Port Elizabeth of Yore: Architectural Style of the Grey High School

In South Africa and especially within Port Elizabeth, the picture of Grey High School is evocative of high academic standards and sporting prowess. The dream of every parent in Port Eliabeth is that their child would step inside the portals of this iconic school. All except one. The parents of my brother, Blaine, who was awarded a bursary to Grey due to his academic achievements at Hubert Hurd Primary School, but my parents rejected the offer. So, he never graced the portals of the school.

Main picture: Grey High School

Perhaps the reason for forsaking this award, could have been that they could ill-afford the cost of competing with the rich folk who attended the school.  However, if Blaine had attended the school, perhaps he would have learnt that during his architectural career McWilliams, the designer of the Grey High School, used classical styles with great competence and adopted the shape of an Italian renaissance Campanile for the memorial to the British Settlers located at the entrance to the harbour. For this McWilliams was copiously lauded.

Grey College’s Watch Tower

Apart from the name of the architect he would have learnt a slew of facts about the date of its construction and the era in which it was built. Being more of a science than an architectural nerd, he would not have absorbed the fact that early in 1913, a competition was held for architects’ plans for a new Grey High School building and Boarding House in Mill Park. The designs produced by Jones and McWilliams were chosen as the most suitable.

‘The Trooping of The Colour’ at Grey High School

Aspects of the design of this imposing High School and Boarding House, which were completed in 1915, such as that they were built in the traditional Cape Dutch idiom and the composition of the buildings is aesthetically pleasing, might have lingered in his brain. Moreover, of little interest to him was that both buildings were designed to be in harmony with each other and are linked by a cloister. The school building is wholly dependent on the prominent voluted concave gables, dignified central clock tower, shuttered windows, colonnaded porticoes and shaped parapets for its beauty.

Grey’s Heritage March to the Donkin

Nonetheless, if he had attended Grey High School, in later life he would have been proud to have attended such an historical and reputable school. In fact, I can vouch that he would now in his sixties, be intently scrawling on a piece of paper the design of the school.

Don’t we all as teenagers and young adults dismiss such aspects such as the beauty of a building or a discussion of the family history as boring, irrelevant trivia not worthy of understanding or taking an interest in, yet, in later life, will be wholeheartedly embraced.

And the design of the Grey High School would be one of them.

Elements of architecture of the Grey High School purloined from an article on the Campanile by Tennyson Bodill

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