ENGLISH SCHOOL CAIRO 1916 - 1956
An account based largely on
A HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SCHOOL CAIRO
G. F. BEARD
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Closing of the School in 1919
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.
Dowson Committee Enquiry and Recommendations
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:
- There existed a real need for a school for the children of British
and Dominion parents, serving or living in the area.
- British Government subvention had to be secured and money had to
be raised locally through subscriptions and donations.
- 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.
on these conclusions, the Committee recommended that:
- 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.
- An admixture of non-British children, not to exceed 20% of the
total number, be admitted, whose parents would be required to pay
- A Committee of Management (subsequently known as the School Council)
be formed to govern the affairs of the school.
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.
Loss of School Buildings
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.
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.
of Boarding Establishment in Helwan
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.
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.
and Opening of Preparatory Departments at Ma'adi and Gezira
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.
and School Buildings
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
End of an Era
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.
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.
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.