Bussing to School

No doubt wherever you lived in Durban, I would say the majority of you experienced going to school by bus unless you lived across the road from School. My memories of bussing to school date from 1954 through to 1961.

At that time the Durban Corporation laid on what must have been one of the best bus services in South Africa. It was punctual, reliable and relatively cheap. For many it was the only mode of transport they had and so became a part of life. Moreover the bus service serviced just about the whole of Durban and its immediate suburbs. One remembers that the bus service in the central areas was served by trolley buses and the outlying areas by motor buses. What I recall the motor buses were all double decker, the single decker motor bus only coming on the scene later.

I arrived at Marist Brothers (St Henry’s) in 1954. I was in Std 4. We lived at the time near Park Street, just off Smith Street. I recall that one of the things that had to be arranged was to get a Bus Season Ticket. This was bought at the bus office situated at the corner of Gardiner and West Street. The public toilets were either side. Ladies on the left with a waiting room and Men on the right going down steps to a “subterranean” facility. The bus office also served as a Lost Property depot and people finding bags, umbrellas etc. on the buses could deposit them there till the owners retrieved them. People were quite honest in those days. One also bought ticket coupon books there and picked up bus timetables.
Bus Office Durban
I see now the old bus office has been remodelled, no longer exists and is an entry into the Town Gardens.

Back to the Season Ticket. The ticket was valid for a school term if I remember and was made of strong paper with a mesh backing. The back was a distinctive colour remembering yellow, blue, green and red. On the front particulars were printed and you entered your name. Just about every junior school pupil had a leather season ticket holder in which the season ticket was placed and this was attached to your school case handle. It was a bit of an infra dig for “seniors” to have these season ticket holders attached to their cases so they carried them in their top blazer pockets. With the Season Ticket went a “Sports Season” which also had to be obtained at the bus office. It was a plain card with some writing explaining its purpose. Season Tickets were only valid till 4 pm. If you had to attend after school sports or training, music, speech, dance classes etc. then after 4 pm you would have to pay the normal bus fare. A Sports Season however reduced the normal fare to a penny (1 cent). Conductors would ask you to show your Sports Season. I recall I always had one.
Added later: I forgot to mention that the cost of the season ticket was 7/6 (seven shillings ad sixpence = 75 cents) per term. I am not too sure whether that was a standard rate and whether the further you lived out of town, the season ticket cost more. Maybe someone can recall what they paid.

St Henry’s is located in South Ridge Road some distance from the centre of town and was served by three bus routes. The best one was Manor Gardens (Route number 89) which had its terminus in town on the corner of Gardiner and Smith Street right opposite the City Hall. It was also the terminus for the Nursing Homes bus (Route 88).

The Manor Gardens and Nursing Homes buses followed the same route out of town and from memory left Gardiner St. and turned left up West Street. There were more pick up passengers in the CBD in West Street than in Smith Street. Both main streets in those days were two way. I stand to be corrected but I think at Broad Street the bus turned left off West St and then turned right into Smith Street heading for Moore Road. I used to catch the bus outside a furniture shop called Peach and Hatton. The buses were double decker motor buses and thinking back there were two body styles. One was the normal rear of the bus entry with staircase leading upstairs and a step into the lower section. The other was a mid bus entry with a stair case as you entered leading upstairs and the down stairs seating section split left and right as you entered.

The bus route continued along Smith Street till it got to the Louis Botha Statue and here veered left heading for Moore Road. Berea Road met West Street roughly at this point as well. I still recall that the Durban Girls’ Model School building was still standing roughly at the bottom end of Moore Road. It was abandoned then as the new Durban Girls’ High School had been built as its successor. Once in Moore Road it was uphill all the way now. Moore Road then was lined with blocks of flats and some old residential houses on both sides. One of the stops was at 194 Moore Road which was Davaar Kindergarten School. Here the principal would be there to meet the bus and the young children taken off. Davaar was a corrugated iron house in those days. It was a very old establishment and I see it was already in existence at the same address in 1938 with Miss Ramsey as Principal. Further on the bus would stop to pick up a class mate, Manny de Passos (later Rev. now deceased) who lived across the road. At the same time, his older sister would be at the front gate on her way into town and from upstairs a wolf whistle would emanate from one of the cheeky senior boys. People lived to bus time schedules and one stuck by them.

The upper part of Moore Road became quite steep at this point and the old double decker, now fully laden, would chug up the road. Its relief would come at Chelmsford Road were it would take a left turn into the flat road heading for the Sanatorium. Another memory is that as the bus approached Chelmsford Road it passed a block of flats on the corner called “Brierly”. The flats had open verandahs and one, virtually level with the top deck, a boy with a DHS tie on would make an appearance on the verandah. This was the wrong time to do so as he was regaled with “Horse Fly” from the whole upper deck. DHS pupils were known as “Horse Flies”. Now on the straight the Manor Gardens bus would next stop outside the Sanatorium where the nurses would get off. If the bus was a Nursing Homes bus it would turn right up Clark Road at this point heading for Entabeni Nursing Home. Not known as hospital then. Carrying on with Manor Gardens route, the bus continued passing what was a very bushy and wildly forested area (now a parking lot for St Augustine’s) and then came to the Meyrick Bennett Park on the left. Here the bus turned right into Maze Road heading for St Henry’s. Maze Road is a narrow winding road which apparently was the road leading to the residence of David Don. The property was known as “The Maze” and gave name to the road. David Don was a noted business man, member of the Natal Legislative Council and a respected bibliophile. On his death, his library of Africana books was donated to the Durban Public Library in 1915 and is known as “The Don Collection”. The property was bought by the Marist Brothers fraternity in the late 1920s and the school was opened in 1929.

Having wandered up The Maze, the bus would turn left into South Ridge Road and the bus stop was right outside the school gate. Here all the boys exited and headed to the school. The school bus stop was situated in a rather dangerous spot. On the left the bus would head uphill to the University but on the right was a very steep hill which led to a dangerous intersection of Glenwood Drive and South Ridge Road. To negotiate the hill one had to pick up appreciable speed and coming down the hill one picked up speed. The bus stop was at the low point and seniors would be on duty to see that the pupils crossed the road safely.
In later years the steepness of the hill was reduced. It used to be one of the better places in Durban to practice your hand brake take off uphill when getting ready for your driving test. The Nursing Homes bus would go up Clark Road, turn left into South Ridge Road and outside the Entabeni entrance, two white pillars in those days, turn in and stop under a large fig tree in the grounds. This was the terminus.

The boys would then get off and start a trudge along Glenwood Drive which came to Marists Road and the side entrance to the school. I see now that Entabeni has spread itself, left and right of Glenwood Drive in the vicinity of the hospital. It all used to be residential.

Bus stops in those days were very convenient meeting places. Not only did you meet school mates but local girls from the area would also be there. I must say in my day as a senior, opportunities to meet the fairer sex were never played down. It kept you in touch with the local girls and of course working both ways, you had an “in” to their circle and they had an “in” to yours. I suppose it’s called networking these days.
I cannot say I remember particular bus drivers or conductors. Faces did become familiar though day in and day out but that was about it. I can only recall one occasion when the bus broke down and everyone had to dismount and wait for the next one. Other memories were the days it rained when the juniors with satchels on their back looked like hunch backs under their raincoats. Plastic raincoats, called mackintoshes in those days, were in, a popular one was Pac-a-Mac. But whatever raincoat you had it seemed the day it rained, the buses were over full for some reason. All windows were closed and the heat generated by a bus load of people, the windows would steam up. Everyone dripped on each other and at each bus stop the next miserable soaked individuals climbed aboard. Rainy days on buses were not the best,

Another observation was that upstairs there was no standing room allowed. Conductors saw to that regulation. Downstairs, standing room was allowed and on some days the more the merrier! I must say that generally the interior of the buses were perfectly acceptable. The Durban Corporation saw to the upkeep of the interiors and torn seats were hardly found. Maybe people had more respect for public property. There was very little graffiti come to think about it, the occasional arrow pierced heart with initials scratched in to the paint work and one scribbling I do remember were the words “Hoof Hearted” written in a prominent place at the front of one bus. Spray cans did not exist then.

Funnily enough after school the Nursing Homes bus was the more popular. I think this was because it was a leisurely stroll and along the way was the Glenwood Supply Store where one could get a Coke or something to eat. To an extent as well, the rush home would be delayed because if one was “going steady” there was a rendezvous to be kept in town so that you would accompany your other half, home.

I mentioned the third bus route. This was the least popular but in times of necessity was there to be used. This was the Glenwood bus route. This was a trolley bus route and would wind its way through town, then lower Umbilo, Glenwood, through Bath Road (an open thoroughfare then) to MacDonald Rd. where it headed up towards the terminus. The terminus was marked with an Art Deco type building topped with a large square clock. The building stood under an enormous Natal Fig Tree. Here the trolley bus would stop and get its timing right and then make a U turn heading back to town. Beyond the Chelmsford Rd. intersection, MacDonald Rd narrowed to a single road and became very steep ending up at Haraldene Rd and South Ridge Road , virtually at St Henry’s School. Using the Glenwood bus one had quite a long walk from the terminus to the school and all uphill and on the way home one had the steep downhill trip to negotiate. I recall that on the steep downhill there were large trees that dropped large seed pods. These were rather dangerous as when you stepped on one you slipped uncontrollably. However you had the dare devils and I saw boys get one seed pod under each shoe and slide down the hill on them. A skate board precursor!

The Glenwood bus was used by the Glenwood schoolboys. They had to walk to the bus stop at the end of Bath Road which had a small building attached to it. Bulwer Park was behind. I have an idea there was a toilet in the building for the use of the Parkie (Park keeper) who used to patrol the grounds. Bath Road was closed when MacDonald Road was widened and is now a cul de sac.

All the years I went St Henry’s I can only remember two cars that used to drop off pupils in the mornings. Everyone else bussed, some even coming by train to Durban and then catching a bus. There was a general understanding that the bigger boys would see that the younger ones got to the school safely. Parents quite happily put their Class 1s on the bus and waved goodbye. I doubt that would happen today.

I must say bussing to school was something one accepted and treated as normal even from an early age. You made your way to school and back home on your own. You learnt to do it with confidence and as you grew older it did give you the mobility to move around to see friends, go into town, go to the movies, etc without being dependent on your parents. Those who experienced it I am sure realise now, how much freedom we really had.

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7 Responses

  1. Mark Campbell
    | Reply

    That was a great trip down memory lane, Gerald. As a St. Henry’s boy, albeit of a later vintage, the memories came flooding back. Living in Durban North I spent a good deal of my time catching buses. I was fortunate to get a lift to school on most mornings (5 of us in a Beetle) although sometimes my Dad dropped me and my brother in town where he worked. We would then catch the bus in Smith Street and followed the routes that you have detailed.
    When traveling from town to Durban North, we had the choice of 3 routes – the preferred Virginia 760 which travelled along Hoylake Drive and which took us closest to our home; the Red Hill 700 which dropped us off at the corner of Broadway and Kensington Drive; or the Northlands 740 where we got off at the top of Broadway outside Our Lady of Fatima.
    Unlike some of the more popular routes, the service to Durban North was less frequent. And you had a problem if you missed the last bus (which in my mind was probably around 5pm). This was a challenge if you had sport after school. I vividly recall changing from sports gear into school uniform, running to one of the stops close to the school, running through town and worried about missing the ‘last bus’. One of the consequences was that you learned about the little alleys that ran between the main streets of Smith, West and Pine. Whilst the location of the bus stop seemed to change quite regularly, the Durban North-bound stops were always in Pine Street. From here they found their way onto Umgeni Road, around the Windsor Park golf course and across the Athlone Bridge.
    Travelling in this fashion certainly created a sense of independence.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Mark,
    No doubt whatever school you went to the bus service was well used and everyone would have a tale to tell. I am completely unfamiliar with the Durban North bus routes. I cannot even recall where the terminus was in Pine Street. You say you travelled across the Athlone Bridge. Was this the old iron girder bridge or the new concrete one which replaced it? I also seem to have a recollection that the bus service to Durban North was only serviced by the long red single deckers they introduced in the mid 60s. These long red single deckers were also solely used on the Trans Berea if you remember that bus route. It ran from somewhere near DHS across to Durban Girls High School. I need some one who used it to confirm the route. It ran along Essenwood Rd across Berea Rd and then along Manning Rd.

    On my recent visit to St Henry’s I notice that the rather ornate front gate they had, corner Marists Rd and South Ridge Rd, has been replaced by one more ordinary. Also with all the new extensions, the approach to the school which was via a rather steep and slightly winding climb to the quad in front of the school, is now no longer an access point. This bank and area used to be a garden with lots of rose bushes tended by Brother Adalbeaud who was the school gardener. The side entrance in Jacques Rd is new, the Adalbeaud Hall where the first school dance was held in 1959 is now re purposed as class rooms, and the old Armoury is now a storeroom. Things change in time.

  3. Allan Jackson
    | Reply

    Thanks Gerald, your post brings back a lot of memories. I didn’t have to catch the bus to Glenwood as I lived close enough to walk but I certainly used the Trans Berea (was it #98?) to get to and from school from Class 1 onward. I can’t remember ever being picked up by car except when I came down with the lurghi during the school day.

    Of course, I used the bus often at other times too and remember the trolley buses which had to stop periodically to reconnect themselves to the overhead cables. There were oddities caused by apartheid as well. I have a vague recollection that black people could sit right at the back of the bus before the green mambas were introduced. If they were escorting a white child, however, they could sit anywhere.

  4. Ray.Jackson
    | Reply

    Gerald, what a memory you have! I’m surprised however that you didn’t remember that the driver on Tuesday morning had a pimple on the left side of his nose!😁 I was at Glenwood High in 1949/50 having arrived from the UK in 1948. Bussed in every morning from Fynnlands (remember watching the silos at Umbilo being built in a continuous ring formation.gradually pulled up.as the build progressed). I played the saxophone in the cadet band and remember how the case got heavier and heavier as I walked up from the bus stop in ?Umbilo Road. We would buy Cokes from.the shop on the corner, put a finger over the top of the bottle, shake it well and squirt it into our mouths. Can’t stand the taste of Coca Cola now!
    I remember lying on.my .back in the grass outside the school, looking up at the sky through the Jacaranda tree leaves and thinking “who said blue and green should never be seen”? I think that was what they used to say about clothing.

  5. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Ray
    Thanks for the compliment. Yes I do have a fair memory and so much comes to mind. I assume you are slightly older than me if you (I assume again) finished your schooling 1949/50. Strangely enough I remember a tearoom very close to the corner of Umbilo and MacDonald Roads. Why it rings a bell is because a class mate of mine’s parents, Mr and Mrs Haskins owned the tearoom. Fynnlands to Town was a long trip and though I never made that bus trip remember Lighthouse Road, Bluff Road, Edwin Swales Drive and Umbilo Road was the route. Those were the days before the Southern Freeway. I remember the silos right next to Umbilo Road and occasionally a shunting train would hold up the traffic whilst the trucks laden with wheat were shunted across Umbilo Rd and parked next to the silos. The silos belonged to Union Flour Mills. A bit further along was the Congella Fire Station as well as more silos if I recall opposite in Fenniscowles Road. Re the Blue and Green sorry no help at all !!

  6. Jacques Joubert
    | Reply

    Dear Guys

    I am an old Durbanite
    Living in Australia and thinking often, as time goes on, about a wonderful childhood in Durban. Such a privilege.
    I have this site as a go to place for reviving old memories but I wonder if there are other sites related to both Durban and Natal in the old (er) days. Please let me know

    Jacques Joubert

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