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History of the Old Gymnasium

Archives Blog
5 February 2021

Recently work in the Art Centre has revealed a portion of the ceiling of the original 1881 Gymnasium at Prince Alfred College.

The newly rediscovered boards are auto-inscribed with hundreds of our boys’ names. The boys would have climbed a rope to the top of the roof and inscribed their name with graphite pencil or by incision or carving, perhaps as a rite of passage! The inscriptions date from 1881 to around 1930 and include names like Throssell, Chipper, Ehmcke, Engelbrecht, Freebairn, Goode, Green, Schipper, Wallace, Walker and Stokes to name a few.

Old Gym Banner

By all accounts, the Gymnasium was a much loved and frequented part of Prince Alfred College. In a letter to the editor from the Chronicle, September 1844, one individual complains about the apparent abuse of the much-respected Gymnasium properties. He writes;

It is seriously annoying to have one's hands blistered by the rough edges of the rungs of the ladders and also of the rings. I would suggest that a heavy fine be inflicted on any boy making use of gymnasium without slippers, which would, probably, effectually stop the abuse referred to.

I am, Sir, &c., A GYMNAST. Kent Town, Aug. 27, 1884

In another report, we read about the kinds of activities, like the annual Gymnastics Demonstration, that took place in the original layout of the Gym as designed, including rope climbing.

The class marched into the gymnasium at half-past two, and formed into lines for dumb bell exercise ; this was one of the best items on the programme, the time was very well kept, and the motions performed with very great regularity. After parallel bars exercises came the jumping, which was very good ; Kelly jumped the highest, easily clearing 5 ft. 8 in., and some of the smaller boys also did very well, notably Pustkuchen ; in pole jumping Grundy easily outdid the others, and jumped the full height of the poles. After some pyramids, the ring and trapeze exercises followed ; in this set Laurie was the best. Then after another pyramid there was a general scramble up the ropes ; several were so close together that it cannot be said who won the upward race. At the horizontal bars Laurie again was very good, as well as Seppelt and Taylor.

The show at the horse was much better than it has been in former years ; some of the actions caused a good deal of amusement. Hannam and Pustkuchen were about the best, considering their size. Another pyramid on the ropes ended the first part of the programme. 

The Chronicle, August 1888

The boards have now been carefully removed and preserved during the restoration process. We will be retaining and using the boards for research and display purposes, including interactive displays. I am working on recording the names against our old alumni records and will be building small biographies as part of the displays.

Do you have a family member who remembers the Old Gym Boards? I would love to hear from you!

Kate Pulford
College Archivist

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