What do names such as ‘Astoria, Regal, Plaza, Victory, Pigalle, Empire, Roxy, Odeon, Vaudette, Regent, Apollo, Ritz, and Bijou’, mean to you?

Generation Z will probably think they are apps and Millennials that they are computer games. Generation X will think of them as names of men’s suits, restaurants or maybe small-town hotels. Only the Baby Boomers will recognise the evocative names of long closed and largely forgotten bioscopes.

Last weekend (Sunday 3rd February 2019) I joined ten heritage stalwarts of Kensington who came together to acknowledge history and pay homage to a remarkable war memorial and the men whose names once appeared on it. We gathered because during January 2019 the memorial had been extensively and probably irreparably damaged. Erica Lűttich had together with her students created an art installation by wrapping the memorial in cloth.

In the fascinating article below, journalist Lucille Davie explores the history of four landmark Joburg castles. The piece was first published on the City of Johannesburg's website on 23 July 2003. Click here to view more of Davie's work. Unfortunately, in 2018, the Three Castles Building has deteriorated significantly and remains endangered. Local heritage organisations are concerned by the lack of information about the state of the Kensington Castle.

On 26 July 2018 concerned stakeholders including representatives from the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (Kathy Munro), the Kensington Residents Association (Isabella Pingle) and the  Johannesburg East Joint Plans committee (Andre Marais) met with Eric Itzkin, Zoleka Ntobeni, Councillor Carlos Da Rocha and Cebo Mhlongo of the City. We paid a site visit to the Bez Valley War Memorial.

On Saturday morning 16th June 2018, I attended a Johannesburg East Plans committee meeting. Our work is about heritage preservation while considering appropriate changes and new developments. Isabella Pingle, the representative of the Kensington Ratepayers and Residents Association, placed a photo before us showing the damage recently done to the Bez Valley World War I Memorial. The Memorial has effectively been destroyed despite the recent efforts of the local councillor Carlos Da Rocha and the community to clean the small park.

Part of Kitchener Avenue, in Kensington, Johannesburg has been replaced by Albertina Sisulu Highway. Perhaps soon, Rhodes Park, Roberts Avenue and Milner Crescent will be renamed to burnish the heroes of more recent history? Significantly, Cecil John Rhodes statue on the UCT campus has been recently vandalized in a fierce show of anti- colonialism.

The story of the Foster Gang is one that continues to grip audiences around South Africa and the world. Below is a remarkable recollection of the saga by A.J. Hoffman, one of the detectives on the case. The piece was translated from Hoffman's book 'Op die Spoor van die Misdadiger' by his grandson Andre. Thank you to the team from Kensington Heritage for sending it through.


This is one of Johannesburg’s earliest war memorials, overlooking the site of one of the largest remount camps of the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902. Originally a memorial to the Scottish Horse which was later disbanded, that regiment was antecedent to the famous Transvaal Scottish Regiment formed in 1902, which saw service in both World Wars. It contributes to a sense of multi-cultural heritage.

The castle was built out of quarried stone taken from the hill and that area was also a great place to play in as we grew up. I presume it is the same today, unless they have built houses along the back of the koppie. The entrance to the castle was up a ramp and a small balcony leading to the front door. Just inside the door there is a stairway to the second floor on your left and straight ahead you walked into the kitchen. The height of the passage way is quite low, so I presume the builder was a short person.

I lived at 130 Highland Road, right across from the Castle from 1942 until about 1965 when I left to travel the world. The Castle to me was a great playground as I grew up.  We spent a lot of time searching for the secret passage way into the Castle (every castle has a secret entrance) but after all the years of searching, we never found it. Below the Castle on the side of the hill facing Kensington there was an open air covered balcony.  We checked every stone and bush around it, hoping to be the first to find the secret tunnel but in the end gave up.

[Originally published 11 July 2014] A modern day mystery appears to be developing in Highland Road, Kensington. No one seems to know what has happened to Marius Van Den Spek, the apparent owner of the iconic Kensington Castle. Over the last few years the property has fallen into disrepair with various sources stating that Marius has abandoned his inheritance (along with a very large council bill).

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