Horace John Coles

Birth of a Home

St Johns Hostel, founded in 1918 by Reverend Horace John Coles (pictured) as a refuge for boys orphaned by the influenza epidemic and the First World War, cared for up to 64 boys between the ages of 9 and 18 who have found themselves in need of care.

The Hostel stood in 12 acres of wooded land on the slopes of Table Mountain. The buildings are grouped around the 18th Century house, known as "Bellevue". The main building is a memorial to Sir Malcolm Searle, past judge president of the Cape, and the Hostel's first Chairman.

St Johns Hostel was modernized as it aged, and under the leadership of Brian Gannon, grew in size by introducing a new kitchen complex, and new quarters for the boys and their carers named Zeezicht and Bergzicht.

Its purpose

St Johns aimed to replace as far as was possible the matrix of home life, accepting responsibility for all aspects of the boys' upbringing and care. The boys attended various city schools.

The daily time-table provided, apart from the routine care of the boys, for adequate free time, supervised prep classes, a varied afternoon program of sports, gardening and hobbies, along with opportunity for maintaining contact with families and with the life of the city.

The Grounds

Spanning 12 acres of land, the property was huge, and looked like this after its closure in 1991.

St Johns from Above

  1. Main Building
  2. Amphitheater
  3. Swimming Pool
  4. Zeezicht
  5. Bergzicht
  6. Bellevue
  7. Quad Stoep
  8. Top Field
  9. Bottom Field
  10. The Gatehouse
  11. A Huge Tree
  12. Caretakers Quarters

The blue border represents the border of the hostel after 1983, after it sold off the red part to raise funds to keep it running.

Main Building

Prior to the re-modernization which occurred in the early 70's, the main building housed all the boys and their carers in addition to the Chapel, Gymnasium and Dining room. After the modernization, the main building didn't house any of the boys, but was still a key central point for all the major activities. The boys used to stay in the top left wing of the building with the carers and kitchen below. After the boys moved to the various houses, their old living quarters became the library and recreation area.


Housed 32 of the boys - and cared by various houseparents. The longest serving being Chris and Priscilla Smith.


Housed the other 32 boys. The longest serving being Victor and Ursula Spolander.


We give thanks to all those who have served as principals (a.k.a. wardens or masters) of St Johns Hostel, and they are as follows:

  • 1918 - 1937 The Revd. H.J. Coles
  • 1938 - 1939 The Revd. N.J. Hill, MA
  • 1939 - 1943 The Revd. O.W.L. Skey
  • 1944 - 1946 The Revd. D.A. Wolfe
  • 1946 - 1950 The Revd. C.T. Wood, MA
  • 1951 - 1952 The Revd. C.P. Lawrence
  • 1952 - 1967 The Revd. K.N. Fleischer
  • 1967 - 1982 Mr Brian Gannon, MA
  • 1982 - 1983 Mr Brian Snaddon
  • 1983 - 1991 Mr Michael Bryan


Many contributing factors existed which stymied the growth of St Johns Hostel, and after a while it just became too economically inviable to keep operational.

All the remaining boys were sent to one of two other homes in neighboring districts, with the exception of 3 boys who were in their final year at school. These 3 got special grants to stay with some of the staff.

After St Johns closed, attempts were made to re-open it, but these attempts failed. Parts of the property were rented out to various lodgers, until finally the property was sold off and all of it has been destroyed to make way for luxury apartments. Fortunately, Bellevue, which actually dates back to the 18th Century was already a listed building and has not been altered. The main building also still stands as it once did - proud and majestic - but now housing several apartments within.

Further Reading

In our archive section, we have many editions of the Annual Reports to view or download, as well as some newsletters containing more information

We also hope that people will submit stories to us that they would like to tell using the Contact form. If you are an ex-boy or staff member, or even closely related to St Johns, please let us hear your story, so that its memory may live on.