10 August 2012 | Bruce Dennill
ONE of the perhaps less appreciated attractions in Grahamstown during the National Arts Festival is exploring some of the history of the old frontier town.
One guided walk during this year’s event took in the famous St Andrews School and its sister establishment, St Andrews Diocesan Girls’ School (DSG). And as with all the best parts of education, it’s the details that make it fascinating.
St Andrews has its own museum in the building that used to be the school chapel – and schoolroom, and dining room, and dormitory (only the kitchen was separate, which meant food had to be ferried across a courtyard, often in the rain).
As at any boys’ school, sport plays a leading role, and framed pictures and other memorabilia trace St Andrews’s proud record on the playing field.
Two of the most memorable exhibits are a photograph of the first rugby team from the parallel school set up for black students – 15 strong young black men who were part of a team nicknamed, without apparent irony, the “Lily Whites” – and a letter signed “Montgomery of Alamein”, in which the famous general congratulates the school cricket team on winning a recent series.
Another exhibit remembers the achievement of old boy Bevil Rudd, who won gold, silver and bronze medals at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics – to date the only South Africa to earn a “complete set” of such awards.
Other exhibits highlight the role the school, its staff and its students played in the two world wars.
Much of that material is rather sad and serious, but there are moments of levity, such as the strange, short tie that was made the way it was because there was a shortage of the required
fabric during World War 2.
The current chapel – the third in the school’s history – was built by Sir Herbert Baker between 1908 and 1913. The famous architect was in town at the time the new building needed designing, and made sure he got himself invited to dinner with the relevant people, where he could make a persuasive argument for his design.
That design has a Mediterranean influence. It’s built from chunky Bathurst granite and, inside, features rows of arches on either side that, though practically irrelevant, are very beautiful.
It’s also littered with all sorts of memorials, from war heroes to beloved teachers (one of the latter is a stained-glass window of the Good Samaritan).
Another monument, given the same space as the more traditional memorials, is more poignant for its relative insignificance – it commemorates a schoolboy who died after hitting his head on a rock during a scuffle.
Across the road, the girls’ school is an architectural hodge-
podge, with new and
old buildings alongside each other all over
Its chapel is also rather plainer, although its rosette stained windows are particularly impressive. That building has been extended a couple of times, as have most of the dormitory structures and and other parts
of the school.
And that trend is ongoing, as the current waiting list to attend the school gets ever longer. The current “best of a bad situation” solution is to build onto the the part of the structure that faces the main gate
– a major challenge given that it will considerably alter the visual profile of the school, as well as blocking access to many listed buildings.
Ah, progress – the main reason the old times sometimes seem so much better than the present.
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