When is a chair more than a chair?

There are many places you can expect to find symbolism at a university; in books, in art, or on the University’s crest. Yet, when entering the Registrar’s office a few weeks ago, the Canterbury College Survey team discovered that the most symbolic item in the room was a chair.

In 2012, former Registrar Jeff Field purchased an Australian red cedar colonial hall chair at auction. The chair had once belonged to Canterbury College and was deliberately chosen to project a particular image for the new college by architect Benjamin Mountford.

When he began designing buildings for the College, Mountford wanted to hark back to the architecture of the great British universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Therefore, the original Canterbury College buildings were designed in the neo-Gothic style. To outfit his buildings, Mountford picked furniture that matched their style and grandeur.

Since their invention, hall chairs have been associated with grandeur. Initially, hall chairs were a mark that someone had household staff at their disposal, as they were meant for servants to sit in while waiting for their masters. Over time, integral arms were added to their design and hall chairs became symbols of status, acting like miniature thrones. The chair’s pierced designs amplify its grandeur and reflect the motifs commonly used in neo-Gothic buildings. Both the ivy featured on the back of the chair and the crosses on its arms can be found around the College’s crest on the Arts Centre Clock Tower building, which was once the Registry building.

It is incredible to see the artefacts like this can come full circle, even after nearly 150 years have passed.

We look forward to venturing out to more Departments over the coming weeks, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to provide any information about heritage artefacts that could be included in this survey.

Amy Boswell-Hore, collection technician.
Natalie Looyer, collection technician.

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