Growing up in Durban from the 50s onwards, there were certain individuals one came to meet possibly through the business they had or perhaps they were just well known names in and around Durban. As someone else pointed out to me that in the 50s and 60s, Durban was a relatively close knit community and through a friend of a friend there was this network that existed of knowing people.There were some individuals of those times that everyone knew about but perhaps had never met. Some examples I remember were people like Jock Leyden, the Daily News cartoonist, Ernie Duffield who commentated the Durban July every year, Elizabeth Sneddon the English professor, Archbishop Eugene Hurley of the Catholic Diocese, Majorie Chase and her Ice Shows, David Horner the well known actor, Charlie Barends the champion jockey, Keith Oxlee the rugby player and so on. Never met the majority of those but see them in the street I knew who they were. In those days mention a name and you instinctly knew who the person was or had an idea of.
And then there were those who were just ordinary folk, whom you did not know at all yet knew of them. These would be like Ralph, a simple person, I would say in his forties, who would go around Durban on his bicycle dressed in his Scouts uniform. He would stop in at my old school, St Henry’s, on odd afternoons when there was sports practice on and he would let us know how DHS were going to thrash us. From what I gather he would visit Glenwood High School as well.
In the late 50s I well remember that every Saturday morning, there was an elderly blind gentleman who would set himself up, sitting on a box outside the OK Bazaars in West Street, playing a saw fiddle with a small bowl at his feet. Then there was Claude, a blind switchboard operator who worked for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who you would see in town pushing his crippled wife around in a wheel chair. They lived on the Bluff if I recall. Then there was the evangelist who every Saturday evening would stand in front of Queen Victoria’s statue in the Town Gardens and ask you to repent before it was too late.
On this theme I would like to recall three people who I knew relatively well.
The first is Mr Barnard, the shoe repairer. I first met Mr Barnard when I was a school boy. My mother used to have our shoes repaired by him. His shop, always busy, was a small outlet in Smith Street sandwiched between a shop that sold oak furniture and I think Durban Leather. This would be on the left going up towards the Berea. My mother could speak Italian and once Mr Barnard found this out I well remember that as she entered the shop he would greet her with “ Ah Mrs Spaghetti”.
That smallish shop had a distinctive smell not only of leather but also the type of glue that was used. Repaired shoes would always be collected in a stout brown paper bag and attached to the shoes was the tag of a label with a number on it. The shoes were labelled when you brought them in. For many years Mr Barnard traded from that shop until that area started to redevelop when he moved to the lower end of Moore Road near the corner of Gale Street. He traded there for some years in a building which he had bought. Eventually after some 40 years he called it a day. I visited him just as he was closing down the business and took a photo of him outside. The sign above his head was the original he had in Smith Street.
I took the opportunity then of asking about his shoe repair business. He started in the late 40s apparently much to his father’s chagrin. The first premises he hired were in Madeline Buildings on the corner of Smith and Broad Streets. My vague recollection of this building is that it was two storeyed and had a verandah upstairs. There was a Chinese Laundry in the building facing Broad Street. Why do I think the Security Police were housed in this building? It was then pulled down and replaced if I am correct by Escoval House.
Mr Barnard closed his business in May 1999.
The second person I would like to write about is Henk van Hoogdalem who sadly passed away a few years ago. Henk was a Dutch immigrant who came to Durban as a young man in the early 50s. He was from Amsterdam. I met Henk in the early 70s when my interest in philately was rejuvenated and I joined the Philatelic Society of Natal.
He traded from the newly built Escoval House at that time and his shop was at the back of the entrance passage. Henk was a short rotund man, with many interests and a sharp brain. He had an excellent memory. His business was called Philately and Art although in all the years I knew him there never was any art in is shop. He was a wily man and as they say “knew his oats”. He loved stamps and built up an extensive clientele sniffing out for his clients whatever they were after.
He no doubt traded with overseas connections and in the 70s I recall there was a boom in philately. He had an extensive amount of stock and he no doubt was involved with many collections from local estates. In later years Henk started a postal auction business which did well for him. His shop became a meeting point for fellow collectors and there was always some discussion going on.
I recall one day being in the shop when a dishevelled beggar walked in, handed him a small packet for which he got paid. I was intrigued by this and asked Henk what gives. At the time, the collectors of this world had turned their eyes towards telephone cards, then a new innovation. South Africa had started producing some of these cards with animals pictures on them and these became very collectable overseas. So what Henk had done was approach some of the city’s beggars to scrounge, especially at the city’s telephone booths, for the discarded cards. These they brought back to him and he duly paid them for their efforts. Business is business.
In the mid 90s, Henk’s health took a down turn, and with rising rental costs and the philately business not as strong as it used to be, he moved operations to his house in Glenashley. In 1999, when Philately and Art closed in Durban it was the last stamp dealer business to be operating from premises in Durban.
David Ritchie was another Durban personality many knew of, but not much about. Dave Ritchie as he was known was a Rhodesian who had come to Durban to attend the University of Natal. A tall, good looking young man, he could be called what was termed a “struggling student”. To supplement his income and pay his way through University, he took on the task of being a social photographer. Dave was the guy in the late 60’s who everyone knew what he was, and that was all. As the caption below says, for 4 years, six days a week he would visit all the leading nightspots in Durban taking photos of couples and groups. Always immaculately dressed in his black tuxedo, camera in hand and battery slung over his shoulder, he would announce his presence by flashing off his camera. As the room lit up, you knew “the photographer” was here. He duly would ask at each table if you wanted a photograph. There must be thousands of photographs that he took. David eventually married a Durban girl, a fellow student. I actually attended the wedding in 1970. He emigrated to Australia where he took up a position in an Australian university.
If you can add to the post please do or comment on any other Durban “personalities”.