Staats Model School, 331 Lilian Ngoyi (formerly Van der Walt) Street, Pretoria
The Staats Model School was originally established to train teachers in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. When the Anglo-Boer War broke out, the building became a prison and Winston Churchill (later Sir Winston Churchill) was held captive here until his escape about a month after his capture. Later the school became a hospital, a school again and finally a library to the then Transvaal Education Department. Prominent schools such as Pretoria Boys' High School and Clapham High School had their kick-start on these premises before moving onto their respective areas.
Currently, the Staats Model School is occupied by the Gauteng Department of Education.
The building is a prime example of the design oevre of the Departement Publike Werken, Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), with Sytze Wierda as the head, and a prime example of the Wilhelmine style in South Africa.
Current known heritage status
The building is a Grade II Provincial Heritage Resource. It was declared a National Monument on the 8th of April 1960.
Possible interested and affected parties
- City of Tshwane Building Heritage Association (CoTBHA)
- Department of Architecture - University of Pretoria
- Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA)
- Pretoria Boys' High School
- Clapham High School
The most well-known fact about this building is the captivity of Winston Churchill during the Anglo-Boer War.
Designed in 1895 by Sytze Wopkes Wierda, this Neo-Dutch Renaissance building was to be a model or prototype for schools in the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek). The school was originally divided into four parts: a teacher's training centre, a school for mostly boys and a few girls, a library serving both schools, and a gymnasium. At the time it was the epitome of being modern where the layout of schools was concerned.
1899 brought with it the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, causing the school to close down. This saw the establishment of a prison on the premises. This prison detained officers of the war, who were looked after by war prisoners of a lesser rank. A young Winston Churchill, who was thought to be an officer as he was camouflaged as one, was one of the captives. He was held here until his escape about a month after his capture in December 1899.
After the war, the building took on the function of a hospital. After a while the hospital moved out and the structure reverted back to being a school. Pretoria Boys High School was originally housed here. The Staats Model School served as a predecessor to this school which is currently located in Brooklyn. The same happened with Clapham High School, among others. The building was seen as an appropriate precedent for many schools in the area.
Later, in 1951, the Transvaal Education Department Library moved in.
In 1960 the Staats Model School was declared a National Monument.
Currently the Gauteng Department of Education occupies the space.
Description of alterations with dates affected
The structural skeleton of the building has been not changed since its initial construction. Additions, though, have been made more specifically throughout the library years in the form of prefaricated structures attached to the exterior of the building to the south, in an effort to increase the library space by adding on studying areas and increasing book storage surfaces.
The original interior floors of the building are of hollow timber construction. Later, during the library years, the floors were covered in carpet - which is still extant.
On the facades, windows are layered with steel grilles of which the design is totally different from that of the rest of the building. These grilles are new and detachable.
Apart from regular coats of paint on the walls and other surfaces, no other crucial interventions have taken place.
Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces
The Staats Model School was designed and built by Dutch emmigrees using Dutch construction techniques. The building belongs to the Neo-Dutch Renaissance movement called Wilhelmiens in South Africa, which was influenced by classical paradigms such as the Gothic and Romanesque styles (History of Holland, 2004-2012:1). In terms of the Dutch, the most valuable monuments of this period are public buildings, heralded at a time when public life was assumed to be important and had a dignity that could be expressed in brick and stone - in this case, red brick and Stinkwater sandstone (History of Holland, 2004-2012:1).
Characteristic of the Neo-Dutch Renaissance is the symmetrical facade that ends in gables of geometric shape (Breiner, 1996:11). Brick fronts are punctured by relatively large openings - Neo-Dutch - and decorated by classically inspired detail (Breiner, 1996:11). At the Staats Model School the openings serve to ventilate the hollow timber floors and are situated directly below the facade windows (Breiner, 1996:11). The openings are covered by steel plates decorated with classical patterned cut-outs, creating a contrast in material and subsequently a diversity of colour and texture. Such openings can also be found on the internal window sills of the accompanying windows.
As mentioned previously, the Neo-Dutch paradigm was influenced by classic styles such as the Gothic. As with Gothic, the facade of the structure has large window openings so as to allow for maximum natural light penetration; even so, in the spirit of domestic Dutch buildings, the front facade has a covered verandah providing a shaded exterior space.
Internally, the spaces emulate the layout of the facade in its symmetry. This symmetry facilitates a strong axis in this simple geometric plan, consisting of partitioned rectangular and square spaces. Partitions were and are of timber topped with timber-framed unopenable windows. Under the finished floor a tunnel was carved out of the substructure that ultimately became an escape route for prisoners during the Anglo-Boer War - one that Winston Churchill and other prisoners utilised (Snyman, 2012).
Materials were and are mostly timber (floor, partitions, dado rails, furniture, ceiling, window and door frames), cast iron (coat hooks on dado rails, ironmongery, ceiling brackets), steel (window grilles), and glazing/glass (windows, display cabinets, framed pictures). All materials and finishes, i.e. dadorails, coat hooks and walls, have always been painted, never exposed.
Historical elements such as books, found objects, etc are displayed in the building in a timber display cabinet in the passage. Other historical elements, i.e. a map of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek with a skeleton dated 1899-1900 and an image of the school soon after it was built, are displayed in large timber frames hung in an office and the passage respectively.
Currently, the interior is receiving a new coat of paint courtesy of the Gauteng Department of Education.
Snyman, H. 2012. Gauteng Department of Education Library. Pretoria Staats Model School: personal communication.
Breiner, D.M. 1996. Historical and Architectural Development: Stone Street Historic District Designation Report. New York: New York Landmark Preservation Commission.
http://www.historyofholland.com/dutch-architecture.html [Accessed: 20 May 2012]
© 2004-2012. http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/STONE_STREET_HISTORIC_DISTRICT.pdf [Accessed: 20 May 2012 ]