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Getting Around

20 November 2023

In 1876 free rail passes were granted to Canterbury College students in the Province, so that country teachers could come into town to attend lectures on the weekends. Once in town, students are most likely to have walked to the campus on Worcester Street. For those living in town, early public transport included trams, but many students who studied at the town site would have cycled, which meant bicycle racks were necessary. To some administrators, this also meant an appropriate division of the sexes. Men and women were provided with separate bicycle racks up until at least the 1940s. Furthermore they were also provided with separate entries into the College grounds. The western gate of the College off Rolleston Avenue was known as ‘The Women’s Entrance’, while the men’s cycles were stored behind Engineering and their entrance was supposedly between the Biology and Chemistry buildings.

An example of steel cycle racks from the Gibbons and Co Catalogue, c.1930, which can be found in the Armson Collins archives.

Having that many bicycles on campus meant that careful planning was required, and the Armson Collins collection shows that time and effort was put into designing storage. Bicycles on campus also created opportunities for pranks. In 1955 the Student Union was presented with a bill for £10 after the College had to get the fire brigade to come and remove a bicycle that had appeared on the spire of the Engineering School as a graduation capping gag. A sign next to the bicycle apparently read ‘No bicycles allowed past this point.’

The age of the bicycle was gradually superseded by the car, at which point the College had to begin providing some car parking space, in an environment that was not completely suited for this function. The Geography Department for example had its own Leyland mini bus by the 1960s, which seated 20. Christened ‘The Elephant’, it was used to take students out on field trips and parked in the car park next to the Registry building. In the 1970s staff member Dave Harrowfield recalled accidentally backing the Elephant into Vice Chancellor Neville Phillips’ car. 

Rather than confess, he quickly ran to Geography to find his head of Department, and they inspected the damage from a safe distance through binoculars, venturing out only once the coast was clear.

n 1900 the budding College had just nine buildings spread about on several acres on the Worcester Street site. There wasn’t much chance that students would get lost, but this also meant that students were highly visible as they moved around the new campus. M.C. Keane recalled of his time as an undergraduate pre 1900 that “We went – at least I went – to dear old Cook at nine a.m. At 10am one walked – quite a long walk – to the Stud Room (Students’ Association Rooms), and it was not an unadventurous walk either. For if you went smoking the morning pipe, or if you crossed the grass, it was even money that a certain Professor would suddenly appear and get you fined two and six.”

Bicycles leaning against the walls in the Cloisters outside the Classics building. Margaret Wigley, at centre, was a student at the College in the early 1940s.

As the College expanded further however, the piecemeal development of the campus buildings did begin to present some challenges to the uninitiated. Students of the 1930s complained that they didn’t go into the School of Engineering because if they did they would get lost in the ‘rabbit warren’. Even engineering students thought it was hard to find their way around. “The Engineering school may be dim and mysterious to other students, but we are afraid we cannot give them the freedom of our corridors, as they would get lost. We do ourselves, chiefly the morning after!”

Cars were often parked on the grass about the College site, as there was little room for provision of car parks. Such was the problem that in 1952 parking was forbidden at College during term time.

Moving between buildings would eventually have become second nature, but moving within buildings required constant vigilance. Alterations and additions to buildings over time created some obstacles to free movement. Law student Audrey Gale recalled “One evening … I was in a fever to get back to Connon Hall to change as there was a University dance to which I was bidden. The stairs were narrow and quite steep. Mr Gresson was winding his way slowly and deliberately, burdened by an armful of books and his flowing gown. At all events he was not moving fast enough for me and I trod on his gown, thus tripping him up so that he landed on his nose on the top step.”

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