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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End of the road for iconic Beach Hotel

I was quite surprised to see this one line entry in the Natal Mercury announcing the closure of what must be one of the iconic hotels on Durban’s beachfront. One would have thought that the imminent closure of the Beach Hotel would have been considered a bit more newsworthy.

But Durban is changing and the CBD is no longer what it used to be. I suppose with the economy as it is, the tight margins to keep hotels going in these tough times is having its effect. I have no information on the Beach’s Hotel past history but from old postcards and photos it would appear that it may have been the first beach front hotel of them all. As it was the Beach front was known as the Back Beach for in the early days the beach was actually the “sandy shore” along what is now the Esplanade. The present Beach Front apparently was a series of high sand dunes which in time were levelled when the development of the shipping wharves became a priority and the “beach front” on the Bay had to give way.

I have managed to gather a few pictures of the Beach Hotel as it transformed over the years. I remember it as the single storey with the long verandah and the big sea facing gables. Then the redevelopment of the corner site it stood on into a multistorey building that it is today. One wonders what its future will be. More student accommodation like its not too far off neighbour down West Street the Lonsdale Hotel.

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

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The Cuban Hat

The “Cuban Hat” and its neighbour “The Nest” were two very popular drive in locales situated on the then Lower Marine Parade in Durban. They were especially popular in the late 50s / early 60s when own car transport became an essential must have amongst young adults. These were the days when young adult life changed considerably when freedom of movement, the changed music and habits of the time and there was a general improvement in living standards. Initially any form of car was better than none because as the saying was, it enabled you to get to “where the action was”. Action being where parties, socials, “sessions” and get togethers. The fact that you could pick up your mates or girl friends and go together as a group made life good. Parents of the time had to adjust to the times because they were brought up when stricter parental control was generally enforced. The days of dates being, sitting in the lounge with the parents were no longer and life was now centred on getting out and about and mixing with your own age group.

This accounted for the popularity of the three such Beach front locales that existed in Durban. The two most popular the Cuban Hat and The Nest and the other some distance away the XL Tea Room at Addington became very popular haunts. They were free, the refreshments were affordable and invariably your friends would happen to be there as well. Combined they were not overly large and Friday and Saturday nights they were fully parked in and business was excellent. The two sites also became the meeting place for motor bike groups which in those days were to a large extent a “separate breed”.

Thanks to Michelle Jacobs, she posted two pages of the original Cuban Hat building and surprisingly the Cuban Hat dates back to 1953. These are classic pictures in my opinion and prompted me to add them to the site. Click on pictures to enlarge.

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Shirleen Gilbert too


The interior of Shirleen Gillbert’s Music Bar.


Friend of FAD Donald Davies previously contributed a page on his Aunt Shirleen Gilbert who owned a music shop in Plowright Lane together with her husband Llewellyn. Donald recently found some pictures relating to her and wonders if anyone can help identify the people in them. He wrote:

Whilst visiting my mother recently I came across an old photo album of my favourite Aunt Shirleen Gilbert. Shirleen and Llewellyn Gilbert resided at Glamis Court on the Berea and owned the Record Bar in PlowRight Lane, Durban Central. A number of Durban luminaries such as Prof. Mike Lang from UKZN and Rodney Harber the architect recalled her the and the Record Bar. I have attached some photo’s from the album and wondered if anyone from the Facts about Durban Website might know the persons in the photos.

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Geoffrey De Havilland

posted in: Appeals 3
Geoffrey de Havilland

Here’s a query from from Craig Johnston via friend of FAD John Austin-Williams who is  chairman of the South African Airways Museum Society www.saamuseum.co.za and the de Havilland Aircraft Association of South Africa: Craig wrote:

I am trying to document the itinerary of a trip that Captain Geoffrey De Havilland made to Africa in 1932. Some time ago I was given a cigarette case that was presented to Captain De Havilland on that trip. The case was a gift from the Durban Light Plane Club and was presented to Captain De Havilland in January 1932. I assume in Durban?

I want to try and piece together the itinerary of Captain Geoffrey De Havilland’s visit to Africa in 1932 – His stops in Africa and dates etc. My idea is to document the trip so the information can be exhibited with the cigarette case.

Geoffrey de Havilland was an aviation pioneer and one of the most accomplished aircraft designers of all time. I hadn’t known he visited Durban and I would be most interested to hear more. I was once lucky enough to ride in a Tiger Moth which he designed.

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The Colonial Mutual Life Building West Street.

Natalie Nel posted three pictures on FaceBook of the Colonial Mutual Life Building when it was being constructed. They looked like purposely taken photographs. I contacted Natalie and she agreed to send me copies so that I could post them here on FAD.

The pictures Natalie says are undated and were about to be binned when she claimed them to preserve them. The photos are the building under construction, the building complete and then what appears to be a previous building with Adams and Co as tenants. The CML building itself in 1938 is listed as being at 328 West Street but in 1965 listed as 330 West St. It flanked Mark Lane on the right hand side.

Referring to my 1938 Durban Directory the building of eleven floors was already fully occupied. I searched amongst all the buildings listed and no building had more floors than the CML. I would venture to say it was Durban’s tallest building of the time and probably the first to be constructed of steel beams. The photographs probably date to the early 1930s and if one looks at the pavement there still appears to be some building material there. From my memory, the lift shaft was on the left of the building as you entered the foyer and this would tie in with the picture showing the lift shaft being constructed. Read More

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Sad News about Durban Iconic Building.

I know many Durbanites who now live overseas do visit this site and I suppose it is appropriate to let them know of developments in the once fine city centre. This article appeared in the Sunday Tribune this past Sunday and it is sad to note that the doors of this fine and iconic Durban building are closing in August. Sad news because the CBD is getting tattier as time goes by. Many CBD building are standing empty with TO LET signs all over them. One worries that they become economically unviable and with rates to pay they fall into disrepair. For old buildings like Greenacres it sometimes is the death knell.
In the same paper there was an article on how Albany Grove has deteriorated and to remind you, Albany Grove runs down the side of the Playhouse. I am sure most Durbanites my age either queued up in Albany Grove to buy tickets or parked their car in Albany Garage for a Saturday night movie. Click on pictures to enlarge. You can also Save the Image to your computer and this will enable you to read the print.

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Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

Commemorating the Arrival of the Byrne Settlers 1849.

12th May 2019 marked the 170th anniversary of the arrival in Durban of the vessel, Wanderer with the first boat load of Byrne Settlers. In 1849, 15 Byrne Settlers amongst 108 passengers arrived off the Bluff. Entrance to Durban Harbour was very risky because of the sandbar and instead the preferred method of disembarkation was for passengers to transfer to a long boat and then be rowed ashore to the landing point which was the beach roughly where the ferry and pilot boats dock today. Ladies and children were then carried ashore piggy back style by Africans. Read More

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The House on the Hill. Entabeni.

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. Read More

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