F R Miller, in her Masters Thesis – The History of a Johannesburg Primary School 1902 – 1937 – writes as follows regarding the establishment of the school:

“There seems to be no certainty regarding the exact date of the establishment of the school. Addressing a commemorative concert at the school in 13 April 1923, the second headmaster E J Butler reported that “as near as he could determine the school was this month 21 years of age.”

It would seem that even then the unrecorded earliest years of the school’s history had faded into oblivion. Based on the date of the anniversary concert, and annotations appearing on official records and detailed hereunder, Butler and his successors accepted as a matter of course that the school opened in 1902.

On 28 July 1922 Butler made this entry into the log book: “Received verbal information today that the school was originally opened by Miss Bennett, that she after a few months left the school in charge of Miss Wood and Miss Joubert. Shortly after that Mr Newby was appointed. Date uncertain.”

There is no record of who provided Butler with this information, nor who the Misses Bennett, Wood and Joubert were. The first entry into the log book is dated 28 July 1903, but no mention is made of the previous fifteen months or so. A note in the first Admission Register states “School opened in tent, Hay and De Villiers Streets by Miss Bennett later congregational Church hall. Following on this note there appears a pencil-written date “20/4/02″……..tradition has resulted in an acceptance that the school was founded, sans fanfare and formality, in 1902.

During the course of 1902, 102 pupils (fifty-seven boys and forty-five girls) were enrolled at the school….[and]…accommodated in a marquee. The first headmaster, G Newby, noted that he had to send home pupils in sub-standards and Standard II and III because “the marquee was swamped by rain…continued all the week consequently was unable to use marquee at all.”

During 1903 and 1904 a more suitable school building was constructed by the Transvaal Education Department. It was designed to accommodate 250 children, was a zinc and wood building, and was erected at a cost of 2071.10 pounds.

By 1909 the situation at Turffontein might be described as “critical” with over five hundred children occupying a building originally constructed for two hundred and fifty, and on the 1909 – 1910 estimates of the TED, provision was made to construct a new school building for six hundred pupils, which would be adequate for the current enrolment. The estimated cost of the building was 11,075 pounds and its completion was waited with considerable anticipation.

Finally, after several years of makeshift and inadequate accommodation, the new brick and wood building was occupied on 11 October 1910. Whether there was a special assembly to commemorate its opening is not known, for in his usual succinct manner, Newby simply noted that “School re-opened in the new building.” It was obvious of importance to the TED, for on 21 October 1910 the Director of Education John Adamson, accompanied by two members of the School Board…..visited the school. This was the first of four visits which Adamson was to make to the school that would eventually bear his name.

The original building as constructed in 1909 – 1910 continues to stand in Turffontein at present. It is a solid structure, modelled on British schools which favoured a hollow square with a central quadrangle. At present there are two gigantic palm trees in the quadrangles, which one estimates are probably more than a hunderd years old. There is also a flagpole which was donated by Robinson Deep Goldmine in 1915, and remains in excellent condition. There have been alterations, additions and renovations to the building over the years but it remains essentially the same structure occupied by Turffontein Central, Intermediate and Sir John Adamson School until relocation to Winchester Hills in 1959.

The classrooms, situated on the east, west and north wings, were large and cold, and featured sash windows. The pupils sat in American dual desks which slid about a lot. Each desktop had two holes for the china inkwells “which were filled every Monday….from a large jar which was kept on the bottom shelf of the classroom cupboard”. Each desk had a shelf underneath it on which pupils placed books and writing materials.

Over the next few years enrolment continued to mount and by December 1915, nearly one-thousand pupils attended the school, making it one of the largest in Johannesburg.

Other information regarding the very early history of the school includes the following details included in a pamphlet entitled Sir John Adamson – The Man and The School compiled by P C Jacobs and F Sack circa. 1967:

“In 1904, there were 200 children on the roll, and classes ranged from Sub A and Sub B to Standard Seven. School hours were then from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. In 1908, the Turffontein Evening Government School, at which elementary subjects were taught, was opened and a Senior Cadet Corps was started. In August 1909, the school had to be closed for three days because of a snow storm. By December 1909, the numbers had increased to 490 and a lack of accommodation was felt. A new school building was erected which was occupied in October, 1910. Later that month, instructions were received from the Medical Officer of Health that the Junior Department was to be closed for three weeks because of an outbreak of measles. On November 29th and 30th, the school was closed because of the visit of the Duke of Connaught. In those days, too, children and teachers attended theatrical performances. The coronation of King George V took place on 22 June 1911, and once more the pupils had a holiday. In 1913, the upper classes of the school were addressed by the Principal, who spoke of Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition.

There are numerous complaints in the school records, of the frequent absence of teachers. The school was overcrowded, having 880 on the roll. In 1914, school hours were from 8.30 a.m. to noon, and then from 1.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. From 1915, it seems that the school catered for classes to Standard Six only. Snow fell again in July, 1915, and once again classes were cancelled,. About 1000 children attended the school in 1916. In some classes there were over 50 pupils, and accommodation difficulties were acute. On 30 April, 1918, the school was closed because of Mr Newby’s death, and Miss Lawrie took charge until 8 December 1918, when Mr John Butler took up duties as principal.

The House system – still in use at the school – was introduced in 1922. The four houses with their distinctive colours – Selborne (Red), Buxton (Green), Gladstone (Yellow) and Connaught (Blue), were named after a High Commissioner for South Africa, and the first three Governor-Generals of the Union of South Africa. In order to meet the costs of the multiplicity of activities, a composite fee of 1s. per child per term was introduced.

In 1928, the name of the school was changed to the Turffontein Intermediate Government School. It would appear that the school itself was not as excited about this change as the Education Department was. E J Butler wrote in The Principal’s Letter of that year, “It is with very mixed feelings that I write my annual notes this December. The Education Department has decided in its wisdom to remove the Intermediate Department from this School. For this proposal it has its own good reasons and it little behoves a good servant of the Department to criticise its employers”.

By 1931, the school budget was two hundred and twenty pounds and everybody paid a “modest subscription of six shillings per year”. The largest expense noted by Butler in his report was 68 pounds, two shillings and three pence, spent “in rebinding library books, extending the junior library [and] purchasing School prizes”.

In 1932, the Turffontein Intermediate School became a primary school and was re-named the Sir John Adamson School in honour of a former Director of Education for the Transvaal. In the Principal’s Letter published in the school magazine of 1932, E J Butler wrote “We were somewhat afeard that after our senior Forms II and III of last year had gone and the control of the school passed to Standard Six (Form I) we should find a tremendous loss. Let us be frank and state that the loss of our seniors has been a tremendous one, but that our boys and girls of Six have responded to the call very finely…It is the Standard Six scholars now therefore that the school looks to set the ideal, to show the true character that will lead the school”. In 1933 Sir John And Lady Adamson visited the school. In 1935, after many years of planning and negotiating with the Education Department, a New Library and Rest Room was opened at the school.

The opening of the building was reported in the Rand Daily Mail on 22 October 1935:


The example of the parents connected with the Sir John Adamson Primary School at Turffontein is to be commended to those associated with every similar school in the Union. For several years past they have been collecting funds to provide the School with a library and rest room, and on Saturday they were able to present to the Administrator a building which cost 800 pounds.
This was the first time such an experience had ever befallen the Administrator; while the Sir John Adamson School is not the only primary school in the Union to be equipped with a library building.Such an achievement affords legitimate reason for pride. Although The Provincial Administration added its quota to the enthusiasm which carried the project to fruition; and we have no doubt that the actual raising of the money represented a self-sacrifice on the part of a large number of the individuals concerned, in the interest of their children’s education.

The library was officially open on 19 October 1935 at a special assembly held for that purpose. Mr E J Butler handed the buildings over to Mr S P Bekker, the Administrator of the Transvaal and Mr G A C Kuschke, the Director of Transvaal Education, declared the building open.

Another change of name took place in 1937, and the school became better known as the Sir John Adamson Junior High School. The change, although welcomed, was quite disturbing. Pupils who were enrolled in Standards II, III and IV at the time had to leave to attend other schools in 1938. In the case of the Standard IV group, this was particularly inconvenient as they returned to the school in their Standard VI year. In addition, the reorganisation meant that certain staff members – some of whom had had a lengthy association with the school – had to depart. On 5 November 1937, Sir John and Lady Adamson once more visited the school, now the Junior High School of the Southern Suburbs of Johannesburg, and attended by pupils of Standards VI, VII and VIII. Soon after this transition – in 1940 – Ernest “Johnny” Butler, retired from the Transvaal Education Department. He had spent twenty-two years as Principal of the school.

By 1940, the annual school subscription had risen to 1 pound. A large portion of the budget went to publishing the school magazine which was given free to every pupil whose subscription was paid in full. Education was obviously disrupted during the years of World War II when many staff members – both male and female – were involved in active service. In 1940, there were no less than eight staff members on Active Service: Pte. J R Evans, L/Cpl. J R Dick, P/N. N Valentine, 2nd Lieut. J Teare, 2ns Lieut. H R Corbett, 2nd Lieut. H Rogan and H P Tobiansky. Mr H Cartwright Robinson who was appointed Principal after the retirement of Mr Butler, spent only six months at the helm of the school before he volunteered for active service. In his absence, Mr H Holmes served as Acting Principal.

The need to conserve paper during the war years also had a severe impact on the School Magazine. In 1941, Miss V E Hanna, commented that “we have decided, that, come wind come weather, we shall continue to produce a record of Sir John Adamson School every year, even though it be much curtailed.” The magazine for that year was only thirty pages long, whereas in previous years it had encompassed as many as ninety pages.

New buildings replaced the old wood and iron structures in 1945. These were officially opened by the Director of Education, Mr H H G Kreft, on 22 November. The pupils assembled for the ceremony in the playground. In the presence of members of the Witwatersrand Central School Board, Inspectors, local principals and parents, Mr Kreft opened the buildings with the gold key presented to him by Mr Spicer, the architect.