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History of education in Helderberg

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Education has always been one of the cornerstones of development in the Helderberg, with many a local school reaching momentous milestones over the centuries.

DistrictMail takes a brief look at the history of three of the schools in the Basin, and how they came into being.

. The founding of the Somerset West Methodist Primary School, the oldest school in the Helderberg, was closely linked to the Methodist missionary effort in Somerset West.

Reverend Barnabas Shaw a pioneering Wesleyan Methodist missionary, arrived in Cape Town from Yorkshire, England in 1816. Apart from his work in Namaqualand, he travelled extensively in the Helderberg to spread the gospel and championed the cause of the poor and oppressed.

Following the passing of the Emancipation of Slavery Act in Britain in 1833, Shaw realised slaves would be freed into penury, as their masters were unwilling to pay their wages. He bought 14 erven in Somerset West, where he established the Wesleyan Methodist Mission and provided allotments for freed slaves to build houses on. These erven constitute Church, Lourens and Victoria streets and still belong to the Methodist church.

The Day School was established for teaching writing in English, reading and arithmetic. The school is believed to have been formally founded in 1842.

With the opening of the new chapel in 1861, the old chapel was used as a day school. The pupil numbers grew as the congregation numbers increased. The Mission School was led by James Gray and later Johan D Schafer and Francis C Schafer, who served until 1936.

. Hottentots-Holland High School, the Helderberg’s oldest high school, took its first steps in local education in the latter part of the 19th century.

At that stage the school was simply known as Somerset West School, which catered for both primary and high school pupils. With secondary education still in its infancy stages, Mr Osler (principal from 1895 to 1898) and especially Mr SA Immelman (1898 to 1921) were true pioneers at the school of learners for the senior final examinations.

After humble beginnings, with only one scholar who, in 1897, successfully completed the senior exams, secondary schooling grew to such an extent that 140 learners received secondary education from eight teachers.

By 1927, the existing school buildings had become too small to house the growing numbers of learners from Strand and Somerset West. At the end of 1929 the building for the new Hottentots-Holland High School was completed at a cost of R13 216. The then Superintendent-General of Education, Professor Botha, opened the new building on 12 February 1930.

In 1974, a brand new school hall, extra classrooms, administration block and front entrance, as we know it today, were added to the original buildings. This was, however, not the last step in the growing process of the school, with the HHH Activity Centre, completed in 1996, to host a wide array of indoor activities and sports.

. In the early days, before churches were built and the formation of the village, the children of the Hottentots Holland area were educated by travelling tutors or meesters.

After 1820 and the opening of the Dutch Reformed church in Somerset West, the parish clerk ran a small school in the vestry of the church. An initiative of Lord Charles Somerset, the English free school came into being in the rectory in 1825; it was closed in 1842.

The Somerset West Public School was opened in that self-same church vestry on 3 January 1865 with 23 pupils – all boys – and George Tubb as principal. It later moved to Die Oude Huis on the corner of Main Road and Oude Huis Street.

A three-roomed school was built behind the Somerset West Town Hall in 1882, and Carl Rosenow was the school’s second principal.

With growing pupil numbers, a new school was built in Station Road – now Dirkie Uys Street – where the current playground of Somerset West Primary School is today. Opened in 1904, it was demolished in 1972.

In 1908, the government had permission to build a primary school on the opposite side of the same grounds if the parents provided the bricks. This part of the building today houses the school’s tennis courts; it was demolished in 1973.

With the opening of Hottentots-Holland High School in 1930, Somerset West Public School’s name was officially changed to Somerset West Primary School. Over the years, the pressure on the school led to the building of two more primary schools – De Hoop (1970) and Beaumont (1975).

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