The road to Erskine College

Avon St is a short road to intrigue. Wooden houses and a semi-wooded residential road lead to one of the most spectacular heritage buildings in Wellington.

Perched at the top of the road is Erskine College, a Catholic boarding school for girls from 1907 till 1985.

Nearly 3000 girls were educated at the school, including former Labour MP Winnie Laban, former broadcaster and current National MP Maggie Barry and photographer Anne Noble and comedian Ginette McDonald.

The school was founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur).

The sisters came to Wellington at the invitation of Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington Francis Redwood, who wanted a school for girls in his dioscese.

The four-storey convent building and its adjoining chapel carry the Historic Places Trust Category I status for 'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value'.

The convent building was opened in 1907, with a gymnasium and two accommodation wings built in about 1916 for the growing number of students.

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart was built adjoining the main convent building in 1929-30. Like the convent, it was designed by prominent Wellington architect John Sydney Swan.

True to the stylistic tendencies of its architect, the buildings were influenced by Gothic, Tudor and Edwardian traditions.

Erskine's chapel is recognised as one of New Zealand's finest Gothic spaces and the acoustics within the chapel are said to rival those of the Wellington Town Hall.

The college operated under the name of Convent of the Sacred Heart, until the late 1960s when it was changed to Erskine College.

It was named after Superior General of the Society Mother Janet Erskine Stuart, who had visited the school in 1914.

The name change was to avoid confusion with Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt.

Since the school's closure in 1985, it has had a varied existence.

It was used as a film set in Peter Jackon's The Frighteners, released in 1996, and housed the Learning Connexion art school from 1997 till 2009.

Despite having the occasional occupant, the buildings, which were bought in 2000 by the Wellington Company, have had a hard run.

They were damaged in 1991 by a demolition company and bear the signs of teenage boredom and rebellion.

Do Not Enter signs surround the school, which was red stickered by Wellington City Council last year after failing to meet earthquake safety guidelines.

The buildings face demolition if they are not brought up to standard.

That might at least quell rumours of ghostly residents at the former school.

Many ghost-hunters have traipsed up Avon St in search of spectres and Erskine College features in Wellington's top 10 ghostly sites.

While ghostly apparitions on the site may compare with tales from Ye Olde England, many Island Bay streets have a more tangible connection, being named after rivers in Britain.

Avon St was named after the famous Avon River in England.

Erskine College wasn't the only substantial school in Avon St.

Saint Francis de Sales primary school was opened there by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1905. In 1926 the school moved to a new site and the name changed to Saint Madeline Sophie.

The 350-metre street, slopes from The Parade up to the former college grounds, and contains 46 residential properties.

The Wellingtonian