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Communication and Technology

20 November 2023

When Canterbury College was first founded, the idea of a telephone in each department would not have been conceivable. This meant that telecommunications were retrofitted to many of the College’s buildings, and lack of telephones played a part in life on campus.

Up until the 1920s for example, there was only one phone in the Chemistry Laboratory, which was located in the Professor’s office. Staff therefore only used the phone for dire emergencies. Former staff member H.N. Parton recalled being called out of a lecture by Professor Denham to take an urgent phone call, expecting the very worst, only to find that it was just his father calling to say that England had won a decisive cricket match.

A plan of Canterbury College showing the underground telephone cabling system, c.1945.

The Geography Department had a similar experience when it moved into a temporary structure located on the old basketball court in 1947. The single telephone was installed in the Head of School’s office. Up until 1959 calls for all staff were taken by the Professor, who would come and fetch staff to the phone. Professor Jobberns also had the task of walking to the Registrars’ office to deliver and collect correspondence from the typing pool, as the School did not at first have its own typist.

The College Clock Tower seen from Worcester Boulevard.

There were other methods of communication available. Calling staff and students to lectures on time was the responsibility of the College Clock. The clock was installed in Clock Tower in 1878. The timepiece included a 214 kg weight, and was tuned to chime the note of E flat to call students to lectures. Architect Thomas Cane would have approved. When designing the Girls’ High School, Cane had proposed a spirelet for the school bell. Cane hoped that it would be "a bell somewhat better than the more tinkling things that distract our ears in Christchurch." Unfortunately it appears the spirelet was never constructed.

At times, College facilities provided the opportunity for mischievousness.  In 1942, 17 Rolleston House students were each fined £1 each for their part in penning a mob of sheep in the College Quadrangle overnight.  The fine was a significant amount, given that in the same year University Bursaries were only £20 per annum. The students had also tinkered with the College Clock, so that while they were cleaning the quad the following day, they were treated to the clock ringing 26 times.

The 1952 Prospectus for the School of Engineering proudly displays the latest laboratory equipment available to staff and students.

At the College it was the School of Engineering that most often required large and complex pieces of equipment, but other departments invested in technology too. In 1925 the College introduced a new Bachelor of Music course and purchased a gramophone and recordings to support teaching. This was then upgraded to an electric gramophone in 1935. By 1957 the Music Department had moved into rented house in Cashel Street and took stock of their technology – they had 2 new pianos, 2 electric gramophones and 1 tape recorder.

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