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 The original Foundation Stone has been replaced by a new marble one).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.”