This year Martinborough School, whose motto is ‘Facta non Verba’ (Deeds not words), celebrates 140 years of providing education for the young people of Martinborough.
By 1871 a substantial settlement had been established around the Ferry Road – Weld Street area and representation was made to the Education Department for the establishment of a school. The Department replied that it was not prepared to establish a school in ‘such an out of the way district’. However if the people of the district provided a suitable building the department would supply a teacher.
The Presbyterian Church members offered their church (where the Presbyterian Hall now stands) and the Department followed up with their offer. In Autumn 1872 a Mr Scott arrived to teach part time sharing his teaching between the school and one established at Kaiwaiwai.
In June 1874 the first full time teacher, Mr J Badland, arrived. (Mr Badland died in 1890 and is buried in the old cemetery beside the present school). The school was originally know as either Wharekaka or Waihenga School and in 1877 Mr Badland asked the Education department for a ruling on an official name. It appears that the Department had more pressing things on its plate for a decision did not come through until 1898 when it became officially Martinborough School.
The settlement continued to grow and it became evident that a larger building would soon be required. A collection was taken up with the surnames names of the donors providing a who’s who of the district at the time: Pain, Smith, Giles, McMaster, Hanlon, Oliver, Harris, Knell, Haggerty, Cameron, Douglas and Wilson. Enough was collected for the building of a purpose built school on the corner of Weld and Hirshberg Street (now Roberts Street) facing Weld Street. There is no record of when the school opened, it would have been about 1876.
A setback in the 1890s was the school master’s house burning down. A replacement was built at a cost to the community of two hundred and twenty nine pounds ($41,273).
The school was later moved to the northern side of the section and additions made. Additions were made in 1889, 1906 and 1908. In 1906 a quote was received for the installation of a septic tank however the Education Department deemed that fifty pounds ($7,730) was too much to spend on a country school and so the school committee had to continue to pay six pence per pan per day for collection by the town Board’s night cart. Pupils either walked across the paddocks to the school or rode horses from as far away as Hillside, Dry River and Tawaha. A horse paddock was provided beside the school for the children’s ponies.
In a disastrous fire on the morning of Tuesday 29th July 1919 the school building burned down. Everything was lost: books, desks, library, school work , records and photographs. Only the bell survived. The brigade was able to save the nearby gymnasium. This then became used as the primer classroom with other classes being held in the various halls around town until the new school was built. (With the appropriate equipment fitted, the former gym then became the woodwork class room).
Again donations were being called for the replacement of equipment with six hundred and fifty pounds ($62,664) being subscribed in a just a few days. Six acres of Oliver’s paddock was purchased (now mostly the school grounds) and the Education Department went to work on building a new concrete school. Despite the generous public input to the new school parents were still required to pay five shillings ($31) per pupil per term.
The new school was completed in 1921 with the official opening by the Minister of Education ,Hon. Sir James Parr on Wednesday March 29 th. 1922. The school officially became Martinborough District High School.
The building withstood the 1942 7.2 Wairarapa earthquake, however it was decided that strengthening was warranted. Once again classes were held in the various halls around town while this was carried out. In 1975 the authorities in Wellington decided that the concrete building should be replaced, however it took a lot more to demolish it than they had expected! Demolition began in November with the new school being constructed and ready for classes when school opened the following year
School roll numbers over the years make interesting reading: 1914 -191, 1926 – 296, 1940s and 1950s slightly over 400, currently 212.