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Graaff-Reinet, the 4th oldest town in South Africa, encircled by 15 000 hectares of the scenic Camdeboo National Park, offers a tranquil, historic and invigorating setting for the pupils of the Union Schools. Union High School was started in 1919, with money guaranteed by local residents, in the church hall of St. James’s Church, in an effort to ensure an English language education for their children. Classes started on 2 February 1920.
The School became a state school on 1st April, 1922 when A.E. Puttick arrived as the first Department-appointed Headmaster. Presumably the name was taken from the fact that at the time South Africa was known as the Union of South Africa.
The School took possession of the old Glebe lands (‘Naboth’s Vineyard’) early in 1926 amid much controversy among local residents. After a tremendous fight, the Administrator, Sir Frederick de Waal, had settled the problem in November 1925 after the Mayor, Mr. H, Urquhart, had granted this beautiful estate for the erection of the School. The foundation stone was laid on 27 October 1926. Although not fully completed it was decided that the new school should be opened, not officially, but by holding a “Children’s Day” to celebrate the occasion. This took place on 27th October 1926.
The scholars together with the teachers and members of the School Committee then marched up from their old premises to the new. The children were addressed by Rev A. Welllington (Chairman), Mr Puttick and the Chairman. It was at this ceremony that Olga Maasdorp, the first Head Girl of the school, was asked to put the following documents into a glass jar: The names of all the scholars, the names of guarantors, the names of the School Committee, the names of the Staff, a copy of the Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, dated 4th November 1921, which contained the report of the Education Commission and the Charter of the Union High School.
This jar was then placed behind the Corner Stone which was laid by Mr W. Lawrie who was presented with a suitably engraved silver trowel by the builder, Mr A.H. Clark. The architect was Mr Bridgman, of Simpson and Bridgman, of Oudtshoorn.
By 1963, the school had over 600 pupils enrolled. Land was bought in Plasket Street and the building of a prep school began in 1965. It was opened in 1967, remaining under the control of Union High School headmaster and committee. In 1970, Union Prep became independent from the high school.
Today, Union Prep School offers classes from Grades 1 – 4 and is led by Ms Leona Rich. Union High School, led by Mr William Pringle, offers classes from Grades 5 – 12.
"Heritage is not a luxury or pleasant recreational pastime, but an integral part of our future."
Dame Jenny Abramsky