Gavin Foster- 23 September 2008
rickety bridge poised precariously over a 27-metre drop, a
hotel that served as a brothel and a boarding school, and
a one-legged Englishman on the run from an aggrieved Frenchman.
These all form part of Inchanga's rich history. GAVIN FOSTER
takes a look at a Victorian version of an Ultra City, right
here on our doorstep.
first train steamed past Inchanga back in 1880' the station
bearing that name didn't even exist. The local halt, called
Wallacetown, lay on the far side of today's N3, and before
it lay the formidable Inchanga Bridge. This wobbly 150 metre
long viaduct crossed the ravine shortly after today's Hammarsdale
junction at a scary 27 metres, nine stories, above the level
of the streambed.
Bridge in the old days. A section still survives, below,
at the Baynesfield Estate.
/\ \/ Click to view enlargements.
iron structure lacked lateral support, so when the wind gauge
registered winds of 16 km/h or more passengers had to alight
and walk across, with the train following once they were safely
on the other side. Buckets of water were kept permanently
on the bridge as stabilising ballast, and any that toppled
over were interpreted as visible evidence that the driver
had broken the 10 km/h speed limit. Inchanga Bridge served
Natal till 1892, when a deviation was built to take trains
around the ravine rather than over it.
station with was built at Inchanga in 1896, and Durban entrepreneur
C.W. Tomkins, who was catering contractor to the Natal Government
Railways, ran the second-floor restaurant, which catered for
passengers at the midway halt in the eight-hour trip between
Durban and Pietermaritzburg. In 1903 Tomkins built a smart
hotel and mineral water bottling plant water alongside the
station. This was recognised as a "splendid health resort,"
with advertisements proclaiming in bold letters that it was
blessed with electric lights and running water.
at Inchanga suffered after the new main line bypassed it sometime
in the 1920s, and changed hands many times. It's said to have
served at various times as a school, a brothel, and a den
of iniquity where stolen goods were stored and drugs consumed
freely. Radio and television motoring presenter Roger McCleery
remembers the place well, but for innocent reasons - he stayed
there in 1940 as a five-year-old when it was a boarding school.
was great to be out in the country after the wartime drama
of Durban," he reminisces. "It was a wonderful,
lazy kind of school. It was a tremendous thrill to go home
for the holidays on the steam train from the station below,
and as a treat we used to sometimes catch the train to Pietermaritzburg
to do shopping. We used to have picnics down at the river,
and after an Indian trading store on the old road above -
the Comrades route - burnt down we used to dig for treasure.
Coming up with a handful of beads was like finding gold for
returned to the hotel often in the 1970s and 80s for local
motorsport events. "We always used to have a wonderful
time there," he says. "I remember that the owner
had a wooden leg with a leather knee joint that always used
to creak as he walked. He and his wife used to sometimes drink
a little too much, and then he'd fall over. I have many fond
memories of this place."
man with the wooden leg. For about 35 years, from the 1960s
to the 1990s, a colourful character called Peter Barnes and
his fiery wife, Celia, owned the hotel. Barnes had earlier
lost his leg to the bullet of a cuckolded Frenchman, who caught
him in his sights as he tried to escape from the lady's bedroom
window. The Frenchman was a good shot, and a second bullet
lodged itself in Barnes abdomen, where it remained for over
the Barnes couple retired to the coast about ten years ago
the hotel was sold to an Italian, who renamed it the Inchanga
Country Hotel. The new owner provided enormous entertainment
for his guests when he had an altercation with a local cabinetmaker
over payment for work that had been done. The Italian told
the carpenter he could not pay, and ended up with a bloody
nose and a black eye, after which a cheque was rapidly handed
or so later the hotelier contracted the cabinetmaker's son
to do further work for him and, when the time came to pay,
produced the blood-stained clothing he'd saved from the last
bout, saying that he'd spent the money replacing his wardrobe.
This dispute ended abruptly when he was thrown into the dining
room's blazing fireplace, and another cheque was speedily
Inchanga Hotel today.
Click to view enlargement
hotel has been upgraded to luxury status and now operates
as the Protea Hotel Inchanga. The original 100-year-old building
forms a major part of the new building, and although the locals
who used to frequent the pub feel that it's lost much of its
character, the setting is still supremely tranquil and, if
you know who to ask, the memories still linger.
to David Hall and Greg and Helen Langridge for their invaluable