Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, October 1980
From School to Residency Office
From School to Residency Office
There remains to this day the old Hardy Street Girls' School, no longer fulfilling its earlier function, but in a latter day lease of life now is the Residency Office of the Ministry of Works Department in Nelson.
The Hardy Street Girls' School was contemporary with the Provincial Buildings and also built about 1860, it was used in this capacity until 1896 when a bigger girls' school was opened on another site. The vacant building was then occupied by the Nelson Central Board of Education (later the Nelson Education Board), until about 1927 when the Public Works Department moved in.
In its thirty-six years as a school there must have been many hundreds of children through the doors of the MWD building. The Inspector of Schools reports in the Nelson Government Gazettes of the period make interesting reading; in 1869 he reported that the school was overcrowded with 90 children in the preparatory division (infant class of boys and girls), the majority being under six years of age. The Inspector also reported in 1875 that the number of pupils in the 1st Division (girls up to 14 years) was 63, and that "the scholars acquitted themselves exceedingly well at my last examination in arithmetic, reading and diction. They also wrote without any notice or preparation an outline of the reign of John, giving principal events and dates very correctly." In the 2nd Division there were 71 pupils (also girls); "it is worth remarking that they all sound, without unduly sounding, the letter 'h' – a happy mean that many of our schools have yet to attain." And of the Preparatory Division (147 pupils) he reports, "These numbers speak for themselves, even with ample school room, it would be impossible for two teachers to do justice to so many children (25 only being over 7 years) but huddled together as they are now upon rows of forms, it is simply marvellous how such good order can be kept and so much good teaching accomplished. Another teacher and an additional room are urgently required, though it is unfortunate that any enlargement of the school buildings will trench upon the already cramped playground."
Who said education today has problems?
A sequel was produced in 1876 to the Inspector's report of the previous year condemning the overcrowding in the Preparatory Division which now "has 193 pupils!" "Although a third teacher has been appointed (in charge of 64 children pent up in a small classroom capable of accommodating not more than 30), numbers have increased so much that an additional school room should be provided at once. The best way of meeting the difficulty would be to build a school adjoining the Bridge Street school, for boys only." It seems that the authorities adopted this suggestion to relieve the overcrowding problem at the Hardy Street Girls' School.
Today the old building is in a remarkably good state of preservation, apart from borer in some roofing timbers, and it sports a new coat of paint in page 12colours appropriate to its style and age. Ex-pupils of the Hardy Street Girls' School would not recognise the up-dated interior, the walls have been flush panelled and a ceiling now obscures the open roof of arched collar beamed trusses. The original has been added to many times to accommodate the residency staff. There are two wings on the old building as well as a link to Jamieson House, the former residence and surgery of the late Dr Jamieson which now also provides additional office accommodation. At the rear of the office buildings is another historic building, contemporary with the other Provincial buildings, it is the former "office keeper's" residence now the MWD materials testing laboratory. There are no plans in the offing for the replacement of these buildings, so Nelson City is assured that one of its historic buildings will be preserved for some years to come, and that the MWD Residency office will continue in its unique accommodation.
The Iron Post Box
Standing on the pavement outside the Ministry of Works Residency is an old iron post box of a style once familiar in city streets but now seldom seen. We quote from an article written by the late Halkett Miller in the Evening Mail 1953. "Late in 1863 Mr Stafford, in the House of Representatives, had advocated the provision of pillarboxes for the convenience of those who posted letters and were not within easy distance of a Post Office. But his idea did not take the towns into consideration. He said the pillarboxes should be erected at all the more prominent crossroads in the country areas.
"The idea was taken up and the Post Office set about obtaining a supply, only, by the time they were ready, the crossroads idea had been dropped in favour of placing them in the settled areas. So, before many months were out, the first of the new affairs had been erected. They were heavy in design with an ornate top-knot, a wide mouth and a solid base, the whole done in cast-iron. Two of these were allotted to Nelson – one to go outside the new Post Office (where Cock's & Co.'s building now stands) and the other in Hardy Street at the rear of the Provincial Council Chambers."
The one in Hardy Street is still there and still in use. The other is now outside the Museum at Isel Park and is not used by the Post Office.