UP's Hatfield Campus and Old Arts Building celebrate a 100 years
Although the University of Pretoria was established in 1908 as the Transvaal University College (TUC), this institution only moved to the current campus in Hatfield in 1910. Initially the university college had to make do with various buildings scattered across town: Kya Rosa and Kya Lami in Skinner Street, where the first students were received in 1908, soon proved to be too small and were used as student accommodation.
Chemistry was taught across the road at the then Boys High School, geology at the Department of Mining, and the rest of the students had to endure the noise of the State Gymnasium’s ‘Infant School’ with whom they had to share a building.
But there was hope, as the farm Sunnyside, to the east of the town centre, was proclaimed an ‘educational site’ in 1907. The Colonial Secretary, Gen Jan Smuts, stated that the TUC, along with Boys High, would also be housed on this terrain, in buildings “which would be the finest in South Africa”. The gravel road that ran through this piece of land was soon to be known as ‘College Avenue’.
This campus was truly at the edge of town: the people’s cattle still grazed in the veld between the TUC and Pretoria Boys High School and the tram’s last stop was where the Loftus Sports Grounds are today. Considering the pranks that the students sometimes played on the citizens of Pretoria, this was perhaps a deliberate move.
In 1910, among the thorn and karee trees, dense shrubbery and long grass, the foundations for the main and the science buildings were laid. The official laying of the main building’s foundation stone, today known as the Old Arts Building, took place on 3 August 1910. According to the local newspaper De Volksstem, it was a festive occasion with colourful flags flying in the wind and a scrumptious afternoon tea.
At this occasion Gen Smuts stated: “The day might come when the Transvaal University College might mean to the Transvaal what Oxford University has meant to England. A long time might have to pass, and for a hundred years we might have to watch the grass growing on our lawns before that day arrives, but noble beginning has been made.”
In September 1911 the lecturers and students could move into the new buildings. Despite their outwardly formal appearance – the men in three-piece suits with starched collars and the ladies in corsets and long dresses – the students did not hesitate to make the most of this occasion. The new furniture for the university was packed in crates with hay with which the students made a large haystack in front of the Old Arts Building and they subsequently jumped from the first story onto the haystack. It is not known whether the arrival of the lecturers or the fact that the haystack lost its springiness over time brought an end to the fun!
TuksAlumni plans a celebration of the Old Arts Building’s centenary later this year in August.
The construction of the Old Arts Building.
The completed building with grassland. View from the air.