In 1920, St John’s College was still in its infancy. The school had been established in 1898 as a parish school of St Mary’s Anglican Church in downtown Johannesburg. Soon afterwards, the social upheaval caused by the Anglo-Boer South African War (1899-1902) – including the evacuation of many civilians from Johannesburg and the deportation of the school’s headmaster by the Boer authorities – had necessitated the closure of the school for some eighteen months.
You may have noticed a quaint stone wall with two decrepit wooden gates on Louis Botha Avenue between Acorn Lane and Death Bend. Or perhaps the row of magnificent plane trees just behind the wall caught your attention as you navigated this most notorious of Joburg roads. If you were brought to a stop in traffic, you may have even looked beyond the wall and the trees and seen an imposing double storey property in the distance, and wondered how it came to be built here.
Over the holidays I was given a unique Christmas gift by my friend, Peter Digby who shares my enthusiasm for Johannesburg heritage items. It was a single old yellowed newspaper page, dated 9th November 1965, from The Star Newspaper. The page was saved in a cupboard of the Digby home because it carried an unusual story. The headline was: “Fine old stone in a new wall“.
The topography of Johannesburg is distinctive with the rocky mountainous ridges and the line of koppies that runs from east to west. These are the quartzite ridges of the famous Witwatersrand. The geology is unique. Viljoen and Reimold (An Introduction to South Africa’s Geology and Mining Heritage) make the point that this is one of the few localities where the evolution of the granitic crust of Southern Africa has been preserved and can be viewed.