‘Old girls’ unfold story of Clarendon

For Clarendon High School “old girl” Sandra Johnston sorting through 25 boxes of memorabilia was the start of a two-year long endeavour to create a history book about the school, spanning 115 years.

From left, Sandra Johnston and Penny Bellad-Ellis sit at Donald Woods's old desk at the Daily Dispatch searching through the archives. The two are putting together a book detailing the history of Clarendon High School, spanning over 115 years.
From left, Sandra Johnston and Penny Bellad-Ellis sit at Donald Woods's old desk at the Daily Dispatch searching through the archives. The two are putting together a book detailing the history of Clarendon High School, spanning over 115 years.
Image: ALAN EASON.

For fellow old girl Penny Bellad-Ellis it was her love of history and the microfiche that set her down the same path.

The project, one that has been in the pipeline since the 90s, according to Johnston, 73, and Bellad-Ellis, 74, is set to finally see publication in 2022.

Steering the project, the two have had their noses stuck in archived material in an effort to piece together the school’s history since its inception as an all girls’ school in 1903 through to 2018.

The two have searched through school magazines and the archives of local libraries, the East London Museum and the Daily Dispatch to find treasured stories and mementos from the past.

“I’ve been amazed at how many old girls have become world figures. That is what stood out to me. It was mind blowing to see how many old girls have achieved globally in all areas, from academics to the arts and in sport,” said Johnston, who matriculated in 1963.

Bellad-Ellis, from the class of 1961, said: “It becomes an all consuming passion. I’ve loved getting lost in all the history and it’s been fascinating to go back and find all these stories and details of the lives of old girls.”

Current headmistress Julie Patrick said this was part of the story the school wanted to tell through the book.

“On one hand we want it to be nostalgic for old girls, but we also want it to be an accessible record of our history for present girls and their parents to embrace,” said Patrick.

She said the book had no title as of yet, but that they were playing with the phrase: ‘a significant past, a bright future’.

The book will be divided into 10 chapters, each one relaying the tenure of the school’s past principals until the end of Patsy Rose’s time as headmistress in 2018.

Providing a personal account of the school’s history, the humorous escapades and “real-life” stories of students and teachers will appear alongside the narrative.

Johnston said while many of the tenures had been recorded by past principals themselves, over the years Clarendon teachers, including Carol Felton, Barbi Harrison, Anne Smith and Rose had put together various incomplete tenures and other records.

“The ‘meat’ is all there. We are just refining it, checking dates and facts, sorting photographs and trying to find amusing anecdotes,” said Johnston.

Finding detailed records of the royal visits to the school, Clarendon old girl Joan Harrison’s gold medals, old matric dance cards and much more, Johnston and Bellad-Ellis have struck gold often during this labour of love and hope to discover many more interesting stories.

madeleinec@dispatch.co.za


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