The House on the Hill. Entabeni.

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The Place on The Hill …. Entabeni Hospital 1930-1980.

with acknowledgement to Marilyn Poole. Click on pictures to enlarge.

One of the fascinations I have is looking at old postcards and photographs of buildings that once adorned what must have been, a very beautiful Durban. I am thinking about the early 1900s. The stately town centre buildings, the sweeping Victoria Embankment and the graceful homes on the Berea. Sadly most of them are gone now. More’s the pity. Which brings me to the Place on the Hill.

I recently came across a book with the title above which I snapped up being so cheap. It is the story of Entabeni Hospital 1930 to 1980. Entabeni is one of those Zulu names just about everyone in Durban knows mainly I suppose, because it is the name of a hospital and one may have some sort of link to. Maybe born there, was hospitalised there or sadder still, someone died there.

I have an obscure connection through school days at Marist Brothers St Henry’s. When I arrived back in Durban in 1954, (I was 10), and continued my schooling at St Henry’s, my late Mother had heard that the only bus to get to school was the No 89 Manor Gardens which would drop me outside the main school gate. So not knowing any better I dutifully waited for the No 89 bus. Occasionally the bus driver would stop as a matter of course at the bus stop recognising the blazer and I would board because all the other boys were on it already. Now in those days you pretty well learnt your street smarts through the playground or listening to those who knew. That is how I learnt about Entabeni. Through classmates, I was told that there was another bus I could catch which travelled the same route more or less, to and from town. Accompanying a group after school, instead of heading down to South Ridge Road, we left via the school gate in Marists Road, walked along Falmouth Avenue, into Glenwood Drive and entered the Entabeni Nursing Home Grounds. One entered through two big pillars which flanked the drive way. They were painted white. Just into the grounds was a very big tree and under it were placed two or three wooden garden benches. This was the Nursing Homes Route 88 bus terminus. There were no DMTB signs indicating it was a bus stop or terminus but invariably you would find some nurses seated on the benches. The road entrance to the nursing home / terminus came off South Ridge Road and was merely a semi-circle, in and out. After that I used the Entabeni bus stop just about every afternoon as the buses were more frequent.

To be honest, I cannot have paid much attention to the hospital buildings in the background because during my time at school, major changes which are mentioned in the book took place circa 1958-1960 and these I cannot recall.

To clarify some of the statements made in the book, I have referred to a 1938 Durban Directory to get more information. These and my comments are indicated in brackets in bold italics.

According to the book, written by Marilyn Poole printed by the Home Journal Press Durban in 1980, the story of Entabeni goes back to November 1929 and I think I will start as she does …….

“The air was heavy with midday heat and the scent of roses as a car drew up outside the home of Mr. Frank Stevens, at No 148 South Ridge Road, Durban one November day in 1929. The spring sunshine splashed through the fronds of the palm trees to form golden pools on the lawns, while the wooden trellis verandas protected the spacious double storey house from the worst of the glare. Pride of India trees, pink floribundas and cannas competed for colour, and the low hum of bees hung around the blossom as the sound of the engine faded into silence.
The group of men stood on the pavement, their backs to the magnificent view of Durban harbour, and looked searchingly at the house. They were Alfred Cooper, chairman of a committee formed to try to found a new hospital, Dr Aubrey Radford and Dr Walburgh (leading medical officers of the Railways and Harbours Sick Fund), Mr Whitehouse, the Systems Manager and the Chairman of the Sick Fund Board.”

In 1843 Natal became a separate colony of the British Empire and 50 years later, 1893, Responsible Government was granted. This led to a rapid expansion of civic services. By 1900 there were 12 government controlled hospitals in Natal. Addington was started in 1879 and Grey’s in Pietermaritzburg built 1857 were the only two that provided nursing personnel training.

Two private nursing hospitals were started roundabout this time, the Berea Nursing Home (56 McCord Road off Ridge Road) staffed by nurses brought out from England and the Sanatorium(Chelmsford Road now St. Augustine’s) which was staffed by the Catholic Augustinian Sisters. During these early years, Durban had insufficient trained nursing staff and midwives. Much of the day to day staff in the hospitals were African attendants, later Indians being used whilst female wards demanded matrons and nurses. Because of the work load, not much time was given to proper training and instruction and this was further complicated when outbreaks of dysentery occurred which apparently was common. Nursing at hospitals was becoming critical.

In January 1929 the Railways and Harbour Sick Fund called a mass meeting to be held at the Railways Institute Hall, Pine Street to address the concern of the shortage of hospital beds in Durban. Addington was battling to cope with only 600 beds and the overflow going to the Berea Nursing Home and the Sanatorium soon filled what spare beds they had. Though the Railways Sick Fund paid for the services provided by the Berea and Sanatorium, the two could hardly cope. Then another nursing institute that was being used, the Musgrave Nursing Home (not listed in 1938 Directory? 1958 Directory 184 Musgrave Road) gave notice of termination of its contract with the Sick Fund and the need for a solution now became critical. Following this the Railways proposed that a company called the Railwaymen’s Co-operative Hospital Company be formed with members becoming shareholders at an outlay of £ 1 per share. The registered share capital to be raised was £10 000. The Sick Fund membership at the time was 10 202 members and the committee was certain it could raise the capital. However when the committee had started to look at suitable properties for a hospital soon realised that £10 000 would be insufficient and a figure of £20 000 was now proposed. This change was again put to Sick Fund members who voted unanimously to go ahead.

The founding resolution read “for the purpose of acquiring, equipping, staffing and administering a nursing home in the interests of and for the benefit of members of the Sick Fund.”

The meeting also decided that shares be sold in lots of 1 to 100 and that no one person or body could hold more than 100 shares. Shares could only be sold to Sick Fund members, retired pensioners and Railway Medical Officers. 75% of shares were to be held by Sick Fund members so control would be in their hands and each shareholder was entitled to only one vote regardless of how many shares the member held.

In September 1929, the list to prospective shareholders was sent out pleading for prompt action and prompt payment. With the Nursing Homes doors closed to the Sick Fund, raising of the capital became top priority so a stop order facility was introduced with members having 2 shillings and sixpence (25 cents) deducted off their monthly pay.

The name of the Company was changed to Sick Fund Members’ Nursing Home Limited and again finally to The Railwaymen’s Nursing Home Limited. The provisional directors were as follows:
Alfred Cooper clerk Chairman, James Fyfe fitter and turner, Thomas Beresford train driver, John Yunnie station master, James Glaister telegraphist Vice Chairman , John McKenzie clerk-in–charge, William McInnes assistant track foreman, and J.R. Finlayson Secretary. Incredibly there was not a single salaried man amongst them, no management degrees, no accounting qualifications, no commercial directorships, and no business experience to speak of. The lawyers appointed were Thorpe and Hands who realised the rough road ahead for this inexperienced lot. The appointed Bankers were Barclays (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas) and they too soon realised the uphill this group would face. Despite facing substantial obstacles, the committee called its first meeting and this was held in, of all places, the Parcels Office at the Durban Station. Amid parcels and luggage, and doors closed to shut out the noise of shunting engines, the registration certificate of the new company was passed round hand to hand. A quote was received for the printing of 11000 copies of the prospectus, memorandum and Articles of Association, application and stop order forms. Advertisements were also to be placed in the Mercury and Natal Advertiser.

The choice of a property to be turned into a Nursing Home was the next task. Ironically the Musgrave Nursing Home itself was on the market at £30 000 which was more than could be afforded. Houses in Cato Road (Cato Road Nursing Home), Davenport Road and Essenwood Road (Eskotene Nursing Home) were also looked at. Although within budget all were declined. (Interestingly 16 Nursing Homes are listed as operating in Durban in 1938). The Musgrave Nursing Home was again looked at as well as a property called the Manor House. Then the property owned by Mr Frank Stevens at 148 Ridge Road was brought to the committee’s attention. Mr Stevens was asking £16000 for his property, prepared to accept half up front and the remainder at 6% p.a. interest. Stevens then dropped the price by £1000 and this moved the committee to seriously consider 148 Ridge Road.

Who was Frank Stevens? Frank Stevens was an English immigrant from Penzance, Cornwall. He arrived in South Africa in 1880 at the age of 30 and started a shoe and boot business in Pietermaritzburg, The business flourished as general conditions were exceptionally hard on footwear. Business was so good that he opened branches as far afield as Johannesburg and Newcastle and soon had ten stores to his name. He had a store in West Street. A feature of his shop was a very large golden boot which hung outside and became a landmark as a pointer for strangers to Durban. The premises were demolished in 1951 and the golden boot was handed over to the Durban Museum as a memento by his sons. (From 1938 Durban Directory: 389 West Street Frank Stevens (Pty) Ltd Boot Store. 389 West Street was next to the OK Bazaars. A passage called Stevens Passage existed in 1938 between the OK Bazaars and Frank Stevens’ store which must have been double storeyed as 4 tenants were accommodated on the same site. Next to Frank Stevens’ store was a frock and hat shop run by Joan Laurie. This was later redeveloped as Dodo’s and Dodo’s Arcade.)

Portrait of Frank Stevens
Frank Steven married Kate Green, daughter of Mr. Morton Green J.P. who was also very prominent in Natal’s history. The book states that Frank Stevens died in 1935 at the age of 85 years old. His wife had died a few months before him.

Frank Stevens’ entrepreneurship did not end at boot and shoe sales. He bought a farm in Sarnia from a Captain Drake in 1894 having been told that gold had been discovered on it. He set about prospecting for it. A shaft was sunk and about 100 meters down, gold was struck but uneconomical to mine. The Paradise Valley housing scheme now stands on this farm. Frank Stevens then went into the brick making business. He brought out a Mr Steele from Scotland to look after the technical side of brick making and using clay found in Sarnia, established a profitable brickworks. When other Durban brickworks became too competitive he closed the brickworks and sold all his equipment to the Storm family who in turn started the Coronation Brick and Tile Company. He was now left with the brickwork site and thousands of left over bricks stocks. He decided to use the bricks to build a hotel on the brickwork site. Before he could open the hotel he was approached by one, Alfred Moseley who had arrived in Natal at the time of the Anglo Boer War. Moseley wanted to establish a hospital for the war wounded and heard of the hotel being built at Pinetown Bridge. Moseley tracked down Stevens and Stevens touched by Moseley’s pleas gave in and allowed the hotel to be used as a hospital. Stevens even added another building to provide for additional beds. Moseley ran the hospital for 6 months before the Imperial Government took over. When asked by the Government what the charge would be, Mr Steven’s replied “the same amount as I charged Mr Moseley. Nothing! “

The Imperial Government called the hospital the Princess Christian Hospital and thousands of wounded casualties of the Anglo Boer War were treated there. For his generosity in this regard Mr Stevens was made a Companion of the Honourable Order of St Michael and St George. Eventually when hostilities ended, the Princess Christian Hospital was returned to Frank Stevens and the hospital reverted to what it was originally intended for and became the Fairydene Hotel. (The Fairy Dene Hotel still stands in Sarnia and is now an old age care complex. As a matter of interest not far away there is a brick/block yard that has been there for many years. There is also the arched bridge (Pinetown Bridge?) one drives under to get to Underwood Road. And to add to this there is a small railway siding on the left hand side which possibly was a place where war wounded arriving by train were unloaded and taken to the hospital close by.)

The book does not indicate when Frank Stevens bought the land at 148 Ridge Road bar that it originally was part of George Cato’s Cato Manor Estate which was a vast area of land. Subdivisions were sold off. Stevens had a great attraction to what George Cato had called his “Place on the Hill”, bought the site and built his family home on it calling it Intabene. It was a gracious double storeyed home and so captured the public’s attention that in a series of Homes of Natalians that appeared in the May 1907 Mercury, “Intabene” was included in the feature. In later years it was discovered that Intabene was not the Zulu name for “place on the hill” and this was corrected to Entabeni as it is today. (Place Names of Natal: Entabeni: Hospital high on the Berea overlooking Durban Bay and originally the home of Frank Stevens the “Boot King” of South Africa. Entabeni is Zulu for “High on the Hill” or “On top of the Hill”).

In 1907 Frank Stevens was 57 years old when his house was featured in the Mercury and now approximately 22 years later, November 1929, members of the Railwaymen’s Nursing Home Limited were at his home giving the property another appraisal. The required capital to purchase the property had yet to be raised and again the Musgrave Road Nursing Home was reconsidered, being a going concern. An offer of R20 000 to the Musgrave Road Nursing Home was rejected so on 4th May 1930, the committee decided to make a formal offer to Mr Stevens. The offer was £15 000 and the terms were more than generous.

It was not only the purchase price that the committee had to concern itself with but also the cost of alterations necessary to convert the house into a nursing home. This was estimated at £24 000. Besides that hospital equipment had to ordered, a theatre block provided for and a Matron to be appointed. On June 30th the post of Matron was offered to Miss K.D. Wallace of Graaf Reinet at a salary of £265 per annum plus uniform plus laundry. A Mrs Brookes was given the post of cook / house keeper at £120 per annum and Mr E John a railway pensioner was appointed caretaker at a salary of £180 per annum plus board. The South African Railways and Harbours were now drawn into the project and their architect Mr Beresford Smith liaised with Mr Drew of Drew and Shuttleworth who were the contractors to carry out the alterations. Matron Wallace arrived at the end of July to find the hospital a shambles. Holes knocked out of walls for extra doors, partition walls going up, and rubble strewn all over. But by sheer dint and determination, the committee was able to note in the minutes … 26th September 1930 Hospital’s first patient.

The book continues with the nursing home’s trials and tribulations as costs to keep up with the demand and modernisation of equipment had to be met. As mentioned in the book, the Railways Administration had never put one single penny into Entabeni and refused to become financially involved. To cover the costs of expansion it was a continual round of applications to local banks and building societies. It even approached the Durban Corporation Superannuation Fund.

In July 1931, Entabeni Nursing Home was officially opened.

1935 Frank Stevens died.

Significant dates leading up to its Golden Jubilee.

In 1937 Entabeni managed to raise another bond with the Natal Building Society. Mr Stevens now deceased again came to Entabeni’s aid as the second bond was only agreed to on condition Mr Stevens’s Trust was the holder. This bond was used to build the Nurses Quarters built on the right hand side of the house.

A picture of Entabeni Nursing Home as it was circa 1938 with some of the balconies enclosed to provide additional accommodation. To the right the Nurses Home which was later demolised along with the cottages on the left.

1948, No 131 Ridge Road came on the market and the board approved its purchase and the house was used as additional nurses’ quarters.

May 1940 a new building called the Fyfe wing was opened. It was named after Mr J Fyfe who was a director for two spells when Entabeni first opened. Fyfe wing built in Art Deco style flanked the original house on the left and still stands today.

1941, Entabeni officially became known as Entabeni Hospital at the request of the South African Medical Council. The SAMC was averse to any nursing training schools which were not hospitals. Matron Stoney who was appointed on 1st November 1937 and served through the war years to 1946 and also oversaw the training aspect at Entabeni.

1955 the Trigonometrical Survey Dept. were given permission to place a trig. beacon on the roof of Fyfe Wing. (I remember this as being a beacon with black and white quartered boards.)

1958 Decision taken to demolish Frank Stevens’s house and erect Finlayson Block, a five storey building.

Demolition of Frank Stevens house.

1959 The holding company, Railwaymen’s Nursing Home Ltd changes its name to Entabeni Hospital Ltd.

1960 Finlayson Block is opened.

1970 A volatile takeover bid by a Johannesburg Consortium is eventually turned down.

1976 Entabeni admits its 250 000th patient.

An interesting read. I did not know that in the main, it was a hospital for Railway employees. I do know that shares to raise capital were also offered to Durban Corporation employees. My late father in law who worked for the Durban Corporation had shares which he later sold. Pictures shown are taken from the book.

Entabeni Hospital today is part of the Life Group of Hospitals.

1965 Nursing Examinations Finalists.
Front Row L to R R Melville, M. Hale, E Vorster, B Whittaker, E Farrant Asst Matron, D Chilman Matron, V Zinn Sister Tutor, L Wesson, H Dalling, J Johnson.

Back Row M McGregor (obscured), S Growdon, G Telford, J Coull, R van Dyk, A Bonsall, J Peagam, B Dix, C Paul, J Mumford, R page, G Gaze.

View of Durban and the Harbour from the Top of the Hill

Aeriel View 1973.

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2 Responses

  1. Sandy Terreblanche
    | Reply

    Thank you for a very interesting and illuminating article. I was actually trawling around hoping to find some photos of the restaurant in Payne Bros when I came on your article. There was a mural, maybe wallpaper in the restaurant that amused me very much when my mother and I lunches or had tea there.

    • Gerald Buttigieg
      |

      Sorry Sandy no recollection of Payne’s Restaurant.

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