OUR BOARDING ESTABLISHMENTS
BOARDING ESTABLISHMENT SUPERINTENDENT
Queen’s College has a vibrant and growing boarding establishments. Our three renovated hostels, Whitson, Athlone and Connaught, feature proudly on our campus. Bisset Hall, our freshly revamped and upgraded communal dining hall and kitchen, is a real feel-good show-off. We have currently renovated and upgraded Athlone House to cater for the rapidly growing interest our surrounding communities are showing. Our boarding facilities are of the best in the land. Boys from all over South Africa and neighbouring countries are choosing to make the Queen’s College Boarding Establishment, their home away from home.
Accommodation is divided into juniors and seniors, as we recognize that teenagers at different stages of development require different approaches in terms of care.
Our dormitories are shared amongst two, four, six or eight boys accordingly. Each hostel has one or two common rooms/games room with access to DSTV and games such as snooker, table tennis, foosball and board games. There is also a coffee room or kitchen, which has a fridge, kettle and popcorn machine. Our kitchen provides milk, coffee, tea, sugar and a snack at night.
Wi-Fi access is available in the boarding houses and boarders may bring their phones, tablets and laptops with them. They must, however, take responsibility for the safety of their own possessions at all times.
Our dining hall and kitchen has recently been renovated and can seat about 200 learners. The revamped kitchen, with a new menu offers meals such as umngqusho, burgers and a good old-fashioned South African braai.
The heart of the Queen’s College boarding establishment is undoubtedly the affectionately name ‘Doodgooi ‘, or Connaught House, subsequently renamed Whitson House. Standing on the corner of the original school campus, this building has been home since 1904 to the many hundreds of boarders who have resided in it. And it was Queen’s first boarding establishment!
Begun in 1903, the building was not designed with any great care and pressure on boarding requirements soon demanded successive alterations and additions. It stood alone as the school’s single boarding house for 22 years until, in 1926, Dr Viljoen, the superintendent general of education of the Cape, remarked on a visit to the school, that he hoped that money would be placed on the provincial estimates ‘to start a second hostel’.
TH Glover was certainly being optimistic when he expressed the hope the following year ‘that we should have at least five or six hostels to accommodate boarders from far and near’. The situation for the Queen’s boarders in fact became so critical that when Parry-Davies took over as principal in 1930, within a couple of years he and his family gave up their official residence to allow its conversions as a junior boarding house under the control of the School Board and with Mr and Mrs Munro in charge. This was an unashamed attempt to jog the Department’s conscience and with only much later effect. The College had to be content with an extension in the shape of an additional wing to Connaught in 1931, Hostel Annexe.
These were the years of rapid enrolment at Queen’s with the consequent bursting at the seams of the boarding house. A way out was found by local residents converting their homes into hostels and thereby creating, quite literally, a ‘cottage industry’ in the town. In 1935 “Grey Villa’ in Grey Street was, however, leased by the School Board to take an extra 35 Queen’s College pupils as boarders.
In 1936 the central dining hall and a new senior hostel, Athlone, were completed and opened by Messrs B Muller and J van Breda respectively, coming into use the following year. The dining hall - Bisset Hall - was named after JL Bisset MPC, who had done a great deal of behind the scenes work on behalf of Queen’s College. The new boarding house was able to admit another 45 boarders and LM Dugmore acted as superintendent of boarding houses during the principal’s long leave that year.
In 1938 a second new boarding house, similar to the one facing College Avenue, was begun and it was felt that its completion would consolidate the boarding requirements as 160 boys could now be accommodated on the College grounds adjacent to Bisset Halls. However, this, too, was wishful thinking, and later in 1938 Mr and Mrs Martin opened a private boarding house in Hospital Street close to the College and accommodating 16 boarders.
The new departmental boarding house was completed in 1939 and named De Vos Malan after the administrator of the Cape, a man who had interested himself personally in the growth and advancement of Queen’s College. There the ‘official’ extension of boarding facilities stopped for a good number of years, permitting or even compelling the proliferation of ‘private’ boarding houses. In 1955, with the second enrolment at 765, there were 453 boarders, of whom only 186 resided in any of the three official boarding houses - Connaught, Athlone or De Vos Malan. Attention now swung away from the boarding house question to be proposed Memorial Hall that was under construction and the new Junior School buildings.
In 1960 the boarding houses at Queen’s College were of three types: maintained, assisted and private. The last official boarding house had been erected by the Department 21 years before and, despite Queen’s standing as the largest boys’ boarding school in the country, there had been no official intervention since then. It was a hope expressed locally at this time that Connaught be demolished and that a large new building should replace it. In 1961 Dr Davies commented that the new enrolment peak of 597 both on and off the campus was enough - he did not want a bigger school, nor did he want any more private boarding houses.
In 1964 plans for a new boarding house were approved, at the time thought to be a replacement for Connaught House. It was to be constructed on the edge of the Wilkinson Field in such a way that it did not encroach too seriously on the cricket and rugby pitches. At the same time urgent thought was being given to the purchase and conversion of the residence ‘19 Oaks’ across the road from the school. The boyhood home of Mr Leslie Elliott, active on the QC Trust, 19 Oaks was bought by the Trist late in 1965 with the thought that it could be readied for 35 junior boarders in time for the start of the first term in 1967. It was to be called Oakdene. On 11 August 1967, staff and boys of ‘old’ Connaught moved into the new boarding house. As late as 1970, however, the old building was still being used for teaching purposes by no fewer than seven classes as work on the new school building progressed slowly.
After the start of the first term in 1972 Hostel Annexe was closed and a flurry of cleaning and reorganising preceded the re-opening of Old Connaught as a temporary boarding house. Norwood boarding house, a private establishment that opened in 1947, was taken over by the Queen’s College Trust and was considerably extended in 1973. In 1974, Old Connaught, now 70 years in service, was given yet another lease on life with renovations, together with those at Athlone and De Vos Malan, and Bisset Hall was enlarged. Old Connaught could accommodate only 80 of Norwood’s 100 boarders and therefore a new wing was added to New Connaught. In a very happy ceremony the hostel was renamed Whitson House by Mel Whitson and the ‘new’ Bisset central dining hall was opened by TW Higgs.
After these various adjustments had been made, Queen’s College could run in truth claim to have the largest Departmental boarding house complex in South Africa. Subsequently, in 1974, the school purchased Lukin House and the adjoining property for R50 000 - renovations to these cost an additional R20 000. For the first time, in 1975, all Queen’s boarders had their meals in the same dining hall.
Given the wear and tear imposed on ageing building fabric by boisterous adolescents, it’s unsurprising that the saga of boarding accommodation at Queen’s involved a litany of repairs and renovations. The truth of the matter is that nowhere was boarding house accommodation at Queen’s constructed from teak and stone and imported tiling. While local contractors did their very best within the budgets available to them, the parsimony so reminiscent of earlier days in the town concerning education continued. The result was buildings that were honest, plainly constructed and of their time - but no more.
This account of the bricks and mortar of the boarding houses at Queen’s does not even scratch the surface, so to speak, of what these ‘homes-from-home’ came to mean - and still mean today - to the thousands of boarders who passed through them. The spirit, rivalry, companionship and fun which thrived in those buildings over the years is the real story of boarding house life at Queen’s. The friendships, understanding and sharing, plus the real devotion of scores of house parents towards their charges, is as much the stuff of what has made Queen’s great as anything occurring in classrooms or playing fields in the last 104 years.