History of Bishopslea

The Bishopslea of today is the result of vision, determination and the belief that if something is meant to happen, it will happen – and the details will take care of themselves.  Such was the attitude of Rt Rev Edward Paget, one of the great founding visionaries of education in Zimbabwe.  Described as an “under-funded gamble,” Bishop’s Lea, St Mary’s Diocesan Preparatory School, first opened in 1932 as a school for Grades 1 and 2. The School began in the grounds of the Anglican Cathedral, near where Africa Unity Square is today, as the Great Depression raged.  Its formative years were these - the 1930’s - and World War Two, which followed shortly after. 

Quality education was the goal and vision of Bishopslea from the very start.  Despite the hard times in the 1930’s, parents wanted the new school and were prepared to back it.  Bishopslea’s first house, called “Bishop’s Lea”, was ghastly and had been condemned by the wife of Bishop William Gaul, so new premises were bought at 67 Baines Avenue, on borrowed money.  In 1937 there were still only two Grades.  By 1939 this had expanded to five, under the firm guiding hand of Sister Dorothy Jane of Grahamstown’s Community of the Resurrection, whom Bishop Paget had sought out.  These Sisters - and those of the Order of the Holy Paraclete - would leave the School with “traditions and a spirit which separates to this day Bishopslea from many other similar schools”, to quote Gareth Willard, Bishopslea’s official biographer. 

Sister Dorothy Jane set standards for the School which endure to this day – small classes, houses, organised games, and a shift from rote learning to teaching by doing – revolutionary for the time.  The houses were later named after four great Bishops – Knight Bruce, Gaul, Beaven and Paget.  “Modern” subjects and methods were to be additional to – not replacements for – core subjects and the all-important goals of reading fluently, spelling intelligently, and performing simple arithmetic accurately and speedily.  These principles continue to be beacons of Bishopslea education to this day.  By 1946, the School had 118 children, a remedial teacher to help those girls who had been affected by illness or the War, and a beautiful garden.  Sister Dorothy Jane was a passionate gardener and the grounds at the School bear witness to this passion.  Some of the abundant roses near the Chapel are descended from her original bushes.

Bishopslea came to its modern premises at Bishop Gaul Avenue through the independent-minded determination of Bishop Paget and a parent of the 1940’s, Mrs Pat Pearce.  In 1946 a five thousand pound debt threatened the School with closure, so the Bishop and the parent - together with a bold new board of governors - sold the old buildings at Baines Avenue and approached the Beit Trust to buy the new site in Belvedere. The Beit Trustees promised generous support, which they had also given to Ruzawi School in Marondera, and thus Bishopslea came under the ownership of the Ruzawi Schools Trust, where it remains to this day. 

For a fuller account of Bishopslea’s history, please see Gareth Willard’s “The Lillies of the Bishop’s Field”, available from the School Office.