Durban Pot Pourri Fifteen

Durban Pot Pourri 15

The Town Hall later the Post Office    Part 2

This week its pictures of the Town Hall later the Post Office over the years. There are quite a few so I selected the better ones and adding some comment of personal memories.  Clicking on the picture should enlarge.


This picture is indicated as being 1885. That was the year the Town Hall was opened.  Knowing that Gardiner Street ran next to the Town Hall I would say the buildings on the left stretch from Gardiner Street to Mark Lane. Mark Lane runs from West St through to Pine Street. Originally it was an open drain running through a property. The Council purchased the land and ran a barrel drain down to West Street. The surface was hardened and turned into a lane. Buildings that stood / stand on the left today are the FNB Bank Building, Randles Bros. and Hudson, Castle Arcade and 320 West St. Looks like West St yet to be tarred.


In 1887 Queen Victoria celebrated the Golden Jubilee of her reign. To mark the occasion a fountain was erected in the Town Gardens more or less where the entrance of the present day City Hall is. It also marked the inauguration of the water supply from the dam on the Umbilo River. The source was in the area known today as Paradise Valley. When the City Hall was being constructed the fountain had to be moved. It was relocated down to the beachfront and re-erected in the children’s paddling pond. Thanks to old post cards we can track it. Eventually it would appear the fountain self-destructed,  no doubt the steel reinforcing frame not able to withstand the salt air. In time it was removed and discarded.

The Jubilee Fountain now relegated to adorn  the children’s paddling pond.


This picture must be circa 1897 as that was the year Durban’s electricity was switched on. The honour of switching on the “lights” was given to Mrs George Payne, the Mayoress of Durban. George Payne started the business Payne Brothers. The switching was performed in the lobby of the Town Hall.    Note the very ornate and stylish lamp standard.

Circa 1910

To date this picture one looks at the tram system which was introduced in 1902. The station is another marker in that the additional two upper floors were added in 1904. The rickshas had been introduced earlier in 1893 by Sir Marshall Campbell. An interesting view of Gardiner Street and note the lady elegantly dressed on the landing.

Circa 1920

The next two pictures are hard to say which is the older but I would say this one looking at the motor car. The motor car is travelling down Pine Street.  I have a feint recollection of a bar being on the corner of Pine and Gardiner Street when I was a young teenager.  I checked the 1957 Durban Directory and it was still there then known as the Victoria Bar.  In later years the corner and building in Gardiner Street were remodelled and at street level two stores were located which virtually everyone got to know. They were the Model Dairy and Tennison Burrows. On the corner was Natal Music. I well remember the Model Diary being a rather formal tea room. In the interior was a large room with tables and chairs laid about.  The tables all covered in white linen and properly set out. I have this memory circa 1956 when my mother and I and my sister and her boyfriend met the future in laws for the first time. We gathered at the Model Dairy and had tea and cakes there. Tennison Burrows was the well-known news agency that sold the imported British magazines and children’s comics that arrived weekly with the mail ships. Always remember it as being an untidy shop with piles of periodicals, magazines and newspapers about. I seem to recall it was also a tobacconist.

This pic is looking at the same building in the previous photo behind what is now the Post Office. What is interesting is the Empire signboard which was one of the first ‘bioscopes” in Durban. I cannot find any info on the Empire but it may well have been silent movies with a pianist in attendance to play the appropriate background music.  This is just a guess. There appears to be a queue waiting at the Post Office. This would be the area taken over by the Post Office for the big extension at the rear carried out circa 1926.

An old picture showing the Tramway Office in front of the Post Office.  Note the ricksha.  Being transported by ricksha was normal and quite acceptable.

Circa 1920s

Probably a bit later as the ornate lamp standard has been removed and traffic is such that the intersection required a points man mounted on a raised platform.  The pillar on the left is part of Reed and Champion West Street corner with across the road being the Natal Bank building. Next door was Randles Bros and Hudson which must have had two frontages one in Gardiner and the other in West Street. Men’s’ hats were obviously in fashion. The famous Dead Man’s Tree outside the Post Office can be seen. For those that do not know about this Durban tradition, it was normal practice for funeral parlours to nail funeral notices on this tree for public information. The West Street cemetery had been established at the far end of West St and beyond that all the funeral parlours were gathered just beyond Park Street. The tramways even had a special funereal tram.


Circa late 1920s early 1930s. The early type buses parked in Church Street are a Thornycraft and the longer ones Karrier. ( Bus info thanks to Frank Beeton).  The art deco War Memorial commonly known as the Cenotaph stands completed. This dates the picture as post 1926 as the Cenotaph was unveiled in that year. It honours the dead of World War I.

The design was the result of a competition held in 1921, won by the Cape Town architectural firm of Eagle, Pilkington, and McQueen. The ceramics were made in England by Harold and Phoebe Stabler of the Poole Pottery.

The ornamental gates fitted on the Gardiner Street side of the Cenotaph were opened by the late King George the Sixth and wife Queen Elizabeth when the Royal Family visited Durban in 1947.

The Natal Bank Building on the corner of Gardiner and West Street looks grand with its tower and smaller domed tower on the right.  The dome on the left was the Barclays Bank building with Randles Bros and Hudson next to it. Randles were wholesale merchants but also sold fine jewellery. This was one building I never had reason to go into. It always appeared upmarket to me. I was quite surprised not so long ago to see the firm was liquidated.


A 1940s picture showing major buildings erected in Gardiner Street. On the left the Old Mutual building topped with the big Coca Cola signs on the roof front and back. I would say this neon sign was the precursor of the iconic Coca Cola sign mounted later on the Fairhaven Hotel on the Marine Parade. These neon signs were removed at some stage and I wonder if Coca Cola were asked to remove the signage as in a way it was inappropriate overlooking a memorial to the war dead and the City Hall. Next to the Old Mutual Bldg were two old buildings. The first I cannot find a name for but it was 57 Gardiner St. Next door was the Woolworths Building which was peculiar in a way in that it had a frontage on Gardiner St. but the main entrance was in West St. I well remember the store as it was hollow wooden floored throughout. In West Street was a wooden ramp leading up to the store entrance.  Anyone remember the stomp of shoes as people tramped upwards and into the store? I knew two ladies who worked on the Gardiner Street side where they manned the sweets counter. In later years when the site was remodelled the right bend access was turned into an arcade, Trust Arcade. Next door was the Trust Building which stood on the corner and this had replaced the old Reed and Champion Building.  At ground level the name Reed and Champion remained as the well-known pharmacy occupied this corner.


An interesting postcard as one notices that the Natal Bank building towers have both been removed and replaced with a new roof line and more modest single tower. The lower section of the building retained. Next door on West St side still Barclays Bank and Randles and one can see Castle Arcade with the dark and white façade. Still recall the opposition to its destruction when it was eventually torn down and replaced by 320 West in the early 1970s.


The two pedestals either side of the Post Office steps now have  ornate lamp standards fitted. I may be wrong but I seem to recall that there were two telephone kiosks fitted either side of the landing.

My memories of the Post Office are as you climbed up the steps and entered the lobby there were two halls either side entered through heavy, glass paned doors. The hall on the left was the postal side selling stamps, air letters (aerogrammes), registered mail, bulk mail, postal orders, parcel post etc. The single heavy wood counter stretched across the room and was divided into several counters. On the opposite walls were writing shelves where you could write or stick stamps on envelopes etc.  At the far end was a door way leading out to Gardiner St. On the other side of the lobby was a similar large room with a similar counter but here other Post Office business was carried out. One was to purchase radio licences, renting PO Boxes, and I think telegrams as well. In this hall the far end was cornered off with a counter and here was the information centre as well as the place where philatelic items could be bought such as First Day Covers and other philatelic items. This hall also had an exit into Church St.

Back to the lobby. Straight in front of you was a massive wood panelled façade which went from floor to the ceiling. It was worked with some fancy woodwork but still recall it was imposing. This must have been the main entrance to the town hall when it was a town hall and was closed off in this manner when the GPO took over. On this façade lower down were the various mailing slots where you posted your letters. I remember Overseas airmail, local mail, returned mail had separate slots. Also on this façade was a small door and next to it a buzzer button. When buzzed, the door would be opened by a postal worker. I recall bulk mail and parcels too big to post being handed over. I never saw what went on behind this façade but it was obviously the sorting room where the mail was being hand sorted. Electronic sorting only came much later along with the post codes. However you could hear that there was much activity going on. Also in the lobby were stamp vending machines on the one side. These were for one penny and halfpenny coil stamps where you put your coin in and a stamp would be fed out by the machine.  Postage in those days was one penny a letter. The stamps were half penny green Springbok head and a one penny red sailing ship (Dromedaris).  You had to put the right coins in as the machine could not give change.


Examples of the coil stamps from vending machines.



Coming to the more modern era circa 1950s a picture taken from the City Hall steps. The buildings around the Post Office are more or less unchanged bar the building next to Woolworths which was demolished and a new building erected for Saambou Building Society.  Behind it a new building is being constructed possible Cennewa House in West Street. The Cenotaph has now been walled off. Trolley buses have taken over from the trams but it looks like the tram tracks are still in place.  Opposite the Post Office the bus termini with their familiar semi-circular covering.

Two distinct memories from my teen age years was that in Durban there were three popular rendezvous spots. One was under the Greenacre’s clock, two was Stuttaford’s Corner and three the Post Office steps.  Meeting your girlfriend to go to Saturday “arvie” movies, the PO steps was the place. The trolley buses brought you in and took you home. I wonder how many first dates (blind dates?) were met on the steps of the PO? The second memory is that opposite the PO steps in front of Queen Victoria’s statue on a Friday and  Saturday evening as people were going across to the 6 pm movie, a preacher, bible in hand would lecture the crowd about repentance. Most going to the movies moved on but at the bus stops the preacher had a captive audience.


Continued in Part 3  





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  1. Tim Gallwey
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    The trees on the Gardiner Street side of the Post Office reminded me of the racket in the evening from the birds in them. I presume that they were mynahs but others may know better. I wonder if any of them have survived to the present.

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