St Paul's Schoolroom (Former)

4-14 Turnbull Street, Thorndon School, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Old St Pauls Schoolroom (Former), Wellington.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Joanna Barnes-Wylie. Date: 19/02/2021.
  • Old St Pauls Schoolroom (Former), Wellington (aka Thorndon School Hall). CC BY-SA 3.0 Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Tony Wills - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Tony Wills. Date: 25/11/2012.
  • Old St Pauls Schoolroom (Former), Wellington. Interior, looking towards northern elevation. Note the larger central truss which marks where the two sections of the building were joined back together following relocation.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Joanna Barnes-Wylie. Date: 19/02/2021.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4423 Date Entered 28th June 1990 Date of Effect 13th October 2021 Date of Last Review 23rd September 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 A 2947, Lot 11 DEEDS 27 and Pt Lot 13 DEEDS 27 (RT 972089; NZ Gazette 2017, In1397), Wellington Land District and the building known as St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 1 A 2947, Lot 11 DEEDS 27 and Pt Lot 13 DEEDS 27 (RT 972089; NZ Gazette 2017, In1397), Wellington Land District.

Location description

Additional Location Information

NZTM E 1749051, N 5429274 (approximate centre of building).

Relocated to Thorndon School, 4-14 Turnbull Street, Wellington. Can be viewed from Turnbull Street, Thorndon. Is not visible from Hobson Crescent, Thorndon (the front entrance to Thorndon School).


St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) is located within the inner-city suburb of Thorndon, an area of considerable Māori heritage value as the site of intensive Māori settlement prior to the arrival of Pākehā settlers. The schoolroom was originally constructed in 1897 on Sydney Street and was relocated to Thorndon School in 1999 to ensure its ongoing preservation as a significant heritage building within the Thorndon community. Generations of people have had a connection with the building as an Anglican day and Sunday school, Soldiers’ Club, temporary influenza hospital and as a community and school hall. It has architectural value as a representative example of a late nineteenth century response to Gothic Revival architecture and technical value on account of its execution in high quality native timbers, showcasing excellence in carpentry.

Māori descending from the Kurahaupō waka had been living in Te Whanganui a Tara for centuries prior to the arrival of Ngāti Ira and the later migration south of Taranaki iwi in the early nineteenth century. During the 1824 Nihoputa migration, Ngāti Mūtunga and Ngāti Tama included the harbour in their settlement and occupied Pipitea Pā at the southern end of Haukawakawa. Pipitea Pā was a kāinga with numerous whare and was surrounded by extensive cultivations – the area was extremely busy and heavily populated. From 1835 it was occupied by Te Āti Awa who were in residence there when New Zealand Company representatives arrived in 1839. Subsequent arrival of Pākehā settlers irrevocably changed the Māori association with and settlement of Haukawakawa which became the centre of Pākehā government and was renamed Thorndon.

The Anglican Church also established itself in Thorndon and in 1852 it built St Paul’s School on Sydney Street East to provide religious education to the children of Wellington’s early Pākehā settlers. The school building was constructed on part of Town Section 514 (Native Reserve), which had been allocated to the school by Governor Sir George Grey. In 1873 the school was taken over by the newly formed Wellington Education Board and it moved to its current Turnbull Street site in 1880. The Sydney Street schoolroom continued as a day school, Sunday school and community meeting place until it was destroyed by fire in 1895. In late 1897 a new schoolroom was designed by Sydney John Swan (1874-1936). The building was officially opened by the Bishop of Wellington, Bishop Wallis, on 23 December 1897.

The rusticated weatherboard schoolroom had a simple ecclesiastical design, derived from Gothic Revival, and featured a central gable flanked by two smaller gables, resulting in an interesting front façade facing Sydney Street. Architectural detailing such as decorative gable truss work and finials further enhanced the interest of the front façade. Internally the schoolroom had a central hall with striking timber stepped-vault ceiling, surrounded by five smaller classrooms.

The new schoolroom was also used as a day school, Sunday school and venue for community meetings and social events and in 1899 a gymnasium and club rooms were added to the rear. The Sydney Street Soldiers’ Club was based in the building from 1914 until November 1918 when the schoolroom was urgently converted into a temporary hospital ‘(Sydney Street Hospital’) during the influenza pandemic. The government acquired the site for public works purposes in 1943 but the former schoolroom was still used by St Paul’s Parish and other groups. The site remained in Crown ownership until 1997 when it was purchased by a private developer who subsequently gifted and relocated the building to Thorndon School /Te Kura o Pipitea. The school renovated the schoolroom for use as a school hall and it remains a key building within the school campus today, and a valued asset to the Thorndon community.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) has historic significance through its association with the nineteenth century development of the Anglican Church in Thorndon, Wellington, and in particular the provision of religious education for children. Its history also reflects the development of soldier’s clubs during the First World War and New Zealand’s rapid response to the devastating influenza pandemic which reached our shores in November 1918. Since its relocation in 1999, St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) has regained a connection with its historic identity and original purpose as an educational space, through its integration into Thorndon School.

Architectural Significance or Value

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) has architectural value as a fine example of a late nineteenth century response to Gothic Revival architecture. Gothic Revival style was commonly used for ecclesiastical and educational buildings of the period and St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) has many characteristic Gothic Revival features, including its construction in, and celebration of, native timber, especially in the stepped-vault ceiling. The building’s exterior form is simple and symmetrical, but also notable for its decorative north façade. Despite being relocated and reduced in size in 1999, it remains a testament to the original craftsmanship, having retained much of its original fabric and integrity. The building’s liberal use of timber and corrugated iron also contributes to the commonality of these materials within Thorndon’s wider streetscape aesthetic, and the building vernacular of late nineteenth century Wellington.

Social Significance or Value

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) is a place that has brought the local Thorndon community together since its construction in late 1897. Its history demonstrates the many and varied ways in which the community has used the building, from a day and Sunday school to a Soldiers’ Club, temporary influenza hospital , venue for lectures, meetings, entertainment and sporting competitions, and school hall. The community demonstrated their value for the building when it came under threat of demolition in the 1980s and again in the late 1990s. The Thorndon Society was central to the negotiations which saw the building avoid demolition to be relocated to Thorndon School in 1999, thereby ensuring it could remain a place of social value to the local community.

This place was assessed against the Section 66(3) criteria and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, d, e, g and k. The assessment concludes that this place should remain entered on the List as a Category 2 historic place.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) is historically significant for its direct connection with the appropriation of Māori land following the 1839 Port Nicholson purchase and subsequent Pākehā colonisation of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. It particularly reflects the Crown’s complacent attitude towards tenths reserves, acquiring them for projects with little or no connection to Māori nor full consultation with Māori, and the long-lasting effects of this for Māori.

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) also demonstrates the significant role the Anglican Church played in the development of religious education in New Zealand. Sunday schools were to become a nationwide institution committed to fostering sound religious instruction for children. The building also reflects the establishment of soldiers’ clubs around New Zealand during the First World War. Clubs like the Sydney Street Soldier’s Club provided a space for soldiers to find companionship and entertainment as they awaited departure overseas, were on leave, or had returned home. The Sydney street club was the initiative of local Thorndon women and reflects the role women forged for themselves on the home front during the First World War.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) is associated with the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic which had a considerable impact on New Zealanders’ lives. Its urgent conversion into a temporary influenza hospital when the Spanish flu arrived in New Zealand in November 1918 reflects the efforts and additional facilities that were required to treat patients and combat the virus. The schoolroom is also associated with notable Wellington architect Sydney John Swan (1874-1936) and is one of his early examples of Gothic Revival architecture.

(d) The importance of the place to tangata whenua

St Paul’s Schoolroom is located within an area of high cultural significance to tangata whenua Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, being the site of dynamic and intensive Māori activity and settlement prior to Pākehā arrival, focused around the thriving kāinga of Pipitea Pā.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) has been associated with the local Thorndon community since its original construction on Sydney Street in 1897 and the community value of the building was demonstrated the late 1990s when a solution was found to save the building from demolition by relocating it to nearby Thorndon School. The building’s subsequent restoration and earthquake strengthening additionally reflect the value of the building to the Thorndon School community in particular. Many people in Thorndon maintain a connection with the building through its use as Thorndon School’s hall, and as a polling booth and occasional event venue.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

St Paul’s Schoolroom reflects significant technical accomplishment in its execution –the use of quality native timbers combined with excellence in carpentry have produced a building regarded as a quality example of late nineteenth century timber technology. The building’s high level of authenticity means that this technical accomplishment is still easily read. The schoolroom also reflects excellence in design, baring many of the key characteristics of Gothic Revival architecture.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) is located within the suburb of Thorndon which is characterised by vernacular Victorian timber buildings. The schoolroom is an important contributor to the historical character of Thorndon. Despite relocation, the building’s proximity to Old St Paul’s and Bishop’s Court has been retained and together these are the earliest extant buildings associated with the Anglican Church’s activities in the suburb.

Summary of Review

The review concludes that this place retains sufficient heritage significance to remain entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (‘the List’) as a Category 2 historic place. It has architectural and historical value and is a place held in esteem by the Thorndon community. It is also a place of significance to Māori. This place should be confirmed on the List at its current Thorndon School location, with the name of ‘St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former)’.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Swan, John Sydney

Swan (1874-1936) practised architecture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He formed part of the last group of architects to follow the traditional Gothic and Classical styles. He was articled to Frederick de Jersey Clere, working with Clere on many major designs such as the Wellington Rowing Club building (then known as the Naval Artillery Boat Shed, 1894) as well as smaller provincial buildings such as the Church of the Good Shepherd, Tinui. The firm was known as Clere, Fitzgerald and Richmond and was one of the most prominent architectural practices in Wellington. From 1901 to 1906 Swan was in partnership with Clere, practising on his own account from 1907. The first major design produced by Swan in this new practice was the Karori Crematorium (1907) which served to establish his architectural identity separate from Clere.

During his long and varied career Swan produced a large and wide range of work, including a number of banks for the National Bank such as the head office building in Wellington (1907), educational buildings for the Wellington Technical College with William Gray Young (1922), and a number of major buildings for the Catholic Church including St Gerard's Church, Mt Victoria (1910), Sacred Heart Convent (later Erskine College), Island Bay (1909), and Wanganui Convent (1912). He was an architect of imagination as evidenced by the design of his own house 'The Moorings', Glenbervie Terrace (1905).

Clark and Thompson

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Trademark Construction

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Māori Settlement of Te Upoko o te Ika a Māui and the Establishment of Pipitea Pā

The Māori history and settlement of Te Upoko o te Ika a Māui reflects many changes and waves of migration over hundreds of years. The famed Polynesian explorer Kupe visited the area and ‘left a heritage of names which are still in use today’. Descendents of the rangatira Tara (son of Whātonga of the Kurahaupo waka) later settled in Wellington and the harbour was named after him. Around the seventeenth century the Ngāi Tara people were joined by Ngāti Ira who had migrated south from the Hawke’s Bay. Other iwi also occupied parts of the region including Rāngitane, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu. Taranaki iwi migrated south to the region in the early nineteenth century with Ngāti Mūtunga and Ngāti Tama including Te Whanganui-a-Tara in their settlement. They occupied Pipitea Pā at the southern end of Haukawakawa.

Pipitea Pā was one of the larger pā located around Te Whanganui-a-Tara and it was a thriving community, well-resourced due to the nearby harbour and foreshore, waterways such as Pipitea Stream (referred to as the ‘lifeblood of the pā’) and surrounding fertile lands. Kaimoana was abundant, as were birds (both seabirds and forest birds) and other resources such as pūhā which grew along the streams. Extensive gardens also spread across the area later developed into Parliament and the Botanical Gardens.

The pā was named for the visible pipi beds located below the pā (subsequently destroyed by the 1848 and 1855 earthquakes). When Ngāti Mūtunga migrated again to Chatham Islands/ Wharekauri/ Rekohu in 1835, they renounced their rights to the land by pānui (notice) to their Te Āti Awa kin and Te Matehou (Ngāti Hāmua) then occupied the pā. Three small kāinga were located nearby: Pakuao, Tiakiwai and Raurimu. Pakuao was located near the intersection of Thorndon Quay and Tinakori Road; Tiakiwai was further south along Thorndon Quay (near to what is now 191 Thorndon Quay) and Raurimu was situated close to the corner of Hobson Street and Fitzherbert Terrace. There were burial grounds at Kaiota, where the Parliamentary Library is now situated. The whole Pipitea area was extremely dynamic with intensive use and settlement by Māori.

The area around Pipitea was renamed Thorndon following the establishment of Port Nicholson by the New Zealand Company in 1840 and became ‘the heart of the new colonial settlement’. The company divided the land into town acres, even though it had not been sold by Māori. At this time, Pipitea Pā was occupied by the various hapū of Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tama, Taranaki and Ngāti Ruanui.

Origins of St Paul’s Church and St Paul’s School (1852)

Thorndon became the seat of government and was also home to the Anglican Church in Wellington. Although missionary work with Māori had already begun through the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1814, European settlement strengthened the commitment to Christianity and the requirement for places of worship. The first religious services held in Wellington were Presbyterian, and in Thorndon, Wellington’s first Anglican church dedicated to St Paul, was built in 1844 on the Government Reserve (now Parliament Grounds).

A meeting of Church of England members was held in May 1851 and a declaration was made that it was ‘the duty of the Anglican Church to provide for all their children a complete course of religious education by means of primary and secondary schools’. It was consequently decided that both Te Aro and Thorndon would have a school and the Church of England Education Society was soon formed to manage the Anglican Church’s educational affairs. Governor Sir George Grey was a member of the society, and when enough money had been raised through subscriptions he gave a section on Sydney Street for the school.

This section was part of Town Section 514 (Native Reserve) and nearly 150 years later, the 1997 Wellington Tenths Trust Tribunal found that the Crown had been very casual in its treatment of Native Reserves in the early decades of Wellington’s colonial settlement, appropriating them for projects with ‘little or no close connection to Māori’ such as the Sydney Street school. In 1844 for example, the Thorndon Barracks and parade ground were erected on the cultivation grounds associated with Raurimu (urban tenths reserves), and in 1847 Wellington’s first hospital, the Colonial Hospital, was built on a tenths reserve (Town Acre 584) at what is now Wellington Girls’ College. Further lands were subsequently taken for a hospital endowment in 1851, including the Thorndon Barracks site. Indeed, many of the 23 acres of urban tenths reserves appropriated by the Crown in Te Whanganui-a-Tara for hospital, educational and religious endowments in 1851 and 1853 were in Thorndon. These reserves were taken without full consultation with the Māori beneficial owners, nor indeed their consent.

Some compensation was paid to Māori beneficiaries in the 1870s but this was later found to be woefully inadequate. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Port Nicholson (Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika) Deed of Settlement and subsequent 2009 settlement legislation provided cultural, financial and commercial redress for the Crown’s breaches of Treaty of Waitangi obligations, including their compulsory acquisition and endowment of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika lands for public purposes.

St Paul’s Schoolroom was opened by Bishop Selwyn in January 1852, despite being unfinished, and was officially opened on 5 April 1852 with Mr Wadsworth as the master in charge of 35 pupils, both boys and girls. The growing school was maintained by subscriptions of members of the Church of England Education Society, church collections, and occasionally other ‘entertainments’. Mr Edward Toomath replaced Wadsworth as master in 1853, but it was Mr William Mowbray’s leadership from 1859 that had the greatest influence, with the school becoming informally known as ‘Mowbray’s school’. Mowbray oversaw the school’s 1873 transition into a state-run facility (which became known as Thorndon School) and its subsequent move to its current Turnbull Street site in 1880.

The former Sydney Street school building was thereafter used as a day school, Sunday school and as a meeting place for local elections and for community groups such as the Wellington Teachers Association and the Thorndon Bowling Club. A range of events was held there too, from ‘rummage sales’ to lectures and concerts. It was unfortunately destroyed by a fire in 1895, along with the three libraries it housed for the Sunday school, St Paul’s Young Men’s Club and Reverend C.A. Tisdall.

Rebuilding of St Paul’s Schoolroom

St Paul’s Parish developed plans to rebuild a new school on the same site and had an initial proposal to provide accommodation for the kindergarten, Sunday School and St Paul’s Club at the cost of £1959. Parishioners reconsidered this proposal in May 1897 though, and resolved instead to authorise the erection of a timber school building, with the architect to ‘allow for the future addition of a gymnasium and boys’ club’. Architect Frederick de Jersey Clere was the Anglican’s Church’s diocesan architect and his firm Clere, Fitzgerald, and Richmond was engaged to design the building. The actual design was drafted by John Sydney Swan (1874-1936) though who was newly articled to Clere.

Swan’s design was for a building with a main gabled section flanked by ‘lean-tos’ either side. The central section contained the main school room measuring 63 foot (19.2. metres) by 40 foot (12.2 metres) which was fitted with a deep stage at its southern end, and the two lean-tos housed five smaller classrooms. Two of these smaller classrooms were fitted so that they could be used as dressing-rooms and another was reportedly fitted with ‘gas cooking apparatus for refreshments’. Toilets were located to the rear of the eastern lean-to. The building cost approximately £1200 and was constructed by Messrs. Clark and Thompson. It featured timber piles, frame and sheathing and native timbers were used throughout.

St Paul’s Schoolroom was officially opened by the Bishop of Wellington, Bishop Wallis, on 23 December 1897, with afternoon proceedings following by an evening concert. Bishop Wallis was effusive in his compliments on the new building - he didn’t think there could be ‘a brighter building, or one more apt for the purpose for which it was built. Those who were at the service must have noticed how excellent the hall was for hearing in’. The new building was primarily for educational purposes, but ‘when not required for Sunday or day school it would be let for entertainments and meetings’.

In late 1898 Swan drew up the additional plans for a gymnasium and club rooms for the St Paul’s Young Men’s Club, to be located on the schoolroom site, and fundraising commenced. The building was erected by Messrs. Clark and Thompson in April 1899, with the annual report of the Vestry of St Paul’s Parish stating that ‘a gymnasium and class and reading rooms have been added to the Sydney-street School building, providing accommodation for the St Paul’s Club, entirely apart from the main building’. The Vestry’s report additionally stated that the schoolroom itself ‘continued to let well for concerts, meetings and entertainments’, and this is clearly demonstrated by newspaper advertisements and reports from the late 1890s. In May 1898 for example, ethnologist and then Surveyor-General Stephenson Percy Smith gave a lecture on Polynesian history to a large crowd at St Paul’s Schoolroom. There are also several references to Native Land Court hearings being held in the ‘Sydney Street Schoolroom’ (as St Paul’s Schoolroom was also known) though these cannot definitively be associated with St Paul’s Schoolroom. Earlier Native Land Court hearings were held in the capacious Primitive Methodist Church Schoolroom on the opposite side of Sydney Street, also referred to as the ‘Sydney Street Schoolroom’.

The schoolroom remained a popular community venue into the early twentieth century. In December 1902, Katherine Mansfield appeared in a fundraising concert at the ‘Sydney Street Schoolroom’, and it has been suggested that the building was the setting for her short story ‘The First Ball’. In July 1908 the newly formed 18th Wellington Diocesan Synod commenced business meetings in the schoolroom. By 1910 the immediate environs surrounding St Paul’s Schoolroom had changed dramatically - Sydney Street had effectively been cut in half as a result of the construction of the new parliamentary buildings, following the ‘great fire’ of 1907 which tore through the earlier wooden buildings. St Paul’s Schoolroom was located on what would later become ‘Sydney Street East’.

Conversion of St Paul’s Schoolroom into the Sydney Street Soldiers Club

Between October 1914 and November 1918 St Paul’s Schoolroom was home to the Sydney Street Soldiers’ Club. The club was primarily set up to organise entertainment for the Main Body awaiting overseas departure from Wellington. The club’s founding by a group of local women was also motivated though by the realisation that many lonely soldiers, unfamiliar with the city, had no other suitable place of leisure. One report noted that the lonely soldier ‘unless he be a very strong-minded man, will meet questionable women if he doesn’t meet good ones…Thank God, the women of Wellington sensed the situation in 1914, and organised the Sydney Street Club’. At this time, soldiers’ clubs were being set up across New Zealand, initiated by community respect and concern for soldiers' wellbeing.

In July 1915 there was a meeting to gather support for a permanent soldiers’ club at Sydney Street. It was unanimously decided that, ‘although some of the Defence authorities were unsympathetic, the Sydney Street Schoolroom should be rented and a club established’. Dame Christina Massey (wife of Prime Minister William Massey) became president of the club’s organising committee. Different women's organisations were allocated to be ‘hostesses’ on a different day each month. The facilities in the Sydney Street Soldiers’ Club included a billiard table, piano, easy chairs, writing tables, and the tearoom was supplied through donations from around the country.

Tens of thousands of soldiers visited the Sydney Street Soldiers’ Club over its four years of operation. The women running the club ‘prepared their musical programmes, cut the huge pile of sandwiches, boiled eggs and infused the tea for thousands of soldiers hankering after a change from the camp bread and jam, and the seemingly-necessary monotony of the army stew’. Of special interest were the monthly dance socials, described as ‘delightfully decorous’, and the Christmas and New Year periods were always particularly busy.

Conversion to Sydney Street Hospital

The Spanish flu had reached New Zealand by November 1918 and Reverend Samuel Robertson Orr, Minister of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on The Terrace, took immediate action, both forming and chairing the Wellington North Epidemic Committee. Due to overcapacity at existing Wellington medical facilities, two temporary hospitals were set up in Thorndon, under the direction of Major McCristell of the Army Ordnance Corps. One of the hospitals was situated in the two storied manual training block of Thorndon Normal School, and the other in St Paul’s Schoolroom, the latter becoming known as ‘Sydney Street Hospital’.

Sydney Street Hospital had 41 beds and was run by notable New Zealand medical practitioner Dr Elizabeth Gunn with Nurse Luke and the help of local volunteers. Despite their formidable efforts, 49 deaths were recorded at the Sydney Street Hospital which closed its doors on 11 December 1918. Across New Zealand, the Spanish flu claimed approximately 9000 lives, including 757 from Wellington.

Reversion to a Community Hall

After the pandemic St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) reverted once again to a community hall and regular notices ran in the Evening Post advertising the building’s availability for meetings and ‘entertainments’. In 1924 an electrical substation was erected by the Wellington City Council on part of the schoolroom site, but the building remained in use as a community hall. In 1931 for example, the Two-garment Society used the schoolroom as a collection and distribution centre for parcels to help ‘“keep the cold out” and bodies warm’ after the St Paul’s gymnasium/club rooms which they usually used were badly damaged in a fire in December 1930, along with the society’s sacks and notices. The Ngāti Poneke Māori Mission also held several bazaars in the schoolroom which featured Māori entertainment and numerous stalls selling a variety of goods. It was also the venue for regular sporting events including Wellington regional badminton and table tennis tournaments.

In 1943 the land and schoolroom were taken by proclamation for public works purposes, but again this did not affect the former schoolroom’s ongoing use as a community hall. The National Orchestra (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) used the building for rehearsals for their recording of Monsieur Beaucaire in November 1960 and St Paul’s Parish also used the space for various meetings until the late 1960s, including Diocesan Synod sessions.

Ministry of Works Acquisition

The Ministry of Works took the building over in 1971, after which time it became a civil engineering draughting office and then a systems laboratory. It is possibly during this Ministry of Works era that changes were made to the building such as removal of the stage at the southern end of the schoolroom; erection of a double height wall across the building, north of which a mezzanine space was added; and adaption of the two lean-to portions into kitchen, cloakroom and toilet areas.

The future of St Paul’s Schoolroom appeared under threat in the 1980s with the development of a proposed National Art Gallery and High Court in the vicinity in 1984 and 1988 respectively. With the former project, the Dean of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul’s, the very reverend James Thomas, proposed relocating the schoolroom to the west side of St Paul’s Cathedral. His idea was for the building to become a hall and chapel available for community use, noting that its then use by Loaves and Fishes precluded wider community use. Neither of these development projects came to fruition though (the High Court was built further down Molesworth Street) and St Paul’s Schoolroom remained in situ. Following the restructuring of the public service in the late 1980s, the land and building were managed by Government Property Services, who later leased the building to the Thorndon Apostolic Church for a peppercorn rental of $1 per annum. In 1990 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust classified St Paul’s Schoolroom as a ‘C’ building which merited preservation and in 1993 Sydney Street East was renamed Kate Sheppard Place, in honour of her role as leader of New Zealand’s suffrage movement, for the centenary of women gaining the vote. The Thorndon Apostolic Church appears to have vacated the schoolroom by February 1996.

Private Ownership and Relocation

In 1997 Land Information New Zealand offered the St Paul’s Schoolroom property back to the Anglican Church as original owners, after determining that the property was surplus to Crown requirements. The Anglican Church decided against purchasing the property and it was acquired by Kate Sheppard Investments who were interested in the land’s development potential.

Kate Sheppard Investments did not wish to retain the schoolroom and offered to donate it to Thorndon School and pay for the relocation costs. The then New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Thorndon Society supported the relocation of the Category 2 historic place. Both organisations understood that relocation was the only alternative to demolition. They additionally recognised the historical link between the schoolroom and Thorndon School, noting that relocation ‘will provide some continuity of cultural heritage value’.

The schoolroom was cut east-west into three sections and on Sunday 21 February 1999 two of the sections were relocated to Thorndon School, where they were re-joined on the building’s new site at the Murphy Street end of school. Only the front and rear sections were relocated to Thorndon School due to concerns about how much of the school’s limited green space would be taken up by the full size of the hall. It is understood that the two central bays of the hall were thereafter disposed of. The Ministry of Education contributed half the cost of re-piling and reconnection of services to the building on its new site. The southern and western additions were in poor condition and were both demolished prior to the building’s relocation.

The original Kate Sheppard Place site was initially levelled for a carpark and archaeological authority was issued to cover the possibility that archaeological material associated with the St Paul’s Schoolroom had survived beneath the carpark. Nothing was found during monitoring of the earthworks and Environment House was subsequently erected on the site, opening in 2005.

Conversion to Thorndon School Hall

Following relocation to Thorndon School, St Paul’s Schoolroom was repurposed as the school’s hall and a period costume ‘Ball in the Hall’ was held in November 1999 to raise funds to cover the building’s renovation. A conservation plan was also prepared by Frances Robinson Architects to guide the building’s refurbishment and ongoing maintenance. This work has included addition of a kitchen and toilets in the eastern lean-to (2005); re-roofing (2010); installation of solar panels (2014); and earthquake strengthening (2019).

A major redevelopment project was undertaken at Thorndon School /Te Kura o Pipitea from 2017-2019 but it was careful to ensure a respectful separation between the new buildings and the former St Paul’s Schoolroom. The redevelopment was subsequently awarded a 2020 NZIA Wellington Architecture Award – Education. In 2021, St Paul’s Schoolroom (Former) remains an integral part of the Thorndon School / Te Kuri o Pipitea campus. In addition to its primary role as the school hall, the building is the venue for the school’s after school care and holiday programmes. It is also occasionally used as a performance or meeting venue by the local Thorndon community and nearby government departments, and as a polling venue during General Elections.

In 2021, 170 years on from the Crown’s original acquisition of part of a native reserve for the construction of St Paul’s Schoolroom on Sydney Street, the land beneath Thorndon School/ Te Kuri o Pipitea is currently in the process of being acquired by the Port Nicholson Settlement Block Trust. The Tai Hekenga Consortium is negotiating to purchase the land using the sale and leaseback mechanism provided as part of the financial and commercial redress package under the Port Nicholson Block (Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika) Claims Settlement Act 2009 and associated deeds of settlement (2008, 2018).

Physical Description


Thorndon School is part of Thorndon Flat / Haukawakawa and is located on Turnbull Street, which runs east off Murphy Street. A juxtaposition of modern commercial, high-rise residential and public buildings surrounds the school, along with private Victorian and Edwardian housing. The other two remaining buildings associated with the history of the Anglican Church in Thorndon are located further down Mulgrave Street - Old St Paul’s Cathedral (List No. 38, Category 1 historic place) and Bishop’s Court (List No. 1361, Category 2 historic place).

Thorndon School is a medium-sized school with two grass fields, as well as sealed netball/basketball courts. The school has a mostly contemporary appearance following its recent redevelopment (2017-2019), with the exception of St Paul’s Schoolroom which continues to have a unique presence within the school complex. It located at the rear of ‘Turnbull Green’ – a small green space to the west of the school buildings. The main elevation faces Turnbull Street and is clearly visible from the footpath. Turnbull Green is currently divided in half; the eastern half is mowed while the western half has a chicken coop and is used for composting activities. The rear (south) elevation of the schoolroom faces onto the Thorndon Summer Pool and carpark (accessed off Murphy Street) and is largely obscured by vegetation.

Schoolroom - Exterior

John Sydney Swan formed part of the last group of architects to follow traditional Gothic and Classical styles, as reflected in his simple ecclesiastical design for the schoolroom, derived from Gothic Revival. The front (north) elevation which faces onto Turnbull Street is notable for the way in which the roof is cut away to create the illusion of a large central gable flanked by identical gable-ended ‘lean-to’ entrances. These entrances have panelled heart kauri double doors, and stairs have been added post-relocation to Thorndon School. There has been some suggestion that the gables on the front elevation are based on a wharenui design, though no evidence has been found to support an influence from Māori architecture. The 1999 Conservation Plan notes similarities between the gable ends and those of Highden Manor near Palmerston North, designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere in 1897. The front elevation is also notable for its decorative appearance, with elaborate timber barge details, finials and window hoods. The central bay has three windows including an ornate central window comprising a set of three sashes with a lancet motif and a gabled window hood above.

The partially obscured rear elevation facing onto the Thorndon Summer Pool and carpark is a simple gable end and features a symmetrical arrangement of tall sash windows, casements and grilles. The western elevation and eastern elevations reflect more modification – this is partially due to the removal of part of the building prior to relocation but also a result of a double door main entrance that has been added on the eastern elevation. The exterior walls of the building are clad in rusticated weatherboard and the roof is clad in corrugated iron.

Schoolroom - Interior

Native New Zealand timbers have been used throughout the schoolroom – heart tōtara was used for the piles, finials, window hoods and window joinery, with heart mataī for the ground floor joists and frieze boards, flooring, stringers and sleepers. The panelled doors were made from heart kauri and heart rimū was used for the architraves, mantelpieces and exposed inside fittings, with tongue and groove mataī flooring. Native timber from the hills around Wellington was durable, and found to be capable of withstanding structural devastation from earthquakes.

The schoolroom’s most interesting interior feature is its ceiling’s stepped vault design with exposed timber trusses. The central truss which runs east-west across the main hall area is larger than the other trusses as it conceals the join between the two sections of the building following relocation from its original site. The trusses are connected east to west by metal collar ties. Decorative heavy members run down the interior of the end walls providing additional bracing – those at the southern end finish at the former stage height. The walls of the hall area above the timber dado and stage backdrop were originally hung with heavy embossed analglypta paper over scrim and painted, but this was removed or covered over during renovation of the building following relocation. The floor is constructed of tongue and groove heart mataī boards.

The lean-to ceilings are match-lined to form a double pitch tent-like space. The original cast iron wall vents located between the trusses vent into the roof void that is created by these lean-to ceilings. The eastern lean-to has a kitchen to the south of the main entrance area, with toilets and storage to the north. The western lean-to is comprised of three rooms currently all used for storage purposes. Some alterations have occurred throughout the lean-tos as a result of the building’s dissection, relocation and subsequent renovation for use as a school hall, but the original tongue and groove heart mataī flooring, heart kauri and heart tōtara panelled doors and tōtara wall linings are evident in most of the rooms. The two raking steel portal frames installed on either side of the hall during the 2019 earthquake strengthening works and connected horizontally are visible are also evident.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1897 -

Additional building added to site
1899 -
Gymnasium/club rooms

Addition to western elevation (possible covered walkway)

Demolished - additional building on site
demolition of gymnasium/club rooms

1947 - 1969
removal of brick chimneys

double height wall erected across the central portion of the schoolroom, addition of mezzanine level, removal of stage

Demolished - Other
1999 -
removal of southern and western additions

1999 -
cutting of the schoolroom into thirds (running east-west) and disposal of central portion in preparation for relocation

1999 -
schoolroom moved to Thorndon School

1999 -

2005 -
addition of kitchen and toilets within eastern lean-to

2014 -
addition of solar panels to roof on eastern side of the building

Structural upgrade
2019 -
(earthquake strengthening)

2010 -

Construction Details

Timber (heart tōtara, heart mataī, heart kauri, heart and ordinary board rimu); corrugated iron; steel

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

10th June 2021

Report Written By

Natalya Bradshaw and Joanna Barnes-Wylie

Information Sources

Evening Post

Evening Post

'Opening of St Paul's School room', 24 December 1897, p.5

Cathedral News

Cathedral News

'Hopes Held for Restoring Hall to Local Community Use,' Published by the Dean and Vestry of Wellington Cathedral, August 1984

Barton, 1987

PL Barton, Proposal for Classification. Buildings Classification Committee Report, 'Old St Paul's Schoolroom', 20 July 1987

MacMorran, 1900

MacMorran George, Some Schools and Schoolmasters of Early Wellington, S and W Mackay. Wellington, 1900

MacMorran, 1900

MacMorran George, Some Schools and Schoolmasters of Early Wellington, S and W Mackay. Wellington, 1900

Black, Cochran and Kelly 2008

Jane Black, Chris Cochran and Michael Kelly, Thorndon Heritage Project for Wellington City Council, 2008.

Old St Paul's Conservation Plan, 2016

Cochran and Murray Conservation Architects, with Michael Kelly (Heritage Consultant) and Elizabeth Cox (Bay Heritage Consultants), Old St Paul's Conservation Plan, for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, August 2016.

Old St Paul’s Wellington New Zealand

Elizabeth Cox, Old St Paul’s Wellington New Zealand- Bringing the Stories Out of the Woodwork,

Robinson, 1999

Frances Robinson, St Paul’s Schoolroom Conservation Plan, Frances Robinson Architects, Wellington, 1999, 2 Volumes, Turnbull NZ Pacific, P q371.68 ROB 1999, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Old St Paul’s Schoolroom Heritage Inventory Report’

Wellington City Council, ‘Old St Paul’s Schoolroom Heritage Inventory Report’, 2013,

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero report is available on request from the Central Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.