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 b) 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.
This situation obtained because at this time boys were retained only as far as Standard II (Grade IV) before being sent elsewhere to enable them to participate in inter-school sport. The construction of a proper playing field and subsequent engagement in fixtures with other schools soon took care of the gross female preponderance amongst the pupils and, by 1972, the boys were seeing out their full terms at Lilfordia, the school had more than doubled its enrolment (80 to 170) and had begun to make its presence felt on the sporting circuit. Tragically, shortly after proudly watching her swimmers win the Districts’ Gala for the first time, her Cross Country runners dominating meetings throughout the province and her cricketers reaching the Final of the Mashonaland K.O. Competition Mrs Hoal (aged only 59) succumbed to a heart attack, leaving a legendary reputation and her school to her son and daughter.
The said daughter, Letitia, had meanwhile returned to her alma mater as a T.T.C. student to fulfil a teaching prac. and, suitably flattered by the adulatory comments written on her assessment report by her mentor, married him in 1970. The new management team thus became Mr Iain Campbell (Headmaster, Grade VII Teacher), Mrs Letitia Campbell (Co-owner, Grade VI teacher), Mr Rory Hoal (Co-owner, Finance) and his wife, Mrs Melody Hoal (Superintendent). Unhappily their period of office spanned those years during which the closing of borders saw the extra-territorial intake (which had been massive) all but eliminated and all country schools suffering wholesale withdrawals due to the war situation. By 1979 Lilfordia had been reduced to total enrolment of 35 pupils and, although some pride was taken in the fact that it remained one of the only two rural private, primary schools in the country still operating, a closure, such as had happened elsewhere, was seriously contemplated.
With the coming of Independence the pendulum swung spectacularly. Mr and Mrs Hoal left to pursue their careers in Harare so Mr and Mrs Campbell assumed overall control and battled to create facilities to keep abreast of the demand for places. By 1983 numbers had swelled to some 200 pupils and petitions to double-stream were resisted on the grounds that if such a scheme were to be implemented the school would lose the “personal touch” for which it was renowned.
At the end of the first term of 1993 Mr Campbell decided that he was wearing too many hats, and retired from the Headmastering and classroom teaching, whilst retaining the portfolios of Board Chairman, Bursar and Master i/c Sport. He was succeeded by his long-serving Deputy, Mr O.R.W. Davies, whose reign was tragically cut short by an untimely, fatal illness and Mr Campbell was obliged to resume his previous duties until the end of 1995, following which Mr Francis Rosier arrived from Peterhouse to take over the academic reins from January 1996 until August 1999. Whereupon Lilfordia reverted to a lady Head, Mrs Deirdre Williams, who had already served on the staff, latterly as Senior Mistress, for some twenty years prior to her appointment. Sadly Mrs Williams was obliged to re—locate to the U.K. in March, 2004 due to her husband’s deteriorating health but happily for Lilfordia a ready-made replacement was available in the person of her deputy, Mr. Pat Giri, who already had Headmastering experience (at Rydings) on his C.V. Meanwhile Mrs Campbell had doubled as Hostel Superintendent and class teacher since 1981, with her burden alleviated somewhat in latter years by the establishment of a substantive School Secretary’s post and the appointment of a member of staff i/c Kitchen and Catering.
2008 saw the death of the legendary “Sir”, Iain (Polly) Campbell. It was a great sadness he did not live to see in the Centenary of Lilfordia.
The Centenary Year Celebrations (2009) heralded a multitude of development and change – namely the departure of Mr Giri for pastures new and the appointment, in the third term, of Mr Donald Campbell, recently returned from 6 years teaching service at the prestigious Epsom College, England, as Headmaster in his place. Dormitories and classrooms were refurbished, a further sports pavilion built (The Iain “Polly” Campbell Pavillion), a further staff house constructed, an underground “pop-up” irrigation system installed throughout the School, and vast amounts of repairs and maintenance carried out.