1920s to 1940s

Mullins House ~ 1920s to 1940s

The Beginnings of Mullins House

The Beginnings of Mullins House


In 1921 St Andrew’s College was under the helm of the 8th Headmaster, Canon Percy William Kettlewell (1909 – 1933), who imbued the school with confidence and enthusiasm. He was that wonderful combination of sportsman and cultural enthusiast, and passed these affinities onto the staff and boys under his leadership.

The school had survived a tough decade of war, death and disease and was ready for new challenges.  The campus was undergoing a rapid expansion, largely due to the injection of funds by the College Council and private donations. The school was flourishing and the numbers of students had increased to the point where new accommodation was urgently needed.  

It was the year that the foundation stone for the Clock Tower was laid and Mullins House opened its doors in February to 50 boys, with little fanfare as the building was not yet complete.

The House was considered ‘state of the art’ as it boasted running water and lighting, generated by a plant as electric lighting in Grahamstown would only be installed in 1924.

Meals were cooked on a large coal burning stove, which didn’t work for the first few months as it was eventually discovered that the chimney was still stuffed with packaging. There was certainly no such thing as flushing toilets.

Mullins House is named after Canon Robert J Mullins and his son, Charles Mullins VC, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the South African War.

The first Mullins Housemaster was Arthur ‘Foxy’ Knowling and it was largely thanks to Arthur and his wife Ruth, the youngest of the 14 children of Robert and Jennie Mullins, that a wonderful home was created for the boys.

Arthur (Foxy) Knowling


Arthur Knowling

4 February 1884 – 10 November 1952

Arthur Ernest George Knowling, eldest son of Dr and Mrs Knowling, was born at Tenby in the UK on 4 February 1884.

He was educated at Cheltenham College and New College, Oxford University. He played rugby and hockey for both school and university. In 1910 he taught at a Preparatory School in Bournemouth and was chosen to play hockey for two counties.

Mr Knowling came to St. Andrew’s in April 1911 as a young teacher. His study in Lower (now Merriman House) was a favourite place for tea and cakes, where extra lessons in Latin were taught, although sport was often the discussion topic. He joined the Cadet Corps soon after his arrival. In 1913 he was appointed Housemaster of Day House.

In World War I he was rejected from the Army fighting line because of poor eyesight. He went back to England and joined the R.A.S.C. (Royal Army Service Corps). He was twice mentioned in despatches and was awarded the O.B.E. (Military Division).

In 1915 he married Ruth Mullins, daughter of Canon and Mrs Robert Mullins, the youngest of 14 children. Canon Mullins was the Founder of the Mullins Institution, situated where Graham House stands today.

In 1919 he returned to South Africa and in 1921 he became the first Housemaster of Mullins House, a position he held for 20 years. Their two daughters, Judy and Mary grew up in the boarding house. In 1940 Judy designed the Prefects badge with the wreath of thistles, still in use today.

He was a provincial tennis player and during his years at College he coached cricket, football, tennis, hockey, squash and fives (a hand/ball game). He was Master-in Charge of Athletics for 27 years. He started hockey, squash and fives at St. Andrew’s. The squash courts were built from subscriptions he received when he started the Squash Club. Webster and Crawhall fields were a result of Mullins House parents’ appreciation for the care that Arthur Knowling took in looking after their sons. In 1950 the field next door to Mullins House was names Knowling Field. He was also responsible for the lease of the ground which gave College the tennis courts in Cradock Road.

Mr Knowling was appointed Second Master from 1939 to 1942. Due to his influence, Imperial Chemicals Ltd made it possible to build the Chemistry and Physics Laboratories. He showed hundreds of visitors around the school and he always started with the Chapel, the focal point from his perspective. After retiring as a teacher in 1942, he became the Estates Manager.

He was rejected in World War II and had to content himself by joining the C.P.S. (Civilian Public Service). He was President of the EP Tennis Association and for many years a member of the Executive and Selection Committee. He served on the City Council and Hospital Board and showed a keen interest in the welfare of the school’s service staff.

Arthur Knowling was a true Christian gentleman and a regular attendant at Chapel. After leaving school he became involved in the Cathedral. He was very meticulous for things that mattered such as discipline and schoolboys’ appearance. He never bore a grudge and was a very warm and kind person who always gave newboys and OAs who returned to the school, a friendly welcome.

He died on 10 November 1952, soon after completing a squash match against a school side. The following year, because of Arthur Knowling’s love of tennis, an inter-schools’ “Knowling Shield” was established which, even now, is competed for between St. Andrew’s, Graeme and Kingswood. He was made an Honorary Old Andrean in 1969 and in 1973 John Axe, in his capacity as Housemaster of Mullins, raised money for the Arthur Knowling Tennis Court in front the boarding house.

The original members of Mullins House

The original members of Mullins House

Among the original members of Mullins House was Francis Beamish (1921-25). Mr Beamish, like many other Andreans throughout the history of the College, was a farmer’s son. The nearest town to their farm was Burgersdorp, from which he had to catch the train to Grahamstown. Due to the infrequency of trains, Beamish had to catch one that meant he arrived early, prior to the start of the school year and before the opening Mullins House, in which he had been placed.  Due to his early arrival, Beamish proudly boasted that he was  “the first ever Mullins boarder.” His two sons, Mike (1950-54) and Gwynne (1951-55) were both in Mullins House when they attended College and his two great grandchildren are currently at College. 

Francis Beamish is shown in this 1925 photo – standing on the right hand side. 

The Headmaster made up the original members of the House mostly with new boys, only transferring boys from other Houses to serve as prefects in the new House. Valentine Mogg (Upper, Mullins 1916-22)  was one of these ‘borrowed’ prefects. The arrival of his son, Joseph William Mogg II (Mullins, 1942-56) to College marked a ‘coming of age’ for Mullins House, then in its 22nd year of existence, by welcoming the first son of a Mullins OA to the House, and thereby marking the first of a ‘new generation’ of Mullins boys.


Mullins House Record. (1924, 1942). Grahamstown: St Andrew’s College.

Brian Black

Brian Black

Undoubtably one of the most extraordinary Mullins House old boys was Brian Henry Black (OA 1922-26). He was a member of the St Andrew’s 1st XV in 1926, which is remembered as one of the most famous and successful rugby teams in the history of the school. He then went on to play for England in the early 1930s, earning himself twelve caps as fullback. During this time, a photograph of Black was hung in the Mullins House dining hall.  

Black is distinguished as being one of the small number of Old Andreans to represent a country in more than one sport, as he was also a member of England’s Olympic bobsleigh team. He was also the South of France squash champion.

            While a schoolboy at College, Black would usually be found practising rugby persistently, kicking at the posts on Lower Field. While studying at Oxford, he earned his Blue for rugby, and captained the Brasenose College team.

            Tragically, while serving as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, Black was killed in a flying accident in 1940, at the age of 33. His legacy remains legendary in the Andrean community.The 1926 1st XV. Brian Black is in the back row, third from the left.

Brian Black, playing for England, meets the Prince of Wales before an international.


Mullins House Record. (1930, 1940). Grahamstown: St Andrew’s College.

Poland, M. (2008). The Boy in You: A Biography of St Andrew’s College, 1855 – 2005. Simon’s Town: Fernwood Press.

Canon Percy Kettlewell


Canon Kettlewell

Canon Percy Kettlewell was the 8th Headmaster of St Andrew’s College from 1909 – 1933. He is remembered for, amongst other things, being one of the headmasters under whose leadership a significant number of new buildings were constructed on the College campus. From early in the 1919 school year, plans began to be discussed at College Council meetings for three new buildings at the school: a classroom block, a new boarding house, and a memorial to the 125 Old Andreans who died in the Great War.

            The ambition for all these project was to be realised relatively soon. Franklin Kendall was the architect who designed all three of the buildings On the 15th April 1920 the foundation stone was laid for the classrooms which would later become known as ‘Cory Block’, after Sir George Cory. Cory was a master at St Andrew’s and one of the founding professors of Rhodes University. He was knighted for his part in recording the history of South Africa.

            Later in 1920 the building of Mullins House was underway. It was the first of the College houses to have electricity. Mullins House was opened in February 1921, even though the building was not yet completed.

            On St Andrew’s Day in 1921 the foundation stone for the Clock Tower was laid. Two years later, on St Andrew’s Day in 1923, the completed Clock Tower was unveiled and dedicated. The Clock Tower is arguably the most iconic building at College. It is dedicated to the memory of the 125 OAs who lost their lives in the Great War.

            Fittingly, Kettlewell was the very first Honorary Old Andrean.

Cory in the laboratory at SAC, circa 1898


Poland, M. (2008). The Boy in You: A Biography of St Andrew’s College, 1855 – 2005. Simon’s Town: Fernwood Press.