history of takapuna grammar school

From the beginning

The planning of Takapuna Grammar School dates back to 1857. In that year, the Commissioners of the Board of Education were set up, and the Board in a most far-sighted move set aside certain reserves on the North Shore for what were quaintly called “Common Schools and Grammar Schools”.

Before 1927, North Shore secondary school pupils faced a long daily haul across the harbour to one of the four city Grammar Schools. As early as 1923, Shore residents, especially those further North at Takapuna, recognised the need for a local secondary school. The Mayor of Takapuna appealed to the Auckland Grammar Schools Board who replied that they viewed the idea of a school for the northern suburbs favourably and would welcome some information.

At a meeting in March 1925, the Minister of Education suggested six and a half acres fronting Lake Road and belonging to Mr Fred Wilson, plus five adjoining acres belonging to Mr J. Sinclair. In May 1925, the Minister informed the Board that he would recommend immediate acquisition of the land. The following year, Mr W.A. Cumming, an Auckland architect, produced plans for the new building. Tenders took six weeks to finalise, that of J. Newall and Sons of £35,422 being accepted. It included four classrooms each for boys and girls with sanitary arrangements. Construction began with Sir James Parr laying the foundation stone on 16 April 1926, using a trowel ornamented with greenstone, a gift from the architect.

Daily commuters watched with interest the growth of the Shore’s most imposing building. The red brick edifice with dignified tower and high parapets faced the main road over a “wilderness of mounds and rat-tail sloping down to the pine trees in the hollow”.

The plan showed the building as three sides of a square. The first wing and south side addition were completed in 1933. The school had to wait 30 years for the third stage which cost £90,000. The observant visitor will notice that the first addition’s parapet is about two feet lower than the original, the immediate effect of the Napier earthquake on the planners who designed the building to hold 350 pupils initially and 650 later. They had no way of knowing that the school would have to accommodate double this number by the time it reached its 50th anniversary in 1977.

Everyone at the laying of the foundation stone felt highly optimistic. The first school magazine’s editorial described Professor Thomas’s reference to the football grounds to be laid out in front and on the southern wing. Sir Heaton Rhodes, Minister of Defence, predicted that the school would rank with the country’s finest. Mr Alec Harris, M.P. for Waitemata. Mr J.D. Morison, Mayor of Takapuna, and Mr J. Henderson, Deputy Mayor of Devonport, also made speeches.

Certainly Takapuna Grammar marked a minor educational revolution. The fifth secondary school established under the Auckland Grammar Schools Board, it was the only co-educational institution in its jurisdiction. Traditionalists, committed to single-sex secondary schooling, regarded this innovation with misgiving.

The foundation establishment comprised a roll of 218 (118 boys and 100 girls). When the first extensions were finished in 1931, the roll stood at 494; by 1953 it had reached 990.

The following teachers comprised the original staff; C.M. Littlejohn, M.A., B.Sc., Headmaster; Miss M. Macdonald, B.A.; A.W. Short, B.A.; Miss H. P. Davies, B.A.; J. Thompson, M.A., L.-es-L.; I.S. McHarg, B.Sc., B.Ag, Dip Ed.; Miss Robertson , A.G. Coulam, Miss M. Himmel, B.A., L.T.C.L.

The initial building remained unfinished for two years. Even then, the school lacked a library and an assembly hall. The approaching Depression delayed the amending of activities traditional in a secondary school of standing.

The sound of hammering provided a ceaseless obligato; workmen swarmed inside and outside a school situated in grounds described as “a wilderness of clay and corrugated grasslands”.  For the first three years, St Leonards Road’s rough, narrow footpaths provided the school’s sole approach.

In 1930’s second term, men of the No.5 Unemployment Scheme transformed the grounds facing the road. School efforts and solid backing from the Takapuna Borough Council financed this, the first flat stretch of playground used for boys’ cricket and rugby.

In 1939 funds raised helped pay for a tennis court on the school’s northern side and two shelter sheds also went up. A small, smooth, sloping area became available for drill, football and cricket net practice. The quadrangle was asphalted for basketball and cadet drill. Four cricket pitches, three of them scoria, one concrete, were laid near the northern wing.

Lack of an assembly hall imposed strain and inconvenience on both staff and pupils. Those at the school in the early 1930’s must have experienced more in discomfort than they gained in inspiration from assembly when 500 pupils crammed the front corridor for morning prayers and announcements.

Although the 1930’s Depression bit deep, plans went ahead to raise fund for an assembly hall. A bazaar brought in £541, probably equal to about $6000 (in 1977) – a great school and community effort.  Not until 1939, after 11 years of fund-raising, did construction begin, the Government making a grant of £2,000 to the work.

By then the main entrance with the associated terracing at the north end of the boys’ playground was completed. The girls’ hockey field was levelled and grassed. Three more tennis courts evolved while the clearing of tree stumps from the quadrangle permitted its levelling for tarring and sanding.

Meantime, successive headmasters’ reports referred to the swampy nature of the main rugby field and the consequent need for teams to travel to distant grounds with a resultant loss of public interest.

In 1935, Mr Littlejohn resigned to become headmaster at Auckland Grammar School. Staff and past and present pupils all honoured him. His departure marked the end of the foundation era; consolidation and growth now became dominant.

On 17 September 1935, the school assembled to welcome its second headmaster, Mr K. J. Dellow, M.A. In 1939 the school hall was officially opened in 1939, the same year that war’s outbreak put another look on life, whether at home, in classrooms or on the playing field.

Nevertheless, that disrupted decade had its great sporting achievements. Bert Sutcliffe, the first XI prodigy, went on to become one of cricket’s great left-handers and personalities. In 1949, Mr G. A. Delamore was selected to tour South Africa with the All Blacks.

In 1945, interest centred round the establishment of a War Memorial Fund, so many ex-pupils having served in numerous war theatres, many with distinction. The fund’s first objective was a library, the second, the memorial gates.

The original library, housed in the tower, opened on 14 June 1928. Thanks to donors’ generosity, the fiction section contained 700 volumes, with 100 in the reference section. Library period became a school institution.

The new library’s estimated cost was £5,000. By the end of 1946 there was £2,650 in hand, but fund-raising continued well into 1949. Built in 1952, the library opened in 1953.

Four new classroom blocks completed in 1946 consisted on one containing three prefabricated rooms, another housing a manual workshop, a third acting as a music room, while the fourth, constituted a homecraft and clothing block.

Back in 1940, Mr Dellow had requested an additional acre of the Wilson land to carry the new field’s boundary through to St Leonard’s Road.  A year later, negotiations began for the purchase for £1,500 of five acres of the original Wilson property, while some of the late George Sinclair’s land on the school’s north-east side was bought for £2,600. This gave the school land along the clifftop. Even so, another acre from the Sinclair estate was necessary to accommodate a 440-yard athletic track laid out in 1945.

By this time the State Housing Department held the Sinclair estate’s remaining 17 acres. In keeping with the then Labour Government’s policy, some State houses appeared along the Lake Road frontage. This led to concern that the whole Sinclair block would become a State or naval housing area. After Staff members telegraphing M.P’s and other politicians and the P.T.A president lobbying the Auckland Grammar Schools Board, in 1949, the Minister of Education, the Hon. A. M. Finlay, visited the Sinclair block and agreed to the Board’s request, proposing that 8.6 acres become T.G.S. property and recommending that the remainder be an intermediate school site.

By September 1949, 41 acres of some of the most attractive land available in Auckland had been earmarked for school use, some of it so valuable that, in 1950, the Takapuna Borough Council applied unsuccessfully to the Minister of Education for its conversion into a public park. Ironically, 25 years later, the Board of Governors requested that the Takapuna City Council develop the final part of this for playing fields and a gulf-viewing area close to the cliff edge in order to save this precious asset for future generations.

In 1953, Mr Dellow retired after 18 years as headmaster. The dedication of the War Memorial Library formed a fitting farewell. That year too, the Ex-Pupils Association’s annual Dusk Service took place for the first time in the new library and began a tradition that has continued.

Mr C. H. Sayers took over as the new headmaster. As Mr Sayers had come from the Hamilton Technical College, he felt naturally concerned at the deficiencies in the school’s technical curriculum. Understandably in 1954 tenders were called for new blocks to accommodate engineering shop work, technical drawing and woodwork. With two additional normal classrooms, these facilities opened officially in July 1957.

The Shore’s rapid population growth resulted in pupils’ numbers increasing enormously. Coping with these meant the insidious spread of prefabricated buildings which extended not only to every available piece of land but finally even along the main entrance until they totalled 29. So incensed were staff and the parents by this blot on the landscape that the agitation for their own Board of Governors gained fresh impetus.

Meantime, the next stage of grounds development got under way and fund raising began once more, this time for a gymnasium.

In 1955-56 the roll reached 1225 pupils but, with the opening of Westlake High School at Milford, these numbers soon dropped below 1000 where they remained for six years during which the prefabs disappeared.

The school now had its own Board of Governors that was looking ahead. The Board supported the initial swimming pool meeting and continued drive for gymnasium funds. In early 1959, tenders were called for the gymnasium and that of P.E. Waterhouse was accepted.

The Governor General Lord Cobham opened the gymnasium on 29 February 1960. The old one got a new lease of life when it divided into a tuckshop, stationery room and changing rooms.

An increasing school role again emphasised the necessity for additional permanent rooms, especially a staffroom. The double prefab adjacent to the homecraft room had accommodated the staff since the mid 1950’s. In 1961, the Board resolved to press for an east wing addition.

In 1962, the death occurred of the Headmaster, Mr Sayers. Mr W. I. F. Macleod became the new Headmaster on 17 July.

As pool fund-raising continued, pupils contributed £1,500, both local borough councils donated £250 each towards the total cost of £11,000, of which £7,800 was on hand by November 1963. Mr McGlashan’s generous gratuitous service for the pool’s design was acknowledged and the Orewa Construction Company’s tender of £9,976.6.6 accepted in 1963.

Tenders for the east wing and hall extensions were called in 1965, at which time the Board also felt the need for library extensions, tenders for this were accepted the following year.

The Parent Teacher Association (P.T.A.) was founded in 1946. The primary objective of the P.T.A. was to bring the parents into closer contact with the school and to give them an opportunity to assist in its social and cultural development. While fund raising has never been a prime objective, a succession of enthusiastic committees contributed to three major school building projects, namely the gymnasium, library and swimming pool. As well as new stage curtains, landscaping and shelter-belts were established, Report Evenings were arranged so that parents could discuss the progress of their children with the staff.

In 1967 the question of zoning now dominated the Board’s thinking. Eventually, it acceded to the establishment of a T.G.S. zone encompassing the entire area from The Strand, Takapuna to Devonport and accepted an out-of-zone entitlement of 20 pupils.

Also in 1967, some 190 sq. ft of storage space was added to the gymnasium, the assembly hall was extended at the rear and on 1 June, the Minister of Education, the Hon. A. E. Kinsella, performed the opening ceremony of the east wing extension which had cost £90,000. His astonishment at wall to wall carpet in the staff common room was exceeded only by the teachers’ satisfaction. At last they had a civilised sanctuary for rest and recuperation after the labours at the “chalk face”.

In July 1970, Mr W. I. F. Macleod, who had done so much as Headmaster to strengthen the school’s academic and cultural life, resigned to become liaison officer at Massey University. Mr J. W. Kelly, deputy principal at Mt Roskill Grammar School, replaced him, taking his post in October 1970. An All Black fullback of renown, he soon showed the same vitality and speed off the mark and applied it to educational issues.

The possibility of the main block as an earthquake risk emerged in 1973, during a Board deputation to the Education Department. Although members took this lightly, the M.O.W. placed an eight-year life on the building. When engineers inspected the school in 1975 and 1976, the true position became apparent and the Board felt that it had done wisely to agree to the height reduction and the strengthening of parapets in order to lengthen the building’s life. The extension however was meant only to last five years, so 1984 could become a highly significant year in the school’s history.

By mid-1975, the Board gave its blessing to the Ex-Pupils’ Jubilee Project, a sports hall and a fundraising committee was formed.

February 1976 saw the roll increase to 1,217, making the school large enough to warrant a senior master and with the entitlement also of an executive officer.

When the School’s 50th Jubilee came around in 1977 over 12,000 young New Zealanders had received Secondary School Education in the dignified old buildings. Many of these pupils had gone on to distinguished careers in the professions, Civil Service and industry.

Excerpts from: The First Fifty Years Takapuna Grammar School 1927 - 1977 (Takapuna Grammar School Jubilee Committee Copyright 1977)