My grandmother Annie’s father was Stewart Bain, former mayor of Harrismith. When he died in 1939 the dorp held quite the procession for him:
Sister Sheila says he was known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’ for his long service and the changes he brought about in the town. The most notable of these was his push for a new town hall. He wanted an impressive edifice for the dorp. Some called the building Bain’s Folly, but there it still is today, probably still a folly, still underutilised and still way more than Harrismith warranted! News is it’s now in serious need of repair!
Stewart was of the ‘Royal Bains’ of Harrismith. No crown, mind, just ownership of the Royal Hotel. And to distinguish them from their cousins the ‘Central Bains’ who owned . . well, you get it.
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 legitimately and British-ly call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory. Well, something along those lines:
Off they’d go in Mary’s pale blue VW Beetle OHS 155. Off to Durbs-by-the-Sea, the Lonsdale Hotel or the Four Seasons for a whole week!
Might that be Mary’s VW outside the Lonsdale in this picture? Three cars behind the Borgward?
The cost of their stay: R2.95 each per day including meals. Mom thinks Randolph Stiller may have owned the Four Seasons. He certainly owned the Central Hotel in Harrismith where Annie stayed, one block away from her Caltex garage in Warden Street. Only the Deborah Retief gardens between her hotel room and her office, but she drove there in her great big old beige Chev Fleetline; one block up to the garage. Mom – ever kind – says her legs were too sore to walk.
In Durban Mom and Annie would visit Annie’s sister Jessie (Bain Bell) and her daughter Lesley (Malcolm-Smith ) in their flat in Finsbury Court in West Street. Lesley worked at Daytons – a supermarket, Mom thinks.
They would all hop into Mom’s car and head off on a drive – to the beach, to the Japanese Gardens; and – always – to visit Annie’s bridesmaid Maggie McPherson who lived in a ‘posh flat up on the Berea. Looked like a bit of Olde England’.
Many years later – 1980’s – we would go and listen to Joe Parker in the Lonsdale. Beer-soaked, we hosed ourselves, but I don’t think Mom and Annie would have approved!
While we’re getting nostalgic, some names to remember: Gillespie Street; The Italian restaurant Villa d’Este; The Four Seasons Hotel, with its Pink Panther steakhouse; Palm Beach Hotel; Millionaires’ Club; Lonsdale Hotel; The El Castilian nightclub (remember The Bats?); The Killarney Hotel, where the Monks Inn used to be (with the words “Steak, Eggs and Strips” posted prominently outside); Thatcher’s Bar at the former Parkview Hotel.
Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.
Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.
Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.
I joked that my gran Annie thought ‘the queen’ was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk. And I thought ‘You know, Annie was probably alive under Queen Victoria!’
So I thought I’d check.
Well, she certainly was. And what’s more, she actually lived under six British Monarchs!
Victoria; Eddie Seven; Georgie Five; Eddie Eight; Georgie Six; Lizzie Two Second
How’s that! Long live the Queen! Long live the King! But longer live our Annie!
I myself have lived through the (distant, irrelevant) reign of Lizzie Two Second and . . oh, only Lizzie. She recently de-throned or defrocked her great-great-granma Victoria as longest reigning Breetish monarch. Poor old Bakoor Charlie has gone straight from unemployment into pensionerhood before ever actually doing anything. He’s sixty nine in the shade, has never worked a day in his life and is still sitting around waiting for a vacancy to arise.
“Royalty” is such BS.
breetish – Mugabe-speak for that island to the left of France;