In September 1951, Edward Paget, Bishop of Southern Rhodesia, wrote to the Rector of Michaelhouse in Natal, offering him the headship of a school that did not exist. Six months later, Fred Snell started working with Canon Robert Grinham and the Ruzawi School Board toward the creation of an independent senior school.
Peterhouse opened in 1955 under the rectorship of Fred Snell with 55 boys and within five years the number had risen to 360 according to plan. Peterhouse was founded as an Anglican boys’ country boarding school. Its aims were to promote the ideals of Christian manhood, academic excellence and social responsibility.
When the school opened in 1955, the major building programme had been completed; the Chapel, a magnificent structure at the spiritual and physical heart of the school, had been dedicated; the staff were accommodated in attractive houses around the grounds; and the grounds themselves had been developed, with the playing fields spreading across the slope below the school, and beyond them, plantations of gum and pine.
Fred Snell’s outstanding contribution to Peterhouse, and to the country it served, was to light a beacon on the path which education should follow. A man of courage and imagination, he received moral support from all with high ideals, and financial support from the great business houses. It was during his rectorship that the first black pupils joined the school.
Bruce Fieldsend, who joined Peterhouse at the beginning, succeeded Fred Snell as Rector in 1968. Under Bruce Fieldsend, Peterhouse continued to flourish and in 1976, the school had an enrolment of 389 pupils – the highest it had ever been. But four years earlier, political and military events had begun to cast a shadow over the land and that chilly shadow first touched Peterhouse in 1976. The numbers begun to drop and by the beginning of 1980, Peterhouse was barely half full.
After Independence, the school began to grow again, and in 1984 Bruce Fieldsend was succeeded by the Reverend Doctor Alan Megahey. Alan Megahey was a man of great vision and under his rectorship not only did the boys’ school grow to over 500 pupils, but in 1985, Springvale House, a preparatory school for boys and girls, was opened and in 1987 Peterhouse Girls’ School started. These two schools are both situated on the site of the old Springvale School which had closed during the war and which was on the other side of the main Harare / Mutare road from the boys’ school. The three schools now occupy a site some 3 000 acres of which 700 acres are taken up with Gosho Park, Peterhouse’s own conservation area and Game Park.
In 1994, Mike Bawden succeeded Alan Megahey as Rector and he saw the next few years as a time of consolidation and improvement rather than expansion. Over the previous fifteen years, one school with 200 pupils had expanded into three schools with over 1000 pupils.
In 2002, Jon Calderwood was appointed Rector after Mike Bawden returned to England. Jon was Head of Springvale House from 1985 to 1993 and Head of Peterhouse Girls from 1994 to 2001, and so brought a wealth of experience to the post of Rector.
After steering the Group of Schools through the difficult years of hyper-inflation and leaving a legacy of his own Jon retired as Rector after eleven years at the end of 2012.
In January 2013 Howard Blackett, formerly Headmaster of the Royal Hospital School, Ipswich, began his term in office as Rector. During his time a great deal of infrastructural work was completed – Paget, Grinham, Malvern, the junior DH and the school kitchen were completely refurbished; the Megahey Centre was built; the old library was transformed into a new gym; the Cricket Centre of Excellence was created; and there were substantial improvements to the classroom blocks including the development of a new Curriculum Support Centre. In addition, the Development Office (Alumni relations) was established and the school’s marketing efforts greatly enhanced. Much emphasis was placed upon the Peterhouse Group of schools operating with common purpose and upon developing positive relationships between senior and junior pupils, but above all else academic standards were improved culminating in record breaking successes at A level (2018) and IGCSE level (2019). Howard and his wife Susie returned to the UK at the end of 2019 after 7 years in post.
Jon Trafford, formerly of Kingswood College, Grahamstown, South Africa, was appointed Rector in January 2020.
On the 19th of April 1956, Peterhouse was given its name. Then as Fred Snell recorded, much thought and discussion was put into the choice and design of the “Coat of Arms” for the new school. Its name linked it with Michealhouse, but its symbols the cock, the cross and the crown honoured St. Peter.
The cocks are shown crowing, as they did to signal Peter’s so human denial of his Master. They stand as a reminder of our no less guilty denials of our duty and allegiance to the same Lord.
The cross is there as a symbol of the patient and courageous self sacrifice by which Peter, like his Lord, was called to share in the costly process of redemption. For us too, the cross is a reminder of the costliness of our calling. The type of cross used on the Peterhouse badge is a different heraldic device from that used by Ruzawi, Springvale and Bishopslea, but it reminds us of our fellowship with these schools.
The crown is of the design known in heraldry as the martyr’s (or celestial) crown. Thus to the symbols of sin and redemption is added one of joy and triumph. This crown is also depicted on the school flag.
The badge is completed by its motto: “Conditur in Petra”, meaning “it is founded on the Rock”. The motto derives from the words in St. Matthew’s gospel describing the house which was “built on rock”. This is particularly appropriate to a school created from granite mined from the estate, but the motto also includes a play on the words of Matthew 16: ”Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.”
The rock is the rock of faith, and as Fred Snell declared, “building on faith”, must be something continued always in the present, and not a tombstone from the past.