Harrismith Methodist Memories

Fifty-Year-Old Memories: METHODIST CHURCH, SUNDAY SCHOOL AND GUILD IN THE SIXTIES. This was triggered by big sister Barbara’s scribblings written in 2015 and added to by various other perpetrators:

“Dropping Dropping Dropping – Hear The Pennies Fall – Every One For Jesus, He Shall Have Them All – But only after we have – Rebuilt the Chu-urch Hall.”

Every Sunday morning Mom would give us sixpence each to place in the plates that were handed around by the – who? deacons? elders? we didn’t call them anything high church like that, it was just Uncle Cappy and Uncle Ralph. They would hand around two flat, lathe-turned wooden plates lined with red velvet, one for boys, one for girls; open so everyone could see how much you gave! These were then taken to the front of the hall where George Davies would be sitting. He would stand up, and – in Barbara’s childlike eyes – pocket the money in his voluminous trousers so that he could buy us nice things for our Christmas Party!

Every Sunday morning we’d go to Church with Mom in her powder blue Volksie OHS 155.

OHS 155

She was the organist and we had to get there early so that Mom could get settled – and sister Sheila says ‘warm up her hands in Harrismith’s winter cold’ . She would play all the beautiful pieces that she had been practicing all week at home. The congregation would walk into Church and sit quietly and listen to her playing. At least, most people would sit quietly.

At first she played the big old fashioned organ with the ivory stops and wooden ‘pump-pedals’ that she “inherited” from Uncle Wright Liddell. Now when I look at that beautiful wood I think ‘deforestation’, and those ivory stops and keys make me think Dead Elephants! Later on the much smaller modern organ that replaced it. Much less impressive, but maybe more in choon? On the old organ they’d sit with their back to the people; the new one they faced us and it was low. Mom would place a big bunch of flowers on it so she could hide a bit! Especially at funerals. The old one looked something like this one. I put the second picture in to show the wooden pedals you had to pump left-right-left-right.

At 10am Church would begin with the minister appearing from the mysterious room at the back, mounting his pulpit and saying the same thing each time. I forget what it was but you can bet it was important. Sunday School kids had to start off in the big church first (‘big church’ in no way to be confused with Die Groot Kerk which was up the road, also in Warden Street, but apparently closer to heaven). Barbara thinks this was to teach us kids to sit still, listen to the grown-ups, keep deadly quiet and definitely not to talk and giggle in Church. Well, that didn’t work. What was so funny? Was it Mrs. Brunsdon’s singing? Was it Mrs. Fritzgerald’s hat or her fur cape? Or was it little two year old Glynnis Yates standing up on the pew and saying loudly to her father in the pulpit: “Daddy, you Scallywag”! Whatever it was, it was very funny. One definite cause of hilarity once was while Mary was teaching us ‘Hark! Hark! Hark!, While infant voices sing’ and Fluffy Crawley sang the harks in an Afrikaans pronunciation while making little raking motions with his hands, causing collapsification.

Barbara remembers: In our earlier years – 1959/1960 – us three little Swanepoels would walk down Warden Street with Audrey and Monica Hastings, who lived in Warden Street back to back with our great-grandmother’s house at 13 Stuart Street. There at ‘Granny Bland’s house we would have high tea, scones or crumpets on the front veranda steps with our Grandmother Annie Bland, her sister Jessie Bell and Annie’s mother-in-law, Mary Bland, known as Granny Bland – a highlight of the week.

Granny Bland 9 Stuart St HS.JPG

Them not being church-going folk, Mom did enough church for all of them put together! Plus she did lots of Women’s Auxiliary. Which I think was probably started to “keep ’em out of the pulpit”? We would wait with these sinners for Mom to finish her church service and then join us.

Story from Mom: Mary Wessels said no matter where she sat in Church, Mrs. Brunsdon always came and sat in front of her. Mary would then battle to keep a straight face when confronted by Mrs. B singing loudly off key, turning around and sniffing and then noisily wiping her nose with a snotty hanky into the bargain. So distracting! This, methinks, was one of the things that set the girls’ giggling!

Actually I think every Methodist thought Mrs Brunsdon always sat right in front of them – it certainly felt that way! She used to turn round and peer intently at whatever or whoever  interested her, over or through her glasses. She would start singing the next line when she was ready, regardless of where the music and/or the congregation members were at – those two weren’t always perfectly in sync neither! Loudly. She would never skip or play catch-up. She’d go through the hymn at her pace – irregardless! Sometimes Mom the organist or sometimes the whole congregation would  wait or speed up to match her and thus keep some sort of order.

Lynn du Plessis reminisces: So many memories of our Sunday School days in that church.  I was always part of the choir and am comforted by the fact that although I have never had the greatest singing voice, I was better than the person who was always one verse ahead and totally out of key.  Mrs Brunsdon was a constant source of amusement to Shirley, Anne and I. The pews would shake as the three of us tried to contain the giggles. Then who was it that constantly dug in her nose with the hugest antique key and wore the most outrageous hats: Birds, Butterflies, Bees, Feathers and Flowers perched precariously on her dusty hat and jiggled and jangled as she sang ‘uit volle bors’!  (Ms Fitzgerald).

These three good-looking older girls were the main reason we younger boys hung in at Sunday School: Whenever they told us Shirley, Goodness and Mercy Would Follow Us All the Days of Our Lives we thought of Shirley, Ann and Lynn!

Mrs Brunsdon was without doubt a cause of some of the suppressed youthful mirth in church. As was poor old Bob Yates’ small, bald, bespectacled bird-like appearance. He had a tough act to follow, coming after the younger cricket-playing Jack MacGuire.

Us kids would then be dismissed to our relief after five hours. Or ten minutes, depending on who you asked. Off we would troop – out of the old sandstone church and into the brick ‘Wesley Hall’ next door for Sunday School. Read about the hall foundation stone here.

Methodist Church crop

Announcements would be made, the Dropping Pennies Song would be sung, the loot would be gathered, and off we would go to our individual classes.

The Sunday School teachers in the early 60’s were Miss Ivy Petty for the senior girls, Poerie Coetzee for the senior boys, George Davies for junior boys, Stella Euthimiou taught the babies, Emma Morton and Pye Euthimiou. After classes it would be back to the hall where we always seem to finish off the morning with – “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day . . . a sunbeam, a su-unbeam, I’ll be a sunbeam for Him”. Shirley Mason would accompany us on the piano. Sheila says another song that never missed a Sunday was: “Jesus bids us shine with a pure pure light . . . you in your small corner and I in mine”.

Announcements would be made and this is where the Dropping Pennies Song would be sung, the loot would be gathered, and off we would go to our individual classes.

sunday-school-crop
Second from left at the back: The ‘harking’ raking chap

Sunday School Picnics in the park on the banks of the river were amazing. The games, the delicious food and the wonderful company. Gallons of ginger-beer in colourful buckets with raisins floating on top and hot-cross buns, with butter melting in them. Uncle Cappy would walk around offering tea and a hot cross bun by shouting in the Cockney accent he’d learned in World War II, “Coop a char na boon!?” He would also organise games for us – rounders, open-gates and cricket. And of course, he’d join in and play!

Sheila has just spoken to Mom who says she still has the red plastic bucket she used for the ginger-beer which she made fifty years ago!

Another story from Sheila: One picnic all the kids were told not to go anywhere near the weir – but needless to say we went. Afterwards Mom said to all the kids: “But didn’t Mrs. Morton tell you not to go to the weir?” Irrepressible Pierre piped up cheerfully: “Yes, but we didn’t hear her nie!”

Emma Morton of the double negatives became our ‘superintendent’ after George Davies retired – him with the yards and yards of grey flannel material which made up his flowing pants – We called them his ballroom trousers! When he sang “you in your small corNAAAH!” he would rise up on his toes and shove his boep forward a yard but his trousers didn’t need to move an inch. His two-toned grey Wolseley had beautiful fold-down walnut tables for the back passengers.

On the subject of George Davies’ Wolseley, Etienne wrote: Tuffy & I would walk to the church on Sunday evenings after my folks had left, with the green Zephyr’s spare keys so as to borrow the Zephyr for a spin through the park. I would gun it and let its backside slip on the turn before the swing. One night I let it slide too much and caught the tail against a mud bank. We drove back to Church & parked it in the empty bay next to old Davies’ Wolseley. When my Dad saw the bang on the tail the next day in the light, he thought George Davie had bumped him and said nothing. The following Sunday old Cappy inspected the Wolseley for evidence of green paint, but there was none. Before he passed away I told him the story & he said he could not believe me.

On Friday afternoons, the younger kids had Junior Guild. What fun! Here the minister Jack McGuire and his wife Eileen were in charge – they would read us stories, we would have quizzes and then there would be games outside. Barbara used to play the piano for the singing of ‘guild songs’ which were different to Sunday School songs. “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, give me oil in my lamp I pray / I will make you fishers of men if you’ll only follow me / The old old story it is ever new, the old old story Praise the Lord, its true, that Jesus died for me as well as you, I love the old old story”.

In front of the old church
In front of the old church 1962

In standard six – high school! you could join Senior Guild. For kids who mostly stayed at home evenings or went out only with our parents this was a big adventure. 7pm on Friday nights you could go to guild unaccompanied! And come home late. We’d drink coffee at guild and sometimes we’d venture out on treasure hunts – going all over town finding and collecting the ‘treasures’ in the clues we were given. In about 1968 Adie Crewe took over the night Guild and brought a whole lot of new ideas and fun into our lives.

After Guild some were fetched and some walked home – more adventure. Barbara says walking home by the light of the moon or the streetlamps gave the words “Kêrels by Kandlelight” a whole new meaning!

We would help out at cake sales held on Saturday mornings, in front of Chodos’ store or the Post Office – selling, carrying and sometimes eating all the goodies that filled these tables. Worst of all was standing on a street corner with an adult from the Church, holding the money tin and rattling it under everybody’s noses.

Harvest Festival was another different day. We were asked to bring along some sort of fruit or veg. We could have taken wine, but Methodists frown on alcohol. I wonder how the Methodist Church in the winelands handles that little ‘farm produce’ dilemma!? The farmers would bring loads of crops – big pumpkins and mealie stalks all over the place. The front of the Church looked like a jungle. Imagine the nunus that escaped from the vegetation!

On Garment Sunday we were asked to take jerseys for the poor.

The Nativity Play brought big excitement – in rehearsals and on the big night. Anna Gavin, Miss Petty, Mom, the minister and his wife would choreograph and direct and coach. Tension as you found out if you were cast as an angel, a wise man, a shepherd or – first prize! Mary or Joseph. I remember being a sheep and an angel – not prize positions by any means! I remember the bigger boys’ solemn slow walk as us the supporting cast all sang ‘We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, . . . . following yonder star’. Only later we learnt: We Three Beatles of Liverpool are, George in a taxi John in a car, Paul on his scooter blowing his hoo-ooter, following Ringo Starr”. And the older kids also taught us; ‘While shepherds washed their socks at night all seated round the tub; A bar of sunlight soap came down and they began to scrub’.

At the end of the year Prize-Giving evening lovely books were handed out for lst, 2nd and 3rd prizes. What were they for? Biblical knowledge? Not being irritating?

Carols by Candlelight was another big event – sitting on the back of a big truck or trailer along with Uncle Wright Liddell’s beloved organ and driving around town singing to – who? the Dutch Reformed and the Anglicans? Lost souls! We’d show them! The grown-ups and the bigger kids had torches or candles. The singing would start immediately with great gusto and this carried on during the course of the evening with diminutive Uncle Wright playing to his heart’s delight while pumping at the pedals to make the noise. We would be asked to pump when he tired and had to be tamed – ‘not so fast’ – till we got the hang of it.

Then our Christmas Party in the hall – what a highlight! Decorations; tables groaning under the burden of delicious food; a beautiful array of cakes and puddings and ice cream cones; and always a beautifully decorated Christmas tree – a real pine tree from the bosbou; loads of presents lying at the bottom. These wonderful unforgettable occasions were thanks to our kind and generous parents – Aunty Joyce Joubert, Aunty Joan du Plessis, Mrs. Emma Morton, Ivy and Phillys Petty, Miss Helen Scott (Scotty) who always made her delicious fairy cup-cakes, Myra Wood, Anna Gavin, Doreen Hattingh, Polly Crawley, Jo Hastings, Edna Bissett, Lally Davies, Mary Swanepoel and who else? – many others.

A Christmas present for each child was brought to us by a “real” Father Christmas – usually Uncle Cappy, who – as always – did his thing here like a real trooper. He would arrive at the hall on a tractor or truck after a big build-up by the other adults. Old FC certainly got more hype, pomp and ceremony than poor Jesus ever got! We would be told to go and look out for him – usually misled in the wrong direction to give him a gap to arrive “Ta DA!” – in he would walk in ‘is gumboots, with all our eyes on the big sack thrown over his shoulder. Then we would sit quietly as George Davies or Emma Morton called each one of us to the front to receive our gift, lucky kids.

Christmas Day church! For once church did not seem early. We had been up for ages already, finding out what was under the tree. Church would be dominated by the excitement of our presents with our friends who had also not gone on holiday. What did Father Christmas bring you when he came down your chimney? Ministers would try and keep the focus on Jesus but that was not easy to do. I achieved some brief pulpit-y fame one year when the minister said to the spellbound congregation “I know of one little chap who had already pitched his new tent on the lawn by six o’ clock this morning!”

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Pullover Psychology

Deon Joubert came running out of the house and shouted to his older brother Etienne: “Etienne! Mom says you must tracker tray on!”

Etienne knew exactly what Deon meant: It was winter in Harrismith, the sun was going down, we were playing outside, so Ma Joyce was saying he must put on a jersey.

Afrikaans: “Trek ‘n trui aan.”

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jersey, cardigan, sweater, pullover

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Pullover psychology is not as easy as some think. When your Ma said you had to tracker tray on it changed the whole dynamics of the important stuff that was going on right then. The interruption might mean you’re no longer King of the Castle but end up as the Dirty Rascal. And that’s if the dreaded interrupting jersey was brought to you. If you were summoned inside to fetch it yourself that was a DISASTER and you would rather spend five minutes arguing with your Ma about how you weren’t cold than spend the two minutes it would take to run in and pull it on.

Many Ma’s seem to have a strong need to thermo-regulate their offspring and just don’t understand “catching your death” was never nearly as scary to us as losing our place.

Anyway, statistics I just invented prove that of the 487 million kids who have been told they’ll catch their death of a cold, only one ever did. And he recovered.

Borrowing Cars Genetic?

We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.

Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.

I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.

Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.

Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.

Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. It only became Royal after the Breetish Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.

The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!

Royal Natal National Park Hotel - Heritage Portal - June 2014 - 1

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Potted history of the Royal Natal National Park area:

In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W.O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.

On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.

Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W.O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.

Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.

The Royal family were so impressed with their stay that they insisted that the hotel and national park be granted the “Royal” designation.

Today, the Royal Natal National Park is managed by KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation body of KwaZulu-Natal.

Here’s why everyone loves the area:Amphitheatre Pierre (1)

Picture taken by Pierre du Plessis while he was working down there.

Home

95 Stuart Street was home from 1961 to 1973:

Home

Some stiff poses in the garden in 1970:

Kids at home - fishpond, Jock's kennel, grapevine, tree-tables, big hedge

Inside, in the dining room and the lounge:

Twelve years at 95 Stuart Street. Funny how that felt like forever, yet we stayed in our first home for around fifteen years, 7 River Drive 1989 to 2003:

Home - River Drive

and have now been in our second home for about twelve, 10 Elston Place since 2005:

Home 10 Elston Place

10 Elston Place

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Twice Horrified, Fifty Years Apart

When we were young we heard that Jock Grant used to give Ian R10 to spend.

We were horrified.

The other day Tom asked for money. I offered him R10.

He was horrified.

R10 note new

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Especially horrifying to note that when I was born there were coins in denominations of ¼, ½ and 1 penny, and 3 and 6 pence! Yes, there was a farthing, a ha’penny, a penny, a tickey and sixpence! Basically what Tom in his new South African English would term worth ‘fokol’!

Here’s a farthing (1/4 penny) from when I was cute:

1943_South_African_farthing_obverse

Shit I’m old! I think you could buy a Wilsons toffee from Harrismith Mayor Nick Duursema’s VC Cafe for this coin.

There was also a one shilling coin, a 2 shilling coin (some called it a ‘florin’)  and 2½ shillings (‘half a crown’, is that right?).

All the coins had the British monarch on the obverse (George VI until 1952 and later Queen Lizzie Two Second), with the titles in Latin, while the reverse had the denomination and “South Africa / Suid Afrika”.  The other 11 languages? Forget it! Latin yes, isiZulu, hell no!

Recently Tom and I were looking at a collection of coins Aitch had collected and kept in a plastic screw-top jar from her Prof Chris Barnard days that originally held an artificial heart valve. I said, ‘Hey Tom, the 1931 tickey is worth a lot of money’. That piqued his interest and he had a good look, but no luck, the biggest value tickey we had was worth about R6.

20170903_100617.jpg

The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

Janet & Stewart Bain – Royal Hotel Harrismith
  • Stewart Bain came to Harrismith in 18__
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’
  • Pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it “Bain’s Folly” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?”).

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral:

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

I thought I remembered that, despite the fact that every dorp has a Royal Hotel, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory (well, something along those lines):

Royal Hotel article

Here you have Platberg mountain & Town Hall seen from the Royal Hotel:

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral from the Royal Hotel balcony

The Bain Family’s Scottish Roots

Katrina (nee Miller) Duncan, from near Oban in Scotland, stumbled across my other blog here and made contact with us. She sounds delightful, but so she would – she’s family!

bain-crest
Clan Bain Crest

She has been researching the Bain family tree and she and my sister Sheila have worked out that we share a Great-Great-Great Grandfather, one Donald Bain, born in Wick 14 April 1777 – died 1853. He married Katherine Bremner and they lived in Sarclet, just south of Wick way up in north-east Scotland.

wick castle scotland
Wick Castle
sarclet, scotland.jpg
Sarclet
sarclet, scotland_2
Sarclet village

Donald’s son George was out fishing with his brother Stewart in 1853 when their boat was swamped and Stewart drowned. Katrina found an 1853 newspaper article about the tragedy.

Stewart Bain drowning 1853.jpg

When Stewart Bain was born in 1819 in Caithness, his father, Donald, was 42 and his mother, Katherine, was 41. On 7 February 1845 Stewart married Christina Watson  in his hometown. They had four children during their marriage. He died as a young father on 19 February 1853 in Thrumster, Caithness, at the age of 34, and was buried there.

The next year, 1854, his brother George and his wife Annie (nee Watson) had a son. They named him Stewart.

He is the Stewart who came to Harrismith, Orange River Colony in South Africa in 18____ and married Janet Burley. They had seven kids: The seven ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith, named after their hotel, The Royal Hotel in Station Road. This ‘title’ was to distinguish them from ‘The Central Bains’, not to claim royalty!

Stewart Bain called his home in Harrismith ‘Caithness’:

Caithness, Harrismith

On Katrina’s ancestry web page “Miller Family Tree” the names Annie, Jessie, Stewart, Katherine, Donald etc have been used for generations.  My gran – one of the seven Royal Bains – was Annie Watson Bain.

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Many thanks to  katrina duncan for getting in touch!

The Scottish Tartan register confirms that there is no ancient Clan Bain tartan. This one ‘The Bains of Caithness’ was designed in 1993 for Robert Bain of Caithness.