Tai Tapu Public Library

Old Tai Tapu Road, Tai Tapu

  • Tai Tapu Public Library. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/01/2013.
  • Tai Tapu Public Library. Rear. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 10/01/2013.
  • Tai Tapu Library. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Julien Diot . Taken By: Julien Diot – juliendiotworldtour. Date: 25/02/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4394 Date Entered 16th November 1989


City/District Council

Selwyn District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 10165 Blk VI Halswell SD


The little stone library at Taitapu, situated in parklike grounds, has been described as an 'architectural gem'. It was designed by architect Cecil Wood (1878-1947), who also designed the adjacent St Paul's Anglican Church. A library was first established at Taitapu in the early 1880s when a wooden building was erected on land donated by Robert Rhodes. Rhodes and his brother had subdivided some of their Ahuriri run in 1875 to form the township of Taitapu but it was Rhodes' son Heaton (1861-1956) who became closely associated with the town. He provided the town with a domain, new church (St Paul's), and war memorial. Described as the 'squire of Taitapu', Sir R. Heaton Rhodes also donated the land for the new library, while the funding for the building came from the sale of bulbs by Rhodes' head gardener, Alfred Ernest Lowe (1851-1924).

Lowe had trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew before immigrating to New Zealand and specialised in the cultivation and hybridisation of narcissi. Rhodes supported him in this interest. Rhodes and his wife, Jessie, helped Lowe with hand-pollination during the 1890s and by the 1920s they had established New Zealand's pre-eminent daffodil collection. During the early 1920s Lowe and Rhodes decided to put aside the money raised from the sale of narcissi bulbs and prize money won at flower shows to fund the construction of a new library for Taitapu. By the time Lowe died in 1924 the fund stood at just over £1,000. At the opening of the library in 1932, the Governor-General Lord Bledisloe commented: 'I have never before heard of flowers being converted by realisation, into a home for the flowers of literature - it is a most ingenious and delightful idea'. Bledisloe's visit to Taitapu to open the library was the first visit by a governor-general to the town and he and his wife donated two parcels of books to the library.

The architect of the library, Wood, had been influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement occurring in England during his time there. Both the library and neighbouring St Paul's, which was also opened in 1932, reflect this influence through their scale, their association with the surrounding landscape and their use of local materials. Both buildings utilise the distinctive reddish stone quarried from Otahuna, and had tiled roofs. So successful was Wood in conveying the feeling of vernacular England architecture that Bledisloe said at the opening that it was difficult for him to realise that he was not at home in Gloucestershire.

The library is a simple rectangular single-storey building, with a gabled entrance porch located in the centre of the front facade. A wooden ventilator is located on the roof directly above the porch. Under the gable is a stone plaque with the name of the library, the date of its opening and two groups of daffodils carved on it. It is possible that this was carved by the noted local carver Frederick Gurnsey, who often worked with Wood and had just been engaged in the carvings for St Paul's Church.

The building was lit by leadlight casement windows. At the time the library opened it consisted of one main room and two smaller rooms. These are panelled in rimu, the same timber from which the furniture was made. Both water and electricity were laid on and fireplaces installed at either end of the main room. The stone wall surrounding the library was built at the same time and from the same Otahuna stone.

Today the Taitapu Library continues to function as a small library. It is closely associated with Sir Heaton Rhodes, politician, landowner and philanthropist, and also with his head gardener, Alfred Lowe. The use of the Otahuna daffodils to raise funds for the library is an acknowledged part of the estate's history, with funds raised from the flowers and 'Daffodil Days' also being donated to various good causes around the region. The building itself is a fine example of Wood's Arts and Crafts-influenced architecture and, alongside St Paul's, shows how effectively he could design both secular and sacred buildings in the same materials but to quite different ends. His little red library, set in verdant surroundings, remains a distinctive part of Taitapu's townscape.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Tai Tapu Library and the adjacent St Paul's Church are visible reminders of the largesse of Sir Heaton Rhodes. Tai Tapu had a long association with the Rhodes family, one of the most notable of the South Island run holding families.


Cecil Wood's sensitive handling of local stone and his attention to detail have long been appreciated, and the library and nearby Anglican church at Tai Tapu are considered to be among the finest of Cecil Wood's works. The church and library reveal Wood's thorough understanding of the Arts and Crafts style and the way in which this understanding enabled him to design secular and sacred buildings which complement each other. Together with St Paul's Church (1930-1), which stands on the adjacent property, the library is an important architectural asset to the township.


The library is a small building which sits comfortably within the rural environment of Tai Tapu. The building's domestic scale and attractive garden setting make it an appealing work in its own right but seen in conjunction with St Paul's it makes an even more significant contribution to the architectural character of the township.


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.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Tai Tapu's first library was a wooden structure erected about 1880 on land donated by Robert Rhodes, Sir Heaton Rhodes' father. Rhodes junior settled in the district in 1895, taking up

residence on the Otahuna estate in a house designed for him by Frederick Strouts, the architect with whom Wood served his articles. At the same time as the house was completed A.E. Lowe became Otahuna's head gardener and he developed one of the most outstanding gardens in the province before his death in the mid 1920s. Lowe had trained at Kew Gardens in London, and was an expert at the hybridisation of narcissi, so the estate gardens became known for their brilliant displays of daffodils in the spring. In the early 1920s Rhodes and Lowe decided that the money raised from the sale of Otahuna's daffodils should be used to build a new library in Tai Tapu, and at the time of his death Lowe had raised £1400 in this way. Rhodes donated the land on which the building was to stand and on December 19 1931 he laid the foundation stone for it; Webb's tender of £1478 having been accepted a month earlier. On August 12 1932 the new library was opened by Lord Bledisloe, Governor-General; the first time a vice regal visit had been made to the town.

Sir Heaton Rhodes was a second-generation member of the Rhodes family, a prominent early settler family in New Zealand. Robert Rhodes and his brothers were particularly important in the early development of the provinces of Canterbury and South Canterbury through their extensive run holdings. Sir Heaton Rhodes was the Member of Parliament for Ellesmere district between 1899 and 1925.

Physical Description

Cecil Walter WOOD (1878-1947) Architect

N.T. WEBB, Contractor



The library is a small rectangular building, symmetrical about a gabled entrance porch which provides access to the library and two ancillary rooms. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style the building is constructed from local stone which is randomly laid. At each corner of the building the stonework breaks through the line of the gabled roof with the visual effect of anchoring the building to the ground on which it stands. Stone chimney stacks, one at each end of the building, also enliven the roof surface, complemented by a wooden ventilator set directly above the porch. Large leadlight casement windows light the internal spaces, with the bookshelves in the main room arranged to accommodate the fenestration. The entrance porch is also well lit, and above its outer door a stone plaque bearing the name and date of the building also bears a carving depicting daffodils, a visible reminder of the building's link with Sir Heaton Rhode's estate, Otahuna, which was renowned for its daffodils. The stone wall in front of the library is contemporary with it and is also constructed from local stone.



Notable Features

The wall surrounding the library was built at the same time and from the same stone.

Wood's exemplary use of local stone, and outstanding design are the library's most outstanding features. The stone plaque above the door, presumably carved by F.G. Gurnsey who frequently collaborated with Wood, is also noteworthy for the way in which it reminds the viewer of the unusual circumstance of the building's erection and is an example of high quality craftsmanship so much a part of Arts and Crafts architecture.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1931 - 1932
Foundation stone laid 19 December 1931. Formally opened 12 August 1932

Tiles on western side of roof replaced by Marseille tiles at some stage

Construction Details

Local rubble stone quarried from the Otahuna estate; tiled roof, leadlight casement windows and interior panelling of rimu.

Completion Date

14th August 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Christchurch Press

13 August 1932, p.16e

Ogilvie, 1991

Gordon Ogilvie, The Port Hills of Christchurch, Auckland, 1991

Rice, 2001

Geoffrey Rice, Heaton Rhodes of Otahuna: the Illustrated Biography, Christchurch, 2001

Stacpoole, 1972

John Stacpoole and Peter Beaven, 'Architecture 1820-1970', Wellington, 1972

Star Midweek

Star Midweek

June 25 1988, p6

Strongman, 1984

Thelma Strongman, The Gardens of Canterbury: A History, Wellington, 1984


The Press

December 21 1931, p15

August 13 1932, p16

Cattell, 1985

J. Cattell, Historic Buildings of Canterbury and South Canterbury - A Register of Classified Buildings, Publishing Division of Government Printing Office, Wellington, 1985

pp 20, 23-4, 36, 47

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.