Our History

How our school began …


Today there are 145 primary schools serving the needs of children throughout Christchurch. However, in 1880 there were few schools in slowly growing Christchurch.  Children in the district attended St Albans School.

With increasing numbers of children in the Merivale area, a room off to the side of Merivale Anglican Church was established in1882 and named St Albans Side School. Miss Sarah Fee was engaged as Mistress of the Side School and the first pupil entered into the Admission Register was Benjamin Charles Wylie.


Over the next few years the roll grew rapidly and very soon a larger site was required.  The new school first opened its doors on the present site on 2nd February 1887 on land owned by Sir Robert Heaton Rhodes. The school continued to be known as St Albans Side School and it was not until 1908 that Elmwood came into being as a district school in its own right. 


The name `Elmwood’ is thought to have been chosen for the new school after Sir Robert Heaton Rhodes family home.  Elmwood house was built in the early 1860’s and named after the English elm trees (erema) growing along its Papanui Road boundary.


Elmwood becomes a Normal School

Adapted from article written by George B. Dryden (Principal 1969 – 1983) for the 100th Jubilee

In 1950 Mr W. J. Cartwright, the headmaster of the Normal School in Cranmer Square (seated in the centre of the photo) reported to the Education Board that the quickly declining roll and the lack of children in the school district would mean that the school would no longer be able to effectively play a role in the pre-service training of teachers.

Because of its proximity to Teachers’College and because of its stable roll, almost 700 pupils, the Education Board approached the School Committee with the proposal that Elmwood would become the Normal School…

The immediate reaction in the district was most unfavourable and there were fears that the school would lose its district identity, and that the children would become “guinea pigs” in education experiments … After considerable correspondence between the Committee, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education and the Education Board … the outcome was that Elmwood would become the Normal School as from February 1954, and the school would be known as the Elmwood Practicing School.

The term “Practising School” was never adopted and the accepted name became Elmwood Normal. On 1st February 1954, after a long and at times stormy passage, Mr W. J. Cartwright became the first headmaster of Elmwood Normal.

Much credit is due Mr Cartwright for the manner in which the school assumed its role in teacher training and many, who formerly had reservations about the change, realised that the children were experiencing a challenging and stimulating educational environment.

A large number of teachers have taught at Elmwood Normal. The calibre of these teachers is apparent in that many have in later years moved onto positions at Teachers Colleges, Universities, the Department of Education and the principalships of many schools.

Elmwood plays a very important role in the pre-service training of teachers. That the school is able to carry out its role to the high level that it does is due to the support and co-operation of the parents and the quality, dedication, and professional attitude of the staff.


The War Memorial

The War Memorial on the Leinster Road side of our school grounds lists the 157 Elmwood District School pupils who served in World War 1. Some of these Elmwood boys distinguished themselves in battle and were awarded military decorations, while others died in service to their country. It was unveiled by the Minister of Education, His Honour C.J. Parr on 26th February 1921.


The memorial is a St Andrew’s Cross, forming an an obelisk of bluestone, with tablets of Carrara marble on which the former pupils’ names are recorded.  On two sides there are small drinking fountains. The memorial was the work of  Messers. Trethewey and Berry.   William Trethewey’s best known work is the Citizens’ War Memorial in Cathedral Square. His first commission was the St Andrew’s Cross at Elmwood.


Sadly our War Memorial was badly damaged in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch on 22nd February 2011. It broke into seven pieces.  

The memorial was restored to its former glory by the Merivale Precinct Society and the school in 2012.