Cowan House logo


The Cowan House Story

Our Timeline

The school opens

Founded as a private venture in 1948, by David and Joy Black, the original school property was situated in Mountain Rise, Pietermaritzburg and began as a boys’ only prep school. David Black was granted permission to name the school after the residence he had stayed in while studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. So too was the emblem of Cowan House Residence adopted – the Rampant Lion.



Enrolment increases to nearly 50 pupils

An initial enrolment of just seven boys quickly grew to twelve by the end of the first year. In 1949 there were 36 boys to start the year at Cowan House and by the end of 1950 enrolment had increased to nearly 50. Early on, a boarding facility was opened to accommodate the pupils in what was always to remain an intimate and homely atmosphere.

The school moves to Hilton

​When the Mountain Rise area was rezoned as part of the Group Areas Act of 1963, the school purchased an 11 acre property in Hilton, where its original, state of the art, wooden buildings and swimming pool were built. The school relocated to Hilton in 1965. By the mid-1990’s the number of pupils was around 180, from Grade R to Grade 8.



Opening of the skateboarding rink

In 1978, Cowan house undertook a unique form of organised sport in the form of skateboarding. Having initially been orchestrated as a way to market the school, Cowan House became the first school in the country to have it’s own skateboarding rink. 

Strict rules were applied with five zones being marked out according to their difficulty and only boys judged to be sufficiently competent would qualify to use the next, more difficult zone.

Bedtime Story tradition for Boarders

Now a long standing tradition, junior boarders at Cowan House have long enjoyed the bedtime story tradition implemented in 1982 by Mr Rob Dickson. 



Fire burns down the boarding establishment

​In January of 1997, an electrical fire reduced the entire Boarding Establishment to ashes. A passionately supportive Cowan House community ensured that, by the end of that year, the Boarding Establishment was rebuilt – this time out of bricks and mortar. School continued as normally as possible, with boarders being accommodated in mobile homes on T-Field near the Theatre. The re-opening of the Boarding House coincided with a decision to discontinue Grade 8 at Cowan House.

The school becomes co-ed

1999 was an enlightened year as girls were enrolled for the first time at the school. Once again, a fresh, new era was born at Cowan House.



Opening of the Multi Purpose Indoor Centre

Under the Headship of Mr Mark Emerson, Cowan House became the proud owners of their own Multi Purpose Indoor Centre in 2008.  This centre allows for the continuation of sport and sports practice despite the inclement Hilton weather and continues to be a great asset to our school. 

Grade RRR class opens

Further demand from the local community meant that the school opened doors to a Grade RRR class in 2013. The number of pupils have increased steadily over the years and now, with two classes per grade. Pupils are mostly from Hilton and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and boarders from various areas in South Africa, neighbouring countries and further afield.



School turns 70

2018 saw Cowan House celebrate its 70th Birthday. It was a splendid affair of reminiscing of how far our school had journeyed since its humble beginnings in Mountain Rise. A special celebration was held which included special guests of past Head Girls and Boys, Mr Chris Black, Mr Tom Peattie and a number of other families who have had longstanding relationships with our school. 

COVID and Online Learning

2020 saw the commencement of what was to be an exciting year ahead, when suddenly in March our Cowan House community and the world came to a grinding halt with the arrival of Covid-19. Online school, learning packs and Microsoft Teams teaching became the new normal, with a slow and phased approach back to school in June 2020. Sanitiser, face masks and school arrival screening became part of an ordinary day at Cowan House as our grades enjoyed a phased return to school. 



Future Cowan House

And so, we look to the future. The excitement of our 75th Birthday, the commencement of a number of capital projects including a new swimming pool, classroom block, theatre upgrade and practice astro and a school which is the fullest it has ever been. The future of Cowan House is positive and progressive, but remains true to the four values which underpin all that is done at our school: 
Be Yourself, Be Reasonable, Be Caring & Be Your Best.