Merchiston … how it all began

2017-02-01 06:03
PHOTO: supplied Merchison Preparatory School in 1936.

PHOTO: supplied Merchison Preparatory School in 1936.

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MISS Elizabeth Allan and Miss Agnes Rowe had a vision of opening a school, which catered for young boys in the city, and thus Merchiston Preparatory School was born.

The two Victorian women became lifelong friends after their families settled in Natal from Britain.

The school, which started as a large single-storey house in Pietermaritz Street and rented from a grocer, James Egner, opened on 2 February, 1892. The property extended to about an acre.

Pupils enrolled at the then Merchiston House School on 1 February with the school opening the following day.

The aim of the two female principals was to give the boys a good English education and a comfortable home where they could train them physically and morally to be little English gentlemen.

Eighteen boys formed the original enrolment at the school with the majority being boarders.

Permission to adopt the name Merchiston was obtained by Miss Allan from her friend Dr Rogerson, who was the principal of Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. The motto of Merchiston Castle School was also adopted.

At the time there were no officially prescribed school uniforms. At prize giving the boys wore white shirts, ties, navy blue knickerbockers with long black stockings covering their knees.

As the school grew more space was needed and Miss Allan and Miss Rowe took a leap of faith and borrowed £1 000 and purchased the land adjourning the Girls’ High Collegiate School. The new school building was erected and, from then on, was known as Merchiston Preparatory School.

At the time the education department had no system to train teachers, which meant the two principals were dependant on Britain and other countries to supply teachers with academic qualifications. Merchiston became a government-aided school in 1910.

Sidney Robert Edminson succeeded the Allan-Rowe regime which was, to date, the first and last time the school had a female head.

During his time as principal the grounds of the school extended to Burger Street and this was the beginning of Merchiston growing in more ways than one. Mr Edminson played a large part in the steady rise in numbers and prestige of the school.

Over the years Merchiston Preparatory School went through numerous changes including that of the curriculum, hobbies, sport, staff and extensions to the building.

Currently standing tall at the corner of Boschoff and Bulwer streets, the school is well established with a reputation and track record that precedes it.

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