Wynberg Heritage: Littlewood Boarding House Diamond Anniversary


Littlewood Boarding House Diamond Anniversary

Littlewood Boarding House Diamond Anniversary

Saturday 7 October 2017, sixty years to the day that Wynberg’s ‘new’ boarding house was officially opened.

Under the Headship of Mr WE ‘Bill’ Bowden the 1950s had seen dramatic upgrades to the facilities and grounds at Wynberg: from 1952 to1954 the single-storey school had become a double-storey, the quad surrounded by eighteen classrooms had been built, science labs re-equipped, classrooms refurbished, new change-rooms and showers for the boys and for the staff had appeared, a new staffroom, a secretary’s office … and in 1956 the long-awaited  Memorial swimming bath and pavilion were officially opened.

Demolition of Wynberg's old boarding house, click to view full-sized image

Demolition of Wynberg’s old boarding house, click to view full-sized image

That same year “The shambles which did service as a boarding establishment is one with the dust.”* The foundation stone was laid, and building of a new hostel commenced.

We recount Mr Harry Arguile’s editorial in the 1957 School Magazine, and the transcript of Dr Martin Littlewood’s recorded address at the opening:

“LittIewood House,” the new School Hostel, was officially opened on October 7th, and another milestone has thus been passed. It was not without a pang of regret that we saw the old Boarding House reduced to rubble, but the change was long overdue, and we trust that the new Hostel will not only take to itself the tradition of the old, but that in course of time it will acquire a tradition of its own.

Opening of Littlewood House, Monday 7 October 1957, click to view full-sized image

Opening of Littlewood House, Monday 7 October 1957, click to view full-sized image

Almost from the time of its establishment the School has attracted pupils from various parts of the Cape and the neighbouring territories. By 1857, for instance, about one quarter of the School’s enrolment were boarders who lived with friends in the village or stayed with Mr. McNaughton himself. It is not the policy of the Administration in these days to build new Boarding Houses, and the provision of the new Hostel is a recognition on their part of the long history of the School as a boarding establishment and of their confidence in its future as such. – HA

Transcript of the Recorded Speech by DR Martin Littlewood, Devon, played at the opening of “Littlewood House,” Wynberg Boys’ High School, on Monday, 7th October, 1957.

It is a signal honour to be asked to speak, with the help of a tape recorder, when you are gathered together to do homage to the memory of my father, Edward Thornton Littlewood, after whom this Hostel is to be named. It is perhaps an appropriate choice to select me in the absence of my brother, Jack, in America, where he is the visiting Professor to two Universities over 3,000 miles apart.

The old Boarding House was our home, and, in my case, from 1892 to 1905. In fact, it was poignant to hear that it has been demolished to make room for some nobler structure. Let us hope that the planners have spared that huge plumbago hedge and, if they exist, or their descendants, the lovely banksia and glorie de dijon roses which my mother brought from Devonshire so many years ago.

The 78 rpm recording of Dr Martin Littlewood's address, played at the opening of Littlewood House, 7 October 1957

The 78 rpm recording of Dr Martin Littlewood’s address, played at the opening of Littlewood House, 7 October 1957

I had a happy boyhood, tempered by the fact that, when all the other fellows broke up, I seemed to remain at School, except for summer holidays at Franschhoek or Hermanus. There was also the jay of paddling on Zeekoe Vlei in the canoe made of wood and canvas by Lionel Noakes and myself. This craft was inspired by an article in the Boys’ Own Paper written by my father in the 80’s, and, when my elder son recently tried to get a canoe, he visited nearby Appledore, where he found an old salt building them to our design, which had been reprinted from the original contribution. Clearly, my old Dad’s ideas on boat building were sound, and have stood the test of time.

An outstanding memory is that of the hero who, during the Boer War, came back from the holidays with a healed rifle bullet wound through his arm. His name eludes me now, but I trust that he is still with us, and still recounting the tale.

Our pleasures were simple but substantial. Vast watermelons, clothes-baskets of hanepoot grapes, enormous flat strips of licorice from the tuck shop at the gate, and all within the compass of our very slender purses. And there were always the pine kernels to stop the pangs of hunger. One of the few Dutch words I remember is “dennepitjies.”

I ask your indulgence in confining myself to an attempt to portray our old Headmaster. He was a typical Anglo-Saxon in appearance, tall, spare, blue-eyed and with a golden moustache. Going up to Peterhouse, Cambridge, he became, like his father and his elder son, a Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos. This is not a term of abuse but an obsolete name for the highest class.

The sawn-off oar blade now hanging in my hall records that he stroked his College Eight in the May races of 1880, achieving four bumps. This is another tricky word that does not mean what it seems to.

After taking a Science degree at London University, he worked with Lord Kelvin at Glasgow and later was a Housemaster at Dover College. He was a man of high integrity, as can be illustrated by a fact that only came to my knowledge after his death. He abided by his decision to accept the Headship at Wynberg, although, a few days after his letter was posted, he was offered a Fellowship at Magdalene. His high principles affected me painfully at School, as he objected to any suspicion of favouritism, and it always seemed to me that I received a double ration of corporal punishment for my numerous sins. But I may be doing him an injustice. His influence on education at the Cape must have been considerable, as he was often away at conferences, but this aspect of his life will doubtless be touched on by others more qualified to judge.

After his retirement, my parents settled in their spiritual home, Cambridge, where his intellectual powers remained on a high level. Professor Hardy of Trinity could remember no other example of original Mathematical research from a man in the late 70’s. During this period, when I frequently saw them, they were obviously delighted to receive news from old colleagues, Old Boys, and to feel that their many years of devotion to the School had been so fruitful.

He died in 1941 and was buried, and later my mother, among his many friends in the Peterhouse plot of Cherry Hinton churchyard.

My brother, family, and grandchildren unite in wishing “Littlewood Hostel” and the School a long and prosperous future. – Dr Martin Littlewood

* The Story of A School, by DH Thomson, 1961. Limited collectors’ hardcover copies available at R100 from wynbergmarketing@wbhs.org.za

Wynberg Media Oude Wijnberg heritage compilation #SuperaMoras #FermamentumLudi 

Thc photographs of “Littlewood House” below … together with those taken at the official opening of the new Hostel, are the work of A. Herman (lOA). He and M. Comay (lOA) are also responsible for the series of photographs, reproduced [here], showing the progressive stages in the demolition of the old Boarding House. All were featured in the 1957 School Magazine, along with D Goldberg’s (9C) drawing: