One of the pressing problems young Kingswood had was the need for space and facilities. From its early Pavilion Street and Brownrigg Street days, this is an issue that weighs the hearts and heads of the closest of the school. Though for many years, this issue was sought after and many schemes to get a new spacious location for the school was tried out, nothing materialized out of these efforts.
On the other hand, Kingswood was showing good progress as an institute of learning. In the annual inspection of the school, carried out by the government appointed schools’ inspector, Mr. Leigh Smith (whose name is centrally connected with education in colonial Ceylon) makes the following observations regarding the school:
“There were many satisfactory features about the working of this school: the spirit of the Boys is excellent and endures, after school days are over, in the hsape of an excellent Old Boys organization There can be no question as to the value of such a training in loyalty. The school is not valued simply for the benefits derived from it in the shape of coaching for examinations”.
Leigh Smith’s observations second that, at least by 1915, Blaze’s vision of opening the school — which he had in 1891, 24 years earlier — had been well fulfilled. For, Blaze states in his memoir KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy that the priority of his school would be “Education and not Examination”.
However, the issue to do with space, though repeatedly consulted, was not favourably sorted out even by 1922. In 1923, the congestion issue was temporarily relieved when the Kingswood kindergarten classes occupied rooms set vacant by Girls’ High School, which had recently moved to Katukele. But those connected with the Methodist Mission were looking for a lasting solution that would not be solved short of the securing of “permanent premises” and much was done to achieve this end between 1917 and 1922. Blaze generously acknowledges the names of Dr. James Moulton, a Methodist Oriental scholar, Rev. William Goudie (the President of the Wesleyan Conference elected in 1920) and that of Mr. E.L. Bevan (a Methodist lay missionary).
In 1922, E.B. Denham, Education Inspector, sums up Kingswood’s plight as follows: “I consider Kingswood most inadequately housed and extremely badly equipped. It is no reflection on the Principal, as it is largely a matter of finance; but it has to be remedied… As they stand, the buildings are more fit for a Night School. Yet I can say that more daylight is let into education in this school than perhaps any other school of the same size in Ceylon” (my emphasis).
Among the alternative sites to which the school can be shifted, were grounds in Ampitiya, Getambe and Peradeniya. On Mr. Denham’s suggestion, Peradeniya was given priority and a serene plot of land named “Solomon’s Gardens” was decided on as the site for Kingswood’s permanent home. The premises were secured with much difficulty, but the buildings and equipment for the new school was estimated at Rs. 200,000 (in 1923). It is here that the legendary donation from an English Wesleyan Methodist, Sir John Randles — a businessman and MP — was made. Randles, having heard of Kingswood and its struggle to find roots in a home of its own, had donated 10, 000 Pounds (Rs 150,000) to that cause. His action of generosity — to a school that he had no connection with, or which he had never been to — was commented on by Randles in the following words:
“I am not a learned man. I am not clever. But I think I have a little of the commercial instinct within me and my instinct told me that I must put my money in the right place, where value would be received and good results follow. And of all the projects laid before me, the project of Kingswood seemed to be the most opportune and desirable”.
With the grants received through the Methodist Mission, the colonial government, the school’s community and — as mentioned — through the generosity of Sir John Randles, the new gates for Kingswood were opened in 1923, with the first stones being simultaneously laid for the new buildings. The school opened at the new home in 1925.
A brief wiki entry on Sir John Randles identifies him as a British Politician and as a businessman. He was born in 1875 in Boston, Lincolnshire and made his mark in the coal and steel industries. He is shown as having had a vibrant political career — with both victories and losses — in and around Manchester. He passes away in 1945. Today, John Randles’ portrait is reverently placed in Kingswood’s L.E Blaze Memorial Main Hall. The story of the British industrialist who, almost as if he was the hand of God, helped with the most generous of donations to set up Kingswood at its current premises has gained legendary status. To feel grateful to such acts of faith and to contribute to the school’s future betterment is our debt to carry.