In 1862 the Divisional Council of Uitenhage granted a license to operate the Cadle Hotel to Henry William Carpenter Cadle. Although it is not clear exactly when it was built, it became a popular nineteenth century coaching inn, especially amongst newlyweds as a honeymoon destination, sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘Cuddles’.
In 1916, Cadles ceased to be a hotel and 8 years later, in 1924, it was purchased by Dr George Porter Mathew as a weekend retreat for his family. Daughter of Dr George Porter Mathew, Mervynne Mathew, married Leslie Carter in 1930. He attended St Andrews College and studied at Rhodes towards a BSc degree. Leslie also taught at Michaelhouse, before joining some distant cousins, the Ruddles, who were starting up a Prep School in Pretoria, called Waterkloof House Preparatory School. Leslie and Mervynne spent several happy years there but always wanted to return to the Eastern Cape and particularly to Cadles. Upon Dr Mathew’s retirement it took a great deal of persuasion by his daughter and son-in law to convince the good doctor that starting a school in the years of the Great Depression was viable. He eventually allowed them to use the buildings of the old hotel to establish the school. He and his wife, Mabel, lived in a cottage on the school grounds. He loved woodwork, and busied himself building desks and other furniture.
Once the decision had been made to start the school, there was much discussion around the name until they eventually settled on calling it Woodridge, which so ideally suits the surrounds of the school. The Christmas holidays of 1935 saw a hive of activity at Cadles with friends and relatives being roped in to help set up the school in time for the opening.
In January 1936, Woodridge Preparatory School opened its doors for the first time in what used to be the Cadles Hotel. With no financial backing, it was an act of faith by the founders, Leslie and Mervynne Carter, who enrolled only two boys and a girl on the first day.
Prior to the first day, only one boy, Derek Pike, the son of a neighbour had already enrolled. Undaunted, the Carters toured the area to inform the locals of the start of the new school. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, progress in terms of admissions was severely curtailed by both building and petrol restrictions. It was only after the war that the numbers climbed to the planned maximum of eighty pupils.
On the 2nd of December 1957, Leslie Carter handed over the ownership of the school to the Woodridge Trust in the hope that what he had started, would be perpetuated.
In 1965 it became obvious that there was a need to develop a senior school as some of the parents were having difficulty in placing their sons in private schools after they had completed their Preparatory education. By the end of that year, a decision was taken to found Woodridge College and to develop the School along the lines of the ideals so successfully applied at Gordonstoun in Scotland. One of the prime movers behind this decision was the then Chairman of the Trust, Mr Leo Kohler, who occupied this position until he retired in 1986.
In 1966, the first four standard 7 pupils were accepted for Woodridge College, while ten standard 6 boys at the Preparatory School were regarded as part of the new school. At the end of that year, Mr Leslie Carter, who had been suffering from ill health, retired and the Trust appointed Mr Keith Starck to take over the running of the College, while Mr Carter’s son, Roger, was asked to oversee the Preparatory School.
In 1967 the College officially opened with twenty-seven pupils in standards six, seven and eight and eighty pupils in the Preparatory School.
In 1968, the year in which Leslie Carter died, the first permanent brick structure, named after him, was built. About 3 years later, in 1971, wooden houses were purchased from the contractors of the new Van Staden’s bridge after the structure was completed. These became, and still are, the nucleus of Kohler House, the boy’s dormitory.
By 1972 the Prep had 110 pupils, while the College had grown to 180. Initially intended to be a boys’ only school, even from its earliest days, Woodridge Preparatory was seldom without a girl or two – the official policy was that staff daughters and those of neighbours could attend the school up to standard three. With an increase in the amount of requests from parents, the first official girls were accepted at the College and matriculated in 1980. Today the girls make up nearly half the total enrolment.
Conditions in the early years of the College were rather spartan and accommodation at a premium for the staff. Water had to be pumped up to the reservoirs from the Van Stadens River and electricity was generated by two old Lister engines. The College was initially housed in prefabricated buildings but later, due to the generosity of Anglo American’s Chairman’s Fund and the Industrial Council, more permanent structures such as the Science Block (1972) and the Dining Hall and Kitchens (1974) were erected.
Apart from the initial buildings at the College, which were erected by contractors, all subsequent structures were built by the school’s own labour force at an enormous saving.
In the early 1990’s, the school introduced a ‘day scholar’ option for parents and today some 300 pupils are bussed to and from school from various pick up points within Port Elizabeth, and from Uitenhage. Jeffreys Bay, Hankey and St Francis, amongst others.
Woodridge has, as its main philosophy, the development of the whole character of the pupils. Whilst academics remain the main consideration, the site of the school lends itself to the furthering of character-building activities, not only on the sports fields, but in the wider context of Outdoor Education. This involved, amongst others, mountaineering, canoeing, sailing and surf lifesaving. Since 1974, Woodridge was the first school with its own Lifesaving Club, which patrolled the treacherous Van Stadens beach, and later looked after the Jeffreys Bay Beach. Today this club patrols the St Francis Bay beach. Another noteworthy achievement was the establishment of a Nature Reserve within the confines of the school.
In 2011, the Preparatory School celebrated 75 years, while the College celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. Over the years, both the College and Preparatory School have shown remarkable growth, with numbers reaching just over 700 between the two schools, a far cry from that first day in 1936!