OVERVIEWNEWSAcademicBOYSCulturalSportADMISSIONContactsQuick Links
St John’s College has an illustrious history spanning over 115 years. 

The school was founded on 1 August 1898 in a house in Plein Street by an Irish priest, Reverend John Darragh, the rector of St Mary’s Church (now Cathedral).  Johannesburg was then 12 years old, and the tiny school boasted two desks and seven pupils. 
Just one year later it was forced to close its doors when the Anglo Boer War began. It re-opened in 1902, two months after the signing of the peace treaty, and grew rapidly. Soon 180 pupils were enrolled and the school had to move to larger premises. Its new home was a wood and iron building near the Union Grounds.
However, the post war government was opposed to private schools and over the next few years policies introduced by Lord Milner’s administration caused the school’s enrolment to plummet. By 1906 St John’s faced closure, and an approach was made to the Community of the Resurrection (an Anglo Catholic order of missionary priests and lay brothers) to take over the school.

The new headmaster, Father ‘Okey’ Nash, realised that if St John’s was to survive, it had to move north out of the city. He chose a magnificent site on Houghton Ridge, which the school was able to purchase through the generosity of diamond magnate Mr (later Sir) Thomas Cullinan, who donated £5 000, and the Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, which sold the land to St John’s at half its market value. 

The renowned architect Mr (later Sir) Herbert Baker was appointed to design the new school buildings which occupy 56 acres on Houghton Ridge. The first blocks used were of rough-hewn quartzite quarried on the site, but subsequently rock was sourced from Krugersdorp and hand-chased by Maltese craftsmen.  The school is arranged around a number of quadrangles, each with its cloisters.  The buildings around David quad were the work of Leonard Fleming, who worked with Baker.

Many St John’s boys and masters served their country during the Great War, and in 1931 the beautiful War Memorial Chapel, which is the centre of all school activities, was completed to commemorate those who fell in battle. The rood screen was created by Italian craftsmen in the 1930s. The pipe organ was built in the gallery in 1964 as a memorial to choirmaster Noel Iverson.  Inside the chapel is the Delville Wood (All Souls) Memorial Chapel, which houses one of only five Delville Wood crosses in the world.  The stained glass windows in the nave are of St John.  

The Crypt Chapel, which was built below the Memorial Chapel, is adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance.

The Bell Tower houses a chiming clock; the only other one of similar size in the country, in the Rissik Street Post Office, is no longer in use.  The bells are dedicated to Old Johannian, Terence Moon. The tower overlooks David Quad, named after the statue of David, sculpted by a Florentine sculptor, Verrochio, which stands proudly in the middle of a cross-shaped pond.  David Quad is considered the showpiece of the school.

The Pelican Quadrangle was named after the fountain, which depicts a pelican feeding her young with flesh torn from her own breast.  The fountain, a gift in memory of the work of the Community, is reminiscent of a similar structure in Corpus Christi, Oxford.
The Community of the Resurrection handed over their charge to the Diocese of Johannesburg in 1934.

The school continued to grow from strength to strength and is internationally recognised as one of the top academic South African schools.


“The history of St John’s is . . . the story of a poor school, struggling first for survival and, then, for means to fulfil the ambitious plans for its growth and development. That fact accounts for the large part played in the history of the College by considerations of . . . rands and cents. In 1906, £100 was for the College a much-needed windfall . . . In 1958 the requirement was R500 000; and again there were Old Johannians and parents and friends – ‘our people’, all of them – to work for us and fulfil our need.” – K.C. Lawson, in his introduction to ‘Venture of Faith’
St John’s College founded on 1 August by the Rev John Darragh. Rev J.L. Hodgson is appointed the first Headmaster.
11 October – the state of war that existed between Britain and the Transvaal greatly affects the new school, and it is closed down.
The school re-opens after the war with 180 boys in new premises – simple buildings of wood and corrugated iron next to the Union Ground. Lord Milner initiates his grand plan for state education. St John’s threatened by the opening of a government high school in the town – Johannesburg College (later to be known as King Edward VII School).
45 state schools now open in Johannesburg. StJC Old Boys Association founded.
The St Mary’s parish is relieved of the responsibility for StJC which becomes a Dioscesan institution.
September: the Diocesan Board of Education invites the Community of the Resurrection, whose brethren James Nash, Latimer Fuller and Clement Thomson, had arrived in SA early in 1903, to take over the running of StJC.

Rev James Okey Nash becomes Headmaster. ‘Then we remember our second founder, James Okey Nash, and the Brethren of the Community of the Resurrection, who for 29 years, for the love of God alone, rendered service which made possible the survival and extension of the School.’ The Old Boys win the annual cricket match against the College by nine wickets. The first theatrical ‘entertainment’ is held. The church persuades mining magnate T.H. (later Sir Thomas) Cullinan to contribute £5000 to refounding St John’s on the Houghton Ridge. The School crest is commissioned by Waldie Peirson, StJC councillor (the original shield is housed in The Boar’s Head pub at The Johannian Club). College uses the present school colours, navy and maroon, for the first time. Nash writes the School prayer.


Construction begins on the new Houghton buildings designed by Sir Herbert Baker. A site virtually next door is selected for Johannesburg College.  The A cricket ground is established, but only levelled in 1913. Four College houses are instituted: Nash, Thomson, Alston and Rakers (which became Hill in 1910). 6 Aug: the College opens in Houghton and accepts its first boarders. StJC now has 100 boys. Nash starts a fund for a chemical lab, and a second for a gymnasium.


The first annual dinner of the Old Boys’ Association is held. First Entrance Scholarship awarded. Beginnings of the Ladies Entertainment Committee (Kenneth Lawson in 1968 pays tribute to their 60 years service.)  The School has 130 boys, including 10 boarders.


By April Nash has secured funding for six extra classrooms. £1500 granted by the Witwatersrand Council of Education for the purchase from JCI of an adjoining five acres. Gym fund reaches £700.


28 boarders housed in accommodation designed for 18. The Johannesburg Golf Club which surrounded the College on three sides had fallen into disuse and the Golf House, 60 yards to the west, stands empty. The College rents the Golf House (it stood on the present day David Quad), and two junior classes are installed. A cadet corps is formed and the detachment appears in public for the first time at a memorial service for the late King Edward VII. Nash announces that a separate Prep School will be started in the new year. College buys the Golf House and 2½ acres for £1700 from JCI. College property now more than 15 acres.

Construction of the Gym (now Big School) begins. The death of a pupil from scarlet fever raises the issue of establishing a san at the school. The College buys the land to the west of Golf House with a £2000 grant from the Wits Council of Education. The total school estate is now 23 acres.

Community of the Resurrection buys ‘The Uprise’, a house to the west of Golf House, and rents it to the College for £15 per month.

1913 - 14

The New Building Scheme with a £30 000 target is launched. Plans for the new buildings had been proposed by Baker and Frank Fleming and centred on (today’s) Pelican Quad, the Chapel, Darragh Hall and a forecourt (today’s David Quad). The Prep would move into the existing school buildings (where is it housed today around the Prep Arch). The school now has 230 boys, of whom 60 are boarders. The fundraising did not go well, and at the end of 1914 those who created St John’s took the most courageous decision yet: they decided to go ahead and complete only the south and west classroom blocks (around Pelican Quad) spending all the £6565 raised.

Great War
By February 1916, 120 Johannians were serving, and 22 had died. Fr Eustace Hill served as chaplain to SA forces in Luderitzbucht, German West Africa, before ministering to the SA Brigade in Delville Wood. Hill kept Nash informed via long, descriptive letters. He lost his right arm and was awarded the Military Cross. Hill asked Clement Thomson in January 1917 that his MC be ‘let in to our own altar cross?’ and he offered to have a crucifix made. Late 1917 Hill’s crucifix arrived at StJC. Of the 299 old boys and masters who served in the Great War, nine received awards for gallantry and Oswald Reid was awarded the VC. Reid died in 1920.
While the new school buildings are being erected, construction begins on the Crypt Chapel designed by Frank Fleming. Its ultimate purpose is to form a substructure of the great Chapel as envisaged by Baker’s grandiose plans of 1913.
The need for a swimming pool becomes uppermost, but first the water source has to be secured. A borehole is successfully sunk on the south east corner of the B cricket field (corner Elm Street and St John Road; it is still going strong today). In December the Gladstone Bath is opened (where Clayton Quad is today) – StJC is the first school in Johannesburg to have its own pool.
Nash appointed Coadjutor-Bishop of Cape Town. At his farewell he is presented with a Pastoral Staff beautifully designed by Frank Fleming. (In 1968, the crozier was received back from Mirfield, home lodge in Yorkshire of the C.R., and mounted in the Chapel sanctuary.) The new Headmaster Clement Thomson appoints the first female member of College staff.
The science laboratory block (north side of the David Quad) is built. The number of pupils increases to 400 boys, including 100 boarders.
The Memorial Chapel appeal is launched in February, but raised only £1500 that year of the £7000 target.
With the help of the Wits Council of Education the College secures a further six acres from JCI, the western end of the valley, the site of the present C and D rugby fields. First copy of The Johannian published, edited by Fr Cyprian Rudolf C.R.  Rudolf must be given credit for starting the College gardens and for several adornments to the buildings such as the Italian cortile by the library staircase.
Fr Eustace Hill appointed Headmaster. StJC now 25 years young. Death of John Darragh.
Chapel superstructure completed in June. At a fitting religious and military ceremony, the Chapel is dedicated as a War Memorial and the Delville Wood Cross, entrusted by the 3rd Regiment South African Infantry to StJC, is received and erected in the Crypt Chapel.
Darragh Hall completed.
31 May: formal dedication of the Chapel. Decision taken to complete College buildings before building a Junior Prep. £12 550 allocated for a library, the gap between Darragh and the Chapel, the Tower, the south side of the forecourt (David Quad), cloisters and an amphitheatre. The north front, amphitheatre and Pelican Quad completed by November.
Construction of the Library and the Tower is begun. Four boarding houses, now each separately housed. Hill leaves StJC at the end of the year, quietly and without ceremony.
Gaudy Day, 14 May – the Delville Wood Cross is transferred from the Crypt Chapel to its permanent resting place in the War Memorial Chapel. The new Headmaster Charles Runge C.R. draws attention to the lack of uniformity in the dress of the boys and proposes that the regulation School uniform and all accessories be provided by an outfitter in the city. Rugby replaces soccer as the main winter sport. The Transvaal Rugby Union assists the school by levelling all four rugby fields.
Sixth Form established – only six boys stay. Matric exams are held at school for the first time, rather than at the University of the Witwatersrand.
300 boys in the College, 180 in the Prep. The ‘annual fete’ raises £300 which is divided equally between the Sophiatown Mission and the OJA. Noel Iverson revives the first of a long series of G and S productions Trial by Jury. November – the clock and bells are installed in the Tower.
End of an epoch – the Community of the Resurrection resigns its charge of StJC. Wrote Runge: ‘We (the Community) have many other claims upon us; but it is not because we think the School less important than these, but precisely because we rate it so highly, that we have made the decision to withdraw.’ The ‘forecourt’ transformed into the David Quad and, together with the Gate House Quad, takes on the appearance that it has today.
Rev S.H. ‘Nobby’ Clarke begins his 20 years as Headmaster. The Pelican Fountain, given by Chairman of Council Walter Webber, is erected to commemorate the Community of the Resurrection. Clarke commits himself and his staff to taking the School from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’. Five houses are built for married masters. Physics and Chemistry are made compulsory. Clarke makes known his staunch belief in Sixth Form.
June: Clarke is appointed a member of the Joint Matriculation Board on which he served for 18 years.
College entry exams are introduced. The present squash courts are built.
World War II
Clarke: ‘The war must make no impact on the teaching and day to day life of the school.’ By 1940, 12 of the 24 College and Prep masters had joined up. By 1942, 600 OJs including masters were on active service, 29 were dead. Sixth Form in 1942 numbered two; there were 15 in 1939. In all, the war saw service by 896 old boys and masters; 94 died. 85 OJs were decorated for bravery or meritorious service in the field.
A year of steady recuperation.
School now has 550 boys (250 boarders) housed in accommodation built for 500 (200 boarders). Pressing need for development. The War Memorial and Jubilee Appeal is launched with a target of £100 000. This failed dismally chiefly, as Clarke put it, because ‘we did nothing except send out a brochure; there was no real campaign.’
1949 -53

Clarke admitted that his last four years at StJC were the best of his regime. This was a period of great development in the School – in morale, in public spirit and in things academic. Stanley Dodson retires as Prep Headmaster in 1950 after 35 years at the School, 15 as the first Headmaster of the Prep. School fees raised twice in the past eight years.

Deane Yates arrives as College Headmaster, the first married man not an ordained priest to hold the position. 664 boys, 375 in the College, 100 boarders in the Prep. The school was crowded.
Yates forms a College Building Sub-Committee. This puts forward a detailed memorandum on development which basically  stated that the Prep be given immediate attention and that College developments should be a secondary priority.
Yates’ recommendations accepted by Council. P.E. Cuckow, who had been on the staff from 1922-43, appointed to run the StJC Foundation appeal, target: £250 000; £180 000 for the building programme, £70 000 for endowment.
By the year end, £169 000 pledged to the Foundation. By January 1965 close on £400 000 had been received. The Long Walk pool is built.
New Prep dorm and classroom wing opens.
New College science block opens. Clayton House built; the new quad completed. The College kitchens are modernised. Long Walk is extended to the swimming bath. The Endowment Fund provides six new scholarships. The A cricket field is turfed.
During Yates’ headship StJC has widened in interests and outlook. Boys and masters move towards a broader and more modern concept of education and an appreciation and critical understanding of the rapidly changing life of Johannesburg, of South Africa, and of the world at large. Yates, the ‘Boss’, leaves at the end of the year to start Maru a Pula in Botswana. The Pre-Prep opens.
Jan Breitenbach becomes the first South African Headmaster. Cadet corps ceases to exist. The first female is accepted into Sixth Form.
A Students Council is elected; this concept lasts until 1978.
StJC now 75 years old. School changes to a three-term school.
StJC becoming, increasingly rapidly, a day school. Overcrowding in Darragh Hall partially solved by staggering lunch sessions for the Prep, Junior College and Senior College.
Full introduction of the new Anglican liturgy.
First school bursar and estate manager appointed. School fees set at R2049 p.a. for boarders, R1143 for day-boys.
First computer installed in Room 39, Pelican Quad. Six cluster houses for staff erected near the Pre-Prep.
Two large and six smaller stained glass windows installed in the sanctuary of the Chapel – a donation from the OJA to mark its 75th anniversary. 21 students in Sixth Form.
The Cultural tie is introduced. Snow falls in September.
Breitenbach retires at the end of Easter Term. New Headmaster Walter Macfarlane OJ establishes a Parents’ Association. Saturday school is abolished.
17 ‘legal’ versions of the School uniform are whittled down to two: Number Ones and summer khakis. Sixth Form girls are given a uniform. The amphitheatre eagle is smashed, and David is stolen. Electric bells take over signalling the end of periods from the bell manually rung by School Orderly Abie Moroane. A new School constitution, including the composition of Council, becomes effective and lasts until 1998.
Speech Day is held for the last time in Pelican Quad and moves to the Linder Auditorium the following year.
The annual Rugby Dinner is introduced. StJC holds it first Valedictory Service. College Choir sings for Prof R Charlton, OJ, at a reception in Senate House after his inauguration as Vice Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand.
Opening of the Noel Iverson Music School.
The Valley waterpolo pool is built.  The railway sleepers give way to memorial benches below the amphitheatre on the south side of A Rugby field, paid for by the PA and individual Old Johannians.
Last of the JMB matric exams.
September: launch of the Centenary Appeal. As part of this, the Centenary Bulletin is published (this becomes Vita in 2000). The new science block opens and is blessed as the Deane Yates Centre.
Macfarlane retires as Headmaster; Robert Clarence is appointed.
The Prep closes its boarding facilities. OJA sells its Linksfield property and buys 32 and 34 St Andrews Road, present site of Runge House (the Sixth Form) and The Johannian Club.
The School’s catering services are outsourced. The first annual Easter Rugby Festival is held. Runge House is opened on Gaudy Day. A rugby field is renamed Burger Field.
September: Robert Clarence departs as Headmaster; Alan Wilcock appointed acting HM, and fully to the post the following year. Masimbambane opens in Orange Farm and is ‘twinned’ with StJC.
College Centenary. A mass of thanksgiving is held on Burger Field for all three schools, staff, parents past and present, former pupils and friends of the School. During the year the School celebrated with a ball, a race day, a golf day, a pageant, an arts and crafts fair, a centenary rose, basketball, cricket, hockey and rugby festivals, performances of Death of a Salesman, Pirates of Penzance and Mozart’s Requiem. Eleven OJ dinners were held around the world. Commemorative gifts are presented by Jeppe, St Mary’s and St Stithian’s schools. President Mandela opens the rugby festival. The celebrations ended with a massed Carols by Candlelight service and fireworks display on Burger Field in November. On Gaudy Day a School birthday cake was cut by F.E. Rowland, the second oldest living OJ, and Brendan Pyke, one of the youngest Grade 1 pupils in the Pre-Prep. The Centenary Venture target of R12.5 million is reached. The College website is launched. The College constitution is redrafted and the first schoolboy representative appointed to Council. 25 Centenary Scholarships are introduced to be awarded at the rate of five per annum for the next five years. Owen Nkumane OJ selected as a rugby Springbok – the School’s first. Paterson and Wilkinson Houses named at the Pre-Prep. 68 pupils enrolled in the Sixth Form. The second school history Forward in Faith, written by Ian Grant-McKenzie, is published. Roger Cameron’s appointment as Headmaster is announced on Speech Day; he started at the beginning of Trinity Term 1999.
Opening of the Fred England Technology and Media Centre in the Prep. Introduction of Sixth Form girls’ boarding.  Significant growth in weekly boarders. Move to establish StJC as a parish; this was formalised in March 2000. World premiere of Te Deum by Peter Lois van Dijk, commissioned for the School’s Centenary. The School Museum is moved to the Armoury with financial assistance given by the OJA. A strategic review is undertaken by Council and senior staff which results in the following mission statement for StJC: To be a world class Christian school in Africa. A disciplinary council is established.
First performance of On the Night music and fireworks show on Burger Field in October. An after-school care centre opens at the Pre-Prep.
Centenary Venture tops R17 million. Introduction of 7th House, Hodgson, a boarding house. The School has 1234 pupils with an annual budget of R44 million. The synthetic turf hockey field and the sports pavilion linking the hockey and Burger Field are completed. Sixth Form boarding school for girls is expanded with the acquisition of 14 St David Road. StJC and St Mary’s School jointly sign a lease for Kloofwaters, an outdoor adventure camp in the Magaliesberg. StJC hosts three debates during the World Schools Debating Championships. Masimbambane has 350 pupils in Grades 0-5. Outreach continues with School support for the Yeoville Community School, Mother Theresa’s, educator workshops, the Toy Boyz project.
Darryl Geffen appointed head of Masimbambane. March: official opening of the Gillette Field and the Henry Bennett Sports Pavilion. The first Jennifer Boulton Memorial Feast, bequeathed by Noel Hobbs OJ, is held in Darragh Hall.
Opening of The Bridge Nursery School, a partnership between StJC and Roedean. The actual bridge linking the two schools is constructed over Houghton Drive during the Easter weekend.


Sources: Venture of Faith by K.C. Lawson
Forward in Faith by I.G. Grant-McKenzie
Let Me Tell You – the story of the first 73 years of the Old Johannian Association, January 1903 – December 1975 (unpublished), by Eric S. Thomson OJ
Let Me Tell You (Continuation) - the story of the Old Johannian Association, January 1976 – December 2000 (unpublished), by B.P. Couchman OJ and R.J.H. Baillie OJ
Recent copies of The Johannian
Return to top
Click here for quick links
home   |   contacts   |   Member of the Independent Schools' Association of Southern Africa