In the beginning…
Our story begins over 125 years ago, when a local influential figure, Mr Charles Harper recognised the need for a school to educate his own children and other children living near his stately Woodbridge home.
It was 1896, and Mr Harper was inspired by the English public school model, but incorporated changes to suit the modern colonial Australian society of the time. The first classes took place in the billiard room of his home, Woodbridge, under the guidance of the School’s first Headmaster, Mr Frank Bennett. By the end of 1896 there were 18 students enrolled. Class numbers quickly expanded from 18 to 35, with students spilling out onto the home’s verandah.
In 1900, growing interest in the School prompted a move to the location we now know today and the construction of Big School Room.
Almost immediately, work began on the site, with a series of new buildings opened in 1904. This included boarding accommodation with boarders at the School for the first time. Our proud sporting tradition began with the laying of a cricket pitch and, as the School quickly grew, so did its success in rowing and football – key sports then as they are today!
Guildford Grammar School quickly established itself as one of the four leading schools of the day, alongside the Christian Brothers’ College (now Aquinas College), Scotch College and the High School (now Hale School). Together, they founded the Public Schools’ Association (PSA) in 1905. To this day – more than a century later – the Association is regarded as WA’s pre-eminent group of independent schools, renowned for its high quality of competition.
Today, organised interschool competition in athletics, badminton, basketball, cricket, cross-country, football, hockey, rowing, rugby union, soccer, swimming, and tennis, volleyball and water polo is offered to students in the Senior School. Just as they were more than a century ago, competitions are fiercely contested, while played in a spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship.
Rise of the Rhodes Scholars
The School rapidly gained a reputation for academic excellence., Prescott Henry Harper, 1905 graduate, was the first of many Rhodes Scholars to emerge from the School with a very prestigious international Scholarship awarded to students to enable them to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
The Chapel is born
In 1908, Charles Harper began discussions with local clergy about the possibility of the School becoming more closely linked to the Church of England. The transfer took place in 1910, under the leadership of cleric and Headmaster Percy Henn, who had secured an endowment from a wealthy London merchant, Cecil Oliverson, to personally finance the building of a suitable chapel on the grounds. The remarkable Chapel of St Mary and St George was consecrated by the Bishop of Perth on Lady Day, 25 March 1914.
The toll of war
World War I took a significant toll on Guildford Grammar School, with the lives of many young Old Guildfordians lost and the names of the fallen are commemorated on our School WW1 memorial.
During the Second World War, the School was again faced by upheaval and the loss of many Old Guildfordians and staff. In 1942, the Senior School was commandeered by firstly the 5th Station American Army as a hospital and then the 2/1 Australian General Hospital, and students and staff were relocated to Fairbridge. It was not until November 1943 that students and staff returned to Guildford. The School constructed a Science memorial building in 1956 to honour the fallen from World War II.
Due to fear of a Japanese invasion, the American Army painted a red cross on the Chapel roof, as well as the Dining Hall, gymnasium and Henn’s House; the faint outline of which remains today on the roof of the Chapel. In the 1950s, four memorial windows in the Chapel were dedicated to students who had died in World War II as pilots in the RAAF.
Ben Carlin and the famous Half Safe
An intriguing story of adventure and determination, former student Ben Carlin’s tour of duty during World War II with the Royal Indian Engineers sparked a 10-year journey over land and sea, in a rebuilt amphibious Ford Jeep that he found on an airstrip left by the American Army. He named the Jeep Half-Safe – after a personal deodorant being advertised at the time. The Other Half of Half-Safe by Ben Carlin (which includes an abridged version of Half-Safe – Across the Atlantic by Jeep) is available from our School Archivist by emailing Rosemary.Waller@ggs.wa.edu.au
A journey into modern times
By the 1970s, Guildford Grammar School was ready for its next adventure. Then Headmaster, Mr David Lawe Davies, saw great opportunities in being able to offer a broad and relevant education to greater numbers of city and country students.
In 1976, places at the Preparatory School were offered to girls as well as boys, and Enid Fergusson-Stewart (nee Drake-Brockman), one of the original students of Guildford Grammar School, attended the opening with her great-granddaughter, Anna Stewart. Anna was the fourth generation of her family to attend Guildford Grammar School.
By the early 1980s, the School had grown to cater to more than 1,000 students, while in recent decades there has been a rapid expansion of facilities to accommodate the increased numbers. Today, almost 1200 students walk the magnificent grounds, both boys and girls, collaborating and learning together.
In recent decades, Guildford Grammar School has become a truly modern independent school, including the development of the award winning Thwaites Centre and modernised Preparatory School.
In 2015, new Preparatory School wings were opened, named the Joobaitch, Monop and Woolba Wings. Each wing is named after one of three Nyoongar men. Each of them incredibly significant Indigenous leaders who had a strong connection to the land on which the School stands, as well as the surrounding districts and country areas.
The men were recognised for helping to bridge the divide between cultures, dancing the ‘Spider Dance’ for a Royal visit in 1901 in the Guildford area. In recent times, the School’s Boodjar Bidi Youth Art Group have performed the same dance under the leadership of Barry McGuire.
Guided by our proud heritage, Guildford Grammar School continues to offer students extraordinary opportunities, in a stimulating environment that inspires students to go forward and define their own success.