In 2020 Arderne Gardens turned 175. This wonderful, 4.5 hectare arboretum in Claremont, Cape Town, is filled with trees of great girth and height, together with plants from all over the world, some over 100 years old. For many decades wedding parties have posed for photographs under the great Moreton Bay Fig with its enormous surface root system spreading in all directions like a nest of huge Boa Constrictors. This mighty tree is known throughout Cape Town as The Wedding Tree. The Gardens are a picnickers’ paradise.
102 years ago, when the so-called “Spanish Flu” arrived in South Africa, there was no national health department, and no official guidance on what to do. By mid-October the death rate was so high that town councils decided to close cinemas and schools. Some schools, such as Benoni Central School, Vogelfontein school in Boksburg, and the Springs government school were converted into emergency hospitals to treat the overflow of patients who could not be accommodated in official hospitals.
I had the privilege of attending a memorial gathering for Gawie Fagan at his world-famous house DIE ES, designed by Gawie and built by the family. When the Drakenstein Heritage Foundation visited their house last year we were treated to a humorous and eloquent account of the circumstances and details of the building of Die Es by his daughter Helena. There Tom Robertson, a junior architect in Gawie’s practice in the 70’s, paid moving tribute to this great Architect on our behalf.
On my visits to Cape Town, I often find myself drawn to this attractive little stone church and attendant graveyard situated on the little knoll above Main Street, Rondebosch. It is hard to explain my interest. It is not because of devoutness, since I am not very religious. It may well be due to the association of this church with two of the Cape Colony’s important official appointments: the first Surveyor General and the first Anglican Bishop of Cape Town.
Although Cape Town has had a port for hundreds of years, it has never been a port city like, for example, Istanbul. It was started as a result of human necessity by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th Century as a half-way house and watering hole on the long voyage to India. However, by the fifties, the richer, mostly white population had moved away from the exfoliating atmosphere of tar and sea- winds of the docklands and made for the more salubrious suburbs with their welter of lush green lawns and stench of privilege.
This photograph has been in my wife’s Goles family since it was taken by Ravenscroft in about 1919 (click here to read more about Ravenscroft). Standing in the doorway of the Olympia Café is my wife’s Greek grandfather Athos (Arthur) Goles – who owned and ran it from the day it opened. To the right is the Olympia Picture Palace the then new bioscope that, as can be seen, is advertising the film The Vigilantes released in the USA in 1918.
Does anyone remember Pyott Biscuits? They were the makers of Salticrax, Romany Creams, Iced Zoo and many other SA favourites. Today they’re all branded under the Bakers label and the Pyott name has largely been forgotten.
A public meeting held at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday 16 March, which, attended by residents and members of SAHRA to discuss the heritage declaration of the Bo-Kaap, was stimulating and productive.
Cape Town in the early 1950s was a place where we grew up, and spent weekends rambling and scrambling over Table Mountain. My brother Adrian, a friend and I soon got to learn of the existence of quite a few caves in the Wynberg area, and decided to explore. The first time we entered Wynberg cave was a bit scary, mainly because we had no torches, and we were not properly equipped at all. Later that afternoon round the campfire, we discussed the possibilities of continuing with this – the answer was a definite YES.
It is fortunate for posterity that Group Captain Rupert Taylor, a Johannesburg businessman in 1964 became interested in the old Simon’s Town Seaforth Cemetery or the ‘Old Burying Ground’, as it is called. Like his war-time contemporary ‘Sailor’ Malan he began his service career in the Navy before switching to the Airforce during the Second World War. While in the Navy he used to occasionally sit under a plaque to Midshipman Hammill in this cemetery admiring the sea view.
Sometimes an interesting question is asked. ‘Which Cemetery is the most venerable in South Africa?’ Not so easy to answer as one may think. There are some strong contenders but the Tana Baru in the Bo-Kaap, the oldest Muslim Cemetery in Cape Town, can certainly stake a very credible claim. This is the only historical cemetery in South Africa of which an informative book has been written, The History of the Tana Baru, by Achmat Davids.
I first met Lady Anne Barnard (1750- 1825) when she was in her mid forties. It was a brief encounter, in fact only a passage in the text of “The Table Mountain Book” by Jose Burman, that master storyteller of early South African travel. Lady Anne was reported to be the first European woman to climb to the top of Table Mountain (in July 1797) and I was resolved to find out more about her life and why a high born lady was living in Cape Town (Kaapsche Stad) at the end of the eighteenth century, during what became the first British Occupation (1795-1802).
This article, which focuses solely on South African beach photography prior to 1970s, is an extension on a similar article recently published on South African pavement photography (click here to read).
Markhams Building, located on the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets in Johannesburg, is a landmark of the city. It is striking because it has survived. Built in 1897, it is nearly as old as the city itself.
The railways of Southern Africa have developed since the mid-nineteenth century and the earliest built were based on the proven technology of the railways of Great Britain. The first railway lines were begun in 1859 in Cape Town and Durban (for more information click here for “Ox-Wagon to Iron Horse”) and were laid to the gauge of 4ft-8½in (1435mm).
Below is Part 3 of Mel Baker's extraordinary account of being a Prisoner of War during World War II. Click here to read Part 2 and here to download the full account including detailed footnotes. The photo above shows the main gate of Stalag XVIII A (Prisoner of War Camp in Southern Austria).
In the article below, journalist and heritage enthusiast Lucille Davie reveals the fascinating story behind the Prestwich Memorial in Cape Town. The article was first published on the Media Club South Africa website on 30 September 2013. Click here to view more of Davie's work.
Heritage encompasses all that we experience in everyday life. It is far more fluid in how it is experienced by society than what we perceive it to be. It is where ideas of individual identity and the role of nation states connect. It is who we are as individuals and how we relate to one another in society.
In the article below, Frank R Bradlow looks at the architectural and historical significance of the Old Synagogue in Cape Town. The piece first appeared in the 1980 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria for giving us permission to publish.
In the short article below, an unknown author explores a few blue plaques in Cape Town including one commemorating Herbert Baker's last building in South Africa. The piece appeared in the 1978 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation. today the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.