This post was over at bewilderbeast.org, but it belongs here, in the Olden Daze blog.
I read Jock of the Bushveld again for the how-manieth time. I enjoy it every time. Percy Fitzpatrick wrote his classic tales of his days with trek oxen and wagons on the lowveld on the highveld: On his farm Buckland Downs in the Harrismith district.
Always gets me thinking of my wonderful dog Jock in high school:
We got Jock from Reg and Jo Jelliman. They farmed very near Buckland Downs out on the Meul river side of town, out Verkykerskop way. He was apparently a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with the formal name Copperdog-Something on his papers.
. . and then in Westville many years later our first dog in our first home was TC – to me she was a mini-Jock:
She lived to a ripe old thirteen years. I buried her at the bottom of that beautiful garden in River Drive, alongside Matt (above) and Bogart who both came after her but died before her.
. . on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the second Methodist church building in the town. Why this date was chosen, not 1973, one hundred years of Methodists in the town; or 1974 – one hundred years after the first church was built – who knows?
So the old church on top was built in 1882, Miss Bayford was at the foundation stone laying, and that’s what the centenary was for, it seems; even though that building had been demolished in 1966 or 1967, and this new church below had been built in 1968. Anyone who knows better or more – please enlighten us in the comments. Thanks!
Trustees Meeting Minute Book:
Rev Wynn the minister. (Presumably church services were being held in homes or other halls at the time?). August 1873 – First Trust Meeting to decide to build a church on the ground given by Free State Volksraad.
Church cost £460, twelve and sixpence + £451, fifteen and sixpence. Lamps and seats £44, no sixpences.
October 1874: Request for a manse. By June 1875 the manse was completed at a cost of £753, fourteen and sixpence.
Evening of Wednesday 10th January 1877: Special Meeting in consequence of the Chapel roof having been blown off this afternoon. (Whole roof removed and replaced – Minister away)
4 June 1878: The Sabbath School Committee respectfully requests the permission of the Trustees of the Wesleyan property to erect a building to be used as a Sabbath and day school. This committee giving a guarantee that the said building shall be put up free of debt.
October 17th1880: Public meeting called to consider advisability of building a public school in Harrismith.
October 24th1881: Decided to use present building as school and erect church on Society’s ground opposite. Forty foot by sixty foot (no cubits?). Seating 400 – cost not more than Two Thousand Five Hundred Pounds.
December 1881: Proceeds of Bazaar Two Hundred Pounds. Site of proposed new Chapel is forty foot from road (not cubits).
14 June 1882:Laying of Foundation stone of new Chapel.
A word from Rev Wilfred Hartley on the occasion of the centenary in 1982
Harrismith has a very special place in my heart, as it had for my late wife Olive. We arrived as a newly wed couple, and the people took us to their hearts in a rather wonderful way. Two of our children were born there and the ladies took great delight in assisting the lady of the manse.
We arrived in January 1940 when there was a lot of bitterness created by the Ossewa Brandwag and their cohorts, but we made out and preached the Gospel without bitterness, always seeking to take a positive line. On two occasions we had sailors from British warships staying with us, and how they enjoyed a bit of family life.
I could tell you a great deal about some of the very unusual characters who lived in Harrismith. (Oh, boy, I wish he had told!). When I meet old friends who were our contemporaries we have a jolly good laugh about “old times.”
Reminiscences of the Davie family
Mrs Maggie Simpson (eldest sister of Doris Davie)
Anniversary: Cello, drums, violins played by Alice and Annie Brittan and Dora. Alice learnt millinery with Mrs Urswell; Annie and Dora served at the drapery counter of Brayshaw Store; Cornet played by Beno Sammell. The church was full of Military.
Sunday School picnic Three wagonloads left at 8am and another at 10am for latecomers. Tent erected at homestead. Mr Bonham (butcher), a Salvationist, brought band to play at start of wagons and came with. (Don’t you just love it that those sinful non-Methodists were allowed to ‘come with’?!).
Arthur Putterill was Sunday School Superintendent. His wife and daughter Marion played the organ. John Putterill was also in the choir and took the music for the anniversary. Mr Jack Fife sang in the choir. He was a lay preacher and sometimes helped in the Sunday School. His nickname was “Pompom.” (cos ‘you must have fife and drum’).
2. Mrs Mary Davie
A handful of people held Church at Grootfontein, Ivy Petty’s farm. UWCTU members Alice and Eliza and Maggie and Nellie Pendelbury came to play tennis on a Wednesday. Maggie could play better but was “not allowed” – only allowed to collect the balls.
Aunt Alice and Eliza, Sunday School teachers, (Eliza played the organ too), always called for Maggie. One day Maggie hadn’t been dressed so was left behind. When she discovered it she ran crying all the way and remembers Aunt Alice receiving her, laughing, in a dirty dress and pinny.
3. Miss Doris Davie
One Sunday, a man came into church. He sat down and all the children started to titter, because the worthy gentleman had forgotten to take his hat off !
My niece of four, sporting her brand new shoes, was standing on the pew next to her mom when suddenly she slipped, and if it hadn’t been for the prompt action of her mother, would have landed on her head!
Another niece, aged three, also standing on the pews, when we started to sing the first hymn, realized she didn’t have a hymn book, so she turned round and took the hymn book out of the hands of the lady behind her!
One Sunday morning Miss Emma Putterill came hurrying up the aisle and into the choir. In her hurry the dear old lady had forgotten to take her apron off!
Looking back – Mr Tom Moll
St Paul says: “Forgetting what is behind, looking to what is before, I press on . . “
But we can’t forget the past altogether, can we? And at times like these it does us good to look back. I am no literary man, so what I am putting down here will be only ramblings, to stir up a few memories perhaps.
When we first came to Richmond, Natal in ’47 we met up with a Mr Jim Barclay, who had been a policeman at Kromhof (near Mont Pelaan, the then Christina) and he had quite a bit of contact with Harrismith during the rebellion, so we had an interesting chat, and he gave me this little piece of doggerel:
I always thought that Johburg was, and has been since its birth,
Without equivocation, the greatest place on earth.
I also thought that London was the greatest city known,
With its many million people, and the Queen upon the throne.
But now a brother tells me
That this is all a myth,
For the greatest place upon this earth
Is known as Harrismith !
Sad to say, after a lapse of thirty eight years, my wife and I have become estranged from Harrismith and its Methodist church, but that bond with the older Harrismith-ites and the warm feeling from them somehow still exists. How can we ever forget the warm humanity, the quips and cranks, but also the true Christianity of people like the Davies, Liddells, Farquhars, Sinks, Fife, McCourt, Cheshire, Hastings, Rapsons, Spilsbury, Putterill, Sharratt …… and many more.
Now for a more personal note: My grandfather M C J Moll, was the first teacher in Harrismith, and I was related to about half of the population. My mother was a Liddell and my father’s mother a Bignhame !
My wife (nee Pratherae) and I were both born in Harrismith, in Stuart Street, within a block of each other, christened here by Mr Pendlebury in the old church, which stood on this site. We were reborn here, got married here, our first daughter was born here and christened in the old church.
Looking back with nostalgia, “revolving many memories.” (reviving?) How can the many children who passed through this Sunday School and Young People’s Guild forget Cliffie Sint as Superintendent, and their annual picnics at The Old Homestead to which they went by ox-wagon. And then comes the day when we came to Harrismith from Natal and saw for the first time this fine little church that had replaced the old sandstone one that had become so “wonky” (expecially the north-east corner that had to be underpinned) that it had to make way for a new building.
The old order changeth,
yielding place to new.
That is true, but how conservative we are at heart, especially us “oldsters?” It gave us quite a wrench to see that our old church had had to be replaced. However, that is the way of the world. In the past this church has been a Bastion for Methodism in the north-east Free State, and we pray that it will continue to be so in the future.
I wonder if anyone still remembers the day when a Mr Barn, with his dapper little figure, and his neat imperial beard, who fancied himself as a singer and whom we had in this congregation for a few short years during World War II, jumped up out of his pew during the singing of a hymn, and stomped up the aisle, proclaiming in a Stentorian voice: “This is not how it should be sung, put some more life into it!”
Mr Wilfred Hartley in the pulpit, and Uncle Wright Liddell at the organ, were at first taken aback, but then with a smile they humoured the old fellow. The hymn was speeded up and sung accordingly to his wishes.
Precious memories – Rev Lloyd Griffiths
It is a privilege and a joy to respond to your minister’s request for a short article in this your Centenary Year. Congratulations on this most important milestone in the life and witness of Harrismith Methodism!
Never do we pass the Platberg but memories tug at the heart strings – and a host of dear faces appear before us. We settled into the old manse at 22 Warden Street in January 1943; like two of my predecessors, Tom Elliot and Wilfred Hartley, I took my bride of a few weeks to her first home shortly after ordination in Johannesburg. Now I have just received an invitation as Past President to attend the 100th Conference in the same city! How time flies!
Besides, our two sons were born in Harrismith, my wife electing to go to the nursing home for the first one at two o’clock in the morning when the thermometer registered 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the car was standing on blocks, all four tyres having been sent to Ladysmith for retreading! War years those were.
Hopefully we shall be able to attend your celebrations in a few months time and perhaps recall some of the names of the stalwarts still being with you. Besides the regular services in the main centre there were monthly ones at Swinburne, Witzieshoek, Speedwell, (alternating with Summerslie and Maweni Heights) and a quarterly service at Verkykerskop “where a large number of Afrikaans folk attended.” We even tried a service in the Arbuckle home on the farm Somerby at Aberfeldy!
Rejoice in the Lord – again I say REJOICE !
We look forward to meeting up with you again, especially those who may remember us. Warm and affectionate greetings from Thelma and Lloyd Griffiths (Pietermaritzburg).
Miss Ivy Petty remembers
Smoke: We arrived for morning service many years ago, a raw cold morning. The door steward remarked, “It’s rather smoky inside.” Well . . we could hardly see across to the pulpit. In those days coal stoves were used to heat the church, but something had gone very wrong to say the least.
We had a visiting minister to take the service, and our Circuit Steward apologised for all the smoke. A cheerful reply came from a very smoky pulpit: “Don’t worry, it will clear up just now, and I have been in worse predicaments than this.” All the doors were opened but with each gust of wind fresh puffs of smoke came from the two lighted stoves.
The Choir: The choir stood up to render the anthem; after the first few bars all the lights went out in town. The organ stopped but not the choir, which went on to sing right through the anthem much to the delight of the choir master. In those days the bigger congregation was in the evening so there was always the choir and an anthem.
Reminiscenses of Mrs Anna Gavin:
As was the custom the Methodist Church Choir, under the leadership of the Choir Master and Organist, the late Uncle Wright Liddell, attended special services in the homes of the Van den Bosch and Spilsbury families in the country, out near Kerkenberg. This little incident occurred during 1960: This particular Sunday the late Uncle Wright provided transport for the choir in his old car. On the way to the farm one of the ladies had to open a gate. Uncle Wright was so occupied showing his passengers the crops in the lands and the cattle grazing in the fields that he completely forgot to stop the car. There was this lady, wearing high heel shoes, holding on to the open door of the car trying to jump in, the passengers were histerical and unable to tell him to stop the car. After a long struggle she eventually managed to get into the car.
The moment came when the Choir were to render the Anthem; a kitten crawled under the pedal of the organ; as the late Uncle Wright put his feet onto the pedals the kitten let out a loud “mieuww!” Needless to say that after the first episode the choir were unable to sing for laughing. The anthem was rendered much later during the service.
A tribute to the late Mr W.G Liddell by Ivy and Anna
The Centenary celebration of the church would not be complete without mentioning the name of Mr W.G Liddell or “Uncle Wright” as he was affectionately known. Those of us who were privileged to serve with him learned to understand what real dedication to Service To The Master meant.
He was our organist in our church without a break for sixty three years, never taking a holiday. He played the organ both morning and evening on Sundays; plus Thursday evenings for choir practice, without ever missing one service. He also took upon himself the task of lighting and cleaning the black coal stoves used at the time for heating the church.
“Uncle Wright” always prepared special music for Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival services, this usually being a cantata. Each Christmas Eve he organized a lorry, had the old organ placed on it, took the choir on board and set off to sing carols all over town, usually starting at the hospital, never forgetting those confined to their beds. Many interested people followed the lorry in their motor cars, joining in the singing of carols.
It was ill health towards the end of his life that forced him to give up as organist and also as treasurer of the church, the latter task he also performed for many years with much dedication.
With the passing of this great man a musical era in our Church came to an end.
Mrs Mary Swanepoel remembers
Venue: Old Methodist Church
Date: October 1959, Time: 11.30 am
Occasion: Sunday School Anniversary Service
The pupils were all sitting up front in the choir stalls. It was during the sermon that two teachers noticed that two little girls were getting restless. Black looks didn’t help. They were playing up to giggling. Eventually the three year old sidled up to one of the teachers and asked if she could go to the toilet. As she passed her friend she grabbed her and pulled her along. Thinking the children would slip quietly out the back door, the teachers looked thankfully at one another. “That’s got rid of them,” their eyes seemed to say. Unfortunately their relief was short-lived. The little girls had no intention of slipping out unnoticed. They ran skipping and laughing down the full length of the aisle and out the front door.
More was to come. Five minutes later the patter of little feet was again heard, this time coming back through the hall, into the church and again down the aisle. They ran shrieking and laughing back to their seats. Two teachers were seen to collapse. Throughout all this disturbance, the minister’s voice continued unperturbed . . .
The culprits: His daughter Jenny and her friend Sheila Swanepoel
Venue: Methodist Church Hall
Date: +- 1960, Time: 7 pm
Occasion: A social to welcome the new Minister
It was the good old days before TV when folk still went out at night. Every church in town had sent a representative to welcome our minister. George Davie, as Circuit Steward, was the MC and he was introducing these speakers.
Mr Cohen was there to represent the Hebrew Community, but when it was his turn to stand up he was nowhere to be seen. Mr Davie looked round puzzled. “Whatever happened to Mr Cohen?” he asked, then added jokingly, “He must’ve thought we were going to take up a collection.”
Looks of disbelief and horror from the older Methodists. Collapse of the younger ones who didn’t know any better!
Reflections: Jack Maguire
We can well remember the attempts in the early ‘Sixties to save the old church building for this great occasion – but alas, this was not possible. The stone had weathered badly and especially around the window sills it had already begun to crumble. The late Maurice Sharratt brought in a consultant. While it was possible to prolong the life of the building, the cost would have been tremendous and the result unacceptable aesthetically, hence the decision to build the present church.
I recall the many hours spent visiting with Miss Bayford who was then in the hospital and well into her nineties. As a little girl she was present at the foundation stone laying and the opening of the old church in 1882.
Wright Liddell used to tell many stories of the old days. One of his favourites was the compulsory church parades of British POWs during the Anglo Boer War. The church was full and as the old building was considerably larger, the singing was magnificent. The Minister of the day always allowed opportunity for this special congregation to choose hymns and a regular choice was no. 879 – God save our gracious King – which was always sung with great patriotic pride.
The old church also sported four big black coal burning heaters – one in each corner of the building. The use of these had to be adjusted according to the wind direction prevailing for the day, and a wrong decision could have your service “smoked out.” By wisdom born out of experience the lighting of those fires was also left to Wright Liddell. He was seldom wrong in the two stoves he chose to light – more often than not it was those on the east side.
During this period we graduated to Capil heaters – we must have been one of the first in the country – and these were later incorporated into the “new” church. Bob Moore had a lot to do with their installation.
We retain fond memories of Harrismith and the many lovely friends we made there. We wish you all God’s blessing as you start a new century of witness and service. As we greet you we echo the words, “the best is yet to be.” – Yours sincerely Jack and Eileen Maguire
A last word from not so long ago . . by the Circuit Steward
This happening was about the second or third Sunday morning, our present minister was in the pulpit, during the singing of the first hymn, a sudden and very loud shout came from the pulpit. STOP! STOP! STOP! Nobody had any idea what caused this action, it was really hilarious watching the reactions of the congregation, hymn books fell out of the hands of some, there were faces reflecting fright, amazement and also anger. Others decided it wise to sit down.
After a pause the minister said that looking at the faces of the congregation he could only see a lot of unhappy and sad looking people. When we sing hymns praising God we must sing joyfully and with smiles on our faces. Needless to say the singing continued with much more joy and expression.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
Somewhere around 1969 I won the world-famous Harrismith Methodist All-Stars inaugural (and last) Table Tennis Tournament held in the Wesleyan Hall on Warden Street. This was a huge event for us dedicated Harrismith Methylated Spirits. There must have been . . what? half a dozen or more people watching, spellbound. Many of them would also have been among the entrants to this high-level event. Which I won, did I mention that?
My prize: The gold medal and a vinyl LP by The Tremeloes! except for the medal. The LP was real and was my first ever. And maybe my only? I don’t remember owning any other LPs.
How hip was the Harrismith Methodist Church?! I’d love to know who donated this lovely prize.
The feature pic shows our table tennis table on the side veranda at home. Training ground.
Jessie’s second pre-school was ‘Sinner Lizabeth.’ I think it’s Anglican, but I don’t know, cos I wasn’t interested. Only interested in the fact that Aitch had chosen it, so I knew they’d look after my Jessie. And they did: Rose and two Pennys treated her good the two years she was there.
But today I found out about Sinner Mary. This was news to me. I gasped.
Right through school Mary, now universally know as Mary Methodist after playing the organ in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits church for something like a hundred years, was churchless!
Her Mom Annie, my gran, was blissfully unimpressed and uninvolved and probably played golf on Sundays. I’m guessing she would use as an excuse, if pushed by the pious, that Harrismith didn’t have a Presbyterian church (it had folded). I’m not going to say that proves God is Methodist, but you can see right here how the thought did cross my mind.
So Mary tells me her teacher Mr Moll – who taught singing, woodwork and religion – never gave her very good marks probly cos he knew she didn’t go to church! She’s joking of course, and her bad marks were probably 80%, but anyway, Tommy Moll was very involved in the Methodists.
So when Mary got married they ‘made a plan’ and the wedding made the newspapers. ‘Four denominations at one wedding’ or something. Not ‘and a funeral.’ The bride ‘was Presbyterian’ they said (but we now know she was actually a ‘none’); the groom was Dutch Reformed (‘another faith’ they said, but he too was really a ‘none’); the Methodist minister was on leave, so the Apostolic Faith Mission man tied the knot.
Later, when she returned to Harrismith, having lived in Pietermaritzburg for a while, she decided to get church. She chose the Methodists as a lot of her friends were Methodists. She forgets she told Sheila the Methodist boys were nicer than the Anglican boys, so she tells me something about not liking the Anglicans’ ‘high church’ aspect. So this twenty five year old mother leaves her baby Barbara with Annie and Dad at Granny Bland’s home in Stuart street, where they have the room with the big brass double bed, and goes off to confirmation classes with a group of schoolkids. She aces the class, gets confirmed in the Lord, sanctified, and starts her epic Methodistian journey, which continues today, sixty seven years later, her only sin on the way being an occasional single ginger brandy with ginger ale while everyone else was drinking bucket loads. When she plays the piano of a Sunday in the frail care dining room in Maritzburg these days, those are Methodist hymns she’s thumping out joyfully, I’m sure.
I sort of feel like I have an excuse for being churchless now if I need one. ‘I’m just taking my twenty five years off now,’ I’ll tell Ma if she asks.
(BTW: In the pic, Mary is the bridesmaid, back left. The bride is her dear friend and cousin Sylvia Bain who married John Taylor)
After ‘Sinner Lizabeth’ pre-school, Jess went to a remedial primary school whose school song, which they sang with gusto, went:
Live in Sin, Live in Sin, Progress Voorspoed, Live in Sin
Eat cake, Eat soap, Eat porridge too.*
Believe in yourself Live in Sin
Can’t say we didn’t give our JessWess a good grounding.
*Have faith, have hope, have courage too. Tom loved telling us ‘the real words, Dad!’ which according to him were the ones above, not these.
Yay! Science! I just found out what the very first flower I ever drew was/is: A Canary Bird Bush Crotalaria agatiflora.
I suppose for a school project? I collected a few in our garden and drew the flower and the leaf. I was fascinated by the shape of the flower: like a yellow bird, butterfly or ship.
I saw this on iNaturalist.org thanks to prolific iNatter @troos (Troos vdMerwe) and there’s a lovely twist: He photographed it in the favourite gardens of a favourite schoolfriend of my Mother Mary’s!
Joey de Beer became Jo Onderstall and became a founder member of the Lowveld Botanic Society and the Lowveld Botanic Gardens in Nelspruit, now Mbombela. She wrote the book on Lowveld flowering plants.
A lovely full-circle kind of story.
Joey matriculated with Mary in Harrismith in 1945. When she heard Mary was going nursing she expostulated: What A Waste Of A Good Brain! She was right, but Mom decided she needed to do something that earned her a salary and cost her widowed Mom Annie nothing. Typical Mom. Joey went on to study phys ed teaching in Bloem, then married ‘doctor/farmer’ Bill Onderstall. They moved to Nelspruit in 1950. Bill gave Jo a camera for a wedding present and so she herself took a lot of the pictures in the articles and books she wrote. I didn’t know her mother Bessie de Beer had been chair of the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State branch of the Botanical Society, so Jo followed in Bessie’s footsteps. Must tell Mom that. Jo herself seems as self-effacing as Mom. She writes in the introduction that her name on the book ‘is but the visible tip of an iceberg’ and the fact that she took most of the photos is mentioned nowhere. All other photographers are acknowledged, but even the fact that she took the front and back cover pictures is added in the ‘errata’ – like an afterthought! I’m guessing some of her friends insisted.
Yellow bird! Who remembers Johan Pheiffer who came from the city to Harrismith to visit his cousins the du Plessis in the dorp, whipped out his guitar and sang Yellow Bird?
Later: Mom said ‘Thanks for this.’ Sheila read it to her. She didn’t know Bessie had also been involved in things botanical. She did know that Bessie used to take people for the drivers test. ‘You would drive her round the block and she’d say OK, you have your licence. None of this parking into a garage stuff.’ So says Ma.
Her good friends Joey de Beer and Dossie Farquhar said Mom must take science. She found it hard, but enjoyed it. She didn’t like the science teacher, Swart Piet du Toit, though. There was also a teacher called Wit Piet du Toit, who later was called Whitey. Wit Piet married one of the girls he had taught in Std 6. Beautiful girl. Later he married Doris. Old memories flooding back, Ma?
Bertie van Niekerk was tall and impeccably dressed and rich. He wore a big hat, drove a lang slap American car and rode beautiful horses. One was called Bespoke and the rooineks were too scared to tell Bertie you didn’t pronounce that as though it was haunted.
I remember him in a tall hat – not a tophat, though – and a coat with tails – special riding gear.
Dad remembers him winning one ‘Best Farm Horse’ (beste boerperd?) award at the show: Everyone had to put their horses through their paces. Their mount had to stay put when the reins were tossed over its head and left to dangle; it had to not flinch when its owner cracked a whip next to its ear; and other stuff. After he’d done all he needed to do, Bertie kicked his boots out of the stirrups, got up on the saddle, stood tall and looked around. Then he removed binoculars from his pocket and gazed around serenely, still standing on the saddle, his horse dead still and calm.
The crowd loved it and roared their approval!
I wish I had pictures! The pics above remind me of what I saw at the show all those years ago – horses stepping exaggeratedly with a rider or pulling a cart. Be great to see authentic pics from back then.
Mary Bland and Sylvia Bain, cousins, decided there was NO WAY they were going to miss the dance in the Harrismith Town Hall. This is quite possibly Mary’s single biggest act of defiance or wilful disobedience in her whole life. See, they were meant to be in Durban then, to start their midwifery course at Addington Childrens Hospital.
But to the dance in the dorp they went. Mary with Pieter, who she later married; and Sylvia with John, who she later married.
The next day they left (by train?) and in Durban they got their new quarters and their new uniform, which they loved: ‘It had a long fishtail headdress down the back almost to our waists. It looked beautiful.’
Also, their new matron was Mary Hawkins and they knew her sisters in Harrismith and in fact, Mary’s Mom Annie had dated her brother ‘Hawks’ Hawkins for quite a long while.
When they were summonsed to Matron Hawkins’ office they waltzed in merrily feeling glam and looking forward to a warm Harrismith welcome; only to be met with a frosty blast and a good dressing-down from Bloody Bill, as Mary Hawkins was known by those who knew her! Or sometimes Bloody Mary. She had been the Matron of all SA nurses in the war, and this was shortly after the war, and she was in no mood for nonsense. They were LATE starting their course and she’d not cut them any slack just cos they were from her home town!
Somewhere there’s a newspaper photo of Mary and Sylvia with a New Year crop of fresh Durban babies. Must find it.
The feature pic shows Mary and Pieter also in 1949, also outside the Town Hall, but another occasion.
pics from skyscrapercity.com; and kznpr.co.za – thank you. kznpr is Hugh Bland’s site; Here’s the cover of Hugh’s book on the Addington Childrens Hospital:
Big sister Barbara Swanepoel Tarr met Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the travelling rabbi, who I wrote about some time back. He very kindly gave her a book.
Barbara tells of her voyage of discovery looking up old Jewish friends. This post is snippets from a letter she wrote:
Many of the names and surnames have been mentioned to me in conversations over the years with my parents and some I knew personally and grew up with. We’re still lucky enough to be able to contact our folks, Pieter Swanepoel (98) and Mary Bland Swanepoel (92), who now live in Pietermaritzburg and still have amazingly good memories. They fill in the gaps with names and places and help make our history come alive.
In Harrismith, the Royal Hotel was built by my great grandfather Stewart Bain and was sold to Mr. Sookie Hellman; the Central Hotel was built by his brother James Bain and was sold to Mr. Randolph Stiller.
We lived in the Central Hotel for about three months in 1960. Mom and Dad had bought our first house in town – 95 Stuart Street, and were waiting for the tenant’s lease to expire. There we got to know the Stiller family (Isa was a young girl at school, I think) and Becky Kaplan, the receptionist. The Deborah Retief Gardens were our playing fields, under the watchful eye of Ted and Fanny Glick, sitting on their balcony in Van Sandwyk Flats No 1.
Fanny Glick and my grandmother Annie Bain Bland were the best of friends. Sunday afternoons these two characterful old dears would pick up the three Swanepoel kids in Annie’s big cream Chev and tootle down to the Park on the Wilge River. There we were each given a sixpence and left to our own devices at the round kiosk. ‘Glick’ and ‘Anna’ (that’s what they called one another) enjoyed tea and scones in the Chevy, and us three would swing, slide and no doubt fight on all the wonderful ‘things’ in the playground.
Around 2015 a bee flew into my bonnet, and I started looking for old Harrismith High School scholars. Finding Ivan and Brenda Katz in Joburg was a gem of a find; I also found another strong Harrismith sister, Adele Cohen.
In 1961 in Std 1, I received my first bicycle for Christmas – a blue Raleigh that kept me going to matric in 1970. I remember going into your Dad Eddie Cohen’s shop for a patch, a new tube, a bell or just to look around. All too soon, the three Swanepoel kids were finished with school and our bikes were no longer needed. Happily they became the property of new owners…the three Cohen kids.
Joy Kadey, your parents’ shop, Jack Kadey’s Jewellers, still stands and is very much alive. Now called Louis’ Jewellers. While the name has changed, very little else has changed in the shop and in the whole building, thanks to Louis Nel and his daughter Erika Nel du Plessis (the owner). She has managed to make time stand still in a little place of long ago. Absolutely worth a visit to this ‘lil ‘ol shoppe’ of our childhood. Erika and husband Pierre du Plessis live in Louis Green’s old home in Warden Street, which they have also restored beautifully. One of Harrismith’s magnificent old homes.
Other Jewish people from old Harrismith are Essie Rosenberg Lunz, John French (great nephew of Fanny Glick, who sent a Facebook link on the Harrismith Jewish Cemetery), David Babbin, son of Isaac and Joey Babbin from the Tickey Bazaar, where you could buy ‘everything.’ How I loved that shop! Walking in through the door took one into an amazing fairyland. Baskets of all sorts on the floor, glass compartments of sweets at mouth-watering eye level, and counters of ‘what you will,’ and everything that could hang was hanging …just ‘as you like it’…..it was all there!
Who knows more about this lovely story? Let me know!
Andrews Motel on van Reenens Pass was a well-known landmark to anyone who drove the busy N3 between Jo’burg and Durban. The unusual triangular, or pyramid- or ‘wigwam’ -shaped chalets were visible as you drove by.
Old Mr Andrews had retired to Harrismith and was now dying. He asked his GP, Mike v Niekerk to please scatter his ashes on top of Platberg.
When the time came, Mike took Mr Andrews’ nephew to the airstrip on 42nd Hill; clutching the little box he got into Mike’s plane; they took off circled, climbed and headed for the western end of nearby Platberg, that iconic mountain that most people who live in Harrismith claim as their own. When the time was right he signaled to the nephew to open the window and empty out the ashes as requested by the old man.
The nephew did; he opened the box; opened the window; and flicked out the ashes. Or tried to – they blew straight back into his face and all over the interior of the plane!
Mike turned and landed back at the strip – and said he spent the rest of the day spitting out Andrews Ashes!
Some of the ashes surely must have landed on top of Platberg though? As requested.
Here’s a great painting of the western end of Platberg – the end nearest the aerodrome – by Alan Kennedy, artist who grew up spending holidays with his uncle and aunt Leo and Heather Hilkovitz at magic Little Switzerland Hotel.