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The past meets the future at Clifton School

| January 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

By SHAUN MCCABE

The centenary of any school is always cause for much celebration and, indeed, reflection regarding the particular journey of that institution.

Clifton School in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, will celebrate its centenary in 2024 and exciting plans are already afoot to prepare for the school’s ‘coming of age’.

American author, Steve Berry, asserts: ‘A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.’1 It is in this spirit that Clifton approaches its history and heritage.

Clifton was founded as a boys-only preparatory school in 1924 by Harry Stubbs, who was the then recently retired headmaster of Durban Preparatory High School. Still full of vim and verve at 60, Stubbs decided to open, in his own home in Lambert Road, a primary school that would act as a feeder school primarily to Hilton College and, later it seems, to Michaelhouse. Its purpose was to ‘prepare’ the boys, if you will, for the rigours of these venerable institutions of education. The school was named after the wellrespected school in Bristol,2 as well as in memoriam of a deceased nephew. The ‘Prep’ grew rapidly after World War II and quickly became firmly established in the Durban suburb of Morningside. In 2001, the board of trustees took the bold decision to expand into a high school and, in 2002, 16 Grade 8 boys formed the nucleus of the new institution.

First attempts

Whilst Berry may have spoken about preservation being integral to heritage, he certainly was not referencing the state of the physical remains and artefacts at Clifton. Attempts were made in the early 1980s to establish an archive under the guidance of the deputy headmaster at the time, Alan Pass, and a young history teacher, Rose Visser. When discussions began in
earnest in 2017, it soon became apparent that there was precious little that had been saved, other than a few school magazines from the 1980s, some catalogued boxes of photographs and a few plaques around the school. The pursuit of an archive had been temporarily stymied by the retirement of
Pass and the untimely passing of Visser.

Subsequently, a two-pronged heritage policy was decided upon. First, the cataloguing and preservation of photographs and documents needed to take place. Barbara Wahlberg, appointed in 2017 as the head of history, came with expertise in the development of archives and preservation techniques,
having been a curator at the Luthuli Museum in Groutville. Also, Jane Maasdorp, an ex-parent, was officially appointed as the school archivist to begin the arduous process of contacting alumni, recording memories and making acquisitions.

The campus becomes the heritage centre

Second, without any artefacts with which to create a museum, the decision was taken to use the campus as an open-air ‘exhibition’, which resulted in the development of the Heritage Centre. This was opened in 2019 and celebrates, through photographs and historical items, the history of the school from its founding in 1924. This decision was also taken in light of
the space constraints of a school in an urban precinct. An adjunct to the opening of the Heritage Centre was the development of the Heritage Trail. Fortunately, the school’s chronology is reflected in its physical environment, so now, scattered at various points throughout the school, are panels that speak to the history of the school by referencing the architectural context. Guided by a map, these panels give the reader an overview of the school’s growth, its charming characters and anecdotal moments through text and
photographs. The final triumph will be the addition of QR codes4 on the panels, which will provide the viewer with links to additional school history, in the form of more photographs, the school song or various video clips of school events. In this way, the Heritage Trail has evolved into a lively interactive and multidimensional experience.

Most importantly, the panels have brought the history of the school into the daily lives of the boys, as they walk past between classes and on the way to the refectory. The Prep history teachers have developed an ‘Amazing Race’5 lesson in which boys race around from panel to panel, engaging with the history of the school.

Red plaques and a naming policy

Plans are afoot to expand the Heritage Trail into its second phase, which will see the placement of red plaques – similar to the blue heritage
plaques in the UK6 – on which we will celebrate not only the achievements of wellknown old boys such as Barry Richards, Tony Leon and Patrick Lambie, but also past pupils such as Yashin Ramkissoon (the first young
person of colour admitted to the school after the repeal of apartheid legislation) and Ian Robertson, National Union of South African Students
(NUSAS) president and 1960s political activist.7 These red plaques will link the panels of the trail, thereby forming a visual reminder of the school’s proud heritage.

Further projects to celebrate the heritage of the school include implementing a naming policy that will reflect the transformative values of the school, the construction of a memorial garden and the expansion of the Heritage Centre through ongoing acquisitions. There are also plans to create an on-site Old Boys’ Office.

In 2024, Clifton will certainly be well-placed to welcome back all our alumni to a school in which their contributions live and are remembered.

References:

See: https://steveberry.org/See: https://www.cliftoncollege.com/

See: http://luthulimuseum.org.za/

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code

See: https://www.cbs.com/shows/amazing_race/

See: https://www.geni.com/projects/Blue-Plaques-United-Kingdom/50128

See: https://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/nusas-president-ian-robertsonbanned

Category: Summer 2019

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