An account based largely on

The populations of Cairo and Alexandria in the early 1900s were essentially conglomerates of diverse cultures and nationalities. Although this was not unusual for regions that had been under the influence of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt's unique geographic position, magnificent climate, welcoming people, and the wealth of opportunities to achieve material prosperity throughout the Nile Delta and the Suez Canal corridor, had drawn English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese and many other foreign nationals to settle there. As these various communities had prospered, churches, synagogues, community centres and schools, funded either by private contributions or by grants from their respective governments, had been established and had flourished.

For children of the British community, only an elementary school existed in Geziret Badran: Dean's Building School, named after Dean Butcher, a former chaplain of All Saints' Church. In the normal course of events, when boys and girls had outgrown governesses or elementary levels of schooling, they were sent to England to continue their education. For this reason, at the outbreak of war in 1914, there existed no establishment in Cairo dedicated to providing an English education for British born children, similar to or along the lines they would normally have received in England. Wartime transportation difficulties and the threat posed by enemy submarines having made travel back and forth from England impractical and imprudent, if not impossible, the quest for an alternative became mandatory. Also, for some time, the need had existed, within the British community, to provide an education to children of parents for whom sending their children to England was not an option in any circumstance.

Foundation and Beginnings

It was at the instigation of the Committee of Dean's Building School that Archdeacon C. T. Horan, Chaplain of All Saints' Church, Cairo, and Sister Margaret Clare took the initial steps to interest the members of the British community in the project of establishing a new school.
Negotiations during 1915-16 with the representative of the German School, which had been sequestered as enemy property, resulted in the appropriation of its premises, located in Boulac Street (later Fouad el Awal Street and presently 26th of July Street), from the Egyptian Ministry of Finance at a rent fixed at L.E.80 per annum. This solved the immediate problem of a building in which to house the school, but only temporarily because the arrangement was only for the duration of the war. The school building consisted of a large hall, classrooms, kitchen and dining room, but it had no proper playground and its situation in a populous native quarter made access difficult for school buses. Nevertheless, in October 1916 The English School first opened its doors with 110 pupils under the direction of a headmaster and a headmistress.

It is worth noting that Egypt's status as a nation and the prevailing political climate were somewhat uncertain during those years. The country had been either under direct foreign domination or foreign influence for centuries. A sultanate at the time, its ruler between 1914 and 1917 was Sultan Hussein. He was succeeded in 1917 by Sultan Ahmed Fouad, later King Fouad 1, when Egypt became a kingdom in 1922. The turmoil into which World War One had thrust the country created a sense of malaise, and, although stewardship of its government and the administration was, for the time being, in British hands, Egypt's destiny, following the war and depending on its outcome, was obscure. It would seem that in such circumstances, the beginnings of The English School, Cairo were somewhat inauspicious. Also worthy of note is that, at the time when The English School Cairo was going through the labour pains of its hesitant and uncertain beginnings in 1916, Victoria College in Alexandria was well established and had been in existence and operating for fourteen years. Clearly, whereas Victoria College had been created with the intent to provide the sons of Egypt's titled and moneyed elite with an English public school education close to home, and thereby eliminate the necessity of lengthy separation or travel back and forth from England, The English School Cairo came into being out of the very different needs of a totally different clientele.

Early Difficulties

At the outset, the School was plagued by a number of problems. The first headmaster proved to be unsuitable and remained in office only for a short time, and the headmistress, Miss Ridler, had to assume full responsibility for the operation of the School, until a replacement could be found for him. Mr. C.V. W. Grose, seconded from the Egyptian Government where he was in service at the time, assumed the headmastership at the beginning of 1917. Owing to incompatible temperaments and differences of opinion, joint leadership of the School did not prove to be a happy one and the School Council decided that it would be in the best interests of the School to place both girls' and boys' sides of the school under the direction of a sole headmaster.

Obtaining suitable and qualified staff presented a further problem. A small number of qualified women could be found locally but men were practically unavailable. The same wartime conditions that had necessitated the creation of the School made it almost impossible to attract candidates from England. Furthermore, the salaries that could be offered to prospective candidates were not attractive, and the positions carried no guarantees of permanency.

Another problem that had to be faced was the question of finances. When the School was first opened, the fees were set at L.E.5 per term because it was felt that the majority of parents could not afford more. In fact, a typical wage or salary in Egypt, at the time, ranged between L.E.4 and L.E.10 per month and only one third of the pupils could afford to pay the fees required to cover the full cost of their education. An appeal through the High Commissioner to the Foreign Office resulted in grants and subsidies that kept the School afloat for the next two years.

Temporary Closing of the School in 1919

Shortly after the end of the war, in the spring of 1919, a strong nationalist movement in Egypt, led by Saad Zaghloul, led to serious rioting in Cairo and the School had to be closed. Lord Allenby sent British troops to guard the School and oversee the evacuation of the children and staff to Port Said in an armoured train. Within a short time, however, the uprising subsided and the School was reopened in the autumn of the same year.

The Dowson Committee Enquiry and Recommendations

Plagued by financial as well as various organizational uncertainties, the School struggled through another two years, essentially as an elementary school, but, by the winter of 1921, it became evident that its continued existence would depend on it being placed on a more solid financial footing, and its educational objectives being clearly defined. Consequently, The Dowson Committee, an independent body consisting of five members, was set up to examine the need for a school, its financial prospects and its future management.

The Committee reached the following conclusions:

  1. There existed a real need for a school for the children of British and Dominion parents, serving or living in the area.

  2. British Government subvention had to be secured and money had to be raised locally through subscriptions and donations.

  3. There was a need for a secondary school capable of preparing students for entrance to public schools in England as well as for industrial and commercial careers in Egypt and elsewhere.

Based on these conclusions, the Committee recommended that:

  1. The estimated cost per child being L.E.45 per annum, the tuition fees of L.E.5 be raised to L.E.10. and a bursary fund be created to cover the deficit.

  2. An admixture of non-British children, not to exceed 20% of the total number, be admitted, whose parents would be required to pay full fees.

  3. A Committee of Management (subsequently known as the School Council) be formed to govern the affairs of the school.

In 1922 the British Protectorate was dissolved and Egypt became a monarchy. Fouad was named the new king; however, the British maintained strategic interests in the region. Mr. W. H. Hill, Judge of the Native Court of Appeal, succeeded Archdeacon Horan as Chairman of the School Council; the committee's recommendations were applied immediately; and the School reopened in October of the same year, with Mr. Grose once again as its headmaster.

Threatened Loss of School Buildings

In July, 1923 the School was faced with another crisis. The Trustees responsible for the administration of ex-German property, bound by the terms of the Trust Deed, to apply the funds and property of the trust towards the work of "any protestant Mission or Missions, Church or Churches in Egypt", found themselves compelled to reclaim the premises occupied by the School, since the English School did not fall within the category for which the funds and property of the trust could be employed.

The Council approached the Anglican Church authorities and the Bishop appointed a special committee to consider the question. A scheme was drawn up to bring the activities of the School within the conditions of the trust. It involved handing over the management of the School to the Anglican Bishop in Egypt and the Sudan. This was accepted by the Trustees. The Bishop then appointed the existing School Council, with the addition of three representatives nominated by him, and subject to certain conditions, to act as his delegates. Also, on the resignation of Mr. Hill who was leaving Egypt, Brig-General C. W. Compton, one of the new members nominated by the Bishop, was elected to replace him as its Chairman.

In 1924, the premises were divided between the School and the Church Missionary Society, necessary alterations were made to the building, and Mr. Grose was definitely appointed headmaster and resigned his appointment with the Egyptian Government.

Opening of Boarding Establishment in Helwan

Until the division of the property, it had been possible to accommodate a few boarders at the main school: children whose parents did not live in Cairo but wished to send their children to The English School. The reduced space, being needed in its entirety for the school, resulted in the opening in 1926 of a boarding establishment in Helwan with four girls, five boys, a mistress and matron in charge of the girls, and three resident assistant masters in charge of the boys. One inconvenience was the thirty kilometre journey to and from Cairo that the boarders were faced with every day. In spite of this, the boarding house was soon filled to capacity and in due course, welcomed pupils from places as far away as Cyprus, Palestine and the Sudan.

In 1929 Mr. G. A. W. Booth succeeded General Compton as Chairman, and the average number of pupils during that year was 249. It became apparent that this number represented the limit of capacity of the School at that time and that, without larger premises and additional teaching staff, it would not be possible to admit more pupils.

Expansion and Opening of Preparatory Departments at Ma'adi and Gezira

Expansion started in 1932 with the opening of a preparatory department at Ma'adi, and the number of pupils in Cairo and Ma'adi averaged nearly 300. During 1933 a much needed gymnasium was built on the Cairo property, and in 1934 a second preparatory branch of the School, capable of accommodating another 50 to 60 pupils, was opened in Zamalek. By 1935 the number of pupils in attendance at the three facilities of the School had grown to approximately 440 pupils and had prospered beyond all expectations. Also, in 1935 Mr. G. A. W. Booth resigned the Chairmanship of the Council and was succeeded by Sir Robert Greg. It was not long, however, before members of the School Council had to grapple once again with the issues of uncertain financing and the inadequacy of the main school building at Boulac.

Financing and School Buildings

For reasons already mentioned, fees alone could not cover the financial needs of the School and only the generous donations of its many benefactors enabled the School to pull through times of financial crisis. Of these benefactors, one in particular, Mr. K.P. Birley of Alexandria, must be mentioned. In fact, were it not for the generosity of Mr. Birley, on several occasions the School would have had to close down for sheer lack of funds. Other than a regular yearly subscription of L.E.100, this gentleman frequently made special donations of L.E.1,000 at critical moments, and in 1934 made a magnificent donation of L.E.5,000 for endowment purposes. The income from the Birley Endowment fund relieved, to a great extent, the strain related to the day to day operations of the School on an inadequate budget.

The Council now had to face the second major concern: the pressing need to find adequate premises for the School, in an appropriate location. An appeal, in connection with the Silver Jubilee of King George V, issued in the summer of 1935 by an unofficial committee under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Cook, Governor of the National Bank of Egypt, resulted in the accumulation, through subscriptions, of a fund for a new building for the school, amounting to over L.E.22,000. The Egyptian Government bought the old premises and land, and generously offered three feddans at Giza on a fifty year lease at a nominal rent. After careful consideration, however, the Council came to the conclusion that a school in Giza, being too far removed from the homes of the majority of the pupils, would be inconveniently situated. When the offer was declined and it was explained to the Egyptian Government that a location in Heliopolis, where most of the land belonged to the Belgian Oases Co., was being sought, in an even more generous gesture, the Egyptian Government contributed the cash value of the land that had been rejected, towards the new venture. Meanwhile, The Heliopolis Company offered three feddans of land to be transferred to the School in perpetuity and three extra feddans on lease at a nominal rent. This offer was gratefully accepted. With well located land acquired and adequate funds in hand, Mr. A. St. John Diamant was selected as architect and construction of the new school building was soon started. The death of King Fouad and the succession to the throne of his son the young King Farouk 1, at this junction, seemed to reflect the symbolic end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

A significant change in policy ensued from these developments. Hitherto, Egyptian pupils had been steadfastly excluded from the School, but, in the face of the very generous and unconditional contributions made by the Egyptian Government, it was decided, in spite of opposition from some parents, to admit a select and limited number of Egyptian pupils as a gesture of gratitude. They came as day pupils at first but it was not long before boarders from the provinces and even from Cairo were admitted. Finally, the admission of the first Egyptian girl as a boarder, in a Moslem country where a mixed education was viewed with considerable suspicion, was the ultimate proof of confidence in the School and its reputation.

Mr. Grose had been at the helm for close to twenty years. Originally seconded from the Egyptian Government for a two year period, he returned to his government position and was succeeded by another gentleman who, hard working and conscientious as he was, did not prove to be suitable for the job. After two years, at Lady Allenby's request, Mr. Grose returned to take charge of the School, however, in doing so, was obliged to sever his connection with the Egyptian Government, at great financial loss to himself. Since its uncertain beginnings, Mr. Grose had witnessed the School's development from a very small institution into a distinguished centre for the education of British children in the Near East. Among his outstanding achievements were the establishment of the boarding house at Helwan, and the selection of the site and the planning of the new buildings at Heliopolis where its activities could finally be consolidated. Sadly, he was not destined to see his efforts brought to fruition. In 1937, ten days before the beginning of the new school year, the School community was stunned by the tragic death of Mr. Grose in a car accident on the Suez Road.

Following Mr. Grose's sudden death, Mr. N. E. I. Thomas cut short his leave and returned to take charge of the School. He was to remain as acting headmaster for the 1937 - 1938 school year, which was to be the last complete year at Boulac.

In March of that year, Lord Lloyd, who since his time as British High Commissioner in Egypt had been a staunch supporter of the School, broke his journey home from East Africa to lay the foundation stone, and Mr. C. B. Owen took up his appointment as the new headmaster in October. Only the first term of the 1938 - 1939 school year was spent at Boulac. Over the Christmas holidays, with the help of squads of volunteers from among the boys and girls, all school property was moved from Cairo and Helouan to the new school premises in Heliopolis at the edge of the desert.

The War Years

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 brought new challenges. A staffing problem resulted from an unexpected influx of new students. As in 1914, there were boys and girls on their summer holidays in Egypt who, unable to return to their own schools in England, found themselves obliged to attend the English School Cairo. Three old boys, J. Hamaoui, O. Holmberg and V. Johnston, who had already started university careers, were called on to assume teaching duties.

Protection from possible enemy attacks was a major concern. Elaborate air-raid shelters were built on the school grounds, but it soon became evident that long treks across the grounds to these shelters were impractical, at night, in the dark. The ceiling having been reinforced with massive beams, the corridor of the central portion of the building on the ground floor was turned into a shelter whereto the boarders descended when the sirens blared their warning during the night. To contend with possible gas bomb attacks, the gymnasium, equipped with showers and wash basins, was set up as a decontamination centre. These measures and precautions having been taken, although many things were in short supply, were prohibitively expensive, difficult or impossible to obtain in war time, school work and life continued very much as usual.

In 1940, following Mr. Owen's decision not to renew his contract, Mr. D. H. Whiting assumed the duties of Headmaster. As already mentioned, it was at this time that, as a quid pro quo for the unconditional grant made by the Egyptian Government towards the acquisition of the new site and buildings, a small number of Egyptian pupils were for the very first time admitted to the School. From then on the School was swamped with applications of which only a small number could possibly be accepted, as the claims of British children had to be given priority and a limiting clause in the School's constitution restricted the admission of foreigners to a maximum of 20% of the total number of pupils. By the end of 1943 the large new building was already overcrowded, and the return of a large number of British children, who had been evacuated to the safety of South Africa during the critical period of the war, necessitated the erection of a colony of Nissen huts. This group of classroom size rectangular structures, built of whitewashed brick and covered over with a corrugated metal roof with a door at each end and windows on each of the long walls, became known as "the Village".

The foundations for a projected dining hall had been included in the original building, however, it had not been built for lack of funds, and for a few years the assembly hall had to be used as a dining room. This arrangement was inconvenient because, other than regular morning assemblies, school concerts and plays were rehearsed and presented, and examinations as well as school dances were held there. When the dining hall was finally completed in 1944, it brought great relief to all, especially for the school servants for whom setting up the room for its various functions every day amounted to a great deal of hard and often hectic work.

1945 - 1956

To the great regret of parents, staff and pupils, in the summer of 1948 Mr. Whiting decided to return to England with his family, and when the 1948 - 1949 school year opened, Mr. T. B. Inman was the new headmaster. That year was marked by two serious interruptions to the School programme. First was the war between Egypt and the newly created state of Israel, and the second an outbreak of three infectious diseases, mumps, measles and chicken pox, during the Easter Term. The following year, Mr. Inman announced his resignation, and Mr. G. F. Beard was designated acting headmaster until a successor to Mr. Inman was appointed.

1950 brought a sudden and unexpected influx of a very large number of British children. The reason for this turn of events was one of the clauses of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty which stipulated that, at the end of the war, British troops would be withdrawn from Cairo and Alexandria and relocated in the Suez Canal Zone. Consequently, the question emerged of how the educational needs of children of British servicemen of all ranks could be met. Since their children would have been entitled to and would have received a free secondary education in England, the British authorities were persuaded to arrange for these children to come to the English School as boarders at the expense of the British government. The number of children who had to be accommodated was well beyond the capacity of the boarding house and twenty-eight boys had to be housed in what was normally the headmaster's flat. Additional furniture and other necessities were purchased, extra staff was hired and the new Junior School building was finished in a hurry. These hectic preparations were completed just in time for the opening of the school year. It did not take long for the newcomers to settle in and adjust to their new surroundings, and the enthusiasm with which they participated in all activities infused new energy into the School. Although classrooms too were bursting at the seams, class atmosphere seemed to become more stimulating and social interaction was livelier, especially at the fun filled school dances. At Heliopolis, large and spacious grounds, a magnificent gymnasium, not to mention a skating rink, had favoured the development of a varied sports programme, which was maintained and expanded year after year. The addition of the new squash courts at this time further enhanced the programme, which included football, field hockey, cricket, volleyball, tennis, cross country running, athletics and track and field. The newcomers' involvement in sports was no less vigorous than in other areas, and the increased numbers provided greater challenges and a higher level of competition. All in all, any problems stemming from large numbers proved to be minor inconveniences far outweighed by the contributions they made to all aspects of school life.

The political unrest that erupted in Egypt in 1951 put an abrupt end to this particularly dynamic and prosperous period of the School's existence. Less than three weeks after the beginning of the Winter Term, the British army and the R.A.F., anxious for the safety of the children, decided to recall their boys and girls, and abruptly the School lost 120 boarders.

On the 26th of January the Burning of Cairo, triggered by Egyptian resentment at the clashes between British troops and Egyptian guerrillas in the Canal Zone, brought new turmoil. Numerous shops and British clubs and institutions were burned or razed before King Farouk ordered his troops to restore order. The Egyptian Government, conscious of its responsibility for the safety of foreign nationals, sent a detachment of troops to the School to protect it from possible attack by the rampaging hordes, thereby averting intervention by British troops poised at the limit of the British military area a few miles from the city, ready to step in. So for the next few months, armed Egyptian soldiers patrolling the School grounds became a familiar sight, until eventually tensions subsided and they were withdrawn.

Following the events of January 1952, although order had been restored and on the surface the political situation seemed relatively calm, undercurrents of discontent persisted and came to a head in July of that year, culminating in the ousting of King Farouk during what came to be known as "The Bloodless Revolution". Egypt was then declared a Republic administered by the Council of the Revolution with General Mohammed Naguib at its head. Shortly thereafter, General Naguib was replaced by Lieutenant Gamal Abd El Nasser and the rest is history.

It was during those difficult and uncertain times that Mr. Brandon Laight assumed the headmastership in January 1952. What made matters worse, was the gradual withdrawal of ninety more children from the School, whose parents decided that Egypt was no longer a safe place to stay and either returned to their countries of origin or emigrated to other countries. For the first time since its beginnings, the School population ceased to be predominantly English. Unfazed by these upheavals, with pragmatic determination, Mr. Laight faced the challenges brought by these changed circumstances and set about reorganizing the School to meet the needs of a new era. Classes were rearranged and new subjects such as German, as an alternative to Latin, Applied Arts and Domestic Science were introduced. Once a week, the entire Senior School congregated in the Assembly Hall to listen to lectures by special guests who were invited to talk about subjects relating to their area of expertise or about unique or extraordinary experiences. Among other notables, Dr. Derry the anatomist responsible for the unwrapping of the mummy of King Tut Ankh Amen, and Dr. Richter, the School Librarian, who spoke sixty languages and had a vast knowledge of Chinese civilization and culture. When no guest speaker was scheduled, Mr. Laight himself, standing at the podium, took on the mission of broadening the literary horizons of the students gathered before him by introducing various lesser known authors, reading excerpts of their works and expounding on their merits. For the remaining boarders, an activity room was set up in one of the rooms in the Boarding House, garden plots for vegetables and flowers were set aside and an enclosure was created in the area between two of the now vacant Nissen huts to house a small menagerie. It is to Mr. Laight's great credit that, by reviving former activities and instituting new ones, the shattered morale of the School was restored and new incoming students, some from the British Boys' School in Port Said which had closed down, brought numbers up. In 1955 the student population numbered 730, the highest number in the School's existence to that time. The already thriving sports and athletics program was expanded considerably and standards improved dramatically, the School's teams and athletes meeting with tremendous success in interscholastic competition and in national championships of Egypt. A measure of these successes is the fact that during the eight years the Triangular Sports Competitions with Victoria College and English Mission College were held, the English School won the Stuzzi shield outright on six occasions, tied once for top place, and lost only once.

The End of an Era

These golden days were not to last. The 1956 - 1957 school year was barely into its third week when, in what seemed to be a delayed reaction to the nationalization in June of the Suez Canal, the British and French governments issued the ultimatum that was soon followed by armed aggression on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel.

In the circumstances, Mr. Laight decided to close the School immediately and made arrangements to evacuate the boarders. He withdrew all the School's liquid funds from the bank and transferred the Bursar's Office with the safe and all important papers and documents to the flat nearby where lived Miss Savage, the Headmistress of the Junior School. He then arranged for the evacuation of the teaching staff to Alexandria and thence to England. Mr. G. Beard and Mr. D. Scott were the only two to remain behind to assist Mr. Laight, until the passing of the crisis. All three left soon after, when the Egyptian Government issued an order expelling all British and French residents.

A few weeks later, the School was renamed and reopened under Egyptian authority. The use of the English language as the medium of instruction in most subjects was retained and the School continued to operate along English lines. Thus, it is to the great credit of The Ministry of Education that the educational continuum was maintained in the School, in spite of it having been subjected to such a sudden and radical change. As a result, an educational institution, the benefits of which went far beyond political, racial or national considerations, was preserved to nurture future generations.

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