Christ's College Jacobs House

33 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch

  • Christ's College Jacobs House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Original image submitted at time of registration. January 1985.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: Pam Wilson.
  • Original image submitted at time of registration. Taken from the river front January 1985.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: Pam Wilson.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3279 Date Entered 26th November 1981


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Res 25 (CT CB436/70), Canterbury Land District


Christ’s College Jacobs House, constructed in 1930 as a boarding house to the design of noted inter-war architect Cecil Wood, makes an important contribution to the historic collegiate grouping, harmonising with the older buildings to create an atmosphere of scholasticism and tradition at the college. Named after the Reverend Henry Jacobs, the college’s first Headmaster (1850-1863) and later Dean of Christchurch, the building has historical, social, architectural and aesthetic significance.

An integral component of the Canterbury Association settlement, Christ’s College is the oldest school in Christchurch, and was modelled on the public schools of England. Founded in 1850, it relocated from Lyttelton to Christchurch in 1852 and was established on its present Rolleston Avenue site in 1856. Buildings at the site include student and staff accommodation, with the house system being a key component. By the late 1920s boarding accommodation was past capacity and the college accepted architect Cecil Wood’s design for a model permanent boarding house’. The result was Christ’s College Jacobs House, built as a replacement for the west end of the Headmaster’s House and Somes Building, an 1868 timber building demolished in 1929 to make way for the new building. The foundation stone was laid on 16 January 1930 by Governor-General Sir Charles Fergusson. Its design included ‘common rooms, library, studies, four dormitories, maids accommodation, tutors rooms, matron’s room etc’ among its 40 rooms.

Situated on the north side of the college quadrangle, Christ’s College Jacobs House is a three storeyed building, essentially L-shaped in plan, amalgamating Collegiate Gothic and Georgian Revival styles. Its architect, Cecil Wood, was architect for the Christ’s College Hare Memorial Library (1915) and Christ’s College Dining Hall (1925) and he planned the building to harmonise in materials, style and proportions with the existing buildings which form the historic school complex. Like the adjacent Christ’s College School House (1909), Christ’s College Jacobs House presents to the quadrangle a dark stone façade relieved by lighter stone dressings. The stone is mainly Hoon Hay grey stone, with Redcliffs red stone in the battlements, and Oamaru white stone is used for the entrance way, window surrounds and string course. The latter contains small stone faces carved by well-known Canterbury stonemason, Frederick G Gurnsey. The roof is slate. A more domestic appearance is given by the use of brick for the neo-Georgian river façade, where the house master’s residence is located. Much of the interior has rimu panelling and the library has a fireplace of pink Anama stone from Mount Somers, which commemorates Guy Spencer Bryan-Brown, College Chaplain, who was killed during the First World War.

In the early days, Christ’s College Jacobs House housed around 50 boys, though in the late 1970s it had 75. In 2003 the building was strengthened using reinforced concrete shear walls, plywood structural floor diaphragms and steel ties to the exterior. A steel-framed concrete block addition at the rear of the building was constructed in 2003. These days Jacobs House is one of the ‘day boy’ houses for non-boarders.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wood, Cecil Walter

Born in Christchurch, Wood (1878-1947) was articled to the local architect Frederick Strouts between 1894 and 1899. He worked for a short time as a draughtsman with the firm Clarkson and Ballantyne before travelling to England in 1901. Here Wood was exposed to a high quality of architectural design in the Edwardian Free Style, and was employed by two leading Edwardian architects Robert Weir Shultz and Leonard Stokes.

In 1907 Wood returned to New Zealand to take up partnership with Samuel Hurst Seager. The partnership lasted for only one year for Wood set up his own practice in 1908. The years 1908-1915 were dominated by domestic commissions, but it was also during this time that he began his association with Christ's College, which included such commissions as Hare Memorial Library (1915), the Memorial Dining Hall (1923-5), Jacob's House (1931) and Open Air Classrooms (1932). During the 1920s Wood's practice began to expand and a Georgian influence can be seen in such works as Weston House Park Terrace (1923-4) and Bishopscourt (1926-7).

A short lived partnership in 1927 with R S D Harman allowed Wood to travel to the United States while another in 1937 with Paul Pascoe allowed him to travel to England, Europe and the United States without neglecting his practice. During this second trip he made preparations for the design of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Wellington, which was erected after his death.

During his life Wood had made a substantial contribution to the architecture of Christchurch, having an enthusiasm for both European and American styles.

P. Graham and Son

P. Graham and Son of Christchurch.

Gurnsey, Frederick George

Frederick George Gurnsey (1868 - 1953) was born in Wales. He was apprenticed to Harry Hems and Company, a leading ecclesiastical carving firm in Exeter, and worked for them once his apprenticeship was complete. Gurnsey visited New Zealand in 1904-1905 and returned in 1907 when he was appointed as an instructor at the Canterbury College School of Art in Christchurch. At the School of Art he taught carving, modelling, casting, enamelling and metalwork, and was the acting director of the school from September 1917 to April 1920. He resigned in 1923 to become a full-time carver.

Gurnsey executed thousands of carvings, in both wood and stone, for churches, civic buildings, public monuments and various private commissions. Some of his more prominent carvings include the reredos in the Christchurch cathedral, his work in the Chapel of St Michael and St George, the carvings on the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch (1924), those on the Massey Memorial in Wellington (1930), and those in the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo.(1935). During the Depression Gurnsey diversified into making domestic furniture. He has been described as 'one of the greatest European carvers ever to have worked in New Zealand', although due to his personal modesty and the way in which carving falls somewhere between fine arts and craft, his achievements have, until recently, largely been unrecognised. Confident with carving in both wood and stone, Gurnsey was responsible for many beautiful works, particularly in the South Island.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1930 - 1931
Construction of Christ’s College Jacobs House

Completion Date

10th March 2017

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Hamilton, 1991 (2)

D Hamilton, Wells, R. The Buildings of Christ's College 1850-1990 Christchurch, 1991.

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Southern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.