The early years of the 20th Century found Atherton Lilford struggling to sustain his family through his farming operations so his energetic wife, Agnes, decided to supplement their income by a) opening a small school for local children and by providing rondavels for paying guests who felt in need of a period of tranquility away from the city (now Harare). Both enterprises were initiated in 1909 (in the huts now occupied by senior boy pupils!). Then, as the school grew in size the paying guests were phased out and by the mid-twenties Lilfordia had become a “government approved” institution subject to all the bureaucracy which comes with official recognition. What it had not done, however, was to generate sufficient funds to prop up the agricultural empire and the creditors were closing in.
Meanwhile the couple’s third son, D.C. “Boss” Lilford, had left Plumtree School, somehow persuaded a hard-nosed donkey-dealer to advance him a loan, and by dint of sheer hard work, flourished financially. He was now in a position to un-mortgage and reclaim much of the original Lilford land, and in doing so to give to his parents the buildings and immediate surrounds, thus establishing an independent school entity in the midst of the farming area. That this had been done was not widely known and subsequently gave rise to a certain amount of panic amongst parents when first, following “Boss” Lilford’s death, Lilfordia Estates were acquired by Harare businessman, Mr Sam Levy, and then later when the name Lilfordia appeared amongst the list of properties designated for re-settlement by the Government. However it would now appear to be understood by most people that Lilfordia School is self-sufficient and not affected by changes of ownership occurring on adjacent farms bearing the same name.
Mrs Agnes Lilford died in 1950 and her only daughter, Erline Hoal, was a little taken aback to find that she had inherited a school! Despite this she contrived the transformation from farmer’s wife to Principal with considerable aplomb and inspanned Miss E.B. Dickens (a retired Headmistress from the U.K. on a supposedly fleeting visit to the colonies) to take care of academic matters as Senior Mistress. By 1968 Miss Dickens, nearing 90 years of age, was clearly due for a second retirement and the radical decision was taken to recruit “a man”! Mr Iain Campbell was appointed Senior Master (a rather hollow title for the only male teacher on the staff) and found himself surrounded by ladies, both young and old, at virtually every turn.
A Few Extras(Optional Reading)…continued
Agnes Dormitory is so called for the lady herself, Erline Hall after her daughter and successor, and Kathleen Dormitory for Mrs Hoal’s younger daughter who was tragically killed in a motor accident, aged twenty. Even Dickens Dorm can claim a connection as this indomitable old lady had become an “ipso facto” grandmother to Mrs Hoal’s children during their formative years. Then there are the Campbell Field, testimony to the sweat of a gentleman who was aghast to find himself in a school without a cricket pitch, the “Boss” Lilford Oval marking the donation of a favourite maize field to cater for the school’s expanding needs, and the Squire Field, to gratefully acknowledge the input of Vaughan and Atherton, two of Trevor Lilford’s grandchildren. To register a list of Atherton and Agnes’ descendants who have attended Lilfordia as pupils would require the use of a large computer, but it is perhaps worthy of mention that we have now reached the stage where the current incumbents are great-great-grandchildren. Similarly, at the latest, count, no fewer than 22 relations, either of direct-lineage or through more tenuous
connections, have served on the staff in various capacities.
Lilfordia is also rather unusual in this day and age for the manner in which so many staff would have qualified for long-service awards had such an accolade existed. Still on parade at the
moment are Mrs Campbell and R.P. Hammond whilst others who completed twenty year or more stints would include the venerable Miss Dickens with Mesdames Hosgood, Cumming, Walters, Ledlie and Bagshaw from the distant past and, more recently, Mr and Mrs Davies and Mr and Mrs Robey and Mrs Williams.
Unusual in several respects, Lilfordia is probably unique in one – is there another school in the world at which young ladies are just as liable to receive a smack on their bottoms as their scruffy male counterparts? This (un)happy tradition was born when Mrs Erline Hoal, passing the senior classroom one afternoon, enquired as to why the detention group consisted entirely of girls and was told that the boys who had produced unsatisfactory homework had opted for a “whack” as the alternative punishment for their misdemeanour. This explanation she regarded as being
discriminatory and caused her to issue the edict that in future “MY girls” will get whacked
alongside “YOUR boys”. In passing, a similar scenario led to the inauguration of inter-school
Cross-Country races for females in Mashonaland. At Mrs Hoal’s insistence a highly
embarrassed master telephoned the Banket School Head to ask whether it would be acceptable for Lilfordia to bring girls’ teams to run in his forthcoming meeting. He was then surprised by the gentleman’s reaction, which was to the effect that he thought that this was a splendid idea and would, in fact, enter his own young ladies as well. Banket and Lilfordia thus became (1969) the first primary schools to subject their girls to the rigours of long-distance running and within a very short space of time the concept had spread like wildfire so that today all such events
incorporate equal opportunities for both sexes. Lilfordia’s female pupils, both past and present, have cause to be very grateful to Mrs E.M. Hoal … or have they?