St. Anthony’s Convent – Huntly, Waikato

Many of you would’ve driven past this old building and, like myself wondered about its history. What is it like inside? What was it used for? Is it still used today?

Yesterday, after many years of wondering, I decided to stop the car and get a closer look.

It’s the former St Anthony’s Convent. Now sitting vacant, a tad vandalised and in need of some TLC to bring it back to life. We are keen to talk to any past pupils, staff or anyone that has historical information about this beautiful old gem.

Whilst not necessarily haunted, we still enjoy photographing and documenting these rundown antique abodes in their current states.

Note: All interior photos were taken through windows. We do not encourage the breaking in and entering of buildings.

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St Anthony’s Convent (Former) on Great South Road in Huntly is the second convent on the site; the donation of her home for the first convent had resulted in a papal blessing for the donor Sarah Ralph. St Anthony’s Convent (Former) has architectural significance as a rare example of an ecclesiastical building designed by Thomas Eli White, primarily known for his theatre design throughout Australasia. The building has a strong association with the Ralph family who developed the coal mining industry in Huntly and were arguably the most prominent and influential citizens in the region. The Convent played a major role in the religious and secular education of Huntly children in conjunction with the formerly adjacent school and is of considerable spiritual significance, being associated with the Sisters of Our Lady of Missions who worshipped in the convent chapel for over forty years.

Huntly Township was originally known as Rahui Pokeka and the area was occupied by descendants of the Tainui Canoe. The area was utilised seasonally for food harvest and possibly not permanently settled. Missionary Benjamin Ashwell established a mission near Taupiri in 1843 and was shown coal seams by local Maori; the presence of coal was confirmed by government surveys. After the New Zealand Wars the area was divided into land grants, two of which were received by Anthony Ralph and his son Robert. They discovered coal on some of their land and established what would become the primary mining industry in the area. After Anthony’s death his wife managed the family land transactions and businesses and this practice was continued by her daughters. In 1912 her daughter Sarah Ralph donated her own house for use as a convent and also completely financed the adjacent school. The site was conspicuous in its position on Great South Road, the main north-south thoroughfare, effectively at the southern gateway to the Huntly Township. The original convent burned down in 1931 being replaced by St Anthony’s Convent (Former), built for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Auckland, in 1931-1932.The convent was part of a Catholic precinct comprising the St Anthony’s Church, school and presbytery.

Small alterations were made to modernise the convent, including the addition of a car garage in 1973. Ironically, increased traffic and the development of the main road forced the relocation of the school in 1986, which together with earlier legislation requiring state-trained teachers, ultimately forced the convent’s closure. St Anthony’s Convent (Former) was briefly used as a television repair shop and later as an art gallery. An enlarged upstairs room for youth group activities was created by removing two cubicle walls. In 2006 a supermarket was erected immediately adjacent and the convent was resold. It has remained empty and unused since then.

www.heritage.org.nz

6 Comments

  1. This wasn’t the school – that was next door where Countdown is now. This is the Convent where the nuns lived. It ceased to be resided in in the late 70s and was used by the school and parish for various things – they moved the school library into what was the lounge, the chapel was used for lunchtime discos for the senior class as well as the children’s bible class during Sunday mass and some of the bedrooms were knocked into one big room for the parish youth group. I was a pupil at the school when these changes were made and a member of the youth group when I was a teenager. In later years the property was sold by the parish and my father ran his business out of it for a few years. The parish eventually bought back the property and my father moved his business. I think the property is still owned by the parish but I’m not 100% sure.

    1. Mat

      It’s a cool old building. My parents looked at buying it several years back and doing it up and making a coffee shop or something, but were outbid. I went inside when they were looking at it. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t painted pink then (about ten years ago, more a dark creamy yellowy colour), and just through that arch was a little nook where a family friend said confessions were done. Upstairs were three or maybe four bedrooms. The roof was rusting out, but it was solidly built with a lot of good materials and craftsmanship. I remember it having a few curious things like a small door from the kitchen at chest height for passing food through.

      Also, my grandad was a taxi driver in Huntly and told me about how he used to pick up the nuns and take them out to Glen Afton and other satellite towns to visit people (and do whatever it is nuns do).

  2. Helen

    I was a Student there in the 80’s. The principals office was in the old convent building and was where you were sent if you got in trouble (generally the boys not me!). We often joked about it being haunted – with many rooms not being used and the building always cold it just felt like it should be! I learnt my times tables in the main room where chalk was thrown at you if you got the answers wrong – good times!!! I remember once checking out one of the downstairs rooms that just had boxes in and having to run out super fast because it felt creepy. Probably had more to do with being caught. We weren’t allowed upstairs so I only went up there for youth group after I’d left school. Fabulous building. Would make a great ‘grand designs’ project.

  3. Patricia Winstanley Calvert

    Lovely Memories of this Convent Two Music rooms Nuns recreational room Kitchen Chappell Visitors room So sad it has been left to just fall apart

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