Oatlands Preparatory School was officially opened by Mr F Vernal, former headmaster of Graeme College on 1 June 1949, but its history stretches far back into the history of the Eastern Cape.
In 1819 there arrived on the eastern frontier Captain Henry Somerset, eldest son of the Governor of the Cape at that time, Lord Charles Somerset of the House of Beaufort. He came at the command of his father to help bring peace and order in the turbulence that then existed on this border of the Cape Colony, and he remained here with his wife and family until 1852. In August 1820, Sir Rufane Donkin, the Acting Governor, granted Captain Henry Somerset 296 morgen of land in the growing village of Graham’s Town. Captain Somerset named this property “Oatlands Park” after the family estate in England.
One of the early settlers in Grahamstown was John Douglas, an ironmonger who became a very successful businessman in his adopted homeland, acquiring business and land interests both in Grahamstown and Cradock. He was a bachelor who showed an interest in educational and church matters. At some time, either before or shortly after Captain Henry Somerset left Grahamstown, the Somerset property was surveyed and the southern section divided up and sold as plots. John Douglas later acquired the section on the southern border from the estate of a Mr Ward.
On 29 November 1858 the will of John Douglas was drawn up, bequeathing the lands and buildings belonging to him, situated in African Street, in trust to found a school for poor and destitute children. John Douglas died on 25 July 1859 and his wishes, made clear in his Will, carried out.
A school, known as the “Douglas School” in honour of its benefactor, was erected to serve the poorer children of the town. Little is known of the school’s early history, but by 1896 it was standing empty and was then taken over by the Sisters of the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican Order in charge of the Grahamstown Training College and various schools for the poor and orphan children of the district. This school provided a very important educational home for many. It is not certain exactly when it was demolished, but by 1928 it had gone.
In 1924 or 1925, the then Circuit Inspector of Education, Mr Bond, mentioned to Miss A M Newby, then a teacher at St Bartholomew’s Preparatory School serving the southern area of Graham’s Town, that another such school should be built to serve the northern areas. Nothing further developed until the 1940’s when Miss Newby went to teach at the Victoria Girls’ School. During this decade the lower section, i.e. Sub Std A to Std 2 of Victoria Girls’ School split from the main school and with Miss Newby at its head became Victoria Preparatory School. Due to a lack of space and the growing number of pupils, it was decided to once again build on the site of the old Douglas School in African Street. Building commenced in 1948 but was seriously delayed due to a shortage of cement following the 2nd World War. As a result classes in 1949 were held in various buildings in town – one class in the Victoria Junior cloakroom, one in the classroom of the Domestic Science Block of the School Board Office off Huntley Street and two above Williams Hunt Garage in High Street, before finally moving into the new building on Monday, 16 May 1949. All the school boys had turned out on the previous Saturday to help move in the furniture, books and equipment.
It was decided to break with associations of the past and present, so the school was given a new name, “Oatlands Preparatory School” after the original estate of Captain Henry Somerset. The Std 2 pupils now moved, the girls returning to Victoria Girls’ School and the boys to Graeme College. Oatlands was now a true Preparatory School accepting boys and girls from Sub Std A to Std 1.
The first members of staff were Miss A M Newby (Principal), Mrs E W Brigg, Miss E M Baines and Miss Barrow.
Originally, it was envisaged that Oatlands would feed the two public schools, Victoria Girls’ School and Graeme College, but it soon became evident that our pupils would go on not only to the public schools but also the private schools situated in Grahamstown.
Miss Newby retired in March 1957 and was succeeded by Miss Baines. The school grew in numbers and in the early 1970’s a second storey was added to the eastern wing, providing three more classrooms. In 1974 the western wing was converted to accommodate the pre-primary class. Miss Baines retired in June 1978.
Miss M L Lloyd was appointed principal from July 1978. The school continued to grow and in 1984 was granted a second pre-primary class. During this period the school changed from a two session day to a one-session day and extra-mural sport introduced on the municipal field opposite the school, known as Stanton Field.
Oatlands Prep became one of the first schools in the country to change to first a Model B school and then a Model C school. This meant that we were able to admit children of all racial groups, a transition that took place with remarkably few problems. This made the transition back to a public school in 1997 equally problem free, due to the strong support of the parent body.
Mrs M Walwyn succeeded Miss Lloyd as principal in January 1998. A new reception area was built and a large covered verandah added to the east wing, where children wait for their lifts on rainy days. Mrs Walwyn expended much time and effort in an attempt to acquire Stanton Field, used as our playground and sports field, from the Municipality. With the assistance of the Department of Public Works, the field was finally swapped for another piece of land adjacent to Rhodes University. However, Mrs Walwyn retired at the end of 2008 with the transfer of Stanton Field not yet finalized.
Mrs R de la Mare was appointed as principal in 2009. Due to the increased demand for English medium education, the school took the decision to extend the school to Grade 7 with the first Grade 4 class introduced in 2013. With the addition of a grade each year, Oatlands has now grown into a fully-fledged primary school. With the school now having an intermediate phase, Oatlands held their first official prize-giving in 2015 and monitors were elected for 2016. Separate sports days were held for the foundation phase and intermediate phase children. Oatlands pupils are competing successfully in various Summer and Winter sports.
In 2016, the house at 7 Luke Street was purchased by the Department of Public Works and alterations were made to the property to accommodate the Grade R class. Finalisation of the acquisition of Stanton Field is in a positive state of progress, however the wheels are still turning slowly.