Victory Primary School traces its origins back to 1892 when Miss Bertha Mingay opened the Acorn School in a cottage on Cross Street. In its first year the school had only eight pupils, but the quality of education Miss Mingay offered was so impressive that enrolment numbers grew rapidly to 91 girls by 1894.
The cottage was not able to accommodate the girls, so she rented the Odd Fellows’ Hall in Hill Street, now the Dutch Reformed Church, and renamed it the Hopewell School.
In 1896, the board of the Grahamstown Boys’ Public Undenominational School invited Miss Mingay to place her staff and her school of 95 girls under the Cape Colony’s Education Department. A single school committee would control both the boys’ and girls’ schools.
Continued success of the school meant that once again, space was at a premium so a decision was taken to build a new school on a site alongside the Kowie Ditch, a stream running between Beaufort and Huntly streets. The foundation stone of the new building was laid at a ceremony on 23 June 1897, and both schools were renamed after Queen Victoria to commemorate her diamond jubilee.
Two years later the 200 pupils of the girls’ school finally occupied their new building.
In September 1931 the status of Victoria Girls High was officially raised to A-grade – considerable progress, since six years before it had not been a secondary school at all.
Growing numbers had led by 1939 to proposals to split the school, but no action could be taken until after the Second World War. The first move, in 1945, was to establish the junior primary section as a separate school, Victoria Preparatory School.
The girls’ school was split into Victoria Girls’ High and Victoria Primary (incorporating Victoria Preparatory) in January 1950. Though bearing a common name, the two schools function independently, each with its own principal and school governing body.
Boys (in Graeme College uniform) continued to be part of the junior primary school until 1973, when Graeme College opened its first junior primary department. Even after this, boys in Graeme uniform continued to attend special education classes at Victoria Primary until the early 1990s, when special classes were discontinued by the Cape Education Department.
Victoria Primary acquired the premises of the Assumption Convent school when it closed in 1983. The junior school boarders then took over the convent buildings.
Arguably the most radical change in the school’s composition resulted from the government’s creation of “Model B” and “Model C” categories for schools which wanted to set their own admission criteria. As at many other schools, the parents of Victoria Primary voted to adopt Model C, which opened the school to pupils of all races – a dramatic overturning of the government’s “mother tongue” education system.
An immediate result of the school’s decision was that girls of various races became part of the hostel population.