Preservation and restoration

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I’m encouraged by the fact that efforts at preserving our heritage are still underway in Durban. I had a message from Martin Prange of the City Architect’s Department about a project they’ve just completed. He wrote:

“Thought you might be interested in a recent project I have just completed at the maritime museum.

Restoration of the NCS Challenger – an open sailing boat that Ant Steward circumnavigated the world in in the 80’s – a feat that has never been achieved by anyone else – lots of interesting info on his voyage on the net.

The boat was in poor shape and we have restored the hull and deck with the aid of a fibreglass contractor and sponsorship for the materials from a local resin company.

Still to be compiled is a story-board on Ant’s epic journey.”

Read More

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Legacy of John Thomas Baines

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Udo Richard Averweg has penned yet another interesting article on Durban’s history on the legacy of artist John Thomas Baines. He wrote:

The City of Durban has a historical calendar landscape brush-stroked with many anniversary dates. 8th May remains one in its artistic history. This day marks the anniversary date on which John Thomas Baines (1820-1875), a renowned English artist and intrepid explorer who travelled through southern Africa and Australia, died on Durban’s Berea.

Download the article or any of his others ones.

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Durban Past

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Castle Arcade Columns
Picture courtesy Geoff Waters.


Reader Geoff Waters has sent in a document with photos he’s taken of historic locations around town and some text notes he’s made about the pictures. It makes a nostalgic read and you’re welcome to download the 1.8Mb PDF.

Download here

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Ricksha request

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Picture courtesy Nicole White.


Reader Rowan Gatfield is a lecturer in Anthropology and is doing research on photos taken of Richshas from the 1880s to date. He says he is working on an academic paper and would welcome any personal recollections from people who have ridden in them and photos he could use in it. Please mail me at the address on the Contact page if you’re able to help.

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Fire guts old Durban Building

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A fire gutted an old Durban building on Saturday night, 14th April 2018. Buchanan’s Building on the corner of West Street and Russell Street was completely gutted. Those who know Durban will remember the two storey building had a gable facing West Street. The building’s location was roughly diagonally opposite West Street Cemetery and Cathedral Road. I checked my 1938 Durban Directory and the building is listed so it was an old building. I recall in the 60s on the ground floor was a furniture shop and I had to check on the name. It was was Hayden Furnishers. Sadly another oldie reduced to rubble.

I know nothing of the fire in the Lonsdale Hotel mentioned in the cutting. Maybe someone who reads this and knows can comment.

Click on picture to enlarge.

I found a picture of the Buchanan’s Building showing the building as it was. Click on picture to enlarge.

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Reader Josephine Andersen has written in with some reminiscences of the Musgrave area:

I remember the Musgrave Centre when it was only a ground level floor. I used go shopping there. There used to be a shop with antique furniture where we bought four Georgian chairs for our dining room. We still have them. Nearby was Sir Lowry’s Tea room that sold almost anything in the way of groceries. They would deliver to your home if you were not able to collect your order. I did not have my own car at the time we lived in a flat about two kilometres away and my husband called me to say he was bringing some colleagues home for supper. I called Sir Lowry’s Tearoom and they delivered a chicken to my flat for roasting.

Further up Musgrave Road there was a grocery shop called Gwilts run by the Gwilt family. At that time a tin of sardines cost about 5 pennies I think.

I used to walk our small children up to Mitchell Park which I had known since we came to South Africa as evacuees. There was an elephant called Nellie in the park and this elephant used to give children rides on a seat on her back . I was always too afraid to go for a ride.


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Terra Cotta Brickworks.

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Sometime ago I was asked to comment in an email on a subject relating to early Durban. I responded and thereafter was included in a list of several people who are very connected with the study and research of early Durban. A recent email sent to me concerned a certain brick which had particular markings. This subject reminded me of a brick I found here on my plot in the Byrne Valley some years ago. I kept the brick as a memento. The markings indicated Terra Cotta Brickworks of which I had no knowledge so I took the opportunity to post a picture of my brick asking if anyone had any information as to its origins. As far as I knew there were no brickworks in the Byrne Valley nor in Richmond KZN and the only early brickworks I had heard of were based in Durban.

I subsequently did get a reply to my query from Arthur Gammage which I post below. I always find it fascinating that such a mundane item as a brick can lead to an interesting background story. Here is the story.

“According to Hazel England, retired Pinetown Museum Curator, the Terra Cotta bricks were those made by Frank Stevens at Pinetown. The following from Frank Stevens Papers, on the Campbell Collections

I have several old bricks – Pyramid were made at Rossburgh, R Till & Sons, Mayville at Brickfield (Joseph Cato’s farm).

There was also an early version of Coronation bricks with the name all in block capitals rather than script. Coronation absorbed all or most of their competitors.

Frank Stevens was born at Kea, near Truro, Cornwall, England, on 25 March 1850. After working in Australia, he arrived in Natal in 1880 or 1881 and started a boot and shoe business in Pietermaritzburg. The business flourished and other branches were opened throughout the country. Stevens purchased the farm ‘Sarnia’, near Pinetown, from the original owner, a Captain Drake, who named the farm ‘Sarnia’ after his birthplace in England. Stevens did some prospecting for gold on this farm. There were good clay deposits and he opened up a brickmaking business which he closed down at the start of the South African War in 1899. (This business was subsequently purchased by the Storm family which later started the Coronation Brick and Tile Co.) Having a large stockpile of bricks Stevens planned the erection of a hotel on the property but before it was completed, the British Government approached Stevens and he permitted them to take over the new building for use as a much-needed hospital. It was named the Princess Christian Hospital and was run as such for the duration of the War. The building was ‘returned’ to Stevens after the war and later became well-known as the Fairydene Hotel, at Sarnia. Stevens built a home in Ridge Road, Durban, and named it ‘Intabene’ (Entabeni meaning the place on the hill). This home was sold in 1929 to a consortium of doctors and in 1930 opened as Entabeni Hospital.”

There is some information on Coronation Brickworks on this site.

Rear of the brick showing no frog was pressed into the clay.

Front of the brick. Note two impressions of screw heads.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

There is only one “old” brick building in Byrne Village that still exists and that is the Etterby farmhouse built in 1928. Whether the Terra Cotta Brickworks supplied the bricks is unknown which leaves the question of how this brick came to Byrne.

Further examples of old bricks made in Durban. Photo courtesy of Hazel England.

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Basil Harvey ‘Bunny’ Austin

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I’ve had a request from Hubert Kuberski for information about Lt Basil Harvey ‘Bunny’ Austin and, in particular, about who now owns the rights to a book he wrote with the title Urszula. Bunny apparently flew with 31 Squadron SAAF during WWII and ended up in Durban.
He must have had quite an eventful time of it during the war because his aircraft was shot down during a mission to drop supplies to support the Warsaw uprising. He evaded capture after a Polish girl called Urszula hid him under her bed and he later repaid the debt by getting her out of Poland after the war.
Hubert tells me that a Polish publisher is very keep to publish a Polish language edition of the book but has not been able to trace the rights holder to get approval. He also says he is hoping to get a new English edition published. Please contact me if you know anything about Bunny Austin or who might now own the rights to the book.
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