Our History

Harry Stubbs, the retired first headmaster of Durban Prep, established Clifton Preparatory School on 5 February 1924. His home, at 102 Lambert Road, provided the classrooms needed for the small number of boys who enrolled at the time. Although the school had at first been named “Stubbs’ School for Boys”, his daughter, Dorothy, suggested the name ‘Clifton’, in memory of her cousin ‘Clifford Plimsoll’, who tragically passed away during the Spanish Flu in 1919, along with his wife and young daughter.

The Clifton Preparatory School Founding Scholars on 3 February 1924 were: Ronald Bartholomew, Dennis Dawson, Brian Down, Cyril Espatalier, Frank Galloway, Philip Gee, William Graham, Ivor Griffiths, Walter Hadfield, Cyril Ridge, Ian Ritchie, and Raymond Ryan.

Dorothy Stubbs taught Class One at Clifton until she married. Her position was filled by Helen Fenell, who, as Helen Joseph, was later to play a vital role in the struggle against apartheid. Within two years, the school had an enrolment of 37 boys, ranging from Class One (now known as Grade One) to Standard Three (Grade Five).

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, of course, no sports fields, and both 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 Kenneth Haworth, who succeeded in increasing numbers to 160 by 1942. He is remembered for the founding of Clifton Nottingham Road in 1942, as a strategy to provide a safer environment for the boarders during World War II. It is believed that many parents of the day were concerned about the possibility of enemy action directed at Durban, which from today’s standpoint seems unlikely, but with the American Pacific fleet largely destroyed at Pearl Harbour and the Royal Navy badly battered in the Mediterranean, the dangers seemed real enough. Haworth moved to the Nottingham Road campus sited at Spring Grove Farm and appointed Anthony ‘Tim’ Sutcliffe as his successor at the Durban campus.

Tim Sutcliffe, a History teacher at Hilton College, was but twenty-seven years of age and had no previous experience of teaching in a prep school. The Clifton he came to was situated on just one acre of ground, and his staff consisted of six teachers. He set about the task of consolidating and extending the Durban School. This was not always easy, as there were several economic troughs after the war, and it required strong nerves, as well as vision and financial expertise to weather the difficulties.

In December 1945, Kenneth Haworth’s health broke down under the strain of starting the Nottingham Road School, and he signed an irrevocable power of attorney which authorized Tim Sutcliffe to form a Trust to continue the two schools. Although prospects were bleak, Tim’s enthusiasm and confidence inspired the Advisory Committee of parents, whose co-operation, encouragement, advice and generous financial assistance enabled the schools to remain open.

Tim married Yolande D’Hotman, a well-known actress and broadcaster, in 1944. The Sutcliffes were never blessed with children, and successive generations of schoolboys constituted what was, in effect, their 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 respect. 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! He was a man of vision, and as early as the mid-nineteen-sixties, was a recognised advocate and pioneer of progressive teaching methods.

Tim Sutcliffe wrote on his retirement in 1980 that,

“The spirit of mutual trust and confidence which exists between pupils and teachers at this school is one of its most precious features.”

During his tenure, Clifton embarked on a period of real 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 one-acre 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. The incremental development of the school buildings through the acquisition of residential properties ensured the enduring family feeling that still pervades the school.

He had served Clifton in the capacity of Headmaster for 38 years.

Thomas Seymour was appointed as Headmaster in 1980. He hailed from Zimbabwe, where he had been Head of the Bulawayo Teachers’ Training College. A man with a wide knowledge of educational policies and procedures, he had progressive views on discipline, and soon abolished the use of corporal punishment at Clifton. During his tenure as Head, some significant developments occurred. In 1983, a second storey was added to the old bungalow housing the ‘Standard Three’ block. This provided the school with a spacious library and an adjoining projection room. In the same year, cricket nets were erected on the top field and a Music Centre was established. Tom Seymour left Clifton in July 1984 and Alan Pass, a master of long standing, took over the reins of leadership until the appointment of Kevin Whitehead in 1985.

Kevin Whitehead came to Clifton from Pridwin, in Johannesburg, where he had served as Deputy Headmaster. During his eighteen years at the helm, the school grew in numbers and in reputation. 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, a tradition which became one of the hallmarks of his energetic devotion to the school. A firm but fair disciplinarian, he believed in the development of self-discipline in the boys, who were encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions and to value honesty, concern for others and everyday decency. He was a much-loved and greatly respected headmaster, whose intense, all-encompassing commitment to Clifton eventually took its toll when ill health forced him to retire prematurely at the end of the first term of 2002. The year before he retired saw the first intake of Grade R pupils, which proved to be a highly successful venture, as it has now expanded to three classes. Megan Birkett, a senior Science teacher and Head of Department, acted as Head until the appointment of Kevin Whitehead’s successor, Brian Mitchell, in August 2002.

“January 2002 saw the establishment of Clifton College”

For many years, Clifton parents had spoken of the possibility of extending Clifton Prep to include a high school, and January 2002 saw the establishment of Clifton College, with Mike Thiel at the helm. Just as was the case in the founding year of the Prep School, numbers were small, but it was a proud group of boys who wore the distinctive black blazer and khaki chinos for the first time. Mike Thiel completed the difficult task of steering the College through its initial phases of development and Brian Mitchell took over the running of the whole school from July 2004.

2006 saw the first Grade 12 Matric year and all celebrated the dawning of Clifton’s proud achievement – the provision of thirteen years of excellence for pupils from Grade ‘R’ to Grade Twelve. Changes to the management structure of the school saw the decisions to appoint a Headmaster of the Preparatory School in 2007. Michael Foster took up this post for two years, whereafter Hubert Goedeke and Glenn Jones were appointed as Principals of the College and the Preparatory school respectively in 2009, with Brian Mitchell serving as the Executive Headmaster. Glenn Jones left Clifton in June 2014 and was succeeded by Victor White in January 2015.

Clifton celebrated its inaugural Founders’ Weekend in 2007. This was a milestone in the school’s history, celebrated by Old Boys (as members of COBWEB), teachers, parents, and current pupils. Clifton has a rich and exciting history and Founders’ Weekend recognises the enormous contributions that have been made by so many people to this great school. In 2013, Clifton’s first class of Grade R boys matriculated and left a school with vastly extended facilities but the same ethos as has existed within the Clifton Family since the founding of the school.

“A school in a garden in a city”

In 2014, the Board of Directors took the decision to begin a long term build development phase which has seen substantial development on the campus and the vision of ‘a school in a garden in a city’ begin to take shape.

At the same time, the partnership with Riverside Sports Club has seen the development of cricket, hockey, rugby and football facilities that provide our boys with the opportunity to compete at a premier venue.