Jonty Rout had packed up home in Auckland and moved south to Christchurch in 1972 after accepting his first job out of architecture school, joining the firm of Warren & Mahoney. Morrin soon followed, with their intention of working for a year and then travelling overseas. At the end of 1972 however, Miles Warren persuaded Jonty to stay on for another year, offering up the flat at Dorset Street as an enticement to appease the restless couple.
“This was certainly very tempting as Jonty and I had been very envious of those who lived in Miles' townhouses and, probably because they were the first and groundbreaking in their design, the Dorset Street Flats had real cachet. We felt very grown up and sophisticated living in No 8. The size was perfect for us as we still had very few possessions. We didn't need much space and the lack of a courtyard garden didn't cause us any problems. We looked down on Miles' original garden and could enjoy his plantings from the balcony.”
The couple finally left for the UK and Europe at the end of the year, only to be lured back by Miles in 1976, this time with a newer-style townhouse in Clissold Street thrown in as an incentive. Jonty eventually left to form the practice of Sheppard and Rout, along with David Sheppard, in 1982.
At the height of COVID lockdown in late 2021, Morrin penned down some thoughts of her brief time at Dorset Street Flats:
Jonty and I had one year living at No 8 Dorset Street. We had arrived in Christchurch from the North Island at the beginning of 1972, just married and, in my case, completely ignorant of the city, its history and culture. I did know something about Miles Warren, then probably one of the best known and highly respected architects in NZ. Jonty had been lucky enough to be offered a job with him on graduating from the architecture school at the University of Auckland and he was very influenced by and impressed with Miles' work and his distinctive style. Jonty had preceded me and got us a scruffy flat in Merivale and I suddenly found myself completely at sea knowing no one and jobless. We only planned to stay a year before going overseas so had brought all our worldly goods down in our small red Mini and didn't bother to add anything other than a bed, some cheap kitchen chairs and a stereo set.
At the end of 1972, Miles persuaded Jonty to stay another year saying he would get a better job in London if he had more experience. To sweeten this proposition, he offered us No 8. This was certainly very tempting as Jonty and I had been very envious of those who lived in Miles' townhouses and, probably because they were the first and groundbreaking in their design, the Dorset Street Flats had real cachet.
We felt very grown up and sophisticated living in No 8. The size was perfect for us as we still had very few possessions. We were saving to go overseas so we made good use of the library, had bikes and, of course, didn't do a lot of eating out or entertaining - no one of our age did much of that then which our children find endlessly amusing.
The year before, Jonty had gone to night school woodworking classes and made us a dining table and a pair of campaign chairs which I had made the canvas seats and backs for on my trusty Singer sewing machine. We spent many weekends away tramping, camping, skiing and exploring the Alps so we didn't need much space and the lack of a courtyard garden didn't cause us any problems. We looked down on Miles' original garden and could enjoy his plantings from the balcony.
If we spent weekends in town, we had Hagley Park right beside us and we discovered places like Governor's Bay and the peninsula beaches. A lot of friends and family from the North Island came down to see us and travel further round the South so we often had people sleeping on the living room floor. The flat seemed to absorb people and never felt cramped.
1973 was the year we made more of an effort to get to know Christchurch even though we still intended to go travelling and end up eventually back in Auckland. Miles made a great effort to introduce us to places and people. We were invited over to his weekend place in Church Bay which he shared with the Trengroves. He was keen on sailing but not confident so I remember his encouraging Jonty to take the helm of his trailer sailer when he discovered that Jonty had sailed for years up at Taupo and was very experienced. I was shocked at how burnt out and colourless the Lyttelton land and seascape were. I was used to the golden sands, blue seas and Pohutukawa ringed beaches of Northland and Coromandel. I couldn't imagine ever feeling at home here but now of course, I live in Governor's Bay and the hills and harbour are not only my daily outlook but my sanctuary.
I had become friends with Winifred Lee who I worked with at Ballantynes in the advertising department. She had lived at Dorset Street in the early days when Miles and Michael Weston were there and had great tales of the parties and goings on which I wish I could recall. Winifred had come down from the Hawkes Bay in the late 50s/early 60s to go to art school so knew many interesting and infamous people and provided a wonderful entrée into who was who in the city.
Because we came and went so often and were pretty self sufficient, I don't really remember the other people that lived there except for Michael who was probably the last of the originals to stay on. My abiding memory of him is watching him walk off in the weekends with a leather suitcase which I was told carried his washing that he was taking down to his mother who lived nearby on Park Terrace.
We were a real DIY couple probably because Jonty grew up with a father who had built their family bach and a mother who was a potter and I came from a farming background. We were also cheapskates. I sewed all my own clothes back then as did most girls so when Jonty suggested I make a tent, it seemed perfectly feasible. Working at Ballantynes gave me access to all the materials I needed and I borrowed a special device to put the eyelets in from the furnishing department. I was busy hammering them in one afternoon using the quarry tile hearth as a hard surface when someone knocked at the door. For some reason, lost to time, the flat directly opposite us, No 6, was being used as extra office space. Miles had dropped in and was curious about the noise. I was mortified as he was clearly not impressed with my use of the quarry tiles as my work bench but he was so bemused by the project, he let me off with just a head shake.
Morrin Rout is a well-known broadcaster and literary events organiser. She was co-literary director of the Christchurch Writers Festival from its inception until 2012, and remains a trustee on the WORD Christchurch Trust Board.
She has been involved in two radio programmes on Plains FM: “Women on Air” (1994 to 2014) and “Bookenz” (1994 to present), and was co-presenter/producer on “Bookmarks” programme on RNZ for 8 years.
She was one of the founders of the Hagley Writers Institute, and director from 2008 to 2020.
Morrin has acted as judge for the Montana Book Awards, and has been a member of the assessment panel for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for a number of years.
She continues to live in Governors Bay, in the house designed by her late husband in 1979.