History of the West Bank High School (East London)
The Date: Circa 1861
The Occasion: The first prize-giving Ceremony of the First Public School in East London -The West Bank School
The Guest-of-honour: Major the Honourable John Lee of the Sixth Regiment (Scottish Highlanders).
The prize-winners: 1. John Arnold 4/-
2. John Ellis 2/-
3. Charles Arnold 1/-
4. A. Kerr 6d
On consulting the late Dr. A. W. Burtonâs History of the West Bank I discovered that these prizes were all awarded for handwriting and that the other subjects taught in the school were arithmetic, grammar, geography, elocution and singing.
East Londonâs public schools were founded by missionaries. As early as 1856 there was a Wesleyan Church School opened on the West Bank, but this rather tender bloom soon faded in the harsh economic climate of pioneer days and ceased to exist.
On the 8th January 1861 an Anglican Church School under the aegis of St Peterâs Church, came into being in a single building (possibly St Peterâs Chapel) and it is this tiny educational acorn that has persisted, to grow into the flourishing oak that West Bank high School is in process of becoming at this moment.
Hence I think that the West Bank school can claim, with plenty of historical evidence to support the claim, that it was West Bankâs pioneer school.
Selborne has claimed this distinction as a school was opened on the East Bank in 1872 by Pastor Muller, a school which later became Selborne College, but it was not the first school in East London- âOurs wasâ.
Historical Background and origin of West Bank High
The West Bank Church School may even have been established somewhat earlier than was elsewhere stated but a notice appeared in the Gazette of 8 February, 1861, informing the public that a school then known as the East London District School had been opened on 8 January 1861 under the mastership of Rev. Mr. W A. Lees, the third Rector of East London. There was no school-building available at the time, for a bazaar, was held on 24 May, (the Queenâs Birthday) of âUseful and ornamental workâ the proceeds of which were to go in aid of the furnishing and building of the School Chapel where the first classes were held, thus establishing the new school as an Anglican Church School in connection with the Church of England at the above Port.
The East London District School continued and we find that the next incumbent was the Rev. Mr. Wallis who duly notified the parents, in 1865, that the fees for tuition were &2-10/- per quarter and &7-10/- for board for the same period. Incidentally the school was recognized in 1867 as a second-class public school and in that year the school operated under three principals, each of them clergymen and each of whom resigned.
However a change was pending. Hitherto the West Bank District School had received a grant from the Kaffrarian Government, the average daily attendance at the end of 1866 being 13.
In 1867, after the annexation of British Kaffraria to the Cape Colony, the grants ceased and an attempt was made by the people of West Bank to secure State Aid for its school by having it declared an undenominational school, independent of church influences.
Mr. John Mc Gibbon, a picturesque and public-spirited citizen of the mid-sixties, interested himself in the matter and found himself in stormy waters as there was a great divergence of opinion among parents, some of whom wished to retain the church school with its missionary and religious background, and the matter was temporarily shelved.
However, Mr. McGibbon was undaunted. He discovered that a farm had been granted to the church some years earlier through the good offices of Colonel Mclean, the then Lieutenant-Governor of British Kaffraria. Bishop Cotterill and a magistrate, Mr. Matthew Jennings, were the trustees of this property. When debts increased the Bishop was urged to sell the property, clear the debts and use the balance to establish a public undenominational school.
Breakers nearly wrecked this new enterprise but eventually differences were settled and in September 1867 an undenominational public school of the second class came into being on receipt of a letter from Colonel Mclean clarifying his intention in granting a farm. This was that a school should be established on the West Bank for the benefit of all denominations, not exclusively for the Church of England.
The little school, after 1874, storm-tossed at times, hampered by financial and political vicissitudes, remained nevertheless a viable if scrawny infant.
The number of pupils increased, and this number soon came to include Dutch (as they were then known) and later Afrikaans pupils, signalling the birth of what was to become a parallel medium school, unique in its diversities and complexities.
New buildings eventually superseded the tiny stable-like structure of the first school and West Bank is justly proud of the historic shell, about which the magnificent new school is arising at a truly remarkable rate.
In 1954 West Bank School opened its doors to its first secondary pupils and High School Status was granted to it in 1965.
New Departments opened in 1976 at the advent of an extremely progressive and dynamic headmaster (Mr. A K Weakley) were Music and Art Departments. Academic, Commercial Practical and Special Courses are offered to-day and full provision is made for a variety of sports, arts and crafts and assorted hobbies.
I should like to append here a list of headmasters from 1874 to 1976, and as most of these gentlemen remained in office for an average of twelve years and upwards, it would appear that they managed to steer their often unwieldy and at times top heavy barque fairly successfully through the stormy waters of a century that saw three major wars, violent political upheavals and a depression.
A list of the Headmasters of West Bank School from 1874 to 2011
1874 â 1892J Davidson
1892 â 1914W M Jackson
1914 â 1920Lt-Colonel Smedley Williams
1921 â 1927C A Mollatt
1928 â 1938Rev. Mr. H Hewitt
1938 â 1951V Hickman
1952 â 1975J S Edwards
1976 - A K Weakly
Ex-Pupils of West Bank High School who have distinguished themselves in various spheres.
Mr. Robert de Lange Senior, an old boy and long-term benefactor of the West Bank High School, served for many years on the School Committee of the above school.
Mr. de Lange, a picturesque and popular public figure eventually became East Londonâs First Citizen when he served as Mayor for several terms of office.
His son, Mr. Robert de Lange, is, at present Chairman of the West Bank School Committee, and has lately become the proud father of a son who might well follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father as a public personality of the future.
Archbishop Dennis Hurley (son of former light-house keeper).
Mr. Barend Swart, at one time financial advices to the Governor of Barclays Bank in New York, and now General Manager of the Western Bank of South Africa.
Miss. R. Britz â a one time winner of the Secretary-of-the Year Award for South Africa.
Mr. T McMillan, a business tycoon and an ex-primary pupil of West Bank High some sixty years ago.
Miss Penny Jamee (Now Mrs. Nell) who gained the highest marks in Banking Examinations on the Border and beyond.
Mr. Jeremy Riekert and Mr. Charles Staple who went on to study at Rhodes University and who now hold Honours Degree in Commerce.
Mr. Claude Taylor was at one time East Londonâs Chief Harbour Engineer. He received his primary education at West Bank High.
Dr Herman Bekker who has a thriving general practice in medicine in Pretoria.
Miss Annette Farrant who, at one time held an important appointment as a specialist in Childrenâs Diseases, at Groote Schuur. It is sad, however, to relate that Dr Farrant recently passed away in Australia.
Mr. J Kleynhans who qualified as a nursing sister at Frere Hospital and has now embarked on a doctorâs course at the Witwatersrand University.
(Ex-pupils who have returned to teach at Alma Mater)
Mrs. Carol Walters (Olander) âat present Department at West Bank High.
Mrs. Wendy Wynese (Olander) Head of the English Department at the above school.
Mr. D Esterhuise â Head of Special Classes.
Miss Mary Prior â I.S.T Kindergarten
It is interesting to note here that Mrs. F. Hewetson (Kathleen Schmidt) West Bankâs first pupil to achieve a First â class Senior Certificate Pass, in the first High School Examination of 1966, has returned as a most capable secretary to the School.
Carol du Preez and Sherry Ray appear frequently on television Programmes.
G. Jacoby has become a Springbok (soccer)
The late Mr. Clarence Olander (Golf) South African Champion Partnered Bobby Lock in Overseas Tour.
S. Gailey, A Berry, R. Holtzhauzen (soccer) B. Brits Basketball , L Nicholson (softball), B Rutherford (Angling)
Mr. Charles Prior (deceased 1963) was an ex-pupil of West Bank School.
Mr. Prior received his primary school education at West Bank which had not, at that date, been elevated to Secondary and High School status.
He continued his education at Selborne College where he became the first Custodian of the Key in a traditional ceremonial of that school.
After studying at Rhodes University Mr. Prior returned to Selborne, later to become Vice-President of Selborne College.
West Bank School is proud today that it laid the educational foundation stone for such achievements as the above.
Floreat West Bank
Just as this report was completed, the news was received of the passing of Miss Gwen Dugmore, a much-loved and most competent K.C. teacher who spent almost half a century in the service of education at the West Bank High Schoolâs Kindergarten Department. Many of the notabilities of West Bank owe their excellent foundation in education to her. Our condolences to her family and many friends.
The following telegram, which speaks for itself, was received on Thursday, 18 September, by Gavin Erasmus, a Std VI pupil at the West Bank High School, and reflects his prowess in marathon running, a prowess nurtured by his couch, Mr. John Biggs, a master at the above school.
CONGRATULATIONS/ YOU HAVE WON THE SUNDAY TIMES / LIONS INTERNATIONAL CLASSIS MARATHON TRIP TO GREECE THE RIGHT DAT TRIP DEPARTS THURSDAY OCT 18 RETURING ON OCT 26 IS FOR TWO PERSONS THE SECOND PLACE IS FOR A PERSON OF YOUR CHOICE THE FULL PRIZE IS TWO FREE AIR TICKETS FROM JOHANNESBURG TO ATHENS HOTEL ACCOMODATION FOR THE DURATION OF THE TOUR TRANSPORT TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST AND ONE OTHER DAILY MEAL R100.00 SPENDING MONEY ( CLASSIC T-SHIRS TRACK SUIT BADGES TIE AND A SCROLL MARKING YOUR MARATHON RUN) HALF DAY TOUR OF ATHENS BUSES WILL TRANSPORT YOU TO MARATHON 42KM FROM ATHENS AND THE RUN WILL BE ON SATURDAY OCT 20TH PLEASE BE KIND ENOUGH TO ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF THIS TELEGRAM BY TELEPHONING ME AT 28-1500 EXT 579 TODAY ASK FOR THE CHARGE TO BE REVERSED MR TONY SELLEY OF LIONS INTERNATIONAL EASTLONDON WILL ALSO BE CONTACTING YOU BEST OF LUCK
ROWAM FOSTER SUNDAY TIMES JOHANNESBURG
Miss Sharnay Shaw a Std X pupil at the above school became West Bankâs first Rotary Exchange Pupil when she was selected for this honour in June of this year.
Late News of the New Music and Art Departments
To date the music pupils of the music department have represented the School at public functions, taken part successfully in Music Festivals, won âAâ awards and Merit Certificates in Eisteddfodau (in both Junior and Senior Section) and have organized entertainments for the inmates of local Old Age Homes. It is envisaged that the music pupils will enter for the music examinations of the University of South African and the Royal schools in the year to follow.
West Bank art achievement in recent times
Garth Holloway: Best senior artist at King Williamâs Town Art Festival
Gerald Campbell: Best Painter, open section, East London Schools
Norman Beetge: âAâ for Painting
West Bank School was also recently represented in several school literary competitions
Joy Izaaks, a previous matriculant, now at Training College, won the 1977 Shakespeare Festival Essay Competition for East London and Border, sponsored by East London Branch at the S.A. Guild of Speech and Drama Teachers. There were 42 entries which were judged by Professor and Mrs. C.J.D. Harvey of the University of Stellenbosch.
Barbara Opperman was also awarded a Bronze Medal at the Grahamstown Eisteddfod for Original Writing.
Hood STreet, West Bank, East London