Celebrating Major Milestones

We celebrate three local schools that have reached incredible milestones this year by taking a deep dive into their history and how far they’ve come.


Epworth honours their rich 125-year legacy this year. 125 years ago, two pioneering women, Miss Emily Lowe and Miss Emma Mason, boarded a ship from England and arrived in Pietermaritzburg to set up a school called Epworth. Named after the birthplace of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, the school opened its doors on 3 August 1898.


The school has evolved considerably from its humble beginnings. It started with 45 settler children who were accommodated in disparate buildings in central Pietermaritzburg. Now, there are over 750 pupils housed on a spacious, park-like campus that boasts some of the best facilities in the country.


Throughout its history, Epworth has been at the forefront of change and innovation. It has taken brave decisions, boldly valued inclusivity, and embraced diversity. Its 125-year track record is full of unique initiatives, scholastic achievements and personal success stories. In 1902, fifteen-year-old Epworth pupil Ethel Mary Doidge wrote her matric examinations and was the dux of the school. In 1914, she became the first woman in South Africa to receive a doctorate degree. Her work helped save the South African mango industry and contributed significantly to the success of the country’s agricultural sector


1979 was a noteworthy year in Epworth’s history. Defying government regulations, the school admitted students of colour. The first African pupil was Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki who went on to pursue a successful career as a journalist, author, SABC anchorwoman and political activist. In 1980, Epworth had the highest number of pupils of colour in all the provincial private schools.


Epworth has trailblazed in other spheres too. It was one of the first schools in the province to introduce adventure-based sports and expeditions and founded the Independent Schools’ Sports Festival. Now, in its 125th year, it is one of the two oldest eco-schools in South Africa, piloting the programme in 2003.


Although the Epworth community is fundamentally different from the late nineteenth century, the quintessence of who they are and what they stand for has not changed. The school has upheld the ideals and aspirations of its two courageous founders, and they have stayed true to their vision and creation. The school’s motto, “Fida Humana Fortis”, translated as “Faith Compassion Courage”, has been a guiding light throughout its history and is as relevant today as it was in 1898.


Today, Epworth is one of South Africa’s leading and most sought-after independent schools. It provides an inclusive, real-world education for boys and girls from Grades RRR to Grade 7 and, for girls only, from Grades 8 to 12. It is a Christian school, grounded in the Methodist tradition, which promotes an ethos of “true to who we are” by emphasising authenticity in all their pursuits.

Epworth has a proud history behind it and a progressive future ahead of it. Make sure you visit http://www.epworth.co.za to learn more about Epworth.


Another one of our great schools, Laddsworth, celebrates 120 years in 2023. In 1903, 20-year-old Miss Daisy Ladds welcomed 20 pupils to a new school at the Hilton Hall. “The Hilton Road School” opened its doors to pupils arriving on horse trap and donkey, with a group being taken to and from the Cedara station by mule cart. All 20 pupils worked around one large round table, on slates with slate pencils.


The number of pupils at Miss Ladds’ school increased steadily and an assistant later joined her. The school became government-aided and, on 1 August 1918, it was taken over by the Natal Educational Department under the Free Education Act, becoming the Hilton Road Government Primary School, with Miss Daisy Ladds as Headmistress.


With the number of pupils still increasing, Miss Daisy Ladds moved to a newly built school ground above Voortrekker Road in 1937. Three classes and an administration office quickly became inadequate for the 71 pupils enrolled that year, and more classrooms had to be built the following year. The Laddsworth Lodge townhouse complex now occupies this property.


Following her retirement in 1949, the school was renamed after Miss Ladds in 1958, in honour of her life’s work, years of service, and vision. Nicknamed “Laddie”, she is still remembered by past pupils for her discipline and always being firm but kind.


In October 1988, the school moved again, to its current site on Winstead Road. The new 21-classroom school facility, boasting modern buildings and extensive grounds, was officially opened by the Director of Education, Mr A.B. Olmesdahl, on 1 March 1989.


Laddsworth has been very fortunate to have only 10 principals in its 120-year history. In the last decade since Mr Gavin Lambooy took up the post of Headmaster in 2013, the school has grown tremendously from 510 pupils to the current enrolment of 660.


Major developments in infrastructure, the building of new facilities, and significant increases in personnel have been achieved by the School Governing Body in the last decade. The school enjoys a uniquely designed and extensive complex of buildings, gardens, and fields, which blends with and encapsulates the country atmosphere of Hilton.


Laddsworth Primary School continues to enrich the school environment with some of its latest developments including a modern, newly built hall, extended media centre complex, advanced computer centre facility, nine additional classrooms, a new tuck-shop, and first-class sporting facilities.


The school is well positioned to fulfill the previous Headmaster’s, Mr Stride, wish for “the school still having to grow, to meet the needs of the community” which he had expressed at the school’s 75th anniversary 45 years ago. Laddsworth continues to “aim high”, strive to honour its traditions, fiercely guard its values, and serve its mission to provide a value-driven, quality education to the Midlands community.

Their website, http://www.laddsworth.co.za, includes more information about this incredible school.


Cowan House also commemorates 75 years of inspired education. Founded as a private venture in 1948 by David and Joy Black, Cowan House was established as a boys’ preparatory school in Mountain Rise. Named after David Black’s residence at the University of Edinburgh, Cowan House also adopted their emblem – the Rampant Lion. An initial enrolment of just seven boys quickly grew to twelve by the end of the first year. In 1949, there were 36 boys to start the year at Cowan House and, by the end of 1950, enrolment had increased to nearly 50! Early on, a boarding facility was opened to accommodate the pupils in what was always to remain an intimate and homely atmosphere.


The school went on to purchase an 11-acre property in Hilton, where its original, state-of-the-art, wooden buildings and swimming pool were built. The school relocated to this new location in 1965. By the mid-1990s, the number of pupils was around 180, from Grade R to Grade 8.


In 1978, the school undertook a unique form of organised sport – skateboarding. Having initially been orchestrated as a way to market the school, Cowan House became the first school in the country to have its own skateboarding rink!


​Unfortunately, in January 1997, an electrical fire reduced the entire Boarding Establishment to ashes. A passionately supportive community ensured that, by the end of that year, the Boarding Establishment was rebuilt – this time out of brick and mortar.


1999 was an enlightening year as girls were enrolled for the first time at the school. Once again, a fresh, new era was born at Cowan House.


The number of pupils has increased steadily over the years and now, with two classes per grade. Further demand from the local community meant that the school opened its doors to a Grade RRR class in 2013. The number of pupils has increased steadily over the years and there are now two classes per grade.


And so, in its 75th year, the school looks to the future. They are proud of a number of new capital projects including a new swimming pool, classroom block, theatre upgrade, and practice Astroturf, as well as a school that is at the fullest it has ever been.


They continue to celebrate Cowan House for its beautiful and expansive campus, being independent and co-educational, its belief in unlocking curiosity to harness life-long learning, and nurturing girls and boys along the journey to be confident, grounded, and motivated to reach their full potential.

The future of Cowan House is positive and progressive, but remains true to the four values which underpin all that is done at the school: be yourself, be reasonable, be caring, and be your best. To read more about Cowan House, visit http://www.cowanhouse.co.za.