Under the pen-name of “Lantana”

Memories of boyish ambitions and dreams pervade a picturesque old building at Watervale, the old Stanley Grammar School, where many distinguished Australians were educated in the nineteenth century. It still stands, but at the desks the only pupils are the ghosts of little boys starting out on the adventure of life’

The Mail, Adelaide 31 October 1936

Joseph Stear Carlyon Cole (1832-1916) founder and schoolmaster. Born in Exeter England. Cole migrated to Adelaide in 1857 to join his uncle Corporal John Coles who lived at Penwortham. He married Hannah Peacock in 1862, in Adelaide. They had one boy Clement, and five girls Florence, Ada, Jessie, Alice and Mable.

Cole became schoolmaster at the near by Auburn school and also became the first clerk of the Auburn Local Court and the Upper Wakefield District Council. He then accepted a Mastership at Pulteney Grammar in Adelaide. After 3 months his uncle from Penwortham sent a letter begging his return to educate his children fearing lack of proper education; and also promised to help build Cole a school.

On returning he opened a day school at the Methodist Church in 1857. In 1859 the citizens of Watervale built the Watervale Community School and Cole became the schoolmaster. The Primary School still operates today, and the church still stands directly across the road.

The name Stanley Grammar was named after the region, Stanley. The grammar school was built in three stages. Construction first began in 1863 on the rear section to provide four rooms for the community school next door being kitchen and sitting rooms. In 1871 four dormitory rooms were added to the top rear building. In addition the middle section was built being a laboratory-dining room downstairs with Mintaro flag stone slate flooring which can still be seen today, and two upstairs dormitories. In 1874 the front section was constructed as a huge double classroom downstairs, still complete with spit balls on the ceiling, and three dormitories above which later became three classrooms. The Cole family is believed to have moved into the upstairs rear section.

Stanley Grammar was a private boarding school for boys housing approximately 50 to 70 boarders and day scholars, and only a few girls. The rooms were filled with volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica, a vast array of books, chemistry specimens, maps, learning treasures and equipment. Night school was also provided. The courses combined general with industrial, technical, chemistry, surveying, levelling, drawing, linear, applied mathematics, bookkeeping, electrical making and physical apparatus and so on.

Stanley Grammar was ranked amongst the best educational institutions and Joseph Cole was considered one of the ablest instructors of youth. Many graduates went on to prominent positions in the State and Parliament. To name a few, Sir David Gordon, Dr William Torr, Sir John Duncan, Sir Frederick Young. H C Mengeson, J Harmer, Dr W Jethro Brown and Emile Sobels. “The school roll contains the names of many men of mark in this community and old boys found in nearly every grade of society in South Australia – universities, parliament, magisterial bench, medicine, laboratory, head of schools, banking and counting houses”.

In 1904 Cole retired at the age of 74 and the school closed. The family continued to live in the house. Cole died aged 85 on the 15 October 1916, and his wife died in 1928. They were buried in St Marks’s churchyard, Penwortham. Their daughter Jessie Cole lived at the school until she died in 1949. After her death almost every was sold by public auction.

A variety of owners followed. Some treasured the building others showed total disregard. Eventually the school became totally derelict by the end of the 1960’s. The grounds were overgrown and infested with vermin. Even sheep and chooks were left to roam inside, junk was stored, and rooms were used for hay storage. The south wall required immense restoration, and white ants devoured wooden floors exposing beams making it dangerous to walk upstairs. There came a time when the school was up for public auction and almost went to a potential bidder wanting to demolish the building for the beautiful stone, except that person was running late as fate would have it. Fortunately the school was saved and later State Heritage listed in 1978.

Over the years various owners attempted to restore the grammar school which predominantly became a private residence. Other uses included Girl Guides meeting rooms, temporary classrooms for the school next door. Old wares and antiques were sold from the premises. Another owner sold old farming equipment and disused junk in the front yard with pieces making their way into the house. In the early 70’s three people bought the school for $10,000. They called the huge old classroom the “Grand Room” using it as a studio for jewellery making, pottery and ceramics. Hippies also made their occasional visit just to “hang out” in a derelict building. One highlight was a restaurant in the old school room called “The Three Roses” in the 1980’s which proved to be very popular and still remembered today for the chef’s outstanding cuisine. A Bread and Breakfast was also operating for a few years up to 1993.

Finally a heart surgeon from Adelaide bought the old school which was in a dreadful and pitiful state needing enormous restoration. The surgeon totally restored the school and transformed it to a beautiful grand building. He owned this for 14 years and sold it to Denise and Frank Kuss from Adelaide in 2007. They took up residency and turned the school into a grand country house offering luxury boutique accommodation where many a joyful celebrations have taken place, including brides and wedding ceremonies, tea and coffee gatherings, fine dining and visits from descendants or people associated with the building in some way. At times one can sense the little boys running up and down the stairs, their laughter and mischievousness, or the teachers with their stern look. The old Stanley Grammar School is so rich in history, that you undoubtedly feel it. It’s certainly a special place.