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 tranquillity 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. 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.
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 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 190 pupils where they have remained ever since.
The Family legacy continues with the fourth generation occupying various Senior Management and teaching roles.