A Legacy Continued

The Midlands MagazineAugust 12, 2022

From a farm in 1859 to a new generation College to open in 2023

 

The Midlands is rich in history, especially the land on which the Old King’s school stood. The 21-acre plot was originally part of a 3066-acre grant from the government, made in 1859 to a Mr Michael Short. Known as Spring Grove Farm, the land was used for grazing cattle and passed through the hands of five other owners before being bought jointly by Edward McKenzie Greene and George Ross in 1890. In the 1890s, Ross and Greene began to subdivide their land, and in 1894 they sold the present King’s School property for 150 pounds.

The transfer deed describes it as “a certain piece of freehold land, in extent 20 acres, 0 roods and 6 perches” (roods and perches were small units of measurement). The buyer was a young doctor named James Wylie. After studying medicine in Ireland – which was then part of Britain – Wylie moved to South Africa, where he started the first medical practice in Nottingham Road.

 

The age of the property’s main building is not known; it is likely to have been constructed between 1896 and 1898. In 1900, the property was taken over from Wylie by Dr Robinson for use as a sanatorium. He was appointed District Medical Officer for Nottingham Road, and with his wife Lillian’s help, the sanatorium built up a considerable success during their six years in the village. During the Anglo-Boer War, Robinson treated soldiers recovering from enteric fever, including those from Fort Nottingham. The fighting came close to the sanatorium in November 1899, when the Boer army invaded Natal and reached the Mooi River. The Somerset battalion was sent to Nottingham Road by train to stop the advance, but the expected fight did not materialise as the Boers had already started their retreat.

Robinson died unexpectedly from heart failure in 1906 at the age of thirty-six. After his death, the sanatorium was leased by Doctor Alan Lawrence, who worked as Medical Officer for Nottingham Road for two years.

In 1908, the property was bought by a Miss Evans, who, together with Miss Ward, ran St. Winifred’s Girls’ School, becoming sole principal in 1916. Past pupil Lettie Bennett remembered how letters were censored, there was no hot water, a small tuck box was allowed each term, and the only entertainment was the occasional “fancy dancing and deportment lessons”. Girls received lessons in shooting and blouse making and needlework while occasionally gathering apples from Mr Greene’s neighbouring farm in their pillowcases.

 

The school closed in 1920 and was followed by Chippenham Boys School for a brief two-year period until 1922. In late 1922, Sidney Edminson, the retired principal of Merchiston, took over the property and, with fifteen boys, reopened it as King’s, naming it after a school that he had worked at in England. Edminson taught Science at Maritzburg College before becoming headmaster of Merchiston in 1910. He left at the age of 60 to found King’s. Edminson’s high standards led to a steady rise in pupil numbers from fifteen to forty-four when he retired in 1938.

In 1939, Edminson sold King’s to John Carlyle-Mitchell. Educated at Downside in England, John was headmaster of several Rhodesian schools, including Fort Victoria. He travelled south from Rhodesia to Nottingham Road with his wife and two children. In 1955 he handed it over to his son, John Jnr., who ran the school for the next thirty-five years. Born in Pietermaritzburg, John Jnr. attended the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg at 16, majoring in English and Psychology. Afterwards, he taught in England before returning to South Africa to help his ageing father. When John Snr. Retired, John Jnr. took over and, with his wife Mary, ran the school until 1990. The school accepted girls from 1967 when some parents arrived for the New Year with their son and, unexpectedly, a daughter dressed in school uniform. “I didn’t know what to do,” John Jnr. recalled laughing. “I phoned the matron and asked if the girl could share with her daughter.” In this way, King’s became co-ed; later, the school would be well known on the sports circuit for having girls in its rugby team.

Having been a conventional school under its first two headmasters, King’s had become increasingly at odds with the apartheid government by this stage. Influenced by friends such as Alan Paton and Peter Brown, who regularly attended and sometimes spoke at Speech Day, John Jnr. joined the South African Liberal Party and, in the 1970s, decided to admit children of all races. The application to the government for permission was turned down, but he went ahead with his plans, which led to the loss of the government subsidy. The school continued with the financial support of parents and other generous benefactors and was home to a diverse collection of students for many years.

In 1990, John Jnr. handed over to his daughter Tanya – one of eight children – and stepson Anton Davis. They each possessed the academic ability and flair for teaching their predecessors, leaning towards science, and ran the school for almost three decades.

In 2019, the difficult decision was made to close Kings and find a new custodian for the property. The re-imagining of the campus and educational offering has been in the works for some time now, and in early 2022 a deal was concluded, which will see an exciting new offering launch on the campus.

Carlyle College, named for the Carlyle-Mitchell family, is the culmination of a long-time dream for the Nottingham Road husband and wife team, Tim and Louisa Johnson.

‘We feel very privileged to be continuing an immense legacy of pioneering education on the Old Kings Campus. It isn’t every day that you get the opportunity to take on such a beautiful property with a rich history and inspiring story. We have thought of putting together an educational offering in the area since moving here a couple of years ago. When we heard that The Kings School Trust was looking to find a new custodian and owner for their property, we jumped at it. It’s also become a family affair with my sister Malindi and brother-in-law Mike Widlake joining us on the journey. Apart from the school, we also have some exciting plans to create a sports club and open the campus up to the wider community.” says Tim.

Louisa adds, “Having been in education for over 20 years and walking our journey with two unique, talented boys with varying academic and sporting needs, our eyes have been opened to the vast educational opportunities outside of a purely traditional approach. We have done an enormous amount of research and engagement with fellow educators, specialists and innovators to create a blended educational model where the use of technology is seamlessly integrated with face to face teaching and the exploration of the real world. We are also looking to create an environment which nurtures individual sporting, cultural and other interests rather than having a rigid approach. We can’t wait to introduce the community to Carlyle College.”

“The King’s School community and the Carlyle Mitchell family give our full support to the founders of Carlyle College in the establishment of a progressive senior school on the Old King’s campus. We are excited to see the educational legacy of the property being taken forward into the future by a motivated and resourceful team that are very much a part of and linked to the Nottingham Road community. We look forward to the new project going from strength to strength and the renewal of the campus and facilities receiving the investment they deserve over time,” says Dominic Carlyle-Mitchell.