Christchurch Girls' High School

Where in Christchurch was CGHS located?

[lw,pb,jlee,jp] The old CGHS is in the central city, two blocks north of the old University (now Arts Centre on Worcester Blvd) and the Museum, one block east of the point where the Avon River turns into Hagley Park. The main entrance of the old school buildings is on Armagh St facing Cranmer Square. (The new school now lives in a set of huts that pass for modern school architecture at the north-west corner of Hagley Park.) [lw]

The site of the old school is the SW corner of Montreal and Armagh Sts. [jlee]

The old CGHS was just east of North Hagley Park, slightly to the NE of the Museum, which is north of the hospital on the other side of the Avon River (which curves around through the park at that point). It is a few blocks north of the old University. If I remember correctly there is a very small (1 block size) park just to the north of the school. [Cranmer Square. jp] The Avon is a block or two to the West of this and N. Hagley Park is past that, further west. At this point the Avon is flowing pretty roughly North to South before meandering through the park and then through downtown. (Note that Hagley Park is huge!) [pb]

The Central Police Station is just 3 blocks south and 1 block east of the school. The Law Courts, where the inquest and trial took place, are just a block east of CGHS on Armagh St.

Check out these street names from the environs of CGHS in downtown Christchurch; the cultural and historical significance of these names, in the context of this story, are left as an exercise for the interested reader: [jp]

Aberdeen Acton Armagh Bangor Bath Bedford Bishop Blenheim Caledonian Cambridge Carlyle Cheltenham Chester Churchill Colombo Derby Dorset Dublin Dundas Durham Exeter Gloucester Gressons Hereford Leeds Lichfield Liverpool Livingstone Madras Manchester Mayfair Montreal Oxford Perth Peterborough Pope Regent Rhodes Salisbury Shrewsbury Stewart Tonbridge Queens Victoria Waller Winchester Worcester

What was the background and tradition of CGHS?

[jp, maw] CGHS was established in 1878, administered by Canterbury University College. The equivalent Boys' High School was founded 2 years later. The two schools acted as the main 'feeders' of qualified students to the College, and they were highly valued because of this role. CGHS moved to the Cranmer Square site in 1882. The connection with the College remained very strong.

The first female graduate of Canterbury University College, Helen Connon (1860-1903) was the second woman in the British Empire to graduate and the first to win 1st Class Honours. She graduated with her BA in 1880 and MA in 1881 (Latin & English) and taught at CGHS while a CUC student. She was an Assistant Mistress at CGHS from 1878-83, then "later as headmistress (1883- 94) ... Helen Connon both prepared and inspired her girls to seek degrees, and set a standard of scholarly teaching which had influence throughout the colony." [from W.J. Gardner, E.T. Beardsley and T.E. Carter, "A History of the University of Canterbury", Christchurch, U of C, 1973, pp. 156-7]. [jp]

One thing the school did have was a terrific academic emphasis, even if it wasn't appreciated by the girls at the time. The girls did everything--no lab techs etc in those days. In the early 60s many girls entered CGHS for upper VIA from private schools that didn't have the facilities. It was always claimed that CGHS had a better academic standard than any of the private schools; it certainly had a better record in science. I know of or know a number of CGHS alumnae who became scientists of one sort or another. Certainly the percentage of CGHS girls going into scientific or academic fields would have been much higher than the percentage of graduates of any other school except CBHS and Christ College (a private boys' school nearby in Hagley Park). [maw]

Was CGHS a boarding school?

[mc,lw] Although primarily a 'day' school, CGHS also had a house for boarders, Acland House. It was the only Christchurch state high school with boarding for girls. [mc]

Christchurch Boys High School also took in boarders. [lw]

There were many bikes. Did many girls bike to school?

[pb,mc,maw] Christchurch is flat and bike riding was a very common way of getting around in those days. [note: Consistent with the opening archival footage. See 3.1.3. jp] You want references?

Atkinson, J.E. and Hunt, P.M. "A Study of Adult Bicycle Use in Christchurch and Palmerston North." Ministry of Transport, Road transport Division, Wellington, NZ, 1984. Gadd, M. and Cambridge, S. "Cycle Use and Collisions in Christchurch." in: Institution of Professional Engineers of NZ, Conference Proceedings, IPENZ Annual Conference 1992, vol. 1.

I forgot to mention the bike sheds when I described the school grounds. We all biked to school in the late 40s, but for the few who walked. Maybe a very few took public transport. [mc]

I only rarely took the bus. I lived about 5 miles away from CGHS in the early 60s and would bike to school all year except one or two bitterly wet and windy days in mid-winter. However, at that time, the majority of girls would have come in by bus. [maw]

What were the CGHS motto and crest?

[jp,mc] The school crest is shown in close-up in the opening titles and credits. The motto is:

Sapientia et Veritas
(Wisdom and Truth)

At the top of the crest there is a sheep hoisted in a sling on the left, a stylized Y-shaped yoke (?) or surplice (?) in the middle and a plough on the right. These are above a six-pointed star and the motto. [Any clues about the heraldry would be appreciated... jp]

The school crest shown in HC was adopted in approximately 1949. Previously, the school was governed by Canterbury University College (now the U. of Canterbury) and the CUC crest was used. The present school crest was derived from the CUC crest. I am not certain about the 'Y' shape; it is also on the CUC crest. It may be a clerical garment to symbolize the founding of Christchurch by a Church of England group. The plough was also on the CUC crest. The star and the motto were new to CGHS. [mc]

What was the CGHS school uniform?

[jp,mc] The girls in "Heavenly Creatures" wore white shirts, buttoned to the collar, navy ties (preferably knotted with a Windsor knot), pleated navy pinafores, navy blazers, navy hats with a navy band with red trim at its top and a red crest at the front, stockings, brown Oxford shoes or sandals and brown gloves. They carried brown leather satchels.

The girls also had a uniform for gym. They wore white shirts, navy bloomers, white socks and white plimsoles (tennis shoes).

Teachers wore black academic gowns over dark, conservative 'day' clothes. [jp]

School uniform: The navy hats had a navy band with red trim, and GHS, in red, centre front. The compulsory gloves were NAVY, in my time ('46-'50). 'Bookbags' are not satchels, as shown in "Heavenly Creatures," they are more like the shoebags used in winter in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

There may have been a white gym uniform in the fifties but in the late 40s we had navy bloomers and the blouses which were part of our street uniform.

In approximately 1948, summer uniforms were introduced in addition to those you describe (not shown in HC). [mc]

The school was ridiculously strict about things such as uniforms. [maw]

Was CGHS unusual in requiring school uniforms?

[mc,maw] There were 7 private high schools and 6 state high schools in Christchurch until the mid fifties and all had compulsory uniforms. Each child was obliged to attend school until the age of 15 and each school obliged every child to attend in uniform. [mc]

Some of the really poor girls had their uniforms provided them.

What do we learn of CGHS and its environs from "HC"?

[jp] The opening crane shot of the school is from Cranmer Square, over the cast-iron lamp, looking south. We follow the girls and teachers as they bicycle and walk to school along the radial paths leading from near the center of Cranmer Square. Others arrive by car on Armagh Street and are dropped off. The gabled brick buildings look the same as they did in the opening archival footage, though the door is bright red in "Heavenly Creatures."

Inside, we see a clean, neat interior with polished floors, wooden lockers in the halls, large windows. The classrooms have neat wooden desks (mostly doubles, with singles along the windows) and the desks have no graffiti on them or carvings. Pupils use pen and ink, and there is an inkwell. There are about 35 seats per classroom. The teacher's desk is wooden and located squarely in the front of the class. The blackboards are green (possibly an anachronism--mine were mostly black slate in the 60s). There is a portrait of the Monarch above the boards in every class. Doors are shown half-closed during classes.

The assembly hall has a high, open wooden ceiling (the beautiful shot under Alun Bollinger's credit), a polished wooden floor and a small stage. The room holds about 200 students comfortably.

Outside, the schoolyard is tarmac (paved). The girls have gym outdoors in good weather, and we see calisthenics and 'netball' (not basketball) being played, with coloured sashes worn by the girls to distinguish teams.

What was the meeting shown in the opening scenes?

[jp,G?,jlee,mm,lw,mc,maw] The meeting shown was the daily school assembly which would have started off the day for the girls. This type of assembly was a cultural institution in the English-type 'Public' (= private) School system, where it is often called "Chapel." I attended very similar assemblies in a Public School in England in the late 60s.

However, CGHS was a prestigious state school, not a private one, an interesting distinction which tells us something about the cultural orientation of Christchurch society. [jp]

Glamuzina and Laurie give the following quote from a publication for tourists from the 50s:

In this city there are a large number of public and private schools catering for all classes. ... The schools and colleges, in Christchurch, are founded on the lines of the English Public Schools and uphold the highest ideals of those schools. (New Zealand Tourist Publicity and Advertising Agency, "Christchurch, City of Beautiful Gardens and Parklands," p. 11). [G?]

The assembly wouldn't have been labelled 'chapel' in a state school (which CGHS was/is). There could have been a generic type hymn and the English-influenced culture of Christchurch might have influenced the choice of hymn in the Anglican direction. There are other girls' schools in Christchurch which were private and affiliated to churches. The Anglican girls' school is St Margaret's. [mm]

Christchurch Girls High was and is a state school, not a church or other private school - they might have had a school hymn sung at morning assembly, but a chapel service sounds most unlikely. [lw]

The assembly scene was set in what had become the library by the time I attended CGHS 1984-88. I seem to remember being told that assemblies use to be held there, so that seems accurate. When I was there in '84-'88 we had assembly twice a week, and always started by singing, nothing with religious overtones though. I understand this to still be the case although they now have senior/junior school assemblies, mainly for space reasons, I believe. [jlee]

In the early 50s the gym was also used as assembly hall for all the Form III and Form IV classes. The assembly hall in "Heavenly Creatures" was used for Forms V and VI for morning assembly.

The assembly shown was typical of assemblies held daily in every state school in the country at that time. Because of the Protestant religious content, Catholics and Jews could get themselves exempted. We had a hymn, a prayer by the Head, the Lord's Prayer by all, and a blessing by the Head. The assembly was also used for school announcements. We all carried the blue hymn books shown in "Heavenly Creatures." It was a crime to be without your book at assembly. I attended identical assemblies in several schools in different parts of the country through 1957. The format must have been a Dept. of Education ruling. [mc]

In the early 60s the assembly was daily, originally held in the gym and later moved to a new school hall when it was built. Attendance was compulsory for all students and teachers. The singing was always religious hymns, followed by prayers, then school announcements and off to class. In the Upper Sixth all students also had to present a Bible reading to the whole school at assembly, an activity introduced by my Headmistress, Miss Robinson. I caused some waves when I read out something from the UN Charter on Human Rights and not from the Bible. I was called to Miss Robinson's office afterwards and went in with much trepidation, expecting to be in real hot water. Instead, to my relief, I was told what a good job I had done. [maw]

What can be learned about CGHS from the meeting?

[jp,G?,maw] The morning assembly tells us lots of information about the school system in place at CGHS.

First, that it was patterned very closely after English Public (private) Schools in many ways, even though CGHS was a state school. This is one more clue that there was a wholesale mapping of an idealized value system from slightly archaic, solid middle-class Britain onto the values of this terribly English community. [G?]

We learn the school was quite small (all junior students would have been present--about 200 by my count) and ethnically quite homogeneous [note: Glamuzina and Laurie discuss Christchurch ethnicity quite extensively in their book. See 7.7.6. jp]. The close-up shot of Pauline had her dark curls and knitted brows in a sea of blonde heads and pink-cheeked faces. Every student would have been known, by sight at least, to all teachers and all other students. This was an intimate, even stifling community, therefore, where there would have been very few secrets, and gossip and rumor would have spread like wildfire. Absences and truancy would have been noticed immediately, of course, and reported.

All teachers were present on the stage and all participated with purpose and gusto. All were women, and most were portrayed to be archetypal schoolmarms (the art teacher, naturally, stood out as a free spirit--but that's OK because artists are allowed this luxury). [note: When I was a student in the early 60s a male French teacher arrived, Dr Philip Manger (a MAN!! the only one on staff). maw]

Even though CGHS was a state school, the assembly still had a thinly-veiled socio-religious purpose. The religious/social affiliations of CGHS were, by default in this city, with the Anglican Church (Church of England), even though this may not have been 'official policy.' The Anglican Church dominated upper Christchurch society and culture at the time and the Anglican Cathedral was just a few blocks away. Students, teachers and staff may not have shared exactly the same faith, but they certainly demonstrated their Christianity to each other on a daily basis. [The headmistress in my time (early 60s) was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman of some sort (can't remember the actual sort) as was the previous headmistress. maw]

In an environment like this one, where every action is seen and every whisper is heard, even nuances become significant. Subtleties are important. Small, quiet things can make big statements.

Was the ethnicity of CGHS portrayed accurately?

[maw] The school was very ethnically homogeneous in my time (early 60s). Almost all students, me included, were of Anglo-Saxon background. There was a handful of students of European ancestry (mainly refugee backgrounds) and only one Maori student in my class, and then only in the upper Sixth.

Was the religious content really that great in CGHS?

[maw] In the early 60s the school was still permeated with religious influence. My father was an atheist and everyone knew it and this certainly counted against me and made me into a bit of an outsider. Assembly had Bible readings, hymns and prayers and there were religious lessons, which I was the only one in my class not to attend. I was sent to the library during that period, so everyone knew I didn't go to religious classes. I might have missed out on much of the gossip at school.

What was physical education like at CGHS?

[lw,mm,mc,maw] CGHS would probably have had games perhaps one afternoon a week. That's all the time most schools would have had for that sort of thing - otherwise normal lessons. CGHS was a boarding school with a mixture of day pupils, like Parker and Hulme, and boarders, and the boarders would have some sort of activities on the weekends. [lw]

The old school on Cranmer Square had no school playing fields, but there might have been room for a netball court or two (in those days they would have called it "basketball") and somewhere for "PhysEd" (daily morning exercises involving running around, jumping and throwing balls). Otherwise, I guess the pupils would have gone to Hagley Park (just a block away and across the Avon River) to play tennis in the summer and perhaps softball in the winter. [lw]

In the 60s and 70s the private schools (same as "Public" Schools in the U.K.) did have games and activities after school for boarders and day girls but I wouldn't think there would be anything that organized at CGHS. Participation in basketball and other team sports was probably voluntary. [mm]

GHS did not have games one afternoon per week in my time ('46-'50). Games participation was compulsory and held during mid-morning and lunch breaks.

The school had exactly 2 tennis/netball courts, a swimming pool, and a piece of lawn. We played netball - basketball is a different game and was played in elementary school. Outdoor PhysEd was held on/by the tennis courts. We also had a gym used year 'round.

Occasionally we had PhysEd in Cranmer Square, adjacent and to the north of the school, [note: Shown in the opening shot of "Heavenly Creatures." jp] which was also used by St Margaret's. We never went to Hagley Park - although the park gates are close, the playing fields were remote from the school. [mc]

Health and fitness were emphasized. In the early 60s we had to go swimming if we were doing things like bronze medallion training or if we had chosen swimming as "our" sport--even if the pool had a layer of ice on top when we started. No wonder we had some champion swimmers... trying to get to the other end and out as quickly as possible! [maw]

What about 'the birds and the bees' at CGHS?

[maw] In the early 60s we had one or two 'biology' lessons at school, so coy that they taught you nothing. This coyness about sex was pretty general, though, and not confined to the school. Any conversation about things such as would have been raised at the trial would have been kept well out of hearing range in my family. Even among girls at school there was not much discussion about such things. There were always teachers lurking around to ensure we behaved properly. No talking too loud, no big groups, no running, no no no. [maw]

How were grades reported in CGHS?

[jp,mc,mm,lw] Given the similarity of CGHS to the English Public School model, it seems likely that grades would have been reported as percentages and a student's place in class would have also been reported. Parents used to be particularly interested in those class rankings... [jp]

I think you are right about the percentages. I'm not so sure about rankings in class. [mm]

As far as school internal exams are concerned, reporting as percentages would depend on the school, but you're probably right. School Certificate results were reported as percentages. [lw]

In the late 40s, grades were mailed to the male parent at the home address after each term. Marks were entered as percentages, and place in class was also listed for each subject as well as for the term. I do not know how long this practice continued. [mc]

In the early 60s grades were sent in written form, with corresponding remarks from the appropriate teacher, to our parents after they had been told to the pupil in class. Grades were given as percentages and approximate (if not exact) ranking in class. I don't remember if any results besides School Certificate and University Entrance were posted publicly, but those two were even published in the local newspaper! However we got to know it, we certainly knew approximately where everyone stood in the class and whether we would be promoted or demoted. [maw]

What about discipline?

[mc,maw] In the late 40s and early 50s NZ high schools were run by the Head and one Secretary and it was a part of the job of the Head to contact parents about academic and disciplinary matters. There were no guidance counsellors. [mc]

Parents would have been notified quickly of serious misbehaviour in my time (early 60s). They would also have been notified of very poor marks. [maw]

What about truancy?

[mc,maw] Truancy was 'dead obvious'. The teachers knew all the students, and the town knew the uniforms of all the high schools. Truant behaviour was reported back to the school Principal. [mc]

After all school sports days, those who wagged were asked to report their absences--most, including myself, were silly enough to do so even if we knew it meant a detention, or a telling-off, or some sort of lines about not wagging, or all three. [maw]

[note: This is an important point. In real life, PYP and JMH apparently skipped school frequently, and there are diary entries about PYP and JMH skipping school sports days at Lancaster Park to write poetry together. jp]

What about school photos?

[maw] My school photos were taken in the early 60s. Two were taken in late autumn, April or early May. There are plenty of leaves on the ground but still leaves on the trees. The third was probably taken in very late autumn; a few leaves on the ground and none on the trees.

There is no teacher in any of my school photos and no indication who our form mistress was. The mock photo in the film showed a teacher in the photo, which struck me as strange.

Is this an accurate picture of the school and system?

[mc,maw] During my attendance at Christchurch Girls' High School (1946-50, inclusive), the enrolment was about 500. My class sizes were 38 in Form IIIA, decreasing to 14 in Form VIA.

"Heavenly Creatures" gave an amazingly accurate impression of the school, which was not a unique school in New Zealand--I taught at Auckland Girls' Grammar School in 1955, an identical environment. [mc]

The portrayal of the school and some of the teachers, especially the French teacher, was uncanny in its accuracy. I still have three school photos, from Third, Fifth and Upper Sixth Forms. In the early 60s I started off in a class of 35 in Form IIIA which became 30 by Form VA. Of the girls who started with me in IIIA, 10 completed upper VI with me, and the total in that class was 41. Upper VI was not subdivided, but classes like English (compulsory) were split into two classes. Some students entered CGHS at that level, having attended private schools that didn't go through to VIA. Many girls left school after School Certificate at the end of Fifth Form. [maw]

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