Pretoria Boys High School can trace its origins back over more than 110 years. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the city of Pretoria was captured in 1900 by British forces under Lord Roberts and the Transvaal became a British colony. One of the responsibilities of the colonial administration was to re-establish schools as these had all been closed during the hostilities. Although the war continued to be fought by the Boers as a guerilla conflict, moves were made to start a school in central Pretoria and Charles Hope was brought up from the Eastern Cape to undertake the task. Hope had to establish a school virtually from scratch as he tried to source everything from desks to teachers. He did at least have a building in the form of the Staats Model School, built in the 1890s in President Paul Kruger’s erstwhile ZAR (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek), as a combined school for boys and a teachers’ training college. Closed at the onset of hostilities in 1899, it served for a while as a prisoner of war camp for captured British officers (mainly from the campaign in Natal) and included among its internees none other than Winston Churchill who was captured as a war correspondent. His successful escape from the building added a colourful chapter to the history of the building. The Staats Model School is preserved as a national monument today and still has relics of its former inmates in the form of murals and an incomplete escape tunnel.
Charles Hope set up a small school that started classes in mid 1901. PBHS regards him as its founding headmaster and bases its annual “Founders Day” on the date he taught his first lesson. For a year, the school existed as school for both boys and girls. In 1902 the girls were provided with their own building and this is how the sister school of PBHS came into being, namely Pretoria High School for Girls. Charles Hope left for Johannesburg (where he established a further school) and the first of two headmasters brought from England, replaced him. Harold Atkinson had studied at Cambridge and taught at Rossall School in Lancashire. The school he inherited in central Pretoria had 84 pupils. The original colours of the school (blue, brown and red) were adopted for hat bands although there was not yet a uniform.