Girls' Training Hostel (Former)

90 Ensors Road, Opawa, Christchurch

  • Girls' Training Hostel (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7636 Date Entered 9th December 2005 Date of Effect 9th December 2005


Extent of List Entry

The extent of registration includes the hostel building, its fixtures and fittings and the land on Pt Reserve 5278 as outlined on aerial photograph, Appendix 2, p.18 of the Registration Proposal Report.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Res 5278 (NZ Gazette 1981 p. 1574, Local Purpose Reserve (General Education)), Canterbury Land District

Location description

The building fronts onto Ensors Road but is part of the Sullivan Avenue campus of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, 40 Sullivan Avenue, Christchurch


The Christchurch Girls' Training Hostel was built in 1913 to provide accommodation and teaching facilities where young women could be instructed in domestic science. Although the construction of this facility was an enterprise undertaken by the Christchurch Technical College's Domestic Science Department it had been strongly supported by prominent members of the public who raised funds to ensure that the building was a "model home", suitable for its purpose.

Mrs Elizabeth Gard'ner, principal of the privately established Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction and then head of the Technical College's Domestic Science Department, was the prime advocate for the hostel where she believed students could more effectively learn all aspects of household management through practical experience. She relinquished her position at the Technical College to become matron and principal of the hostel when it opened. The provision of such an educational building was an innovative and very successful approach to the teaching of domestic science in New Zealand.

With changes in education systems and curricula the Hostel closed in 1954. It was used for a period as a nurses' hostel and then in 1969 became the hostel for Maori apprentices who were accommodated and received some of their training here under the Maori Trade Training Scheme run by the Technical College. This usage over a ten year period was a significant one in Maori education with the hostel continuing to serve the educational/accommodation function it had been designed for, but with a different focus.

The hostel was planned to function as a somewhat enlarged version of a normal contemporary dwelling. It was designed by Mr Thomas Bowring, head of the Technical College's Building Department. He chose the Arts and Crafts style of architecture, popularly used for New Zealand dwellings in that period and particularly suitable for the hostel. It remains as an exemplary example of this architectural style with its focus on fine, honest craftsmanship in the creation of a beautiful yet practical home environment.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Girls' Training Hostel (1913) was the first such institution established in New Zealand and it is the oldest surviving building associated with the former Christchurch Technical College (established 1907), now the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. The provision of a model dwelling in which to house students and teach domestic science was initiated through the efforts of Mrs Gard'ner Principal of the Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction, founded in 1893, which was also a first for New Zealand. The hostel represents an important development in New Zealand's approach to education systems and the recognition of the need for specialised education and training for women.

The building is a "text-book" example of the Arts and Crafts style of architecture that developed in Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the first two decades of the twentieth century. A popular domestic style in New Zealand, it was most appropriate for this hostel that functioned as a model dwelling in which students could learn all aspects of household management. The importance of the home environment and the integrity of labour and craftsmanship were principles of both the Arts and Crafts style and the teaching at the hostel.

It is reported that a competition was held for the design of the proposed hostel. It was won by Thomas Bowring, an unqualified architect who was head of the Technical College's Building Trades Department. No evidence as to the nature of the competition has been found and Mr Bowring's success suggests it was not widely entered by local architects. However, credit must be given to him for the quality of the building in which the layout and planning were strongly influenced by Mrs Gard'ner's requirements.

The hostel's aesthetic qualities arise from its style and the decorative features which have been incorporated. Its asymmetrical form with the grand chimney accents, the use of complementary building materials, the well-detailed windows and the finely crafted internal finishing all contribute to its pleasing domestic appearance. Once complemented by its attractive setting, featuring well- kept flower beds, a large kitchen garden and lawns, the hostel is still fronted by a spacious lawn where the 88 year old Shackleton oak is the dominating item.

The hostel's function reflects the social structure at the time. There was still a need for women to be well trained in household arts and be employed as servants while the more affluent housewives were appreciative of education to enable them to manage households and the servants they employed. At the same time the emerging middle class women needed appropriate training to manage a household by themselves. The provision of training in domestic science represented the recognition given to the work undertaken by women and the positive advances in their social status.

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

The Girls' Training Hostel, as New Zealand's first educational facility of this type, represents a development in the approach to education which was particularly relevant at this time. It demonstrates the recognition which was being given to traditional housewifely tasks as a "science" which merited the provision of training courses. Because of changes in class structure, education systems and contemporary living circumstances the hostel ceased to function in 1954. Changes since that time have resulted in a general loss of skills associated with the formerly essential household arts. This adds significance to the hostel through an understanding of the past role it played.

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

Mrs Elizabeth Gard'ner, Principal of the Christchurch's School of Domestic Instruction from 1885 then Matron and Principal of the Girls Training Hostel was the most significant figure in the history of this place. Her conviction that girls could best learn domestic science through practical experience in a model home, led to the vigorous campaigning for funds which allowed the hostel to be built. She was held in high esteem not only for her work in this field of education in Christchurch but also through the wider influence of her publication of the "New Zealand Domestic Cookery Book" in 1903. Recognition of the vital role she had played was provided after her death when a memorial plaque was placed over the fireplace in the hostel's entrance hall. The commissioning of master craftsman Frederick Guernsey to design and make this plaque of oak and bronze indicates the respect and honour given to her. Public and government funding provided for two memorial scholarships to be set up in her name as acknowledgement of the contribution she had made to women's education.

The early formation of the School of Domestic Instruction and the later advance with the establishment of the Training Hostel were given influential and financial support by notable Cantabrians. There were the Honourable Sir Robert Heaton Rhodes and Lady Rhodes, Mr and Mrs John Studholme from Coldstream, and Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer of international fame who not only donated funds for the hostel's construction but demonstrated his sustained interest in the project by visiting the completed, operational building in 1917. The involvement of these prominent figures gave the hostel and its function a high profile.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

The hostel was renamed Te Aranga in 1969 when it was leased to accommodate Maori apprentices enrolled at the Technical college in what later became the Maori Affairs Trade Training Scheme. It continued its use as a hostel and some of the training took place within the complex. For those who participated in this notable training programme the hostel retains indelible memories.

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

The architectural quality of this building is of special value. It is important as a little modified and very fine example of the Arts and Crafts style, fittingly used to provide a hostel and training facility in which domestic arts were taught. Mrs Gard'ner believed that practical education was better provided in an actual home rather than a classroom and that students should learn "amid surroundings in which their taste would be formed of the true and good and beautiful."

The completed hostel in its tranquil garden setting fully met her stated requirements.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

The Christchurch Girls' Training Hostel was not only the first such institution in New Zealand it was also the only hostel established for this specific purpose. The value of this method of training girls in domestic science was appreciated by a specialist inspector of home science who arrived from England in 1924 and expressed concern that schools were generally not taking "a sufficiently broad outlook on household management as a whole". However it was the cost of establishing hostels of this type that deterred the Education Department from building further examples. Christchurch's hostel was established because of prominent supporters' financial assistance and the local community's funding efforts.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bowring, Thomas

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

In Canterbury, the first steps in the public education of girls in domestic science were taken at Christchurch Girls' High School where cooking classes were first offered in 1885. Through the early 1890s several proposals were put forward to establish a school of domestic science in the city. A committee of ladies took the initiative and established the Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction in 1893, the first such institution in New Zealand. Mrs Harman, teacher of cooking at Christchurch Girls' High School, was principal for the first two years. The role was then taken over by Mrs Elizabeth Gard'ner (1861-1926), a talented, capable and gracious woman of high principles with great determination to achieve her goals. She was born in Sweden of British parents and, though she received her early education in England, it was in Sweden and Denmark that she had trained in household arts, providing her with the skills to be a proficient teacher.

The school, initially established in a "barren, rat-infested warehouse in Lichfield Street", moved several times over the following decade without finding totally satisfactory accommodation. It nevertheless achieved its purpose and was considered a great success with both the school and its principal acquiring a high reputation. Mrs Gard'ner was influential in introducing the teaching of home science into primary schools and classes of up to 100 girls at a time attended her school to receive instruction. In 1903 she and Mrs Harman published "The New Zealand Domestic Cookery Book", a best seller that had been reprinted seven times by 1921 and achieved similar status to the later Edmonds Cookbook.

Mr and Mrs John Studholme, of the Coldstream estate in Mid-Canterbury, were both avid supporters of the Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction, strongly believing in "the use of scientific knowledge to make our homes more beautiful and healthy and to ease the drudgery and burden of everyday life". Knowledge of university courses in home economics in the United States led Mr Studholme to offer to endow a chair at the Canterbury College in 1905. The College had doubts about such a proposal and it was Otago University which took up his offer, establishing the School of Home Science there in 1911.

Meantime, when the Christchurch Technical College was established in 1907, Mrs Gard'ner's school was taken under its management but continued to operate from the very crowded and noisy premises at the north-west corner of Manchester and Worcester Street. Mrs Gard'ner was now designated Head of Home Science Department, responsible for instruction in cooking, dressmaking, millinery and needlework. The Ladies' Advisory Committee, chaired by Mrs Heaton Rhodes (wife of the local Member of Parliament) and including Mrs Studholme, played a continuing role. The committee supported Mrs Gard'ner's concerns that there was a greater demand than could be met by the home science programme and that provision of a hostel should be an integral part of the system of instruction. She believed that " the rooms of the school, instruction could never be given adequate to meet the demands of the home" and advocated the construction of a home "where girls might receive training in all branches of housecraft amid surroundings in which their taste would be formed of the true and good and beautiful".

The Ladies' Advisory Committee began fundraising to achieve this goal. Their cause received publicity and support. Prominent citizens, including the Studholmes, made substantial donations and in 1909 the Antarctic explorer, Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton, gave £83, half the proceeds from the public lecture he delivered on his recent expedition. A 'deputation of ladies' who went to Wellington succeeded in obtaining a government grant of £1,500, providing a substantial boost to the funds. In 1910 twelve acres of land was purchased at Ensors Road, Opawa, for the proposed hostel, agricultural plots and for recreational purposes. The southern boundary of this site was the Christchurch/Lyttelton railway line with a suburban station nearby providing students with ready transport to and from the city centre. A competition held for the building's design was won by Mr Thomas Browning, an unqualified architect who was head of the Building Trades Department of the Technical College. No evidence as to the nature of the competition has been found and Mr Bowring's success suggests it was not widely entered by local architects. However, credit must be given to him for the quality of the building in which the layout and planning were strongly influenced by Mrs Gard'ner's requirements.

On 23rd January, 1912, Mrs Studholme laid the foundation stone. The new hostel was completed and formally opened by Hon Robert Heaton Rhodes on 29th April, 1913. The total cost of the completed project was £4,600 and is a testament to the vigorous fundraising activities of the Ladies' Advisory Committee.

The two storeyed Arts and Crafts styled hostel was built with the assistance of boys from the Building Trades Department of the Technical College supervised by Mr Bowring. Its design and layout were clearly influenced by Mrs Gard'ner's very practical ideas. The completed building was finished with curtains made by Mrs Gard'ner and cushions that she had embroidered. On the ground floor were the entrance hall/sitting room, the dining room, a large and a smaller, more domestic-scaled kitchen, the laundry separated from the main building by a covered way, a classroom and a laboratory. There was some criticism of the unnecessary extravagance of oak parquet flooring in the sitting room, but the ever thrifty Mrs Gard'ner's response was that use was being made of available off cuts. On the upper floor were the 'pretty little studies that are turned into bedrooms at night, as in the residential colleges in the Old Country, by the conversion of the couch into a bed.' The hostel also contained a model flat of four rooms which was to be managed by a single student as her training neared completion. In the kitchens students were able to learn about the use of coal, gas and kerosene as fuels for cooking and the baths provided were of differing types so that the specific systems of cleaning would be understood. The house was surrounded by lawns, flower beds and kitchen gardens. The early benefactor, now Sir Ernest Shackleton , visited the hostel in 1917 and planted a commemorative oak on the front lawn.

Mrs Gard'ner, having resigned as head of the Technical College's Domestic Science Department, became Matron and Principal of the Hostel where she established the fine institution which continued until the 1950s. Although she resigned her position as Principal because of ill health in 1916, she continued as a part-time teacher and her name is indelibly associated with the hostel and its achievements. It was Mrs Gard'ner who set up the courses and effectively established the training systems. Country girls were able to board at the hostel while day pupils at the Technical College would stay there for a period of eight weeks as part of their training, doing all the housework and cooking for the residents. Apart from training in the usual household skills, all students were required to give some time to gardening and they could also learn about keeping cows, poultry and bees. The day's programme involved housework in the mornings with time in the afternoons given to theoretical homecraft, some academic subjects and needlework, followed by opportunities to enjoy tennis or croquet. The training provided at the hostel was appreciated for equipping students with the skills to become model housewives - for 'young ladies with an eye to marriage' - or to gain employment as cooks or housekeepers. It became popular for well-to-do young ladies to take a course for a year of two here in order to learn how to oversee the management of a home and to train servants.

When Mrs Gard'ner died in 1926, a memorial tablet in bronze and oak was designed by the noted craftsman Frederick Gurnsey and placed over the fireplace in the hostel's entrance hall. It records her as a ... 'pioneer in housecraft training of rare humanity charm & culture an example of noble womanhood. She laboured incessantly for others.'

The domestic training courses continued here in the manner Mrs Gard'ner had established, latterly training high school girls and home science teachers until the early 1954 when changes in teaching methods led to the hostel's closure. The Christchurch Hospital Board then leased the building as a nurses' hostel, the proximity to the suburban rail station allowing for easy commuting to the city hospital. In 1969 Ngai Tahu Kaumatua took up the lease, renaming the hostel Te Aranga (the resurrection or the awakening) and using it to accommodate Maori youths who came to Christchurch to take courses under the Maori Trade Training Scheme. This continued until 1977 when there were changes in the training systems and building was vacated. In c.1985 the Christchurch Technical College's Soccer Club made some relatively minor alterations to the building's interior for its adaption as their club-rooms. At the same time a portion of the property's lawn frontage was sold to the Christchurch City Council to allow for the widening of Ensors Road and a concrete wall was erected on the new boundary. Use as the clubroom for the Soccer team ceased in 2001 after an arson attack destroyed the ablution block at the rear of the property. The building is currently providing space where the college's architectural students can prepare models.

Physical Description

The two storeyed red brick hostel is an excellent example of the popular Arts and Crafts style. The domestic scaled building, featuring asymmetrical massing with tall tapered chimneys, construction materials of brick and tiles and high quality craftsmanship, is representative of this architectural style.

The principal façade facing Ensors Road has a wide, shallow porch opening into the entrance hall/sitting room. The gable is half timbered, its black and white colouring providing a strong contrast with the warm red brickwork and giving emphasis to this feature. Around the building casement windows vary in height and groupings to provide a lively articulation of the façades. The windows are all finely detailed, with crowning brick voussoirs and ornamental sills. Further decorative effects are provided by the terracotta shingles which form the bases for two north facing oriel windows and the use of a contrasting clinker brick for the stringcourse. The dominating chimneys are a significant element on the north façade which originally featured another wide, open (now enclosed) porch giving access to the garden.

The quality of craftsmanship in the building is of a very high standard in keeping with Arts and Crafts principles. The interior features extensive use of oak panelling and an oak parquet floor in the entrance hall/sitting room. The handcrafted appearance and quality of the internal fittings is consistent throughout the building, with Art Nouveau styled window latches and, in the entrance hall, attractive curvilinear stained leadlight windows. Squared leaded windows enhance the top panes of each window on both floors.

The large entrance hall/sitting room, offices, kitchens and classrooms were located on the ground floor with the laundry as a separate unit at the rear. On the upper floor where the boarders were accommodated were the bedroom/studies and bathroom facilities. Despite adaptive changes being made over the last 50 years the building's original layout remains discernable.


Only minimal maintenance has been carried out over recent years.

Notable Features

The oak tree planted by Sir Ernest Shackleton and the three notable trees listed on the Christchurch City Council's District Plan.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1911 - 1913
Designed in 1911, Foundation stone laid 23 January 1912. Construction was completed 1913 and formally opened 29 April 1913.

1927 -
Addition made to north-eastern corner of the building, known as "the annex", since demolished.

Some former bedrooms converted to provide a self-contained flat on the upper floor.

1985 -
The hostel's large kitchen on the ground floor was made into a lounge and bar and an ablution block was built adjacent to the rear of the building.

2004 -
New Trade Technology block built at rear of hostel.

Construction Details

Double skinned structural red brick, Marseilles tile roof, terracotta shingles at base of north facing oriel windows, clinker brick for stringcourse, leaded paned windows. Internally, oak panelling and hand crafted oak parquet floor in entrance hall/sitting room.

Completion Date

1st October 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Brockett, 2003

D Brockett, and J Hopgood, 'Christchurch Technical College Girls Training Hostel'. Unpublished report prepared as an assignment for course on the History of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, 2003

Canterbury Times

Canterbury Times

Account of Hostel's opening, 7th May, 1913

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council

Research files from Urban Design and Heritage Team, Planning and Strategy Unit.

Christchurch Press

Rosemary Britten, 'Mrs Gard'ner trained most of the good cooks in Christchurch', 26 January 1985

Christchurch Star

Christchurch Star

John Wilson, 'From one extreme to another,' 30 May 1987

Christchurch Technical College

Christchurch Technical College

Board Minutes

'The Hostel', Journal of the Girls' Hostel, 1916;

The Technical College Review. 1926

Fry, 1985

Ruth Fry, 'It's Different for Daughters.' N.Z. Council for Educational Research, 1985

Nicol, 1940

J Nicol, The Technical Schools of New Zealand: An Historical Survey. New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 1940

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.

NZ Gazette 1981 p.1574 Local Purpose Reserve (General Education).

Note: The building fronts onto Ensors Road but is part of the Sullivan Avenue campus of the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, 40 Sullivan Avenue, Christchurch.

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.