Epworth is actually two schools: Epworth Preparatory School for Boys and Girls and Epworth High School for Girls.
Set in scenic 15-hectare grounds on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, which is known as the Garden City, Epworth has a history dating back to 1898.
Epworth was established by Miss Emily Lowe and Miss Emma Mason to teach 45 Natal settler children. The school was named after a village in Lincolnshire, the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley, two brothers who developed the Methodist ethos during the Industrial Revolution in England. The brothers believed strongly in the need for education (unsurprising as their mother was a teacher).
At the time, only one in 25 children attended school. John believed that education was vital to address social problems such as poverty, crime and alcoholism. He believed that through education, children could become individuals of sound character who would improve the world around them. In 1748, the brothers established their first educational institution, a boarding school for the children of coal miners.
For its first 21 years, Epworth operated as a private venture, before being transferred in 1919 to the Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of South Africa, which appointed a management council. In 1982, the running of the school was taken over by an independent trust, which assumed responsibility for the school’s assets and liabilities.
The original school was housed in various different buildings located in the centre of Pietermaritzburg. Over the years, further properties in Loop, Chapel, Burger and Prince Alfred streets were acquired to accommodate the growing school. In 1936, spurred on by Miss Church’s (the then principal) desire for Epworth to become “one of the foremost schools in the land”, a decision was taken to move the school to a more appropriate setting. Forty acres of land in Scottsville was bought from the Pietermaritzburg City Council and the new school was officially opened in 1941.
In 1959, a beautiful chapel, strategically located at the heart of the campus, was a significant addition to the new school. Smaller building projects followed, culminating in a ten-year development plan for Epworth. Except for the construction of the hall, this plan came to fruition in five years and forms the basis of the school as we know it today.
The foundation stone for a dedicated junior school was laid in 1965, which also saw the school swell to 445 pupils. The school’s 75th anniversary, in 1973, marked the opening of the Haley Hall and a nursery school to house its 50 pre-primary pupils.
1978 was a noteworthy year in Epworth’s history. It marked the admission of the school’s first black pupils and brought to fruition Miss Kachelhoffer’s long-held belief that Epworth’s success would be gained through giving each girl, regardless of colour or creed, a chance. Previous attempts, in the early 70s, to offer education to pupils of all races, was thwarted when schools in the Cape were denied permission to do so. In 1980, despite Government working against integration by cutting subsidies to schools with less than a 90% white population, Epworth boasted the highest number of non-white pupils of all the Natal private schools
Between 1983 and 1991, due to a shrinking economy and declining pupil numbers, Epworth was forced to operate on an extremely tight budget. Pupil numbers dropped to 316 and the High School lost 48 boarders in one year. In 1989, many private schools in the area were experiencing severe financial constraints and were forced to increase fees to meet rising expenditure and to counter dwindling numbers. Despite considerations to amalgamate with another school, Epworth stood resolute and remained independent.
The primary school, meanwhile, was going from strength to strength. Its innovative, child-centred approach was beginning to attract more pupils from the surrounding community. In order to free up much needed space, a new building, specifically designed to accommodate the pre-primary section, was built. Boys, who had been part of Grades one to three since the 1950s, were introduced into the rest of the primary school in 1994.
By the time Epworth celebrated its centenary in 1998, it had turned a major corner in terms of management, finances and pupil numbers. There had been a steady growth in the number of day scholars and a third Grade 8 class was introduced, pushing classroom capacity to its maximum. The school recorded a total of 520 pupils, the largest the school had ever been.
Epworth approached the 21st century – and its second century – with a clear sense of its identity and where it was going. Since then, it has, over the last 17 years, overcome many challenges and has come out on top – today Epworth proudly stands amoungst the top schools in the country. We look forward to the challenges of the future, confident in the strength of our values of Faith, Compassion and Courage which have been so integral to our past success.