01 November, 2012

The old Light Blue

The next couple of posts I intend to write are of interest to me for several different reasons, not least of which is that they closely involve my alma mater - Geelong Grammar. Not however, the Grammar of today, spread far and wide across Geelong and the state of Victoria, but rather Grammar in its earliest days as a school.
Initially catering to only 14 boys, the Geelong Church of England Grammar School was established in 1855 in Villamanta Street, Geelong West with the support of the then Bishop of Melbourne, The Rt Rev. C. Perry. The following year it moved to Knowle House in Skene Street, Newtown before relocating once again in 1858 to its purpose-built campus in central Geelong.  The new school and its grounds were located on the block of land bounded by McKillop Street to the north, Maud Street to the south and Moorabool and Yarra Streets to the west and east respectively - perfectly situated on a ridge line overlooking Corio Bay to the north and the Barwon River to the south. The town centre was nearby with both the bay and the river providing easy access to a variety of sporting and recreational activities - an aspect of education which the school has always considered an important addition to academic pursuits.

Geelong Grammar School, 1862 showing the front entrance facing
Moorabool Street. Image held by the Victorian State Library
And they did not take long to take advantage of the river's proximity when in 1870 boys began rowing with the Barwon Rowing Club. By 1874 the school had established its own rowing club on the banks of the Barwon and before long were competing with the best.
The school building itself was built by the architect firm of Backhouse and Reynolds in 1857 whose design won a competition for the contract. The brief for the building was that it must cater for 525 pupils and include a residence for the headmaster.  Their building was a quadrangular construction in the Tudor Gothic revival style with the master's quarters contained in the south wing and amenities located in the east. A single story wing faced north with the main entrance off Moorabool Street.
The building is repeatedly described as bluestone and concrete-rendered, however the picture above and another from about 1914 appear to show a bluestone finish with sandstone dressings on the north wing, rather than a rendered finish. By contrast the sections of the building which remain today (the south and east wings) are definitely concrete-rendered. Whether only part of the building was rendered or this was added later, I don't know.
Also unknown (by me) are the origins of the building materials used to construct the school. This is somewhat of a contrast to many of the historic buildings around Geelong and along the Barwon, however given the date of construction and the sourcing of materials for other buildings from this period, I would hazard a guess that the bluestone was quite quarried somewhere along the Barwon.
This image of the school taken some time after 1914 also appears to show
bluestone with dressed sandstone on the north wing. Image held by the
Victorian State Library
 Like much of the original building, the first occupants are long gone. The first headmaster was the Rev. George Oakley Vance who resigned in 1860 when the school closed as a result of funding issues. It had only been in its new premises for two years, however one of the masters - John Bracebridge Wilson - who had joined the staff in 1858 managed to keep the student body together, teaching 40 students in rented premises until, in 1863 with 58 day students, 2 boarders and Bracebridge Wilson as its principal, the school reopened at its McKillop Street campus as the grammar school. Presumably to avoid a repeat of earlier problems, the new-look Grammar saw a number of changes. A restructuring took place which also included the drawing up of a new constitution. This change in direction was driven by a new group of trustees including prominent Western District names such as Chirnside, Armytage and Manifold as well as that noted Geelong citizen and owner of Sladen House - Sir Charles Sladen.
Over the latter half of the 19th century, the school continued to build its reputation and by 1911 had outgrown the Moorabool Street campus. The decision was taken to sell both this campus and land which had previously been earmarked as a potential school site in Belmont and move to 400 acres of land on the banks of Limeburner's Bay in Corio.
The move took place in 1914 and the old building and grounds were sold to the Geelong City Council who had planned to use the building as a town hall - a plan which never came to fruition. Over the following years, the grounds were gradually subdivided and sold and in 1916 the west wing which included the main entrance was demolished. The north wing and quadrangle area were put to use as a factory whilst the remaining south and east wings became the private hotel called Dysart.

The remaining south wing of the school (facing Maud Street) in 1930 known as
the hotel Dysart. Image held by the Victorian State Library

In 1954 the building was sold once again, this time returning to its educational roots, when it became the Reformed Theological College, in which capacity it still operated in 1986 when I sat my HSC German oral exam in the building.
According to the Victorian Heritage Database, the north wing was demolished in about 1960, leaving only the east and south wings which the Theological College occupied until 1999 when they relocated to another former Geelong Grammar campus at Highton.
This remaining section of the building comprises 47 rooms including three bathrooms, a large kitchen as well as living and dining rooms. After the departure of the Theological College, it was sold once again, passing through the hands of a number of private owners before most recently being put on the market in June, 2011 by its owner of ten years, Norm Lyons - a local businessman.
The former Geelong Grammar in October, 2012
The sale of the property finally took place in May, 2012 and settlement is due to occur some time within the next few weeks (November, 2012). The buyer is an undisclosed local investor who, the agent stated, plans to renovate the property and continue its use as a private residence. A subsequent article in the Geelong Independent of 7th September suggested the building will be developed into student apartments. The sale price was undisclosed but is believed to be somewhere in the vicinity of $2.45 million.
Going once! Going twice! Going three times! Sold!

1 comment:

  1. This life is full of challenges. Education equips you with the knowledge and skill to face these challenges successfully. What you learn in your school days, support you rest of your life.