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Rhodes University, Main Administration Building
Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape

BAKER and KENDALL: Architect

Date:1936
Type:University
Status:Extant
Street:Drostdy Road

 


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Coordinates:
33°18'48.04" S 26°31'14.07" E

Rhodes University College received its charter in 1904. There had been moves afoot to establish an institution of higher learning in the Eastern Cape for some time, but finances were a problem. An amount of £50,000 was obtained from the Rhodes Trust, after Selmar Schonland traveled to Cape Town and appealed in person to Dr. Leander Starr Jameson and Sir Lewis Michell, both Rhodes Trustees, for the promised grant to be honoured. It was the early promoters of the idea of a University (Slater and Wood) who had suggested calling the prospective institution after Rhodes - possibly in the hopes of obtaining funding.

The competition for a design for the University was held in 1911 'with prizes of £200, £150 and £100, for plans of the Rhodes of the future.' (Keath 1992:188) The winning entry was a design from the firm BAKER & KENDALL and they 'designed a central block of great character, dictated largely by the nature of the hard local sandstone, a blue-grey quartzite, which called for a strong design which Baker interpreted in a Romanesque fashion. It was to be an impressive building with a long front, having projecting wings at either end, which would rise above a wide terrace supported by a strong retaining wall and look down the High Street towards the Cathedral. It was planned with open arcades round quadrangles (in the medieval college tradition), with wide eaves and shutters against the sun, tall windows and a Great Hall dignified with a fine, open timber roof.' (Greig 1971:125).

'But the competition had an unpleasant sequel for one of the team, Gordon LEITH, who appears to have made an unfortunate remark, eliciting the immediate response: 'Until you apologise for the disgraceful insinuation you made today against Mr Baker's honour, we must ask you not to come to the office again. We enclose a cheque for your salary this month, and a further cheque of £10.0.0, being your share of the bonus distributed on account of the firm's success in winning the Grahamstown Competition.' A fortnight later, on 13 March 1911, a blunt letter and 'a book from Lutyens' was sent to Leith at an address in Doornfontein. No doubt the young Gordon Leith relented, for he was to become one of Baker's most valuable and respected assistants and the first recipient of the Herbert Baker Scholarship, founded by Baker in 1912.' (Keath 1992:188)

However, Rhodes University College had only committed themselves to the prize money, not actually to implementing the design, and for many years the original Drostdy building remained in use. Finally, after the Depression years, once South Africa came off the Gold Standard, enough money became available to put the plan into effect, and the foundation stone was laid in 1936 with the finished 'central main block and Tower ... completed in 1937. This involved the demolition of the original Drostdy building ... This was known at the time as the Library wing, the first floor originally providing a home for the Library.' (Currey 1970:78)

Translation of Latin inscription on Foundation Stone:

The library, built at public expense
through the generosity of Cecil Rhodes
and other benefactors of this college,
will provide an instrument for those
who search for the truth.
This stone was laid by
Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr in August 1936.

The full speech delivered by Mr. J.H. Hofmeyr appeared in the local newspaper on 10 August 1936 under the following headlines:

"Mr. J.H. Hofmeyr on the Future. Unveiling of Foundation Stone of new Library building. Development of New Liberalism."

The next day the following headlines appeared:

"Brilliant ceremony at Rhodes U.C. Unveiling of the New Library Foundation Stone. Welcome to Mr. J.H. Hofmeyr. Full report of Proceedings".

In his welcome, the Chairman of the Rhodes University Council, Justice P. C. Gane, addressed the crowd of over 1000 and stated:

"It is indeed a happy and a great occasion. For the first time in its history of 32 years, Rhodes College has been able to take a big step forward in completing the frontage of the dignified and beautiful plan which we owe to our architects, Messrs. Baker & Kendall."

He also noted that:

"The new buildings and the tower especially, was gay with flags and streamers."

The Rhodes University Library moved into the first floor of the new building where it soon outgrew the space provided.

Ref:

Grocott's Daily Mail. August 10, 1936. Grahamstown.

Grocott's Daily Mail. August 11, 1936. Grahamstown. p.2, c7

Translation of the Latin inscription on the Foundation Stone provided by John Jackson at the Rhodes School of Languages (Classics)

Information and transcribed extracts provided by Liz de Wet of the Cory Library, Rhodes University.

[Submitted by William MARTINSON]

(Afr Archt Sep 1911:79-81; Archt & Bldr Mar 1914:240-41 ill, plans). Walker claims that in personal communications with LH Fleming, son of FLH FLEMING, in 1985, that he was also involved in this building.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Writings about this entry

Currey, RF. 1970. Rhodes University 1904-1970 : a chronicle. Grahamstown: Grahamstown. pg 78
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 125-126
Greig, Doreen. 1970. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: PURNELL. pg 218, 246 ill
Keath, Michael. 1992. Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism 1892 - 1913: The South African Years. Gibraltar: Ashanti Pub. Ltd.. pg 188, 189 ill, 193