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1870's Revisited A Boys' School Community Picnic

March 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM

Built in 1876, Roselle House was generously gifted by John Martyn Wilson to the St Kentigern Trust, a charitable entity with links to the Presbyterian Church.  He stipulated that his bequest was for the sole purpose of educating boys, bequeathing a further £5,000 pounds to develop the first classroom block. Generous of nature, Martyn also offered three acres of land in Shore Rd to the Council, expressing the wish that the School, when established, should have the use of the land for field sports. To this day, Roselle House and Martyn Wilson Field are used by the School for this purpose.’

In a celebration of what ‘Roselle House has been and what it is about to become,’ the School community gathered on an incredibly hot and sunny Sunday afternoon to enjoy a shared picnic and a taste of a bygone era.

The majestic, historic house, that was so generously gifted, has been at the heart of Saint Kentigern School since the bell rang for the first time on 1 February, 1959. In those early days, Roselle was filled with the noise of young boys as many of the rooms were given over to classrooms for ‘Primers 1-4’ and the library. As the roll expanded over the years, new classroom blocks were established and Roselle’s primary function shifted from classroom use to become the administration centre of the School.

Now 55 years after the first boys entered Roselle, plans are afoot to ‘Reinvent’ Roselle and with ideas on the drawing board to create a Learning Commons on the upper floor, Roselle will once again be used according to John Martyn Wilson’s bequest – ‘for the sole purpose of educating boys.’ This, together with two new state-of-the-art science laboratories, that will be created in the space currently occupied by the School Library, will be the focus for the upcoming Roselle Foundation Capital Campaign.

When Roselle was first constructed in the 1870’s, as was befitting of a gracious home of the time, the gardens were laid out beautifully. As the home and grounds were developed, the setting lent itself perfectly to lavish entertaining, particularly in the form of garden parties. Family gatherings, annual picnics for the Mothers’ Union, Bible Classes, Sunday School and the YWCA were regular occurrences.

Martyn Wilson’s mother, Mary Ellen, was a stalwart of the YWCA and gave generous support in practical ways. The annual picnic was held at Roselle and was a highlight of the year for the ladies. Records show that no fewer than 350 members of the YWCA and their friends came to ‘amuse themselves, roaming around the grounds, boating and playing games on the lawn’ and ‘to peek at an unobtainable, grand lifestyle.’

With a touch of ‘Upstairs Downstairs,’ our current school staff, along with Trust Board members, took on the role of either hosts or parlour maids; dressing in period costume for our own special, community occasion. The men looked dapper in an assortment of tails, top hats and velvet waistcoats but it was the ladies who were truly transformed and had a taste of what life may have been like for women in the 19th century. Most learned by error that a crinoline petticoat should be donned before putting on the dress! All were astonished at the weight and heat of the garments; of little surprise that the ladies of yesteryear were given to swooning! Our own ladies took on a definite glow as the afternoon progressed – but also discovered that the ‘swoosh’ of crinoline did keep the air circulating!

As guests arrived, the ‘parlour maids’ continuously delivered cake stands piled high with sandwiches, boiled fruit cake and melting moments to the tables on the lawn, whilst iced tea and fresh lemonade were also on hand. Live music filled the campus as Des Helu sang out from the Roselle balcony.The boys and their sisters raced around, at first defaulting to the time-honoured game of cricket on the lawn before discovering ‘new, old’ games awaited. A cry of, ‘Hey, I’ve played that game with my Nana and Poppa,’ saw knucklebones get underway with one young lad very knowingly tell the others that they must be ‘real dinosaur bones!’

There were hoops to spin and juggling skills to try, a Punch and Judy show to watch, with a message about saving the oceans, and a scavenger hunt to test sleuthing skills. Down on the pool, boats were sailed but there was one activity that stood head and shoulders above the rest for child appeal – apple bobbing! An activity that has lost favour in more recent ‘PC’ years, large wooden barrels were filled with water and bottoms went in the air as the boys’ and girls’ heads disappeared under water! Bit by bit, strategies were developed and word got around to ‘push it to the edge’ or ‘choose one with a stalk!’

Meanwhile, the cool, calm interior of Roselle was open for viewing with rolling visuals on strategically placed screens to show the plans of how the upper floor will be developed into a Learning Commons.

After an afternoon of walking back and forth across the lawn with armfuls of afternoon tea, the ‘parlour maids,’ Mrs Sue Bowskill and Mrs Karyl Kidd, P.A.s to the Principals, were ready to put up their feet. The ‘hosts,’ quietly cooking in their brocade gowns and velvet waistcoats, were happy to change back 21st century attire and reflect on an enjoyable afternoon in celebration of a very special place - Roselle House.

Our thanks to the staff who gave so willingly of their time but in particular our huge thanks to Mrs Sue Bowskill for the enormous amount of work undertaken to bring this together.

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