battle of El Alamein on the 13th August 1942. He planned and re-strategised for the next offensive at El Alamein which began on the 23rd of October that same year. This was a decisive battle for Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership and said of the two battles “At El Alamein we survived; after that we conquered.” Approximately 200,000 Allied soldiers were involved in the fighting with 4000 losing their lives and 9000 being wounded under Monty’s command in the 12 day battle.

Monty aspired to have “The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character which inspires confidence”. Charismatic and single-minded, he was popular with the soldiers under his command as he went out of his way to meet and talk with them, but often not liked by his fellow senior offices due to his strong opinions, and particularly not with the American General George Patton. He became one of the most decorated soldiers of World War Two gaining the highest rank of Field Marshal, and was appointed as Chief of the Imperial General Staff after the war and then as Deputy Supreme Commander for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Invited by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand to visit each country, Monty was in New Zealand from the 16th to 31st of July 1947. Received with much fan-fare throughout the country, Christchurch was no exception. Arriving on the 22nd of July to reputedly one of the biggest crowds in the city’s history. People lined the streets for seven miles to catch a glimpse of Monty in his famous black beret, some had even made periscopes to get a better view. Travelling in an open air car allowed him to stand and wave as his cavalcade passed on its way to the King Edward Barracks for the official reception. Reportedly 10,000 citizens crammed themselves into the Barracks for the civic ceremony, many more remained on the surrounding streets.

Field Marshal Montgomery’s visit to Christchurch, July 1947, Albert James North, 1947. CCL-Arch978-1-040.
The “Monty Tour”, 1947 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch Pearce_family_photos_46. Photograph taken by Arthur Pearce while working for the Public Service Garage of one of his famous passengers Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

Visiting Coronation, Burwood and Christchurch Public Hospital’s, and attending a reception at the Returned Services’ Association were among the itinerary for rest of the day. He was presented with a Kaiapoi travelling rug and a carved walking stick as part of the R.S.A. Reception. He talked with returned service men and women, reminiscensing about countries and places visited during the war, including Captain Charles H. Upham, V. C. He also apologised for his incorrect dress, in that he was wearing a life membership N.Z.R.S.A. badge, even though he was still in active service, and that they had been comrades in war, they could now be comrades in peace.

In an interview with The Press, he said admiringly of the New Zealand soldier, “They have a very independent type of spirit…They will accept a loose framework of control, but you have to make it as loose as possible and you will get value by giving them full scope for their initiative.” The Press, Tuesday, July 22 1947.

Many photographers, both professional and amateur were out wanting to capture their permanent reminder of Monty. The National Film Unit was also there to capture some of his itinerary, and some of this footage can be seen in the following clip made available by Archives New Zealand through their Youtube channel:

Monty later wrote in his memoirs of the tour:

It would be difficult to find words to describe my feelings during my visit to these two Dominions, whose soldiers had fought under my command in the war. I was received everywhere with a depth of affection which seemed at all times to be genuine, warm and sincere. I knew that the warmth of the greeting was not meant for me personally but for that which I represented; it was an expression of appreciation of the bravery and devotion of duty to the men that I had commanded.
The Memoirs of Field-Marshal The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K.G., 1958, pg. 460.

With the passing of time and studies by various historians, Field Marshal Montgomery as a man and a commander within the British Army has come to be viewed with a certain level of contradiction and controversy. To learn more about Monty from varying perspectives including his own, his brother’s, his aide’s during WWII and historians, search our catalogue.

If you have any images you would like to contribute to a community repository of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

King Edward Barracks construction begins – This week in history 10-16 July

The Foundation stone for the King Edward Barracks was laid on the 13th of July 1905 by the Right Hon. R.J. Seddon, Premier and Defence Minister, though construction had already started.

King Edward Barracks, corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0067

The official ceremony narrowly missed being delayed as there had been an accident with the Foundation Stone: a special saw had been required for the inscription in the particularly hard stone, and the saw broke. The job then had to be completed by the masons by hand, dulling several more of their tools in the process.

King Edward Barracks Foundation Stone by Sepia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch P1180490

It amazingly only took 25 days to complete the building on the corner of Cashel and Montreal Streets. To accomplish this remarkable feat, workmen worked after dark by gaslight, and it was remarked upon on the day in the Star newspaper:

The apparent apathy with which the authorities long seemed to treat Christchurch’s need of a habitable drillshed has been followed by a display of building energy which easily surpasses anything ever seen in the city.

The contractors and architects were Luttrell Brothers of Christchurch. Utilising an innovative design, of which Alfred Luttrell claimed there were only two existing examples in England, it would cover a large space for little money. The drillshed was designed as a large arched building and to be fire proof, unlike its predecessor which burnt down in 1903.

Constructed of 21 iron girders that weighed 6 tons each and enabled the building to be 36.5m x 91m and 12m tall with no obstructive structural columns. A brick mobilisation store, gun store and officers rooms were also built on the site.

Building the King Edward Barracks, Christchurch, 1905, CCL PhotoCD 9, IMG0084

As well as being the site for military activities such as holding drills for soldiers, hearing court-martials, demonstrations for cadets, assembling military areoplanes and giving gas mask training, it was also used for civic occasions and to host all sorts of entertainment. These included a World’s Fair, flower shows, car shows, circuses, pet shows, poultry shows, and training sessions for the All Blacks. These types of events were often illustrated in the newspapers, and some can be accessed through Paperspast.


The riverside site was an important food gathering area for Māori and was associated with the New Zealand Army from 1864. The army left the site in 1993 and Ngai Tahu Property purchased the Barracks site and the buildings were removed in 1997. The site is currently under going post-earthquake commercial redevelopment.

48 Hereford Street, Christchurch by KeteCCL is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. KeteChristchurch kgP1060549.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

Canterbury Society of Arts formed in 1880 on the 8th of July

A group of community-minded men had an initial meeting in late June 1880 to discuss how to organise and promote art within Canterbury.

Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition [1906] CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0007
They felt that the rapidly growing centre of Christchurch needed some form of cultural organisation, and Auckland and Dunedin already had Art Societies.

A sub-committee of three was elected to draft up the proposed rules for a Canterbury Society of Arts. On the 8th of July a General meeting was held at the Christchurch Public Library and the Rules of the Canterbury Society of Arts were approved. The Society had the aim of “…spreading a love of artistic work through the community” and the first exhibition was organised and held in early 1881.

The Annual Exhibition opening nights soon became the highlight of the social calendar which included music and entertainment. You can view some of the early Canterbury Society of Arts catalogues that we have digitised.

Over the years the Society developed and built a permanent collection, held regular programmes and events, faced social and financial difficulties, courted controversy, expanded their mandate from just fine art to include arts and crafts and (eventually) accepted contemporary styles. They acquired permanent space and moved, and completely re-invented themselves.

1980 marked the 100th anniversary of the Canterbury Society of Arts which resulted in an exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery and a catalogue with a history of the society. The catalogue for the 100th anniversary exhibition of the Society in 1980 can be accessed online.

Cover of The radical, the reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 - 1996

For an in-depth and updated look at the development of the Canterbury Society of Arts, and its change into the Centre of Contemporary Art (COCA Gallery), see Warren Feeney’s 2011 book The Radical, The Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1880 – 1996.

Further information

Christchurch floods – This week in history, 3 to 9 July

The 4th of July marks the 40th anniversary of the Christchurch floods in 1977, when hundreds of people were evacuated from their houses. Three days of torrential rain affected the whole of Christchurch and much of Banks Peninsula with water rising up and threats of slips from above.

Particularly affected were those along the Heathcote river with water levels reaching windowsills in some houses in Opawa. Jet boats were used on flooded roads to check houses and help evacuate residents. Slips affected some properties in Lyttelton with part of a road slipping down and hill slips onto properties in Redcliffs.

Thornton Street, 1975 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch PH14-AlBu-Thornton-Street-1975
Thornton Street, 1975 by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch PH14-AlBu-Thornton-Street-1975

Being built on the flood plain of the Waimakariri River, Canterbury is no stranger to heavy flooding no matter the season. The first stopbanks were built in the 1860s but floods still regularly occurred. This week marks the anniversary of several of these events from the past. From 130 to 5 years ago, all have caused damage, fear and anger, but also given reason to help each other out.

Before QEII expressway work begain. Floods, winter 1986. by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch, PH14-010.
Before QEII expressway work begain. Floods, winter 1986. by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch, PH14-010.

1887 July 6. Heavy floods damaging roads and bridges. 3 young men drown in the Avon River as a result of a boating mishap.
1908 July 7. Widespread flooding in city and province causing the gasworks to shut down.
1977 July 4. Hundreds evacuated as serious flooding affects city.
1986 July 7. Heavy rain floods northern suburbs of city, badly affecting St Albans and surrounding areas as well as Spreydon.
2011 July 6. Flooding after the earthquake.

Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06 by Gina Hubert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06 by Gina Hubert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License. Kete Christchurch Flood 6 July 2011 Avon River NB 06

The Waimakariri River in high flood the stop banks have broken and inundated the countryside, the Main North Road is under water. [1926] CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0090
The Waimakariri River in high flood the stop banks have broken and inundated the countryside, the Main North Road is under water. [1926] CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0090
If you have any images of past floods, or any other events that you would like to contribute to a community repository to build on the shared memories of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

The new Canterbury College building opened 140 years ago – in 1877

Canterbury College was founded in 1873 and quickly gained 87 students. Despite the Canterbury College Board of Governors approving a Gothic Revival building design by Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort in 1874, delays occurred when it could not be decided where to build — land they owned on Worcester Street or adjacent to the Museum.

Professor A. W. Bickerton was appointed in 1875 as the Professor of Chemistry, and his imminent arrival forced the issue of at least having laboratory space. A temporary laboratory was designed by Mountfort and built of corrugated iron and wood in 1876 on the Worcester Street site.

This “temporary” solution continued to be used for 40 years, although it was never finished properly due to it being a temporary solution and several derogatory nicknames grew around it, including ‘the tin shed’ and ‘the realm of stinks’. A new, permanent Chemical Laboratory was officially opened in 1910 and ‘the tin shed’ was eventually demolished in 1916 to allow the new College Library to be built.

Canterbury University College Clocktower, n.d., MB 1448, reference no. 4770, Macmillan Brown Library, University of Canterbury

In 1876, Mounfort was again engaged for the first formal building design for which he adapted a smaller version of his original design due to more restricted funds. This included the clock tower, the porters’ and registrars’ offices, the professors’ studies, a lecture room and a board room and was constructed for the cost of £6,370.

The College block, or Clock tower block, was built in front of the laboratory on Worcester Street and both were officially opened on the 7th of June, 1877, by the Governor of New Zealand, the Marquis of Normanby. As part of the evening celebrations that followed, an electric light display was produced by Professor Bickerton. However, the college classes were not held in the new building until the beginning of 1878, and from this time students were required to wear academic dress.

Canterbury College, Christchurch, showing clock tower and Great Hall [ca. 1882] Burton Bros. CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0012
The Great Hall and clock tower, Canterbury College [ca. 1910], CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0066
The 77 students of 1877 grew to 97 in 1878, so it was immediately apparent that the stone building would not be large enough for the growing numbers of  students and variety of courses offered. The East wing extension, also designed by Mountfort, began in 1878 and completed in 1879 and provided five more rooms.

The Great Hall was designed by Mountfort and built between 1881-82, but again, due to budgeting requirements, to a scaled down version of his original design.

The Observatory at Canterbury College [ca. 1910], CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0097
Buildings continued to be added to the central city location as the student roll grew, until the University announced their decision to move to Ilam in 1949. Their roll had reached over 2500 the year before. Building began at the Ilam site in 1956 and the move occurred between 1957 and 1975. The Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust was formed to take over the buildings in 1978.

The Clock tower and other buildings were badly damaged in the 2011 earthquakes, but have recently re-opened after repairs.

Find out more: Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973

All about Ada – Ada Wells, the first female elected to Christchurch City Council

On 2 May 1917, Ada Wells was the first woman elected to the Christchurch City Council.

I stand for better housing, for municipal markets, for proper working conditions for all employees, for rest-rooms and play gardens for mothers and children, I shall work for municipal activities in the direction of the uplifting of the people. We should have municipal educational lectures, music, encouragement of drama. We should have women inspectors. It must not be permitted that young boys shall sell newspapers on our streets until late hours… Municipality means the place which gives us freedom and shelter.

Extracts from the election speeches of Ada Wells, Maoriland Worker, Volume 8, Issue 322, 25 April 1917 Papers Past

Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22728937
Photograph of Ada Wells from Woman Today magazine. Ref: 1/2-C-016534-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22728937

Reported on in the Maoriland Worker, 25 April 1917, the successful election of Ada Wells to the Christchurch City Council was “looked upon as certain” due to speeches like that above, her experience and her long standing commitment to improving the condition for women and children. She was 54 when she was campaigning to be elected to the Council for the St Albans Ward on a Labour ticket. Labour had only officially formed in 1916 in New Zealand, and they had the polarising campaign of being against compulsory military service during the First World War.

Her outspoken opinions made her a controversial figure to some, and a trailblazer to others. Ada was in favour of economic independence for married women, free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. Her involvement with the Peace movement (anti-militarism and anti-conscription) were causes she fought for throughout her life.

The convention called by the Canterbury Women's Institute which resulted in the formation of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand [1896], CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0086
The convention called by the Canterbury Women’s Institute which resulted in the formation of the National Council of the Women of New Zealand [1896], CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0086
Ada Wells had been instrumentally involved in the Women’s Rights campaigns with Kate Sheppard in the 1880s, and she knew that winning the vote for women in 1893 was only a step in gaining equality for women.

She became involved with many societies and organisations that aligned with her opinions. She established the Canterbury Women’s Institute with Professor Alexander Bickerton in 1892, and held the position of President for many years and was a founding member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1896, also serving as their first secretary for many years.

By 1900 there were cracks in the ranks of the National Council of Women due to some members —  including Ada — holding pacifist views. The National Council of Women supported New Zealand’s involvement in the South African War (1899-1902). The National Council of Women of New Zealand stopped operating in 1906, but the organisation was revived in 1918 partly due to what was perceived as the moral decline of the country’s youth.

Ada was also heavily involved with the Children’s Aid Society, Peace Society, and was on the Board of Governors of the Christchurch Technical Council as a representative of the Council.

National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22694035
National Council of Women, Christchurch, 1896. Seated on floor: Mrs C M Alley (Malvern), Mrs A Wells (Christchurch), Miss Bain (Christchurch). Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22694035

In 1899 she became the second woman elected to the Ashburton and North Canterbury Charitable Aid Board (a precursor of social welfare). She wasn’t shy about stating her opinion on the causes that she was passionate about. Ada often received antagonism from male members of the board when she stated how she thought the aid should be administered. She believed that children should be looked after in cottage homes, rather than boarded out in large orphanages. While on the Charitable Aid Board, she helped instigate an investigation into the treatment of the children at the Waltham Orphanage that the Board itself had responsibility for, even though “the progressive ideas of the lady members had not always been concurred in by the members of the Board”.

Running for Council was the logical next step in a tireless fight for women’s and children’s rights and actioning change at a higher level. Standing with Labour aligned with her anti-militarism ideals. The final outcome for the 1917 Christchurch City Council election was 9 Citizens’ Association nominees, 5 Labour nominees and 2 Independent nominees. Successfully being elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917 threw the majority of the council into a tail spin on two points, that there was now a female Councillor, and she was with Labour!

Many heated discussions were had in the Council Chamber meetings and the newspapers of the day reported on  Ada Wells speaking her mind. The discussions were varied and often reflected her anti-militarism ideals. There was talk on where war trophies that were presented to the city should be located. Ada stated it was a pity that the war spirit should be fostered at all, and she often often argued for peace rather than continuing the war. She visited the imprisoned conscientious objectors during her time as a councillor, once with her young granddaughter in tow who later recalled him as a nice man.

When the Council declined to support the Canterbury Society of Arts, she said that they might well consider themselves a huckstering, pettifogging people and pleaded in favour of the arts.

While she did stand again in the next election in 1919 her campaign was unsuccessful.

More about Ada

Born Ada Pike on 29 April 1863 in Oxfordshire, England, her family immigrated to Christchurch in 1873. She attended Avonside School and then Canterbury College in 1881 after being awarded the university junior scholarship. She then worked as an assistant teacher at the Christchurch Girls High School.

Ada was 20 when she married the Cathedral Organist Harry Wells (11 years her senior) on 7 January 1884. In 1885 the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter Christabel, and completed their family in quick succession by 1889 with the addition of 2 more daughters (Alma and Alice) and a son (John Stanley). The marriage was not a happy one and Ada often provided the only source of income for the family through teaching, or working as a healer through massage therapy which she learnt from her mother Maria Pike.

She juggled raising and supporting her family while working for the equality of women and this demonstrated her admirably strong character. When she was campaigning to become a councillor, she was already a grandmother of five.

Ada Wells
Ada Wells

Harry Wells died in 1918. Ada Wells died in Christchurch on 22 March 1933. In her obituary it was said of her that:

A cause might be despised, obscure, rejected, she not only helped it all the same, she helped it all the more, and in the dark and stormy days of unfounded truth she was always to the front.
Press, Volume LXIX, Issue 20812, 23 March 1933, Papers Past

In 1933 the Ada Wells Memorial prize was established for undergraduates, or graduates of up to three years, and awarded for an essay on the exposition of some subject chosen from literature having reference to social ideals. This prize is still awarded annually.

coverFor a lively fictionalised account of Ada Wells, her eccentric unmarried daughter Bim, and Kate Sheppard I can certainly recommend Farewell Speech by Rachel McAlpine, who is a great-granddaughter of Ada Wells. Based on family stories and talking to those who knew the women, three very strong, different personalities come clearly through.

Further information

Women In The Council Chamber: Ada Wells
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 – 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.