by Josh Lu (March 11, 2016)
Before what we know today as Queen’s Royal College at its present location on Queen’s Park West, the school had its beginnings as the Queen’s Collegiate School, when, in 1858, the government planned to spend £5,000 a year for a mixed non-denominational college. In 1859 this new school opened it doors on the premises of C.N Vessiny, situated at the corner of Oxford Street and Cumberland (Abercromby) Street, facing Lord Harris Square. The Queen’s Collegiate School initially had five professors from England and a total of 34 students from forms 1 to 3. The school remained at Oxford Street for the next 29 years.
THE FORMATION OF QUEEN’S ROYAL COLLEGE
In 1870 the Queen’s Collegiate School was officially renamed the Queen’s Royal College by order of the Legislative Council, with Queen Victoria, through the Secretary of State for the Colonies expressing her pleasure in the name change. The college was inaugurated at the Prince’s Building on Queens Park West by Governor A.H. Gordon. The Prince’s Building was constructed in 1861 for the arrival of Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. However the visit was cancelled because of the sudden death of Prince Alfred’s father in the same year and he never visited Trinidad. The Prince’s Building was built within a month with great haste, using bricks from the ruins of Government House on Belmont Hill, where Hilton stands today.
The building stood on the site known as Little Savannah at the top of Frederick Street, Port of Spain. The National Academy for the Performing Arts now occupies this site. When Queen’s Royal College had occupied this building it had 80–100 students and had all six classes taught in the Supper Room, while the master’s room was the Cloak Room. The principal who oversaw this transitional stage of the college was Horace Deighton (1870–1871). The person who took the principal position after Deighton was William Mills, who is also the longest serving principal for Queen’s Royal College. The students were highly engaged in sports, playing cricket on the west side of the building, rugby and athletics on the Queen’s Park Savannah close by. The College remained at this location for the next 32 years.
In 1899 when Government Farm moved from St. Clair, this opened a series of empty plots of land to be sold off. The land on the west of Queen’s Park Savannah was considered prime space due to its close proximity to the savannah. The plot of land on the corner of St. Clair Avenue and Maraval Road was specially reserved for the construction of the new Queen’s Royal College building. In 1902, His Excellency the Acting Governor, Sir Courtney C. Knollys laid the foundation stone for the new Queen’s Royal College. At the laying of the foundation stone the Governor remarked:
Today we are taking the first step in giving new life to a new era for the college by laying the foundation stone of a new building, which would be suitable in every respect for an educational establishment. The boys would then have their own home and be able to establish an esprit de corps and the college would be their Alma Mater for which they would feel true affection and to which they would look up through their lives.
After having the foundation stone blessed by the Bishop and set in place by the Acting Governor, the construction of the building was left under the supervision of Daniel Meinertz Hahn, architect and chief draughtsman. Daniel Hahn was a past student of Queen’s Royal College at Prince’s Building and was born in Carupano, Venezuela in 1867. Afterwards he went to Hamburg in Germany to continue his studies and later attended the Polytechnic School of Engineering in Berlin. He returned to Trinidad to gain his position in the Public Works Department, where he was able to design and build many buildings, which included the Red House among others.
With his immense experience and tireless supervision, he was able to design and complete the building of the new Queen’s Royal College within fourteen months. The date for the opening ceremony of this magnificent building on Queen’s Park West took place on 24th March 1904, officiated by the Governor, Sir Alfred Maloney. In the presence of a large gathering of students, past students and members of the college the Hon. Walsh Wrightson, Director of Public Works presented the southern door key of the College Hall to the Governor. At which point speeches were made and where the Hon. Walsh Wrightson thanked Daniel Hahn for his endless dedication in the completion of this building.
Completed at a cost of £15,000, the design of Queen’s Royal College was based on the German Renaissance style, which was influenced by Daniel Hahn’s experience while he was in Germany. The new building was without equal in Trinidad as it boasted a clock tower 93 feet tall, which housed the King Edward VII Memorial Clock. It should be noted that the clock was not installed until 1912, as there was no funding to purchase the clock, instead it was gifted by William Gordon Gordon, a prominent businessman at the time.
Few would know that the same mechanism that drives the gears and dials for the famous clock for Houses of Parliament in London, familiarly known as “Big Ben” is the same used for the turret clock at Queen’s Royal College. Both clock were made by Dent & Co. the finest clock and watch maker in Great Britain for over three centuries. Established in 1814 by Edward J. Dent who gained prominence for his timepieces that he was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria and HRH Albert Prince of Wales.
There are five bells that are house within the belfry of the clock tower. Each bell was made in Great Britain as they all are marked by the coat of arms of the United Kingdom with the words Dieu et mon driot (God and my right) on a scroll beneath it.
Take a look at a video of the interior of the clock tower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMxpI7u5szI
The German Renaissance was the outcome of renewed interest in classical Greek and Roman philosophy, literature and architecture. In the 15th and 16th century German thinkers and artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Johannes Reuchlin visited Italy and brought the Renaissance movement with them to Germany. The Renaissance architectural style places importance on symmetry, proportion, strong geometry and different characteristics of classical antiquity such as well-ordered ornamental columns, pilasters, lintels and the use of semi-circular arches. All of these features are cleverly incorporated into the main building of Queen’s Royal College with its open corridors and galleries to allow proper ventilation for this tropical climate. The entire structure was made of concrete with facing of blue limestone from Laventille and the concrete is coloured with tint to contrast with the blue limestone. The interior had six separate classrooms which can hold approximately 30 students each. There were also offices for the Headmaster and the Assistant Master and a lecture hall that could accommodate 550 students.
After the completion of the main building the student population was 109 but in 1905 it was 171. It reached 400 students by the end of 1941 and continued to rapidly grow as it gain the reputation of being the top school on the island and when the government provided free secondary education. The current student population (2015) stands at 715.
With this dramatic increase in students and the development of the curriculum there was an immediate need to expand the facilities at the college. In 1939 the science block was opened followed by the North Block in 1940, flanking the northern and southern side of the main building. Built in an Art Deco architectural style, the Governor, Sir Hubert Young, in his speech on the opening of the new blocks stated:
I have had the pleasure of going around and seeing the two new blocks, and I congratulate the Public Works Department very much on the excellent job they have made of them. The design is obviously exactly what is required and it is rather a relief to find that it has been possible to introduce modern ideas on each side rather older ideas typified in the existing building thus preserving symmetry and at the same time advancement.
Finally a westward extension was built for further housing of the students in 1966, it was unwaveringly utilitarian modern structure that provided a clear view of the playing grounds from the gallery. However it failed to add any elegance to the college. Around this period, the school reputation began to diminish as its best teachers were sent to new educational institutions to become principals and had its funding reduced. This did not stop the school from educating and producing highly distinguished alumni such as:
· Lloyd Best — economist, essayist, politician, scholar. Founder of the “Plantation school” of economics.
· Ralph de Boissière — novelist.
· Marc Burns — athlete and 2008 Olympic medallist — 4x100m relay.
· Rudranath Capildeo — mathematician, politician.
· Dr E. F. Gordon — physician and labour leader in Bermuda.
· Boscoe Holder — artist, dancer and choreographer.
· Geoffrey Holder — actor and dancer.
· Karl Hudson-Phillips — jurist, politician; former judge of the International Criminal Court and former Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.
· C. L. R. James — pre-eminent Caribbean philosopher, historian, novelist, essayist, political theorist and cricket writer. James writes about his schooldays at QRC in his classic cricket memoir Beyond a Boundary (1963).
· Peter Minshall — artist, Trinidad Carnival Masman, designer of opening ceremony for the Olympic Games of Atlanta 1996, Emmy Award-winner.
· Wendell Mottley — 1964 Olympic silver medallist and politician; former Minister of Finance.
· Deryck Murray — West Indian wicket-keeper in cricket.
· Shiva Naipaul — novelist and journalist.
· Sir Vidia Naipaul — Nobel Prize–winning author. QRC is memorialised in his masterpiece novel A House for Mr. Biswas (1961).
· George Maxwell Richards — engineer, academician, former President of Trinidad and Tobago.
· Richard Thompson– athlete and 2008 Olympic medalist — 100m; 4x100m relay
· Eric A. Williams — geologist, former politician and Minister of Energy.
· Eric Eustace Williams — historian, first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
THE RESTORATION OF QUEEN’S ROYAL COLLEGE
The restoration project began on January 15th 2007 at a cost of $34,489,635.04 and the contract awarded to Kee Chanona Ltd. The Construction Division Ministry of Works & Transport and the Historical Restoration Unit under Architect Rudylynn De Four Roberts within the Division and Architect Bernard McKay, supervised the project. All major works included:
• Restoration of all significant architectural elements of the building
• Improving the infrastructure of the Administrative Facilities and providing more updated services
• Removing previous insensitive alterations with more suitable and adequate restorations
• Providing access to all users in keeping with existing building codes and standards
During the restoration, paint was meticulously removed to determine the original colours. In the classrooms it was discovered that there was hand-painted dado panels under the layers of paint, each framed by stenciled and hand-painted border friezes. All of the Dado panels were carefully restored and returning the facade of the main building to its original colours. The project came to completion on Wednesday 28th April 2010 and was officially reopened on Friday 7th May 2010.
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