Residents of Norwood today know the efficient, modernist school buildings of Norwood Primary School that were constructed in the 1960s. They are functional, and don’t offend, but perhaps cannot be described as distinctive or beautiful. Few know that these structures replaced a much older school building.
Norwood Government School was designed in 1907 by architect Patrick Eagle for the Public Works Department of the Transvaal Colony. It formed part of an investment in educational infrastructure by the Milner government, and Rosebank Government School was opened at about the same time (1906). Eagle had just been appointed chief architect of the Public Works Department of the Transvaal Colony, and would hold this position until 1910, when he would be promoted to chief architect of the Public Works Department of the Union of South Africa. He was born and trained in London, and arrived in South Africa in 1903.
The public buildings executed in the Transvaal during Eagle's period of office were distinguished in their design, reflecting the Arts and Crafts and Queen Anne Revival movements and the influence of Herbert Baker. A good example is King Edward VII School in Upper Houghton.
The main block of King Edward VII School, designed by Patrick Eagle in 1908.
All that remains of Norwood Government School is a set of blueprints, but they provide enough information to determine what the school looked like.
The site plan shows that the main elevation of the building faced Scholtz Avenue (marked Schulz Road on the plan):
There were separate entrances for boys, girls and infants on Scholtz. Likewise, there were two playgrounds: one for boys, and one for girls and infants. The plan states that the buildings have been designed for a capacity of 300 pupils – an indication of how developed Norwood was, even in 1907!
The Scholtz Avenue elevation shows the hallmarks of the Queen Anne Revival style: it is an elegantly symmetrical design in red brick with white sash windows, and an attractive tower crowns a corrugated iron roof. Two wings flank the main block, which has five graceful arches.
If this looks familiar, you’d be right. The Scholtz Avenue façade is less grand version of the southern façade of the main block of King Edward VII School.
The side elevations were equally distinguished: tall sash windows inserted into the red brick, and two chimneys punctuating the roof line:
The beautiful arched doorway is visible in this photo (Courtesy of Rob Davis):
The western (back) façade faced the playgrounds. It consisted of a long building with narrow sash windows set on a stone base.
This elevation is visible in another photo of Rob Davis.
By the 1960s the school was accommodating more than 400 pupils, and a decision was made to demolish it and build a new building, and to extend the school grounds westward by expropriating and demolishing houses. The Forward Planning Interim Report No 5: Johannesburg Educational Facilities, published by the City of Johannesburg’s City Engineer’s Department in 1967 states that the school had 458 pupils, and its grounds would be extended from 2.01 morgen (just over 5,000 square meters) to 2.70 morgen (6,750 square meters).
A comparison of a recent aerial photo to one from the 1950s shows how houses on the western edge were devoured, and how the new building is primarily oriented north, on William Road.
It is a great pity that the architects of the new building did not choose to keep the 1907 buildings and augment them with new extensions. Our neighbourhood is poorer for it.