1950s

posted in: Mini Memories | 21

 

The previous entry in the diary contains a response to a question posed some time ago by my  informant David Rastall. I searched out David’s address to let him know about it and was absolutely mortified to find that he had written in in 2009 with some of his memories and that I had never posted them. Site regulars will know that the timekeeping around here can be pretty lax but three years of forgetting is extreme, even by those loose standards.

Unfortunately,  David’s e-mail address is  no longer current*** and I haven’t been able to contact him but here, at last, is his contribution:

Here are some reminiscences of my days in Durban circa 1954 to ’59. They are memories of childhood: Durban through the eyes of a twelve-year-old.

When we first moved to Durban (from Johannesberg) in 1955 we stayed briefly in a flat in Greenwood Park (“Glenwood Heights”), and shortly afterwards we moved to an address on Marriott Road: No. 7 Lugano Court. Living on Marriott Road we had a panoramic view of the racecourse, and the rest of Durban all the way down to the sea. It was a more “flat” vista than today, as most of the tall buildings hadn’t yet been built (typical childhood impression: do you remember a hotel just to the north of the beachfront hotels and a few blocks inland, which was the only one painted blue?). Off to the right we could see the tip of the Bluff.

So, boyhood memories…I remember riding my bike to school up Marriott Road to the top of the hill, turning right, then along Musgrave road, to Innes Road (I think…) and finally down Lambert Road to Clifton Preparatory School (I remember every nook and cranny of that place!).

I remember West Street, with three big department stores: Payne Bros., Anstey’s and…I’m blanking on the name, but I think it was Henley’s. [It must have been Greenacre’s surely? Ed.] I remember there was an arcade right next to Henley’s (or whatever it was), where there was a sports shop run by the cricketer Roy McLean. I actually got to shake hands with him. At twelve years old, that was a high point! I remember when they took down the old Payne Bros sign, and replaced it with a much more modernistic facade. That facade is my chief memory of the look of West Street. I also remember there was a shop on Smith Street, right near the entrance to the Sanlam building, called Gelmar’s. That place had the most complete collection of Dinky toys and Tri-Ang train set accessories in Durban! A very important place to a twelve-year-old.

Other memories were, of course, the cinemas on Smith Street: the Princes, Playhouse, Metro (?), 20th Century and Embassy. And wasn’t there also the Picadilly, round the corner from the Embassy? Going to the pictures in the evening was a very big social occasion, I recall: it was a way to enjoy a bit of the Durban nightlife. The closest equivalent I can think of today would be going to a Broadway show. I well remember watching Lawrence Olivier in Richard III at the Playhouse, Saturday Matinees at the Princes (we sat in the one-and-fivepenny seats: first ten rows) and the Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur at the Embassy. Wasn’t the Embassy the first to introduce Cinemascope?

We used to go down the coast to Salt Rock on Sundays. There was a huge natural lagoon ringed in with rocks, where swimmers were protected from the surf. I remember on one occasion I got bored with the lagoon and went into the water from the beach, and the backwash was so strong that I was swept out to sea. There were no lifeguards there, and someone on the beach saw me being carried out, swam out there, and in classic lifesaving fashion conveyed me back to shore. To this day I’ve no idea who it was who saved my life.

Do you remember Springbok radio in the 50’s? I used to listen to Eric Egan first thing in the morning. I remember my mother listening to “Portia Faces Life.” Also a program called “Pick-a-Box” on Thursday nights, which in my childhood judgement was a silly show but tolerable, whereas Adventureman and Superman were the more sophisticated listening choices. That is, until a few years later when I discovered girls and rock ‘n roll, at which time I turned from Adventureman to Peter Lotus and the Radio Record Club! I also remember a courtroom-drama program, each episode culminating in a very cultured English voice inviting you to “considaah your verdict.” The program used as theme music, as I later recognized, the same theme music from the Perry Mason TV show.

My friends and I used to go fishing off the pier down at the yacht basin. We also found some good fishing spots on the bluff side of the harbor, nearer the back-bay area where a fleet of whalers were tied up. I was fascinated by the size of the harpoons mounted on the bows. You can imagine that to a boy whose head was filled with thoughts of derring-do, those whalers represented the ultimate in high adventure! Also a number of Sunderland flying boats were kept in that part of the bay. It was a common sight to see those flying over Durban, and also the Harvard (or possibly Hurricane?) trainers from Stamford Hill practicing formation flying.

In 1958 two things happened: we moved to Durban North, and my parents packed me off to boarding school. We lived at 37 Monteith Place, which was a moderate single-story home surrounded by mansions. I made some good friends there, but my memories of ’58 / ’59 are mostly of Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill. We lived in South Africa until November 1959, when we emigrated to the USA.

It was the end of an era for me. My memories of Durban in the old days are of a moment in time, but memories of a place which was in the process of change, resulting ultimately in the amazing city that Durban is today. But you may be certain that all the intervening years in the New World couldn’t possibly succeed in erasing the memories of boyhood in Durban.

Best wishes,
David Rastall

There is already quite a lot of stuff on the site about the cinemas, beaches, music and other things that David remembers, Some of them are linked from this page.

*** Anyone who knows David’s current e-mail address is welcome to fire it off to me.

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21 Responses

  1. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi David
    A belated welcome to FAD. Reading your post I would say that your time in Durban and mine ran concurrently age wise. re Your memories I am adding a couple of my comments. The blue Hotel you mention I think was the Lucien. It was multistorey and I think stood in Gillespie Street which was one street back from Marine Parade. I agree with the Editor, the department store would have been Harvey, Greenarcre’s which at that time was probably the best known department store in town. There was a wide open arcade running through from West Street to Smith Street with Greenacres on the one side and The Hub on the other. Down the passage were various small shops on one side only as Greenacres stretched all the way on the left. One of the shops was a popular cafe, The Boulevard, a ladies’ hairdresser and I seem to recall a pet shop. I do not recall Roy McLean’s sport shop being there but I was not into cricket. Roy by the way died in 2007 at the age of 77. The Picadilly was down Aliwal Street round the corner from the 20th Century not the Embassy and was located fairly close to the Esplanande. The aircraft you mention were Harvard Trainers and I well recall that particular drone the engines made as they pulled upwards. The Sunderlands are all but a memory now. Not one was preserved in Durban and if my memory serves me right the last of them were cut up for scrap at a scarp yard called Barnetts which was near the graving dock. Peter Lotis (not Lotus) I remember as a singer / radio presenter. He was slightly older than the then current “young rockers” and for some reason he had a mixed following, some liked him and some disliked him. I had a friend who was on the anti side and used to call him “Retep Sitol” (his name backwards), the Sitol you could juggle as you wish. The toy shop Gelmar’s has got me. I cannot recall it. Today there is still a Gelmar’s but it trades in better than average DIY fittings and goods. Springbok Radio as well as LM Radio have both been archived and are available on the internet. Not sure if you have ever been back to Durban but no doubt you will find it a very different city to what it was when you left in 1959. Let us know where in the USA you have settled. Gerald.

    • Graham Read
      |

      Hi Gerald
      Sometime in the 1950s there was a Sunderland fuselage on a property on the right about halfway up “Jacob’s Ladder” on Sarnia Road. Unfortunately I have no idea how it got there or what eventually happened to it. As far as I can remember the front of the aircraft faced the road. I have fond memories of the Sunderlands coming and going from the flying boat station at Congella, seen from fishing spots at Maydon Wharf or the yacht club mole.
      Graham

    • Lynn Raw
      |

      From what I remember from my school days travelling by bus past the house, it was on the crest of Jacobs Ladder opposite the double story house that was once owned by our family doctor. I don’t think it was actually a fuselage but rather one of the under-wing floats.

    • Keith Titmuss
      |

      Hello Graham,
      I remember it well as we used to pass the house quite often. I was quite young then but remember someone telling me it was a Catalina flying boat. The Sunderland was a very much larger aircraft. At that time we lived in Fynnland and I remember hearing the wonderful sound of the Sunderlands as they were taking off in the Bay. They quite often flew right over our house.
      Keith

    • David Rastall
      |

      Hi Gerald,
      Thanks for your reply. I have followed FAD for some years now, and read the posts (yours among them, of course) with great interest. I’m delighted that my post from 2009 has finally made it onto the site. You mention Peter Lotis having followings on both pro and con sides. I was more or less on the con side with him. I didn’t like him at all. He seemed phony to me, and obviously knew nothing about music. But the Radio Record Club was the only game in town for a 14 year old rock and roll fan. Even though I sported chukka boots and a ducktail, and hero-worshipped anyone who wore black jeans and looked even remotely like James Dean, I was still too young to get into the club scene in those days. Yes, I have no doubt that Durban has changed a lot since 1959, but from what I can see of Durban on the Internet, there are still one or two places that haven’t changed. Lugano Court, on Grattan Place, off Marriott Road, is apparently still there. We lived in No 7. I now reside in Frederick, Maryland USA, not far from Washington DC. Good to hear from you, Gerald. Thanks again for your reply. Best wishes,
      David Rastall

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Graham
    Amazing what ends up in people’s back yards. I will have to retract my statement that all the Sunderlands landed up at Barnett’s Scrap! The one on Jacob’s Ladder could have been the “last” survivor…part at least. One wonders how a thing that size got there eventually. Great memory, any others?
    Gerald.

  3. Trevor Friend
    | Reply

    For anyone whose interested the old RAF flying boat hangar is still in existance and is now occupied by Blastrite Industrial Minerals and Abrasives. It can be seen at 29 ° 53′ 21″ S and 31° 00′ 00″ E with google earth. If you go down to street level right to the end of Belfast Road there is a very good view of the hangar doors. Quite a surprise to find that this building is still around after some +/- 80 years.

  4. Maurice Warren
    | Reply

    During WW 2 my father was stationed at that hanger. One day a Catalina flying boat dropped a depth charge by mistake. Fortunately for the whole of Congella the depth charge failed to explode. Father was skipper of an MTB who use to check for debris on the water before the Cats landed.

  5. rodney eliastam
    | Reply

    Can anyone remember Bosco Snaps in the open air amusement park north beach. It belonged to my grandparents. I,m trying to find out when it closed down

  6. Ian Robertson
    | Reply

    My father, a Scot, was a mechanic who worked on the Sperry gyroscopes in the Sunderlands. He was sent out to Durban to work on the Sunderlands in 1942, which is how I and my bother Graeme happened to be born there in 1944 and 1946. The family lived on the Marine Parade in Beachhurst, one of the few beachfront buildings from that era that still survives. In 1946 my father was transferred to Cairo for a year, and then back to the UK. The rain and rationing in post-war UK was too depressing for my parents, so the family emigrated to sunny Durban in 1948. We lived at first in a block of flats at 95 Rapson Rd, which is still there. We boys attended Clifton — and like my contemporary David Rastall I remember every nook and cranny of that school, and its memorable staff members like Tim Sutcliffe, Mr Fox, “Pops” St Hill, “Juffrou” Forth, and Mr Pass, a recent emigrant from the UK who I believe is still alive and living in Durban. In 1957 we moved to a house in Morningside at 61 Waller Crescent. My brother and I went on to Durban High School and Natal U, and then after fairly brief careers in SA we joined the tide of reverse migration, with my brother settling in the UK and I in the USA.

    I believe the department store you refer to as “Henleys” was actually Henwoods. I worked there one summer holiday in the gardening department. It was a rather plain store compared with the more fashionable Greenacres, where I also worked one summer in mens’ clothing.

    • Gerald Buttigieg
      |

      Hi Ian
      In case the name of the block of flats in Rapson Road eludes you, it was Arranmore. Are you the same Ian that stood for your principles when at Varsity in the 60s? I was not at Varsity but recall the name. I often wonder how many ex Durbanites now living overseas visit this site.

    • Ian Robertson
      |

      Hi Gerald,
      Yes I was active in student politics at Natal U and subsequently NUSAS in the mid-1960s. Thanks for the reminder about the name Arranmore for the flats we lived in — I had completely forgotten it. I wonder if the building was named after the Irish island of Arranmore, or if it was combination from the nearby road named “Arran” and “Morningside”?
      Actually our family lived very briefly in a small hotel in Florida Rd when we first arrived from the UK. I recall it as a small two story structure, with typical durban verandahs, on a north east corner of Florida Rd, and I think named the New Haven hotel. I know the hotel doesn’t exist any longer but perhaps the building is still there, converted to other uses.
      Gerald, I suspect that more and more Durbanites living abroad will be visiting the site, now that your recollections of Durban life in the 1960s have gone viral! Keep up the great work!
      Ian

    • Ian Varkevisser
      |

      I and my 2 brothers were born in the 1950s and lived not far away in Puntans Hill. All 3 of us attended Durban High School and remember the young firebrand Ian and his younger sporting brother Graeme “Bunn”, I believe his nickname was. My older brother and Graeme were good friends and closer in age. We often visited friends in Waller Crescent , the Palmi’s and others. My fondest memories of those times were when we commandeered the Mitchell Girl’s High School hockey fields after hours to play soccer with ‘Bunn’ , the Jacobs, Woodwards , Solomons and Almanzas amongst others. And who could forget the times all the Durban High School boys used to occupy the upper deck of the trolley buses and rush to one side when rounding a corner in an attempt to derail the trolleys from the electric lines, or take the opportunity to squirt the girls from the high school with syringes full of water when the bus pulled up at the stop outside Mitchell. The last I recall 15 years ago the girls school was converted into a tertiary educational college.

      Sadly though Durban is no longer the place we knew in the 50s and 60s. After living in Durban or the larger metropolitan area most of my life up until 2010 when rampant crime became the major contributor to us uprooting our lives and relocating 1000 miles away to Cape Town.

  7. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Ian,
    I looked up the New Haven Hotel in the 1968 directory but it does not appear in the listing so by then it must have closed down or changed name. The only two private hotels I do recall were the Glamis (now demolished) and the Floradale. My memories of Florida Road are few as my haunts were in the Sutton Park area, which was relatively close by. I do recall though that the trolley buses were more frequent in Florida Road than they were in Stamford Hill Road so if you arrived at the bus stop to see the bus disappearing in the distance, being young and fit and having to get to town in a hurry, one would take a quick walk heading for Florida Rd cutting through Eighth Avenue. That should be a memory for you that 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Avenue all linked into Florida Road. 1st Avenue was the road that ran into town and at the Argyle Road intersection became Stamford Hill Road. It ran parallel to Umgeni Road. Florida Road once totally residential has changed completely now in to a trendy bars/ restaurants area with many of the old style residences now transformed. Businesses have taken over some of the old houses with some doing excellent restorations of the double storey terrace houses. It is still residential heading up towards Jameson / Mitchell Park . However the transformation of Florida Road has not gone down too well with the resident locals because of the increased night time traffic, the loud music, noise and the vibe that has infiltrated it especially at night. I stand corrected but I seem to recall that at New Year the road is closed off and the party takes to Florida Road.

    • Rodney Coyne
      |

      Our family has several connections with Florida Road. My paternal grandmother lived at the Glamis Hotel from approximately 1945 to 1955. I don’t remember much about the hotel, but I do remember that outside it had an illuminated ‘Glamis Hotel’ sign in black writing on white glass. I also seem to remember that it was supposed to be more up-market than the several other hotels in the area, ranked just below the more expensive Hotel Gordon round the corner in Gordon Road. Incidentally, this grandmother was German (maiden name Bosse) and I was later in life told that it was something of a family joke that through two World Wars she was not German but Hanoverian and nobody could say anything against that as the British Royal Family were also Hanoverian.
      Our family lived in England 1949-1950 and on our return we stayed for a few months at the Florida Hotel towards the lower end of Florida Road. I don’t remember much about the place but I think that it was a more family oriented hotel, unlike the Glamis which seemed to be populated mainly by elderly ladies. The Florida Hotel was later taken over by a teacher’s organisation (The Natal Teacher’s Union?).
      Our family lived in East Griqualand for a while and on our return to Durban in 1955 we lived in the Orrisdale Hotel on the corner of Florida and Gordon roads. The main/oldest part of the hotel was an old house facing Florida Road. We lived upstairs in the annexe which was a double storey building on the corner of Florida and Gordon roads. Downstairs , there was a bakery/tearoom . There was another annexe above the row of garages at the back of the main building. I cannot now for sure recall the name of the owners, but I think that it may have been Richards. Mrs.Richards was a senior officer in St John Ambulance and was occasionally to be seen in her uniform. As far as I know, the whole property later became the new home of St Josephs Church when their Argyll Road church was demolished to make way for expansion of the Argyll Road.

  8. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Rodney,
    Just to correct you. The St. Joseph’s Church you mention has not been pulled down and still exists today as San Jose. A Catholic Church for the Portuguese community. The Church property that was in Argyle Road that was demolished was the St Joseph’s Church, Church Hall. It became a Mercedes outlet at one stage. The change in the demographics of that part of Stamford Hill Road where most of the residential houses became businesses, saw the parish numbers reduce drastically. The Diocese bought the present property in Florida Rd when it came on the market and built thereon the new St Joseph’s, leaving the old St Joseph’s intact. Adjacent to the Church is the new Archbishop’s residence which replaced the previous residence which was in Innes Road and was sold off. In the Durban Catholic Church history this is now the third St Joseph’s Church and if you click on the link below there is the history.
    https://www.fad.co.za/2013/11/18/durbans-st-josephs-churches/

    • Rodney Coyne
      |

      Thank you for your information regarding St.Josephs. I have not revisited that area (or Florida Road for that matter) for 2 or 3 decades so my comments were to to some extent secondhand. In my youth I had always regarded St.Josephs as perhaps the most beautiful building in Durban so I am happy to hear of its continued existence. On my next visit to Durban I will try to make a detour to see if my youthful opinion is still justified. Thank you also for giving the correct spelling of ‘Argyle’.

      On the topic of private hotels in Florida Road, I extracted the following information from the 1951/2 edition of the Natal Tourist Guide :

      Hotel Address Tariff from
      Daily Weekly Monthly
      Bainsford 233 Florida Road 10/- 2/12/6 10/10/0
      Dorchester 309 Florida Road 12/6 3/3/0 9/4/0
      Florida 137 Florida Road 10/6 2/17/6 10/0/0
      Glamis 223 Florida Road 10/6 2/12/6 10/0/0
      Mansions,The 189 Florida Road 8/6 2/5/0 6/12/0
      Newhaven 136 Florida Road 9/6 2/15/0 9/10/0
      Oatlands 84 Florida Road 9/0 2/16/0 9/0/0
      Orrisdale 220 Florida Road 10/9 2/17/6 9/13/2
      Palmford 143 Florida Road 10/6 2/15/0 9/13/0
      Prospect House 66 Florida Road 10/0 2/17/6 11/11/0

      And just round the corner in Gordon Road:
      Gordon 191/195 Gordon Road 12/0 3/6/0 10/5/0
      which is not much more than the Glamis – another childhood illusion killed off! Strangely, the daily and weekly rates at the Gordon are higher than for Prospect House, but their monthly tariff is less.

      The tariffs are, of course, given in the pre-decimal Pound/Shillings/Pence or L/s/d notation. For those not familiar with this
      1 Pound or 1/0/0 = R2.00
      10 Shillings or 10/0 or 10/- =R1.00
      1 Shilling or 1/0 = 10c
      6 Pence or 6d = 5c
      1 Penny or 1d = 1c (approximately)

      There were no licenced hotels listed for Florida Road at that time. As far as I know none of these Florida Road hotels are still in existence, but I see on Tripadvisor that The Benjamin is at 141 Florida Road, so it may have incorporated Palmford at 143 Florida Road.

      As a matter of interest, I checked in the same Tourist Guide to see which were the most expensive hotels in Durban at the time – I expected to find The Royal and The Edward at the top. Instead I found The Edward and Park View at equal place at the top at a daily rate of 20/-. I seem to recall that Park View is now a retirement home. Several other hotels were more expensive than the Royal at the time. If it is of interest, I could scan the pages concerned and send them to FAD.

    • Rodney Coyne
      |

      The above table of Florida Road hotels has not come out as I typed it and the edit function was of no help. Perhaps Alan or Gerald can tidy it up so as to make it more comprehensible.

  9. Neil Barnes
    | Reply

    I recall the Musgrave Centre well. My dad, Percy Barnes was transferred from East London at the end of 1963 as Controller of Customs at Durban. Of course, East London was a quiet place, so moving to Durban was a big thing for Dad.
    We spent the first 6 months of 1964 at Tinsley House. At that time, it was a boarding house, run by the Judkins family. I can only remember Moira Judkins and her sister ran it. Moira’s husband also ran a window cleaning business in Durban. I think he used to clean windows of high rise buildings in Durban. I had a room on the top floor overlooking the Catholic Church, which fascinated me. I remember watching the activities on Sundays. I recall the beautiful stained glass windows which caught my attention, and weddings on Saturday afternoons.
    My mom and dad attended the St Thomas, Methodist church on the corner of St Thomas and Musgrave roads, and I belonged to the Youth group there. Alan Kimber was our youth leader at that time, with Joe Brown another of the youth leaders. Mom used to go down to Musgrave Centre quite often. I can’t recall the shops there, although Henwoods rings a bell. I do remember the Natal Building society next door to the Centre. which I went into quite often. On old woman lived near the Musgrave Centre in a large double storied house and was reputed to own over 50 small dogs, she was quite well known for taking her dogs for walks along Musgrave road. Mom had a friend, Dorothy Instone who was a retired Nurse. Mom used to say, she had a ‘marble’ in her mouth, because she had a very British accent. Another friend of Mom’s was Lil Nielsen. Her husband was the port captain at the time. I recall the Caister Gardens Hotel across the road.
    My aunt Alma and uncle Eric Barnes lived at 290 St Thomas Road, opposite Durban High. I attended the school between 1964-1965. Ian McIver was the headmaster and lived in a big house across the road from the school.
    After we left Tinsley house, dad rented out the downstairs of 49 Vause road, owned by a Captain Cox. After that, I think it was in my matric year, mom and dad bought a duplex, down on the corner of Currie and Povall roads. This was called ‘Forburn Court’, named after a Mr. Burns who built the set of 3 duplexes. It was opposite the Full Gospel Church and once again Sunday mornings were quite busy times. I do recall an old man trying to turn his car in Currie road, and on one of those busy occasions, and bashing into the cars parked on either side of the road ! Forburn Court is still there and the area has remained virtually unchanged since that time. Although of course, Mansfield High has now become the Durban Institute for Technology, just around the corner. We shared the place there with Mark Bernstein, an engineer, and the Connot family whose daughter Kay was a ballet dancer. I would be interested if anyone remembers any of these people.
    I certainly remember the LA. It was quite a noisy place. Mom and dad were somewhat scandalized on an occasion when there was a fistfight in St Thomas road, outside the LA one Friday night. It was quite a spectacle for myself, being only 15. Any way after it was over, the contestants got up, dusted each other off and went back into the LA to continue their party. Later when I became a student, I recall visits to the LA.myself. In fact I celebrated my 21st there.

  10. heather
    | Reply

    Hi David. I’m pretty sure you mean the old Henwoods Department store! Don’t forget Stuttafords was in existence too, as was John Orr’s. As with most things in downtown Durban, Henwoods was pulled down to make way for the then-giant multi-storey building called 320 WEST STREET, and poor old Greenacres was turned into (dare I say it) an OK Bazaars + Checkers! They kept the exterior facade, but that’s where it stops. Such a shame to lose all these historic landmark buildings. Basically this was the start of the retail and professional exodus from the inner city to the suburbs, and imho the city has never recovered.

  11. cyril herbert
    | Reply

    I spent a few years as a young boy from 1952 to late 1955 visited a distant relative in Nola Rd running down between Smith St and Victoria Embankment earlier about 1945 Wonderful to see these huge ships going down towards the Maydon Channel Eventually moved down from Boksburg 1952 and stayed in Eureka Crt in Berea Rd almost opposite the Grand Cafe I used to run across the road to a small stationers for my Hotspur Wizard and Rover weekly magazines Used to watch the Sunderlands come over and land in the Maydon Channel near the wharf with Crashboat in attendence Joined the SeaScouts 2nd Dbn and spent happy weekends on The Island opp Salisbury Island Called it Farewell Is as it had brocken away from the main There were indian sein netters from Fynlands backwaters and an old houseboat lay stranded on the beach at night on the water

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