Distant Memories

posted in: Mini Memories 18

Reader Gordon Forrester left a comment on an earlier post about the 1950s but I thought I would give it its own diary entry because it covers quite a bit of ground and may provoke some discussion. He wrote:

My memories go back to earlier times. I remember the King and Queen of England visiting Durban. I remember an aircraft crash on the golf course near the Durban Club. I remember the Pat Fairfield motor race in 1948. Dennis Cotterall and Basil Beall. It was a handicap. Also the Bluff Motor Cycle races.
The riots in Durban when the blacks beat up the indians, and having our car searched in Clairwood. The Sunday evening movies at Wanderers in Montclair showing hired movies from African Consolidated Theatres using a 16mm projector borrowed from Coca Cola. Even watching African Mirror in the Princes bioscope where i saw myself winning the Durban Centenary Soapbox Derby Championship. I still have my minature replica.
The Oxford, Roxy, and the other continuous bio-cafe that burnt down with Henwoods in West Street, where they served you a green cooldrink or icecream, as you watched the show. I saw ‘To Please a Lady’ with Clark Gable about 5 times one day. It was about the Indy 500.
Nathan Smith’s panelbeaters in Brickhill Road and meetings of the Motor Racing Marshals Association at a brewery hotel on the Esplanade, Riviera, i think. There was even a floating tea-room out in the Bay. You took a ferry from the Gardiner Street Jetty. The trams that did the Berea circuit and trolley buses that had to be connected again when a trolley came off the wires. The Cavalcade War Effort Show in Albert Park, and the Torch Commando with flickering torches outside the City Hall.
Also the visit of Pat Boone to Durban and his shows at the big Icedrome. Hoy Park Speedway with Buddy Fuller, and Stirling Moss at the Westmead Circuit near Pinetown. We even had Skid Kids and a league.
My granny drove a truck for the Ex-Service Woman’s Cartage Company with WW2 salvage vehicles, and Durban had a telephone exchange in Pine Street near the old Mercury newspaper. Grey Street had a delicious curry take-away, and Shimwells had fancy new bicycles. Hercules, Phillips and then the best Raleigh models. The Nursing home near Greyville racecourse and the San on the Berea where my broken neck was fixed. Lovely nurses! Wonderful random memories. Thank you, for them all, Durban. Sadly, a City that is no more.

Another email from Gordon Arrived a short time later. It kicks off with an anecdote about his grandmother, mentioned above, whose name will be familiar to most Durbanites. He wrote:

My granny was Mrs. Fin or Dockside Annie, although she was actually Rachel Finlayson, the lady who gave her name to the Beach Baths in Dutban. A swimming coach of renown. Her husband, my grandfather was head of the Durban Corporation Telephone Department and his name was Gordon Black Finlayson. He died before my birth in 1938. He came from Aberdeen in Scotland in 1896.
my same granny was Mrs. Fin or Dockside Annie, although she was actually Rachel Finlayson, the lady who gave her name to the Beach Baths in Dutban. A swimming coach of renown. Her husband, my grandfather was head if the Durban Corporation Telephone Department and his name was Gordon Black Finlayson. He died before my birth in 1938. He came from Aberdeen in Scotland in 1896.
I remember the West Street Groyne and barbed wire on the beach, during the war. The black out curtains and an air raid shelter in the grounds of flats in Hunt road.
The Christmas lights at Payne Brothers, Greenacres, and OK Bazaars where they competed to be Durban’s best.
The library and Museum at the back of the City Hall, And the Little Theatre in a lane between the Princes bioscope and the Royal Hotel. I sang a solo of Greensleeves with the Park View School Choir there.
I also remember Bakers horse and cart that brought the bread down Hunt Road and us kids sat on the back step for a ride. “Sammy”, who carried two baskets of fruit and vegetables, hung from a long pole, over his shoulder.
Nutty Toffees, 4 for a 1d.
The railway bus ride to PMB for a day’s outing, with a stop at The Valley of 1000 Hills for tea and cake in Drummond. I preferred an icecream. Then from Pmb Railway Station to the Botanical Gardens by bus, for a lunch time picnic.
The big household shows at the Wool Market in Umbilo, the talent shows at the Planet Theatre opposite the Umbilo Fire Station, and being allowed to slide down the brass pole by Captain? Goulding.
I also remember the factory tours. Lion Match Factory at Stamford Hill, Lever Brothers at Maydon Wharf, Dunlop Tyres in the Congella area. The Dry Docks where they pumped the water out and the ship settled on its keel for maintenance.
The Municipal housing developments at Virginia, Sherwood and Woodlands. The double story home of Charlie Barends, SA champion jockey and the swimming pool he graciously allowed the neighbourhood kids to use in Montclair and Mr. Wayne’s stable, where we had a boxing ring. And the horse riding stables in Montclair Road. The bicycle races through the Montclair bush, and even the sawmill up above the park.
And the row boats for hire on the Isipingo River with it’s tea garden up river a ways. We played pirates so happily there.
Being taught to play soccer by Topper Brown, and the soccer ground near the big Sugar Mill next to a river in Clairwood. The Union Flour Mill with its tall silos and the bridge over the railway line at Umbilo Station.
Those were the days, my friend, We thought they would never end.

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18 Responses

  1. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Gordon
    I would assume you are slightly older than I am as your early recollections are slightly before my time. However many of the later ones say post 1949 I can relate to. One interesting memory is the Floating Tearoom. I attach a couple of photos of what I assume were taken aboard the floating tearoom which apparently was called Veldskoen Castle. These were taken roundabout 1948. The one picture shows my sister and I aboard the “tearoom” and the other is of a person I do not know. Can you confirm whether the Veldskoen Castle relates to the floating tearoom. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the floating tearoom showing its entirety.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Gordon
      Here is a picture I have of Rachel Finlayson outside the Baths named after her. I do not have a date for the picture.
      Rachel Finlayson outside the Baths named after here.

      I am led to believe that Horace M. Finlayson was her son and he was the last Manager of the Durban Corporation Telephone System before the entity was taken over by the Government in April 1969. I was not aware that there was another Finlayson as Manager.

  2. Anne Erikson
    | Reply

    Dear Gerald
    I have looked at this picture of ‘Mrs Fin’ with great interest. She taught me to swim in the old “Town Baths’ in the centre of Durban, near Medwood Gardens. I am speaking about round 1950 when I was almost six years old. The baths were then covered by a wooden roof, as I remember it, so it was an indoor pool. Later the roof was removed and the baths were in open view from Medwood Gardens.
    Mrs Fin ran a swimming club at that pool, called ‘Cygnus’ (Latin name for a swan) swimming club.
    The method Mrs Fin employed to teach me to swim was to tie a canvas belt around my waist attached to a rope. I then had to get into the water. Mrs Fin then walked round the edge of the pool holding the end of the rope and I had to swim! Each time I went under the water she yanked me up again! I learnt pretty quickly by this method.

  3. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Anne
    Thanks for that insight into the Town Baths. I do not think they were accorded a “special name” as all the others were. I had heard of the wooden roof but that was not in my time. I do recall the Indian gentlemen who took in your clothing and were the attendants. Strangely I cannot remember Indian females at the baths as attendants for ladies. Mrs Finlayson was related to the late Des Morley whom I worked with and he related how well known she was in swimming circles. Her son Horace, was the last Manager of the Durban Corporation Telephone System before it was taken over by the Dept. Of Posts and Telecommunications in 1969. To be honest I am not sure if the Town Baths are still open today.

  4. Anne Erikson
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald

    No, the Town Baths were just known as that. They didn’t have a special name.

    I remember Indian women working at the “Beach Baths” as the Rachel Finlayson Baths were formerly called. They gave you a wire hanging basket to put your clothes in and there was a rubber wrist band on the top of the hanger, which you had to wear and produce to get your clothes back afterwards. You could also change there if you were going onto the beach. The changing facilities were not just for the pool.

    I can’t remember the same process at the Town Baths, but perhaps the attendants had gone home by the time the kids came to the swimming club, as it was held in the evening and the pool was closed to the public during those hours.

    The Town Baths are apparently no longer there. Someone with more recent knowledge of Durban will be able to tell you.


  5. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Anne
    Thanks for that info. You correctly describe the process at the Beach Baths. The hangers had a metal plate with a number painted on it which corresponded to the number on your rubber band. I always used their services as one could go to the beach not hindered by having to worry about your clothes. And then the pool area was also well grassed on the one side and of course the attraction of “local talent”. I can understand the closure of the Town Baths with the change in demographics.

  6. Donald
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald ,

    I am doing some research into the incident involving the shooting of Sea Cottage in 1966 and am trying to find out the address of the Monaco Club and any other information pertaining to that club ?


    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Donald
      First I hear of such a club so unfortunately no help at all. What kind of a club were they? I remember the shooting of Sea Cottage and it making headline news in the papers. If I remember it was a small calibre gun used, .22 .

  7. Anne Erikson
    | Reply

    Dear Donald

    Sorry, I can’t help you with any information about this.


  8. Donald
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald ,

    I did send you a email with some comprehensive information in respect of this subject.

    I too have never heard of such a night club called Monaco and wonder if the current narrative has possibly changed over the years from the Monte Carlo night Club ?

    Could you please consult your famous Durban directory and see if such a night club as Monaco existed in 1966 and , if so , the location at which it was located ?

  9. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Donald
    If you used the Contact Us method of sending your information to FAD then that went to Allan Jackson who “owns” the site. I do not recall receiving the info. I did reply that I could find no info on the Monaco Club in the directories I have 1965 and 1968 of that era. See above postings. The only reference to Monaco was Monaco Motors who were agents for Alfa Romeo cars and to Monte Carlo was a sweet shop at 2 Beach Arcade which now no longer exists. No reference to a Monte Carlo night club. If I recall there were very few or no intimate “night clubs” in Durban at that time if one distinguishes between a night club per se and an exclusive night time restaurant.

    | Reply

    Hi Gerald ,

    Thank you for that information , it is most appreciated.

    What was the name of that night club that existed for many years in that odd shape tapered building on the city end of Umgeni Road just before it became Soldiars Way? It was the last building in Umgeni Road on your left hand side as you approached the city from the north and is still there today ?

  11. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Don
    That was the Cosmo Club. In the 60s a very different kind of night club. I actually went there once with a few of my mates just to go and see what it was like. When I say different I mean different especially for those days in the early 60s when restrictions “were in place” and genders were straightforward. By the way there is a modern day picture of it on this site. Do a SEARH for Cosmo Club.

  12. Donald
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald ,

    Thank you , do not know if I want to look at pictures of anything in ” modern ” day Durban ?

  13. Marcus
    | Reply

    Hi gerald I am lynette e robinson about sea cottage it was a set up yet still went on to win a bloke by the name of Johnny was apparently paid to do the job so to speak and I am trying to recall his name maybe Marshall if I can remember correctly sea cottage was one of the horses taken down to the beach for morning gallops the stables were not out of town at the time the horse was shot when it was either on it’s way to or from morning gallops I have a
    Associated with some of the racing folk back then and remember also the night cub julius Logan was the prop of the Cosmo night club which back then had class and was where some of the cream of fur ban durban society would spend Saturday nights dancing till the wee hours of the morning friday nights were boys night out and so.e m some would spend their time playing poker crown and anchor etc an d as it was illegal due to the verkrampter gov it was not a well known venue the men would take their wives or lady friends clubbing on saturday nights k evening dress was the norm the ladies went to have their hair done and nails manicured wore evening dresses evening coats and gloves buckets of champagne on ice the best steak eggs and chips chips in town chicken in a basket could be ordered and prepared freshly cooked on the premises k basil matches metaxes brand leader and anita aud Zucker sang for the patrons that were from all the classy folk b jockeys race horse owners trainers dockers bookmakers and so òn after julius dìeď the cup some time later became e ha ģ òuþ n for who whites whores it was so bad that the owners divided the club a sign the jungle was situated on the far side and the side nearest to the entrance wass the quiet side most of the women were ot urbanites and did not behave as ladies let a face it they’ve become a breed worth noting now go safely friends of the last British outpost good old durbs

  14. ivan
    | Reply

    i remember basil beall the racing driver. he was a friend of jack “pick a box” bryant who had a radio show called pick a box. the contestant could choose between opening a box in the wall that may or may not contain a valuable prize or taking the money on offer, so it was the “money or the box”. i think it aired for a few years and was quite popular in its day

  15. Gordon Forrester
    | Reply

    Yes I am old. 82 to be honest. But still working.
    I remember a night club next to the West Street Groyne which I never visited, hillclimbs up Berman Drive, being a comedy diver at a show in the Beach Baths, before my Granny gave the Baths her name, the Scout and Cubs camp in the bush at Berman Drive, Applesammy and Naidoo, on the radio, and thinking about it the Veldskoen on the Bay.
    Group Captain Wiggell who flew Catalinas and Sunderland Flying Boats from their base near Salisbury Island, listening to Viccie Toweel beat Manuel Ortiz for the world Bantamweight Title, buying a wind breaker in Grey Street, winning a Silver Tea Service on Pick a Box, freewheeling bike racing in Norwich Crescent and Atherstone Place in Woodlands, riding horses in the sugar cane, and riding on the back of a flat bed truck as we went around Durban singing Christmas Carol’s for hospitals and old age homes in 4 part harmony.
    Things you dont see today!

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Gordon
      You are a wee bit older than I but some of your memories do come to mind. Wheras I do not remember Viccie Toweel beating Ortiz I do remember I think his first or second defence against the Australian Jimmy Carruthers. The bell rang for the first round, Viccie was busy crossing himself and Carruthers knocked him out! This was all on radio mind. Of interest I had no idea of what the Veldskoen Castle really looked like although I had pictures of me on it with my sister and Dad. Just recently a friend of mine posted a classic picture of it and showed what it actually looked like. A strange floating vessel. Here is the picture.
      Veldskoen Castle on Durban Bay

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