117 Years of Tradition


Roedean School had its beginnings in Janie Street, Doornfontein, in 1903 and the school was to occupy a further two rented properties in St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s Roads, before the present-day site was bought, and Mr (later Sir) Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the buildings.

Saint Ursula’s is the original Sir Herbert Baker building, the first building on this site (see the Foundation Stone on the left side of the facade. The original Foundation Stone has been replaced by a new marble one). Known as St Ursula’s House (Bears), it provided classrooms as well as dormitories, a dining-room, a sitting-room, and, of course, a kitchen, and all these were occupied by staff and girls, before the building was even completed.

As school numbers increased, additions were made; the first was the wing on the north side (to the left of the original building), known as the Eckstein Wing, built in 1910, and the second was the south wing in 1912.

With time, both wings have undergone changes of function and, thus, internal shape, but much of the beautiful, original, interior woodwork remains intact.

Long before the need for security became so important, Bear’s Gate was the main entrance to the school, situated right on the road for the convenience of parents dropping their daughters at school. The stairway and gardens provide an imposing entrance to a fine building.

Plays were performed in the “time-honoured” Front Courtyard with its natural scenery and stage. The Rand Daily Mail in 1933 writes of a production of The Merchant of Venice: “The terraced entrance to Roedean School with its background of trees makes an ideal setting for Shakespearean plays. The courtyard was filled with parents and friends. Strains of delightful incidental music from the orchestra, directed by Miss Elsa Schneider, came from one of the overlooking balconies.”

The north-facing wing of St Agnes’s House (Lambs) was built in 1912 as a result of a donation made by the Witwatersrand Council of Education which endowed the school £1000 for building purposes, and by the help of an old friend Mrs Martineau who contributed £500 to this end. The new building, a continuation of the Martineau Wing, is called after the chief donor: “The Council Block”.

It was formally opened on 26 September by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick in the double capacity of Chairman of the Witwatersrand Council of Education and a parent. The new building consisted of a studio and a classroom on the ground floor and four staff bedrooms with a balcony and a bathroom above. This building would now belong to St Agnes’s House, and would put this house on an equal footing with St Katherine’s and St Ursula’s.

Wings were added to this building in 1923, providing accommodation upstairs for more boarders, as well as further space downstairs for the ever-growing number of girls and thus staff, many of whom came from Britain and were housed on the property.

Over the years, changing demands have led to extensive reshaping of the space but the exterior remains unchanged.

Across the lawn, on its northern edge, is a magnificent old Jacaranda which, in years long gone, signalled by its flowering, the need to spend time revising for end-of-year exams. Of course, these days, hardworking girls of Roedean need no such reminders, for they apply themselves diligently all through the year. This lovely flat area has been used for a multitude of purposes – the stage for
A Midsummer Night’s Dream production with fairies precariously balanced in the branches of the trees, the seating for a production of Romeo and Juliet staged on Lamb’s colonnade, whole-school photographs, Junior Day Scottish dancing displays, tea served to guests after Speech Day, and a grand luncheon party to celebrate the school’s centenary in 2003, to name but a few.

Within Lambs’ courtyard are memorials to pupils, Samantha and Georgina Smith and Michelle Mullinos, all of whom died tragically in car accidents.

St Katherine’s House (Kats) was built on “a desolate corner of the grounds once known as the Wilderness and inhabited by wild cats.” It has been described as “a beautiful courtyard surrounded by pillared cloisters, flanked in the upper storey by two large dormitories, sunny all day, with windows to the east and west and one of them open to the north”.

These days, you’ll be pleased to hear, the dormitories all have four sturdy walls and are draught free. The central courtyard is a tranquil haven, bounded on the south by the house sitting-room, outside of which grows a magnificent wisteria creeper, a sight to behold in the spring. The courtyard has, as its focal point, a charming statue, a poignant memorial to a pupil, Margery Barry, who died at the age of 14, while attending school here in 1923.

The inscription around the base of the statue

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.

The tower on the south western corner of St Katherine’s houses the bell donated to the school by St George’s Anglican Church, Parktown.

It tolls 21 times at the beginning and end of each day – 21 being the number of pupils first enrolled at Roedean. At the beginning and end of term, each girl presently in the school is represented by 1 toll of the bell.

The Roedean Chapel is a treasured sanctuary, endowed through generations with beautiful gifts offered in memory or in gratitude and affection.

The first building, The Nancy Carver Memorial Chapel, designed by Mr Leonard Fleming, and built in memory of a pa st pupil, was initially half the size it is today. As there was enough money only for the little building itself, it was very small, with a beaten-earth floor, slits for windows, no seats, and no lighting, but before the building was finished, an anonymous donor gave enough money to glaze the windows and provide seating and lighting. This was the first special gift of many for the beautifying and enriching of the Chapel.

In an article on the occasion of the dedication in 1934, The Star said: “It is perhaps the most beautiful memorial to one person that Johannesburg possesses.” Stained-glass windows
have filled the ‘slits.’

At the altar, the original reredos, designed and executed by Helena Janisch, with the words in Greek, “Feed my Sheep”, has been replaced with
“I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” in wrought iron and copper lettering by Kurt Jobst.

As the school outgrew the original building, Mr Fleming was asked to draw up the plans for an extension to be carried out at an estimated cost of £5,000.
Ella le Maitre, Headmistress from 1934 to 1958, laid the Foundation Stone of this building in 1957. The Chapel was a place that was particularly close to her heart. Her deep religious faith was known to all, and, having been present at the dedication of the first Chapel, she gained particular joy from the enlargement.

To mark Ella’s tenth anniversary at the school, the Old Girls donated the Lych Gate, which was built in memory of her parents. The inscription on the gate, chosen by Ella, reads:

“I was glad when they said unto me
‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’”.

What a pity, that, yet again, the need for security obscures this charming entrance to a very special
place. Not only is this garden a place of tranquility, but it is also of particular significance, as many of the trees were planted by staff and girls on the school’s own Arbour Day in 1934. Years of tender
loving care have added to its beauty.

In 1909 the two adjoining acres towards the east were bought complete with two cottages. The one became The French Cottage and the other is now known as The Old Engine House.

The Old Engine House was originally the pump house supplying water to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s house way up the hill! As a condition of the sale, there was an agreement to let Sir Percy continue using it – which he did until some years later when the well ran dry.

It was also the electricity station for Parktown. The north room was filled with old electric batteries and the garage was used as a stable. Over time, this room has been used as a laboratory and as a bedroom for Theresa Lawrence. In 1921, the Old Engine House was converted into a cosy and efficient Sanatorium at a cost of £567, and, for the first time, a Sanatorium Matron was engaged. The building, which once served as a laundry, is now the school’s workshop.

In 1913, The French Cottage, a familiar and homely sight to all Roedean girls past and present, was used as a dormitory, and, from 1927-1929, six girls and two members of staff, rotating each term, used it as a means of bettering their French. It was a great honour to be chosen to stay there. However, in January, 1932, it was decided that The French Cottage would no longer be used after the end of that term.

There would, nevertheless, be plenty of opportunity of speaking French, and, perhaps, less opportunity of speaking careless French which, with all the care in the world, was a temptation during ‘off-times’ in the cottage. No one would now live in the cottage, but it would be used for music lessons. Bithiah Buckle writes: “1950 saw the transformation during the winter term of the long disused French Cottage into a charming small house for Mr and Mrs Shaw – Mr Shaw was the school driver.”

The French Cottage then became home to a succession of Groundsmen and is now occupied by the Facilities Manager.

The first part of the Junior School (the building adjacent to the swimming-pool) was built in 1918. The building consisted of a dining-room, open on the north side to a terrace, and, above this, a large dormitory, also open to the north – but here a concession was made to cold winters – for, on the open west side, canvas blinds could be drawn down.

Parents appear to have felt no qualms about the amount of air, since the dormitory soon housed over 30 boarders! One of them writes of karosses of hyrax or dassie skins, under which the juniors snuggled for warmth.

The West Wing (overlooking the circle) was built later, and, in 1930, General Smuts, who was Guest of Honour on Speech Day, opened the new wing. In 1953, the final phase of building brought into being the south wing (bordering on Carse O’Gowrie). In the year of Roedean’s 50th birthday, the Jubilee Fund was launched and the building became known as the Jubilee Wing.

Again, changing functional needs have dictated internal alterations, but the original exterior remains. Not visible from within the Junior School courtyard is a mosaic of St Margaret, the patron saint of children, by Professor Baldinelli. It can,, however be seen on the eastern facade, as one drives down Carse O’Gowrie.

The School has once again received many generous gifts of books for the Library, benches for the Pleasance, curtains for the Schollay, sewing machines for the Domestic Science department, a Becker heater for the junior School Hall. This last winter, with its prolonged cold spell, made us doubly grateful for this and has left the problem of dormitory heating and some form of heating for this Hall very much on my mind.
Some of you, who must today be enjoying your first comfortable Roedean function, have reason to be grateful to the P.T.A. for a splendid first installment of new chairs. The whole school is as grateful as today’s lucky ones or almost.

Then there has been the Trust’s Pavilion, which has revolutionized our sporting lives by concentrating the sport and its refreshment in one area. This, as many of you know, was formally opened on October 5th by Mr. Peter Anderson and has been a great joy to us.

Faith in the generosity of our friends has prompted me to some new projects for next year. From January, 1969, we shall have teacher rooms rather than classrooms. The object is to facilitate project work. Each room will be the headquarters of a member of staff and will be fitted with cupboards and shelves for the housing of books an equipment relevant to her subject. This has been done for the Sciences and for Geography for some time but is now to be extended to all subjects. The system should have the added advantage that it will make places available for individual help to pupils at odd times.

More emphasis on project especially to extend the gifted girl. I am particularly anxious that w shall soon be able to offer Ad Maths and Afrikaans Higher at Matriculation level. An introductory computer course, on a voluntary basis, has already been introduced this year and been supplemented by a visit to a computer demonstration.

Although education always should have been and occasionally was “child-orientated” in the past, this philosophy of schooling has never been quite so stressed as in recent years.

The department of education in South Africa has joined the movement and is introducing “differentiated education”. By definition, this means that each child will be given the opportunity to develop his or her particular talent at an earlier age. The less academically-minded pupil will be able to pursue his commercial or technical bent, leaving school with an ‘O’-level certificate while others can study at a higher academic level at school. This, it is hoped, will help to bridge the gap between school and university.

Roedean, too, has made an attempt to bridge a gap; that which exists between junior and senior school. The Upper IV’s are now attached to the Senior School. They are not, however, totally integrated – the boarders still sleep in the Junior School, they don’t have the same teachers – a few minor points which have helped to increase the security of the pupils who might otherwise have been bewildered by the sudden change. This is, then another example of adjusting the environment of schools to suit the child – a situation in which pupils are more relaxed and can fulfil their potential to a greater degree.

All this constitutes a fairly radical change and any change of this nature must be accompanied by alterations in other branches of education.

One change which has occurred is to the image of the teacher. This is undoubtedly in many ways a change for the better. No longer is a teacher a far-off, inaccessible figure, viewed through a haze of unreality. At last the discovery has been made that they are humans, real people with similar emotions, beliefs and ideas to those of our own parents. This situation is definitely more conductive to communication than the old one. And without this communication the true purpose of
education – a development of the pupil’s ability not the imposing of a thin coating of someone els’s ideas onto the child – was often lost.

1985 saw the opening of the Sumner Art Block. After so many years in odd corners of the school, such as the music cottage behind Founders’ Hall, the science room off Farrar Way – where the only water obtainable came from fire buckets and the last, dark ‘studio’ in the Junior School dormitory, with its ghostly creaking stairway Art at Roedean at last acquired a permanent haven.

On her death in 1983, an Old Girl, Dorothy Sumner, bequeathed a substantial sum to the school to be used to create a centre for the Old Girls. Bearing in mind her great love for her sister, Maud, this project was extended by the Board and Roedean Trust to include an art studio. Dorothy was, in her own way, an artist too.

Maud Sumner, the sister of Dorothy, was one of South Africa’s most prolific artists. She was born in Johannesburg in 1902 of immigrant parents. At Roedean, she was taught art by A.E. Gyngell, the art teacher at the school, and the then curator of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. After matriculating, Miss Sumner moved to London. She graduated from Oxford University, with an M.A. in English Literature.

Our history lesson started in Founder’s Hall. We began to look at the portraits on the wall. All the clothes that the heads were wearing are quite different to what people wear nowadays. TL and KME are Founders of Roedean (SA).

They grew up in Victorian Times when children were to be seen and not heard. It also was the time when it was not that important for the girls to have an education (sic) but I don’t believe any of the Lawrence sisters believed in this. That’s why I think the oldest sister Founded Roedean, Brighton and that TL and KME sailed by boat to South Africa.

They had to go to Johannesburg to start a school there because in those days, South African girls had to travel all the way to England to get an education and only see their parents once a year if they were luck. I feel very sorry for TL and KME because, when they came in 1902 and founded Roedean in 1903, the people here were very rough and there were on a few houses.



When I first experienced the visual splendor of Redean, I was certain I had entered a fairytale setting the feast of colour and beauty in the gardens. The Herbert Barker buildings, and , of course the giants.

I had entered an arena of giants.I know then that Roedean was not merely a school of giant stature, bu of giant individuals. And I am not referring to my own lack of height, but rather to the wealth of character that elevates so many of the members of their community to towering heights.

The Dads’ and Daughters’ initiative was started by Dr David Lipschitz, a Junior School Dad in 2011. There are essentially 3 aspects to this initiative:

The Dads and Daughters have held a few cooking events, which have been very popular. There are a number of other events lined up for this year, including a Dads’ and Daughters’ soccer event. The events are mainly dependent on whether a dad is passionate about a particular activity and is willing to invest some time in organising the event. Antonio Obregon (now a Senior School Dad) did a fantastic job taking care of the Angela Day cooking event, which even got some press in The Star. So Dads, please feel free to contact David with ideas which could be turned into events.

The next event on the calendar is a Senior School event, information is as follows:

Senior School Dads’ and Daughters’ Cooking Event

We have arranged a number of fun-filled Dads’ and Daughters’ cooking evenings which have been scheduled during March 2013. Sasha Zambetti from “The Cooking School” based at 08 Nicolway Shopping Centre, Corner William Nicol Drive and Wedgewood link, Bryanston, Sandton, has made the kitchen available to us on the 11, 20 and 27 March 2013 from 5:45pm. The price of this event is R700-00 per couple (Dad and Daughter) and a minimum of 6 Dads and Daughters couples is required to attend before the event can take place. A maximum of 12 Dad and Daughter couples can be accommodated on any of these dates and payment may be made directly to The Cooking School (bank details below).

Please would you contact Sasha Zambetti at The Cooking School on 083 554 7757 or sasha@thecookingschool.co.za to make a booking.

Banking Details:

The Cooking School
Standard Bank: Northgate.
Account Number:402497201.
Branch Code: 001106

Occasional Talks:

David has addressed the forum numerous times and last year Dr Sumayya Ibrahim, both a mom at the school and a gynaecologist, addressed the forum, sharing various aspects and answering questions about a young girls’ development and the challenges around these changes. Further talks are planned for this year and the topics will be communicated during the course of the term.

Dads’ and Daughters’ Forum:
This forum usually meets monthly, where Dads have an open discussion around a particular topic. Here, dads share ideas, experiences and challenges. The first session took place on the 24th January and there will be more to follow. Dates will be provided via SMS, the digital display board as well as via e-mail and at the previous meetings.

Furthermore one of the dads, Colin Batchelor has set up and maintains a Google group, which has proven to be an effective way of keeping the Dads informed about events. In addition, Dads also share ideas, articles etc. in this manner. If you have not joined and would like to do so, please email Colin on batchelor.colin@gmail.com and he will subscribe you to the group.

There are also a number of books available, related to Dads’ relationships with their daughters that are available for parents to borrow. Please contact David for more information regarding the books.

Lastly, if there are any ideas or suggestions that you may have, either as a mom or dad, please feel free to contact David preferably by email – dsl22@mweb.co.za

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