Clifton School (South Africa)

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Clifton School
Clifton Badge.png
South Africa
Coordinates29°49′47″S 31°01′15″E / 29.8296°S 31.0208°E / -29.8296; 31.0208Coordinates: 29°49′47″S 31°01′15″E / 29.8296°S 31.0208°E / -29.8296; 31.0208
TypePrivate school
MottoProdese Quam Conspici
(To be humble in your achievements)
Established1924 (1924)
Executive HeadmasterDavid Knowles
Number of students800
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)Red, black and white

Clifton School is an independent day school for boys in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


The early years[edit]

Mr Harry Stubbs, the retired first headmaster of Durban Preparatory High School (DPHS), established Clifton Preparatory School on 5 February 1924. His home, at 102 Lambert Road, provided the classrooms needed for the small numbers of boys who enrolled at the time. Although the school had at first been named ‘Stubbs School’, Mr Stubbs's daughter, Dorothy Stubbs, suggested the name ‘Clifton’, in memory of her cousin ‘Clifford’, who had been killed during the First World War.

Miss Stubbs taught Class One at Clifton until her marriage. Her position was filled by Miss Helen Fenell, who came from India. After a couple of years at Clifton, Miss Fenell also left to marry. She married Dr Joseph, and (as Helen Joseph), she went on to become a respected leader in the field of political activism against apartheid. She was placed under house arrest in 1962 and lived under a banning order for 23 years until she was 80, surviving anonymous gunshots and a bomb wired to her front gate. She died in 1992 at the age of 87.

Within two years, the school had an enrolment of 37 boys, ranging from Class One [Grade 1] to Standard Three [Grade 5]. In the early years, boarding was offered, and boys slept in dormitories housed in the upstairs verandas, which were enclosed at the time.

There were no sports fields at the time, and cricket and rugby were played at the Old Fort grounds adjoining Kingsmead. Athletics meetings were held at Mitchell Park, and swimming took place at the town or Beach Baths.

In 1938, with an enrolment of 60 boys, the school was purchased by Mr Kenneth Haworth, who succeeded in increasing numbers to 160 by 1942. He will be remembered for two far-reaching decisions: the founding of Clifton Nottingham Road in 1942, and the appointment of Anthony Greenwood Sutcliffe as his successor to head the Durban School.

Because of parents' concern over the possibility of enemy action, an air raid shelter was constructed at the school (later used as a changing room for the swimming pool).

Mr Haworth moved to ‘Spring Grove’, a farm that he purchased from Col. E.M. Greene at Nottingham Road, with almost half the boys, while Mr ‘Tim’ Sutcliffe took over the headmastership of the Durban School.

The Sutcliffe years[edit]

By 1945, Kenneth Haworth’s alcoholism made it impossible for him to remain at his post, and he was forced to sign an irrevocable power of attorney which authorised Tim Sutcliffe to form a Trust to continue the two schools. Mr Sutcliffe, a history teacher at Hilton College was 27 years of age, and had no previous experience of teaching in a preparatory school. The Clifton he came to was situated on just 1-acre (0.40 ha) of ground, and his staff consisted of six female teachers.

Tim married Yolande D’Hotman, an actress and broadcaster, in 1944. But the Sutcliffes lived largely separate lives and were never blessed with children, and successive generations of schoolboys constituted what was, in effect, his extended ‘Clifton’ family. Tim Sutcliffe was a man of stature in every sense of the word. Astute and intelligent, he inspired both pupils and teachers alike, and his very presence commanded awe and respect. He was an imposing and, at times, sardonic and intimidating figure, who practised corporal punishment with enthusiasm. Tim Sutcliffe caned hard and often, famously leaving welts that lasted two weeks or more. He did have a gentle and kindly side, however. He had his eccentricities too: one of his habits, unremarked in those more innocent times, was to join the students in the Kingsmead changing rooms at sports events, appearing stark naked among them. Under his strong leadership Clifton quickly established a reputation for excellence, which continues to this day. He had a passion for Shakespeare, and held the senior classes enthralled with his participatory style of introducing them to gory, action-packed excerpts from Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Macbeth! Though secular himself, he also taught the Bible, communicating his love of the sonorous language of the King James Version through vivid Old Testament passages that captured his pupils' imagination. He was a man of vision, and as early as the mid nineteen-sixties, was a recognised advocate and pioneer of progressive teaching methods.

During his tenure, Clifton embarked on a period of growth. As adjacent properties became available, they were purchased by the school, providing additional classrooms, as well as housing for resident masters. In 1959 the school purchased a small hall from the Lambert Road Baptist Church, which was used as a school hall until 1974. By the mid-sixties, two 1-acre (0.40 ha) plots on Innes Road had been bought and developed into a playing field, and a decade later, the Jubilee Hall was built at the Lambert Road entrance. He had served Clifton in the capacity of Headmaster for 38 years.


Mr T.A. (Tom) Seymour was appointed as Headmaster in 1980. He came from Zimbabwe, where he had been head of the Bulawayo Teachers’ Training College. He soon abolished the use of corporal punishment at Clifton. Mr Seymour was also instrumental in allowing "non-white" children to enroll at the school, in defiance of the apartheid laws of the time.

In 1983 a second storey was added to the old bungalow housing the ‘Standard Three’ block, providing Clifton with a library and an adjoining projection room. Today Clifton's science laboratory occupies the top floor, above the existing three Grade 5 classrooms. In the same year, cricket nets were erected on the top field and the block housing the existing Grade 1 classrooms was converted into a Music Centre. Mr Seymour left Clifton in July 1984, and Mr Alan Pass, a master of long standing, took over the leadership until the appointment of Mr Kevin Whitehead in 1985.

Kevin Whitehead came to Clifton from Pridwin Preparatory School, in Johannesburg, where he had served as Deputy Headmaster. During his eighteen years at the helm, the school grew in numbers and in reputation. The number of academic scholarships burgeoned, going from but a single scholarship in 1984, to a record nineteen in 1999. His passion for cricket was legendary and he was recognised as an outstanding coach of the game. He initiated the annual Clifton UK cricket tour.

Ill health forced him to retire prematurely at the end of the first term of 2002. The year before he retired saw Clifton's first intake of Grade ‘R’ pupils, that has expanded to three classes. Mrs Megan Birkett, a senior Science teacher and Head of Department, acted as Head until the appointment of Kevin Whitehead's successor.

Clifton College[edit]

January 2002 saw the establishment of Clifton College, with Mr Mike Thiel at the helm. Just as was the case in the founding year of the Prep School, numbers were small. The boys wore the black blazer and khaki chinos for the first time.

By August of the same year, Mr Brian Mitchell had been appointed as Headmaster of the Prep School, and within eighteen months he took over the Headship of the whole school.

2006 saw the first Grade 12 ‘Matric’ year. Clifton had achieved a milestone – the provision of thirteen years of education for pupils from Grade ‘R’ to Grade 12.

2006 saw the completion of the Clifton Aquatics Centre, comprising an Olympic size water polo pool.

In 2011, Clifton's first class of Grade R boys enters Grade 10, the Old Boys will host their first five-year reunion and the use of a newly built astroturf has added to the facilities on offer for all boys at the school.


Executive Headmasters[edit]

  • Brian Mitchell (2009–2017)
  • David Knowles (2018–)

Preparatory School Principals[edit]

  • Harry Stubbs (1924–1938)
  • Kenneth Haworth (1938–1942)
  • Anthony "Tim" Sutcliffe (1942–1980)
  • T.A Seymour (1980–1984)
  • Kevin Whitehead (1985–2002)
  • Brian Mitchell (2002–2006)
  • Michael Foster (2007–2009)
  • Glenn Jones (2009–2014)
  • Victor White (2015–2017)

College Principals[edit]

  • Mike Thiel (2002–2004)
  • Brian Mitchell (2005–2009)
  • Hubert Goedeke (2009–2011)

Clifton today[edit]

The school is divided into four phases: Grade "R", Junior Prep, Senior Prep and College.

Clifton College was established in 2002. The first Grade 12 class graduated in 2006. Clifton College writes the Independent Examinations Board exams.

In 2009, following the resignation of Mr Michael Foster as the Prep School headmaster, the school executive committee was restructured. Mr Brian Mitchell was appointed as Clifton School's Executive Headmaster and Gerry Goedeke and Glenn Jones were appointed as Principals in the College and Prep School respectively.

Clifton now boasts new facilities such as the newly opened Mitchell Square and the massive development which sought to provide the staff and boys a better experience overall.

Notable alumni[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "1950s Facts About Durban". Retrieved 23 May 2015.

External links[edit]