Canterbury College

Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973. An illustrated history based on the Armson Collins Architectural Drawings Collection

The Classics Building


An interior view of the north quadrangle showing (from right to left) the Hall, Classics and the West Block. The cloisters and balcony were added in 1917.

In the foundation period of Canterbury College the Classics were central to the institution’s academic development. Prior to 1917 the language of Latin, and later Greek, had been compulsory subjects for students who wished to matriculate with a Bachelor of Arts. The teaching requirements would have kept foundation Chair of Classics John Macmillan Brown, and his successor Francis Haslam, extremely busy.

Plans were made for a Classics Building early in the history of the College and foundations were laid in 1881 as the Great Hall was being constructed. Yet again, the tyranny of budgets ensured that the Classics Building was not complete until 1888. It would have been an interesting year for local contractors, as the 1888 earthquake damaged buildings in Christchurch and caused the Cathedral spire to topple. Designed by Benjamin Mountfort at a cost of just £1,477, the Classics Building looks out onto what is now Rolleston Avenue and proclaims its purpose to the world with the Latin inscription over the entrance which reads ‘Salvete intrantes’ or ‘Greetings to those who enter’. The Greek inscription (from Pindar’s 12th Pythian Ode) over fireplace in main Classics lecture room sets a slightly more serious tone, for it translates to ‘If there is any prosperity among men, it does not show itself without toil.’

The Classics Building remained reasonably intact until extensions were undertaken in 1917, adding the West Block to the Rolleston Avenue frontage, which connected Classics to the School of Art. Under the influence of Samuel Hurst Seager’s plan, the West Block enabled the creation of a traditional quadrangle layout in the College grounds. Designed by Collins and Harman for £5,807, the West Block features three impressive bays of arched windows which enclosed a curved staircase. The West Block became home to a large lecture hall, known as Room 15 which had a steeply tiered floor. It is rumoured that during one of James Hight’s lectures on history in the 1920s a student sent a swede bumping down the tiers.  Unfazed, Hight declared “I suspect that someone in the back row has just lost his head.”

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