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St George’s Preparatory school was founded in 1936 by Raymond Hutchinson, to provide a private-school education for boys aged 7 to 14 and prepare them for public schools in South Africa and overseas. The first enrolment numbered about 50 boys with approximately 25% being boarders. In 1987, the Prep became co-ed.
In 2000, our Pre-Preparatory phase opened its doors, followed by the Preparatory phase in 2001.
Hosting a school in a family home
The school building, Knockfierna (Hill of Fairies or Truth), was originally built in 1899 as a beautiful grand Victorian mansion by Irishman John Daverin, who was a successful wool merchant. John and his wife, Clothilda, raised their seven children in the grand style befitting this era. The Victorian era, with its wealth, opulence and distinctive architecture, left its mark on the city of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in no uncertain terms. It was the time of horse trams and hansom cabs, elaborate carriages, silk hats, beards, curled moustaches, elegant dresses with choker collars and leg-of-mutton sleeves, feathered hats, flowing veils and bonnets. In keeping with the rich hinterland, large brokerage firms had come into being that bought and sold the produce brought to Gqeberha from the surrounding farming areas.
A group of veritable merchant princes owned these firms and prospered beyond their wildest dreams. One such merchant prince was John Daverin, owner of his own firm of brokers at a relatively early age, who was destined to become a business genius and a leading political figure in the government of John X Merriman. Early in his career, Daverin had built a magnificent dwelling on his farm, Springmount, in the district of Alexandria, taking great pride in the layout of both farm buildings and truly magnificent gardens. He undertook extensive journeys and it was on one of his trips to Ireland that he met Clothilde D’Alton of Ballygriffen, who was destined to become his bride.
At that time, the elite residential area of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) was The Hill, situated on the flat piece of land above the town, in the vicinity of the acreage that became the lush and beautiful St George’s Park. It was on a large tract of land adjacent to the park that the gracious dwelling Knockfierna was built. This was the dream house of John Daverin, built for his beloved wife and the family that they dreamed of raising in this place, as magical as its name.
No expense was spared in the erection of this fine house. On their journeys overseas, the Daverins bought mirrors, ornaments and glass from Venice, bronze from Florence and Belleek china. Only the best tiles, mahogany, handsome fireplaces and light fittings were used. This was to be a fitting home for a wealthy family! Charming romantic touches, such as the gables on the roof, arched veranda and upper balcony, and the velvety heart-shaped lawn must have caught Clothilde’s eye each time she returned from a trip with her daughters to take tea with some distinguished friends. All the accoutrements of this fine lifestyle had to be housed in equal style, so extensions to the house, in the form of quarters for the staff, stables and a hayloft were also built. Knockfierna was truly a place of fairies, with merry voices, running feet, excited whispers and fluting laughter, all the ingredients of a true fairytale. What a wonderful place for children to spend their growing years!
Today Knockfierna has lost none of its charm, Enter the cool, tiled hallway on a hot summer’s day and the house welcomes you. Gaze upwards at the impossibly beautiful mirror on the first landing and see the patterns cast by the stained-glass insets on either side. Picture the owner in his study, (which is now the secretary’s office) and wonder at the murals in the panelled study of the present Executive Head. On a wintry evening it is easy to imagine the family gathered round a cosy fireplace and perhaps a group of menfolk deeply involved in a game of billiards. And early one morning … Is that the sound of chanted prayers and singing? There in the small chapel under the gable is the heart of this Catholic family’s life, where prayers for loved ones, songs of celebration on Saints’ Feast Days, and the days of Advent were always heard.
Years have passed, and the Daverin family no longer grace the rooms of Knockfierna with their presence, except perhaps in quiet midnight visits. Yet, the voices of children and music still echo around the building, now much changed with necessary additions made over the years.
Motorised traffic roars around the park, buses, taxis and ambulances rush by, and the skyline of the city has changed drastically. How did all these changes come about, and who are the present inhabitants of this still magical place, where the gardens promise shady walks and many surprises?
With the passage of time and the demise of first John Daverin and later his wife Clothilde, Knockfierna passed into other hands. The second owner, Harry Harraway, a large force in the firm of Mosenthal’s, lived in the house until 1935 and then moved to Aloes across the park from Knockfierna. It was then that, as in the days of the Daverin family, Knockfierna once again lent its ambience to the nurturing of the young. Raymond Whitworth Hutchinson, originally of Yorkshire, had settled in Cape Town in 1913, where he and a partner had, very successfully, founded and run the Western Province Preparatory School for boys in Claremont. 'Hutch' moved on to the Eastern Cape, where he purchased Knockfierna in 1935 with the express purpose of founding another school, also for boys. The school, named St George’s Preparatory School, came into being in 1936.
The house has undergone few changes over the years and many of the original features are still present. Our children enjoy their lunches in Daverin’s original billiard room, where the blocks of marble that used to support the weight of the large mahogany billiard table still exist. Leaving the dining room, you walk down the passage towards the Executive Head’s study and, looking up, you will see a trap door where a tray was pulled up and down with the children’s meals prepared in the kitchen. They never ate with their parents, as was the custom at the time.
Our secretary has the pleasure of working from Daverin’s study, where he devoted a lot of time to reading and studying the history of Ireland. The Executive Head’s office is in the old dining room with its wood-panelled and decorative mouldings, as well as a beautiful tiled fireplace, still in place.
The tiles on the stoep and entrance hall were shipped from Bath in England, while the large elaborate mirror was bought in Vienna to grace the teak staircase. The large forage loft was built later and is today used as the caretaker’s workshop. The stables were situated just below the forage loft and today house the Grade 1 and Grade 2 classrooms. The rings on which to tether the horses can still be seen on the wall.