Textile Giant in Harrismith

Old-Harrismithian Harry Pikkie Loots found a history of the South African textile industry 1820 to 1948 by James Carol (Paddy) McDowell for his Master of Commerce (economic history) thesis at the University of Natal Durban in 2000. I skimmed through it, taking out some of the Harrismith-related bits.

As with all my history pieces: Pinch of salt. Those who know more, do please tell.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Interesting indeed. I always knew our local boere had lots of sheep (Sheila always says ‘He’s got more money than God’s got sheep!’). I also knew they used to compete for the biggest wool clip amongst each other, and occasionaly even in the country. Some would cheat by buying in sheep just before the shearing season to boost their yield! It’s a boy thing. Small penises? But this was new to me: Our boere started their own woollen mill in 1922. Good for them! I suppose a kooperasie type of deal? But it went bankrupt in 1927 cos the machinery was unsuitable.

They sold to Harris. He then discovered the machinery was unsuitable! Eish! What to do? Replacement would have been costly but the outbreak of a fire in that section of the factory that had the unsuitable machinery meant an insurance payout saved the day.
Hmmm . . . God moves in mysterious ways.
..
I don’t think I ever heard the names Celia (nee Harris) and Fritz Raphaely mentioned in my time in HS?  They came to town to run the mill in the 1930’s. But then I’m a bietjie jonk, nê! Must ask Mother Mary. Her mother Annie would have known. As would Annie’s good friend Glick.
..
Then in 1938 a cotton mill was started in HS. We had wool and we had cotton! And when the cotton bolls got rotten . . I hear you couldn’t pick very much cotton . .

Then Philip Frame came to South Africa in 1925. As a 21yr old, he was already experienced in the textile industry. He worked for the Harris family, then the Mauerbergers, the two biggest textile tycoons of their day – and ended up buying both their whole businesses!

“The deal was struck in 1959 in the Harrismith Royal Hotel and was written and signed on the back of the menu!”

Ah, myths and legends . . . At least they didn’t use the napkin this time. We probly used cloth napkins in our smart hotel! I’d love to actually see all the paper napkins with million dollar deals on them! And cigarette boxes with complex engineering drawings!

Soup; Fish; Meat and two veg; Rice pudding; I’ll buy your businesses; Deal! Signed: Philip. Me, I’ll never forget how tiny that piece of fish used to be in those hotels. Remember that? Didn’t seem worth the waiter’s shoe leather, walking it over to the table. Or is this just my memory?

A typical self-made risk-and-reward capitalist man, he did it all by himself, with only the help provided by friends’ loans, the government, the laws, apartheid, tariff protection, decentralisation subsidies, minimal wages, laws hampering unions, being a Nat supporter and (probably) donor, having the government finance minister Nico Diederichs as a ‘huisvriend,’ being on a govt advisory board, being allowed a virtual monopoly, etc. But other than that, ‘all by himself’ – ‘self-made.’ Yeah, right.
..
Seems to me Frame was um, difficult? demanding? putting it very mildly. As much as his biographers try to polish his marble . . the fashion of rich people being called ‘philanthropists’ started way back . .

As a kid I remember seeing those huge and ugly grey corrugated iron buildings near the entrance to the park where we played rugby and athletics. Never did get to see inside them.

~~~oo0oo~~~

boere – farmers

kooperasie – co-operative

bietjie jonk nê! – I’m a bit young (to remember that)

huisvriend – ‘home friend;’ knew him well enough to be invited to his home

billionaire philanthropist – pay no tax, plough a small part of excessive profits back in a hobby-type charity that employs your unemployable children and provides paid exotic holidays; wear a halo

~~~o00o~~~

Thank you Paddy McDowell, that was most interesting, especially the bit about the Harrismith Royal Hotel, owned by my great-grandad from about 1890-ish I’d guess, to his death in 1939.

~~~oo0oo~~~

PS: I had the site of the Royal Hotel too far away. It was much nearer the station. I have fixed that with a new arrow!

3 thoughts on “Textile Giant in Harrismith

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