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JOHANNESBURG HERITAGE JOURNAL No. 4 - 2014
Parktown Heritage Journal
Issue No. 4
Editor: William Gaul
Published by:
Johannesburg Heritage Foundation
ISBN 978-0-620-51094-3
All correspondence in connection with this Journal should be addressed to:
The Editor
Johannesburg Heritage Journal
Johannesburg Heritage Foundation
21 Rockridge Road
Parktown 2193
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CONTENTS
Page
EDITORIAL……………………………………………………………………3
1918 MOTOR TRIP TO St LUCIA……………………………………4
A LETTER TO MY SISTER By Sarah Welham……………….10
MELVILLE MEMORIES cont. By William Gaul……………..15
THE CAFÉ DE MOVE-ON By Costa Phitidis………………….19
REVIEW ……………………………………………………………………..24
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EDITORIAL
In this edition of the Journal, we take great pride and pleasure in publishing – for the first time –
writings by the illustrious Dr Percy Stewart, who, among other important works, was the founder of
the Krugersdorp Hospital, which - for reasons of political expediency - is now known as the Dr Yusuf
Dadoo Hospital.
While many of us today undertake a journey to the KwaZulu-Natal coast without giving the prospect
too much thought, matters were somewhat different in 1918, when Dr Stewart and his family,
accompanied by another Krugersdorp stalwart, Mr JP du Toit, set off from Johannesburg by road to
St Lucia. Dr Stewart drove a Studebaker, while Mr du Toit travelled in a Ford. Thorough preparation
– including the packing of tools and spares, including several tyres, was essential before leaving on
what can only be described as an adventure into the virtually unknown. Dr Stewart’s diary recording
his journey should give the blasé traveller of today pause for thought, particularly when irritated by
matters such as toll gates and speed limits.
The Journal recognises that early Johannesburg was a melting pot of many different peoples and
cultures – and we are keen to record the experiences of various communities and individuals who,
together, create the mosaic that is our City today. The Greek, or more precisely, Cypriot, community
was one which enriched our culture immeasurably, not only in terms of the Orthodox religion that
they brought with them, but also the contribution they made to making food-stuffs available to a
hungry populace – whether by means of the very early “café de move-on” that is the subject of the
article that appears herein, or by later enterprises such as the corner stores known colloquially as
“Greek shops”, and also larger catering concerns. Many of the descendants of these early pioneers
have, of course, made their very considerable mark in professions such as medicine, the law, and
academia.
Costa Phitidis’ account of the experiences of his ancestor, Constantinos Phitidis, and his family in
early Johannesburg, is published as it was relayed by him to Sarah Welham.
We publish something entirely different in this edition, which gives an insight into the work of the
intrepid ladies who carry out heritage research into the inner areas of the City. Sarah Welham’s
letter, in which she describes her and her colleagues’ adventures as they explore the original
suburbs of Johannesburg, is a real eye-opener.
The second part of a reminiscence on the old suburb of Melville (the first part of which appeared in
the second edition of the Journal), is published here, and finally, as a first of what is hoped will be
many, we publish a review of Menache & David’s A Platteland Pilgrimage.
Readers are reminded that contributions, no matter how short, on any aspect of Johannesburg’s
heritage, would be gratefully received.
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1918 DIARY OF A MOTOR TRIP TO ST. LUCIA LAKE
Dr Percy Stewart
Note: the original punctuation has been retained in the interests of authenticity.
Saturday June 29th. 1918.
Met Mr. J. P. du Toit in Johannesburg, as arranged, and left at 3p.m. Mr. & Mrs. du Toit, with their
son and daughter in a FORD CAR. Our party, consisting of wife, Self, Miss. Mitchell, Miss. Morton and
three children, together with Sausage in box on running board in STUDEBAKER. The necessary
baggage, karosses, blankets, cushions, guns and food took up all available space and, together with
three spare wheels, spare axle, half a dozen tubes, chains, spade and tools of all sorts, made a very
heavy load.
We found the road good and easy on tyres and made a comfortable run to Heidelberg (33 miles by
4.45p.m.). Put up as arranged at Grand Hotel – Mr Gladwyn doing his best for us.
JUNE 30th. Left Heidelberg 9a.m. for Volksrust. Road not very good at Greylingstad a particularly
bad drift. This latter was, with a little difficulty, easily negotiated. (We made enquiries regarding
road to Val Station, as suggested by Automobile Club Journal, but were strongly advised by local
people to keep to the Main Road). We were now a fleet of five cars. A CADILLAC Mr. Mrs. And Miss
Rugg and Mr. G. Arthur;- a SUNBEAM Dr. and Mrs. Thwartes, - a MAXWELL having joined us.
Standerton was reached by 2.30 where Mr. Stewart of the Masonic Hotel gave us an excellent lunch.
Off again with a good road to Paardekop where we found a fairly steep hill. Gave children tea on top
and allowed cars behind to pass us. Here we had a mishap. It was already dusk and, without waiting
to study the maps of the T.A.C., we followed some very distinct Motor tracks of what we thought
was the Cadillac and unfortunately kept to the west of the line finding ourselves, after some five
miles or so, at Mr. van der Merwe’s farm. Mr. van der Merwe very kindly wished us to stay the night
as he said we would not reach Volksrust but we retraced our path back to the Railway crossing and
crossed as shown on Map, taking care to keep to right to avoid the road to Amersfoort but,
unfortunately, after travelling another five miles, on an excellent road, we came to another farm
where Mr. Meake, the owner, told us we were again wrong. He also invited us to stay but we
sorrowfully turned back to the same old crossing again where, after some more time lost trying to
find another road, a Kafir put us right. The road to Volksrust is here much smaller and quite
insignificant compared to the Amersfoort road. In the meanwhile we had, by the light of the head
lamps, undone valises and taken out extra blankets and karosses; the night being bitterly cold. We
eventually arrived at Volksrust at 10.30 and having discovered the Transvaal Hotel were happy once
more.
July 1st. Volksrust.
We were here advised to give up our plan of travelling via Wakkerstroom to Vrijheid and to take the
road to NEWCASTLE, UTRECHT, BLOOD RIVER instead which, although considerably longer, was said
to be much better. We were now by ourselves; the Cadillac departing for Melmoth and Eshowe; the
Sunbeam for Durban whilst the Maxwell had stayed behind at Paardekop to travel later. We found
the road to Newcastle hilly with very beautiful scenery. Newcastle 12.30 p.m. No stop as we wished
to make Utrecht for lunch. On a portion of new road, heavy with loose metal fourteen miles from
Utrecht, the Ford Cat travelling in front swerved, hit catchwater and turned over. We were greatly
relieved to see the 4 occupants get up but found that the front axle was very badly bent. After some
delay, we took Mrs. and Miss. du Toit in our car and reached Utrecht at 2 p.m. Here we found an
excellent Garage, the Manager of which immediately sent back aid in the form of a new axle, etc.
After some discussion, we decided to try to get to Vrijheid, as arranged, so we pushed on for
Sandspruit where we found a large bridge but the road was rather difficult. Reached Blood River at
dusk with mudguards of car bumping on rear wheels owing to excessive load. Bridge at Bloodriver
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alright but road on far side washed away and new road still under construction. Extremely heavy
with sand.
We, however, reached Vrijheid in the dark about 7 p.m. and put up at the President Hotel where Mr.
Norris made us perfectly comfortable.
July 2nd.
Mr. and Master du Toit arrived about 9 a.m. having started before sunrise from Utrecht. Did not
leave until midday and being told we could not make Nongoma that day as the road was too bad.
Decided to push on a bit and stop at Lillia’s Store about 37 miles distant. Very bad road after first
twelve miles but struggled on and about dusk enquired of the only person we met the whereabouts
of the Store. He told us it was a few miles further on, so off again and later on arrived at a farm, the
first on this road, which we thought was our destination. Information here was disappointing. We
must leave the main road and travel on a veldt track, almost invisible, over the hill when we would
find Lutche’s. We noticed the light difference in name but thought out recollection of name was
incorrect. This we did with much misgiving and having gone over two hills and traversed two valleys,
arrived at a farm which we found was Lutche’s. We explained to Mrs Lutche that we had been
directed to her house as it was impossible to reach Nongoma and apologised for our numbers. We
were most hospitably received and supper given us in three relays owing to the smallness of room,
limited number of plates, etc. and the fact that there were other guests staying there. It was only at
the conclusion of this meal that we discovered during the course of conversation that our hostess
was Mrs. Lutchie (Ludevic) de Jager, wife of a large Stockfarmer from Vrijheid, and that Lillia’s Store
was further on the Main Road. Explanations and apologies during which Mr. de Jager arrived and
instead of being annoyed welcomed us most heartily and producing tobacco and a bottle invited us
to further cheer.
July 3rd. Left at daybreak after a cup of coffee all round. Trouble at once. Road extremely hilly and,
what was worse, recently repaired !!! in parts. However, the cars managed to overcome these. We
had been told at de Jager’s of one hill in particular which was unusually bad and when we at length
struck it we were appalled to find it quite as steep as Muldersdrift but with from 2 to 3 feet of loose
heavy red sand covering its entire surface. It had been repaired! This we found impossible to
negotiate as the cars sank deep in the soil but, luckily, the road party were still working at the top.
The Ford was towed up by a team of donkeys and the Studebaker pushed up by a team of 16 boys. 2
½ Hours taken on this hill. The country now became altogether mountainous and the scenery very
grand but extraordinarily desolate. Mountains everywhere with huge valleys and small waterfalls.
The road, which was wonderfully good, being cut on the sides of the mountains with a sheer drop of
many hundreds of feet; very similar to the sea around the Cape Peninsula. We found we had to
climb mountain after mountain lowest gear all the way up and then suddenly downhill again with
lowest gear in spark cut off and hand and foot brake hard on. The down grade was much more trying
than climbing. We appeared to make almost a complete circuit in this manner of a large valley but
having accomplished this arrived at last at Nongoma at 3p.m. Here we found a large Court House
and Police Post, the Office of the Conservor of Game where we obtained shooting licenses and a
Store and Hotel combined. They were very astonished to hear we had come through from Vrijheid.
Vrijheid to Nongoma 70 odd miles. Nongoma to Hlabisa 36 miles and another 18 on to Somkele,
where my brother was waiting for us and we were one day behind our programme. Decided to get
on to Hlabisa.
We now passed out of the mountains into level country with a beautiful road and the run from
Nongoma was so excellent that we did not stop at Hlabisa but went right through in the dark to
Somkele, the terminus of the North Coast Line from Durban, arriving at 10.30p.m. Here we found
the Station, usually deserted, full of people and, apparently celebrating several birthdays
simultaneously. Four gentlemen relinquished two small rooms to the ladies and children of our
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parties. du Toit and Marais slept on the verandah and my brother and I having fixed up car and
removed front seats had, I think, the best beds of all.
4th July.
Up early and decided to attempt to motor to Matubatuba. One station down line, 12 miles distant by
rail where our wagon was waiting. Unfortunately there is no road but with spade and hatchets we
rendered two dry river beds passable for the cars. We then reached the Ntsane River which had, we
were previously informed, wagon drift and stony bottom. This was quite fallacious as I immediately
sank down to the axles in black clay. More spade work which proved ineffectual and we had to
obtain boys from neighbouring kraals to help. We took this opportunity, however, to have a meal
and after considerable delay got going again. We did not reach Mtubatuba till after 4 o’ clock where
a further misfortune awaited us.
My brother had sent his trusty Induna Pongoa from Somkele by rail the night we arrived with some
cases of provisions to the wagon at Mtubatuba and to tell the driver to wait our arrival there but he
was so much impressed by the Motor Cars that, having delivered the cases, he said something
equivalent to “GO ON! DO NOT DELAY!!! The baas is coming on in the car”, etc. Consequently we
found that the wagon had left that morning and we were in an awkward fix – no food – no place to
sleep. There was nothing for it but to overtake the wagon as soon as possible. The country here is
almost flat – sandy, with innumerable pans, of brackish water and swamps. There is no road except a
wagon track in the sand, two deep ruts, too sandy for the cars to travel in. Our plan was to keep on
the veld beside this track.
Off again without delay only to find a huge mud drift which after several attempts, we found could
not be circumvented. Luckily we obtained a wagon at Mtubatuba which towed the two cars through
but valuable time had been lost and it was getting dark. Off again, but slowly, as whenever we tried
to increase our speed a bump into an ant-bear-hole hidden in the grass warned us to hasten slowly.
It was very slow going, but worse was before us. In the distance was a huge veldt fire extending
along the horizon on our right hand –that is to the South; and although there was a North wind
blowing it soon invaded our track so that we had to deviate further to the left to avoid it. We
entered some high grass in doing so and I immediately got bogged.
It would take at least ¼ hour to dig car out and the fire only 20 yards away, now was advancing
rapidly. There was not a moment to loose, but by means of our canvas valises we managed to beat
out the flames near us and, having got the car out, drove onto the burnt area for safety.
It was hard and thirsty work and having had a pretty heavy day we decided to go no further in the
dark but to start at day break and overtake the wagon.
Everyone was thirsty and although we had a bottle of whisky the water bottles were empty. We
drank some of the water kept in an old oil can for the Engine and prepared for bed. The front seats
of the Car being taken out, the hood put up and the side flaps adjusted and electric inspection lamp
hung inside the car makes a good sleeping apartment which, on this occasion, was overcrowded. The
others slept outside which I found all right till about 2 a.m. when the heavy dew made me re-adjust
the waterproof sheets.
Anxious night - was the wagon really in front? Could it possibly have travelled so far? Distance
uncertain since both speedometers broken by tow ropes. Also on tomorrows track there was a large
pan through which the cars could not travel and the wagon driver had guaranteed he could guide
the cars round it by making a deviation from the track. If we failed to catch the wagon we should be
stuck with nothing for it but to walk many miles without anything to eat and wade through pans
perhaps carrying children.
Petro was getting rather low.
July 5th.
Up at day break and walked on with brother to try and find wagon. Found it only two miles ahead
with tent and everything aboard, so returned at once and brought cars along when coffee and food
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were quickly made ready. After the usual delay of catching and inspanning the donkeys we started
off with some of the passengers and baggage on the wagon to lighten the car. We kept ahead of the
rest as I had, as I anticipated, to be pulled out of the bog on two occasions; the Ford being much
lighter was able to get through unassisted.
Later in the afternoon the driver, leaving the team to another boy to drive, walked ahead of the cars
to the right of the track round some low hills making a wide deviation of the big pan we had feared.
This was successfully accomplished and the wagon rejoined when we went ahead and arrived at our
destination for the day – Mr. Brodie’s Store.
All along this portion of the journey, that is from Matubatuba, we saw numerous buck, Pauw and
Korhaan.
The store is built on the high land immediately overlooking St. Lucia Lake – a fine sheet of water 35
miles wide. Just opposite the Store the lake narrows to 1 ½ miles and this part is used as a pond.
In the distance the water was white with huge Pelican whilst aloft soared myriads of Flamingo, the
pink feathers caught the sunlight and made a magnificent picture. Flights and flights of birds
continued to pass, wild duck, Teale and Seabirds (‘Fishermen’) and others.
The cars were now driven into a big Shed and locked up. The wagon having arrived, the tent was
unpacked and pitched as a party of twelve was rather too much for Mr. Brodie to accommodate with
one available room. A much appreciated meal awaited us and we then prepared our beds - some in
the Store, children in tent and men under the wagon.
JULY 6TH.: Early in the morning went out with shot guns for an hour or two, then back to breakfast
and on road again for completion of our Journey. The tent taken down and packed, the wagon was
again requisitioned to carry all the baggage, etc. down the hill to the edge of the Lake where we saw
two Hippo disporting themselves in the water. Most of the party went across in a large Ferry Boat
and on its return our impedimenta was loaded in it and we all got over. Here a walk of 3 or 4 miles
was before us to the Sea Coast. About half way we reached a large pan of fresh water (St. Lucia Lake
is salt) from which we obtained drinking water during our stay. After this, rising ground, densely
wooded, a pretty steep climb, then a dark hole in the Bush, into which we stepped and quickly slid
down a steep incline, converted into a tunnel by dense vegetation overhead; and we found
ourselves in brilliant sunshine again on the Sea beach. An easy descent but very troublesome we
found afterwards to climb up. Here we found, just close by sheltered by a convenient sand dune, our
Kafir Huts of Beehive type, six in number, with a square Dining Hut, which had been built for us.
Everyone was delighted at having through summary difficulties at last reached our destination.
Much of the camp baggage had been sent on beforehand and all the boys were there. Things were
unpacked and our Cook (Indian) prepared a meal. Boys were sent to bring water and fetch the
smaller luggage from the lake. Late in the evening a wagon with solid wheels, belonging to Mr.
Freyling, a Missionary, who lived near, brought the heavy cases to the top of the hill where we slid
them down the above mentioned slide. A fire lighted in the Hut made all cosy and sleepy.
For Shooting one had to climb the steep slide and tramp the land between the sea and the lake.
Densely wooded in parts, thick bush swamps and high grass, with Hippo tracks to stumble into, very arduous exercise rewarded possibly by Bush Buck, - Reed buck, - Incombi,- Redbush Dyker.
The fishing was more accessible and afforded plenty of excitement in the shape of 15.1 lb. cod, Rock Fish up to same size and some large fellows, probably Steenbras, which cleared off to sea with
all our tackle.
Bathing, too, when we had found suitable sandy coves was most enjoyable.
Some Bat caves, along the beach, afforded much pleasure to the children,
A Kafir dance in the moonlight with a chorus singing a curiously musical chant often gave us
entertainment and food for thought. With these pastimes and eating, - for we developed
extraordinary appetites, - the time passed only too quickly and in twenty days we had to prepare for
the road again.
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The weather had been excellent till the night preceding our departure when a downpour occurred at
1 a.m. washing us out of our beds. Fires were quickly rekindled, however, some clothes partly dried
and some sleep obtained.
The rain continued, with more or less severity, all the following day.
25th JULY. Extra boys and women from the neighbouring Kraals assisted our servants to carry goods
back to the Lake, but it was not till evening that we had reached the Store and had the wagon
packed for an early start in the morning. The ladies and children had meanwhile had a bad time –
having been drenched with rain on the walk to the Lake, they were then perished with cold on the
passage across. The only amusing incident being their being carried by the boys through the mud to
the Store. The walk then through the marshy ground, made worse by rain, up to the Store did not
improve matters, but after some hot tea and various garments (for Kafir trade) being purchased at
the Store, no one was any the worse.
26th July.
Said goodbye to Brodie at 7 a.m. The rain had ceased at sunrise. Ladies and children on wagon – cars
on ahead. Made successful deviation of large pan and arrived at Mtubatuba by midday. Truck
waiting for us. Managed to load cars on same. Brother and I then walked to Umfolozi to see damage
done to his sugar farm. Caught passenger train up at 11p.m. Four hours late. Rest of party waiting at
Mtubatuba. All got on train and travelled up to Somkele, sleeping on train, which returned again at 2
a.m. next day.
27th July.
Gingindhlovu. 11a.m. The extent of out train journey, only undertaken to get cars across Umfolozi
and Enseleni Rivers, the first of which is quite impassable. Breakfast and cars unloaded. Magnificent
run to Eshowe, with beautiful scenery and splendid road, Lunch at Russell’s Provincial Hotel where
we would have liked to have stayed for a day or two. Left for Melmoth in afternoon. Hilly country.
Range of mountains in distance. Found that these had to be crossed, but no trouble, as road
excellent; only the 31 miles to Melmoth seemed like 51. Arrived at dusk. Very cold place, but
comfortable accommodation.
29th JULY.
Up at 6 a.m. Very Frosty. Breakfast at 7 and away by 8 via Babanango. Good Road through Kataza.
Lunch on road. Babanango reached midday and Nondeveni in afternoon. No incidents – road
excellent.
Vrijheid reached by dinner time President Hotel again.
29th JULY.
Left at 11 a.m. for Wakkerstroom – road stony – but quite fair till Schurwe-Nek was reached. A steep
stony hill the grade of which prevented petrol from flowing into the Carburettor of Ford. However,
surmounted this at last and reached Wakkerstroom at 6. Off again after enquiring about road. Found
the remaining 18 miles to Volksrust like a cycle track. Arrived at Transvaal Hotel at 6.45 – very cold
all the way. Think the road via Wakkerstroom better than that by Newcastle-Utrecht-Bloodriver.
30th JULY.
Johannesburg and Krugersdorp an easy and pleasant run in slight rain.
For the trip I had put on 3 new tyres (Michelin ordinary tread) the fourth being a plain Goodrich sold
with the car and having completed 4,000 miles but not showing any signs of wear, was left on.
I also carried two spare wheels and spare cover with six spare tubes but as we had no puncture none
of these extras were required. Starting handle was certainly in car when we left but was never used.
One gallon of oil was carried and was all that was used on the journey.
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A very great convenience was the ease of detaching front seats of Studebaker and so making it
possible to fix up two comfortable beds in car.
The roads in Zululand were particularly good except for excessive grades the surface being excellent
with no stones. The worst piece of road surface traversed was the Main Road between Volksrust and
Heidelberg, but we had nothing to complain about; having made the entire run of 900 miles without
a puncture.
Arrived at last at St Lucia
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A LETTER TO MY SISTER IN THE USA
By Sarah Welham
HI La
I have to tell you about my afternoon, to bring a smile to your face. Flo, Mary (both of whom you
have met) and I were in the city centre today continuing our survey, photographing every building
and documenting architects, architectural style, date of construction, etc. We go in once a month
and today’s was a particularly colourful experience. The end we have been working on is a very
black area, with minibus taxis all over the place, threatening to run you over as you cross legally at
the pedestrian crossings, hooting, double parking and generally driving us whiteys mad. The blacks
take no notice as they need them. I must point out at this stage that we three are the only white
faces to be seen, apart from the odd policeman driving around in a police van, shouting out of the
window that I must put my camera out of sight. Then there are the hawkers selling their goods
which range from food to clothing to probably drugs, airtime for cell phones and anything in
between. Normally you can’t move on the pavements as they are taking up so much space and we
have to squeeze past them along with the throng of shoppers. Don’t mind the fact that the hawkers
are selling outside the normal shops which line most of the city blocks. I actually want to take Helen
and Clare shopping there one day. They will love the clothes, probably all Chinese manufactured
and dirt cheap.
I have to keep crossing the road as I am the designated photographer and have to get the whole
building, many of which are high rise, into the photo. Flo and Mary have to stay on the side of the
road where we are surveying the buildings so they can see the names of the flats, so I have to brave
the taxis and all the loiterers, camera in hand, and find the best shot of the building. We have to
photograph every building on every block; but I have never felt threatened by anyone. If you engage
them with a friendly greeting, they will greet you back and ask you why you are taking the
photos. We have to explain about saving the heritage buildings which makes them happy as they
live in them, or run businesses in them.
I must point out at this stage, the role that we each play in this afternoon activity. I have to prepare
a data sheet for every property on every block that we are surveying. Some of these are prepared
by Flo and Michael Fleming as they search the city archives for old plans of buildings. Then, armed
with this file of data sheets and a pencil, Flo will move from property to property (we call them
stands) noting its features and making cryptic notes on the sheet so that we can later match the
photo to the stand. This is where Mary comes in. If you see her in any of the photos, she usually has
her head down looking at the cadastral map she carries. This map gives both the stand number and
the street number of every property and she has to keep track of how many photos I take of each
stand and try and keep track of the order in which I take photos. This is a vital part of the whole
activity as the following week, I have to attach the correct photos to the data sheets.
Today, the pavements were much easier to negotiate as the metro police moved in a few weeks ago
and cleared all the hawkers off the streets, so we were able to move more easily; but it was a
particularly down at heel part of town. At one point, we saw a man passed out leaning against a
building, with blood streaking down his head. No-one was in the least bit interested in him, so we
didn’t ask. In fact there were lots of people resting against buildings, drunk perhaps, or high on
something – saw quite a few zols in people’s hands. I crossed a street, picking my way through
rubbish and filthy smelly water in the gutter and as I turned to take a photo, I happened to glance
down at my feet, and noticed that I was standing next to a pile of wriggling maggots! I was glad I
hadn’t actually stood in the pile! I won’t tell you how many huge squashed rats we saw on the
pavements.
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I haven’t mentioned the man who was sitting on the pavement and with the help of a bucket of
water, a scrubbing brush and some washing up liquid, was washing his feet. I would be doing that
constantly if I had to walk those streets regularly. At another point, there was a water mains sunk
into the pavement that was leaking, and people were washing their hands in the well of water,
collecting water to wash their taxis and for goodness knows what else, and the one that struck me
particularly, was the man collecting the water in a drinking bottle! Granted it was clean water as we
discovered when stepping on to the pavement close by, where the water was draining off the
pavement. Someone stepped heavily into the water and splashed us, so we of course looked down
to check the contents of the water pool, to discover that it was actually clean. At that point, we also
encountered a large group of men gambling on an upturned barrel. I had to take a photo of the
building behind them and was a little nervous lest they turn on me, thinking I was going to report
them to the police.
De Villiers Street
We went into a particularly beautiful property (surprisingly there are signs of the gracious living of
100 years ago) and while I was wandering around taking photos, Flo was chatting to the two men
who appeared to be caretakers. After a while, they mentioned to her that their bakkie was having
trouble starting, and would she come back when we had finished our survey and jumpstart it. Being
the kind and generous soul that she is, she agreed to do this. This building was designed by Herbert
Baker as a school and built 98 years ago. The Anglican church at the time asked the Sisters of St
Margaret of East Grinstead in England to come out and help with the huge demand for works of
mercy in the fast growing town of Johannesburg, and this was one of the areas where they assisted –
running this school.
Stopping to admire and document Rhodes House, a grand building designed by Gordon Leith, we
couldn’t help noticing the bra dangling from a ledge below one of the windows. We had fun trying
to decide what the story behind that was.
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We then went into the Drill Hall, which is where men went before the 2 world wars to sign up as
soldiers, and where they were drilled. It is now used by different groups – crèche, art gallery, craft
lessons, etc.
We found this really beautiful and creative garden which had been created up a flight of stairs, with
plants growing out of shoes, old light sockets from cars and other wonderful ideas. Sitting in the
middle of the stairs was a stuffed doll/mannequin and sitting on her lap was a ginger kitten. Poor
thing looked starved and very rough so we went inside the building to find the owner, if there was
one and were drawn by some rather lovely music. We opened the door into a room and were met
by the sweet smell of dagga, with a group of Rasta musicians having a wonderful time jamming. Kids
were playing outside, rolling these big 44 gallon drums around the playground with a child inside.
The poor child probably felt rather nauseous afterwards.
The Ginger Kitten
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Drill Hall gardens
Another port of call was an old church, nearly 100 years old which is old by our standards, and as we
were about to walk down the side of the building to find a foundation stone, we were confronted by
some black rats, so that rather put paid to our idea. Church plays a huge part in this part of Joburg.
The sounds of ‘at the foot of the cross’ drift out of a building and many of the old warehouses have
been converted into places of worship. Today we passed a large church belonging to the 7 th Day
Adventists and a crowd had gathered outside as they filtered into the service which had already
started. An interesting feature of this church, in an area where space is at a premium, was the fact
that the architect had designed the building so that the hall was underneath the church.
In complete contrast to this spiritual aspect of the area are the prostitutes who frequent certain
areas. They were friendly enough towards us and prepared to chat; but the moment I raised my
camera to take a photo of the building behind a group of them, they scattered like frightened birds.
13
Prostitutes on Polly Street
Lots of taverns and shebeens blaring music of a different kind and with some very drunk looking men
were everywhere and one bloke wheeling a wheelbarrow with a huge bucket full of beer quarts
thought we should buy some of his beer. We politely declined. There were some really beautiful old
blocks of flats, the old school designed by Herbert Baker, art deco flats and we managed to finish the
few city blocks we had set aside for this afternoon. Walking back to the car was a little daunting as
we walked down an alleyway which had been used as a toilet (both) and Mary swore she wasn’t
going to breathe in until we got back to the car! We returned to our stranded friend and with great
difficulty in the narrow street with taxis parked very badly on either side of the road, we were
ushered into the property by one of the men who Flo had been speaking to. He very breezily
opened the gate for us and we parked next to the ‘stranded bakkie’ and no-one else appeared. So I
got out and asked gateman where the owner was so we could start his bakkie. ‘Oh no, we have
started it.’ We were mad as snakes as Flo had risked her car and to top it all, we couldn’t get out
into the street again because of the badly parked taxis. However, the men standing around were
very helpful and found the owner of the worst offender and got him to move and we got away. The
funniest part of these jaunts though is driving home in the late afternoon when the taxis are at their
busiest. They gridlock intersections and if you don’t join in, they hoot at you and threaten you and
make life very hair-raising for Flo who is the driver. The temperature in the car rises rapidly as we
hurl abuses back and avoid being crashed into. I must say though, they are remarkably good drivers
and although you feel threatened, they never do actually touch your car.
The strange thing is that we all rather enjoy these outings. They are very colourful occasions and we
see a side of city life that very few whites probably do, so there is lots of laughing and engaging with
people on the streets. What stands out is the different African groupings found in very definite
areas. So, we encountered many Ethiopians or Somalians down Jeppe Street, distinguishable by
their facial features. They had even set up their own church in one of the old buildings, originally
used for business. Another interesting fact is that down Jeppe Street behind the Jeppe Street Post
Office are city blocks with medical chambers all the way down. On looking into the history of these
sites, we see that they have always been home to doctors, nurses and midwives. A sort of medical
precinct. Nearby is the Dental Infirmary.
14
Urban decay there may be but there is still much of beauty and preservation. You just have to visit
the area and look for it.
Love
Sarah
15
MELVILLE MEMORIES CONTINUED
William Gaul
I continue my reminiscences of this interesting suburb as it was in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The first
part of this article is to be found in The Johannesburg Heritage Journal, No. 2.
As we lived on the periphery, we did not spend much time in the heart of the suburb, but one of our
regular sorties into Melville was for the purpose of getting a “short back-and-sides” haircut. This
meant a walk up the seemingly precipitous 9th Street, to the house where there was a miniature
wind-mill in the garden. A minute or two watching this working model pump water into a fish pond
provided a brief interlude of rest and entertainment, and then a right turn and a few blocks brought
one to Seventh Street, and the establishment known as “Coetzee Broers – Haarkappers” – and how
they did “kap”! The brothers – one tall and thin, the other the opposite – were both taciturn to the
point of rudeness – but that may have been due to our being “rooinekke”. Once having ascended
the huge chair, and after clambering onto the plank placed across the arm rests to raise even the
smallest boy to the requisite height, a voluminous sheet was flung around one’s shoulders, tucked
into the shirt collar, and the electric shear, suspended from the ceiling on its electric cord, began its
ruthless work. While the scissors snapped, the foot-rest was studied once again: steel polished by
the soles of hundreds of shoes, where the legend “Theo Koch - Chicago” was spelled out.
Occasionally one of the “broers” decided that the application of the cut-throat razor was necessary.
This was duly stropped, and one is grateful from this distance in time that the significance of the red
in the barley-sugar striped columns outside the shop was not then understood.
A brushing-off with a special brush that seemed to exude clouds of talcum powder, a short, sharp
spray of water to the head, a flick with a comb, and the job was done – “Twee sjieling, asseblief”.
Invariably, the visit to the barber was punctuated by the rattle and clang of a tram making its way to
the terminus at the bottom of Seventh Street, where the driver got out and moved to the other end
of the vehicle from where he was able to drive in the opposite direction – after having used a long
bamboo pole carried under the tram to adjust the arm connecting the car with the overhead cable.
While this took place, the conductor, or “connie”, moved along the aisles, upstairs and down,
flapping the backs of the seats so that they, too, faced in the direction from which the tram had just
come.
Stepping from the barber’s shop into the suddenly chilly street – a shaven neck and spray of water
has that effect - our thoughts would usually turn to our favourite emporium, known as “the bicycle
shop”. In this enchanted cave of chaos was to be found virtually anything that the youthful male
heart desired: kite paper of various glorious hues; “catty” elastic, lengths of square rubber ideal for
catapults; bicycle puncture repair kits; pocket knives, including the famous “Joseph Rodgers”; and a
veritable treasure trove of other essentials. At Christmas time, a spare sixpence would purchase a
“lucky packet” – an empty match box which the shop-keeper had filled with surplus bits and pieces:
tiny pink dolls; tin whistles, tin frogs which, when pressed, emitted a clacking noise, etc.
Seventh Street was then the shopping hub of our side of Melville, as opposed to “New” Melville,
which lay along Main Road. Apart from the barber shop, there was a number of shops which have
long since been replaced by restaurants and bars – all except for the Golf Tea Room, which still
stands at the top, or south end of the Street. But even this has changed: at one time, the Tea Room
actually offered customers the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Its
name derived from, I suppose, its relative proximity to the Country Club golf course, not far to the
16
south along Lothbury Road. Moving down the street, on the right-hand side was Findlay’s Pharmacy,
and Star Fashions, owned by the eponymous Mr Stern, which supplied the matrons of Melville with
their haute couture requirements. Still further north was to be found the grocery department of
Hugo & van der Merwe, “Algemeene Handelaars”. Mr van der Merwe and his partner (I’m not sure
that he was Hugo) were always attired in long dust coats, spotlessly white, and they were assisted by
two ladies, also always in white. One placed one’s order at the counter, and the grocer or his
assistant would fetch the various items, carefully weighing dry goods on a scale which possessed a
fiendishly complicated device for calculating the cost per ounce or pound, and then ringing up the
purchases on a magnificent brass National Cash Register. “Ringing up” is the correct term, because
the registering of each purchase – by pressing the appropriately marked key - was accompanied by
the striking of a bell somewhere in the bowels of the machine. Another impressive device used in
the grocery department was a meat slicer, dark red in colour, on which customers’ ham or bacon
was cut to the required thickness. Orders for as many or as few slices as were wanted – unlike today,
where customers are obliged to accept pre-packed quantities – were quickly executed, with a
sinister shiny blade hissing menacingly as it sliced effortlessly through the shoulder of bacon or ham,
or the haunch of beef.
Across the road, first to the west and later to the north (Hugo & van der Merwe led a peripatetic
existence in Seventh Street), was the hardware department. This was one of those hardware stores
where screws and nails, washers and nuts and bolts, were kept in bins, and the customer was
assisted by the owner in searching through the stock until what was sought was found. The
shopkeeper was told how much of any commodity one wanted, and this was weighed out on a
balance – so one didn’t buy nails or screws by the packet, but rather by the pound or ounce. Glass
was cut on a surface covered in an old blanket, and the glass cutter, dipped in paraffin before use,
scythed along the pane, which was then deftly snapped in two. The smell of putty and turpentine
permeated the shop, which contained all one could wish for in the way of hardware – and what was
out of stock would be promised for later in the day.
Along the west side of Seventh Street was a haberdashery store known as “The Hub”. The overriding
memory of this establishment is of stacks and stacks of card-board boxes, piled precariously on
sagging shelves and against walls, right up to equally sagging ceilings – and yet the shop-assistants
seemed to know precisely where to find whatever bit of ribbon, lace, elastic or school shirt that the
customer required.
And then on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street, opposite the “bioscope”, was a fishand-chips shop which sold (to us, at least), the most delicious “slap” chips - coated in salt and
dripping with vinegar, wrapped in large sheets of white paper through which the grease and aroma
permeated tantalizingly. Here, too, one could buy delicious fresh “stock” fish, beautifully cleaned
and filleted, which was a favourite Friday evening supper staple – even though we weren’t Catholics.
Around the corner in Fourth Avenue was Bantjes Butchery, later known as Melville Fresh Meat – the
sign is still visible, painted on the yellow brick parapet above the entrance to the shop. I was always
puzzled by the practice of butchers in those days of strewing sawdust so that the floor was coated –
it was only later that I found that this was to absorb the blood which dripped from the carcasses
when butchers were just that.
Bantjes was always very busy, and particularly at Christmas time, when we invariably accompanied
my father on a special visit – to order the Christmas turkey and ham. We knew then that Christmas
was coming!
17
4th Avenue
The Scala theatre, or “bioscope” as it was known in the days that it operated as a cinema, was the
delight of many local children whose weekly highlight it was to gather here on the pavement on a
Saturday afternoon, queuing for the commencement of the 2 o’clock show. It was a time for the
usual jostling, shoving and teasing, interspersed with swopping of “comics”. In the evenings, before
the 6 and 8 o’clock shows, the children were replaced by juvenile swaggerers known as “ducktails”
because of the greased hairstyle they effected. They tended to be even more rowdy than the
children, sometimes displaying the “knuckle dusters” and bicycle chains with which they armed
themselves. These lads wore a uniform of skin-tight jeans (“stove-pies” or “stovies”), a type of
brogue known as Jarmans, and leather jackets. Especially when a rock ‘n roll film – such as “Rock
Around the Clock”, or “Jailhouse Rock” – was showing, they arrived in droves, usually on motorbikes, and accompanied by their “sheilas” or “chicks”. Some formed themselves into gangs, such as
the “Braamie Boys”, and “the Lebs”, who were mostly of Lebanese descent, and greatly feared.
The theatre manager, a small, bespectacled old gentlemen, was invariably decked out in evening
dress on Saturday evenings to greet the patrons at his theatre – but he regrettably did not always
receive the respect that was due to him, particularly from his more juvenile clientele.
In concluding this brief reminiscence, we return to 37 Rustenburg Road and the house in which I was
born. Being of some considerable age (at least in Johannesburg terms), the house always seemed to
me to be imbued with a kind of mystery and romance. It had obviously grown over the course of its
life, with various bits and pieces, nooks and crannies, being added by different owners – all of which
contributed to its quaintness. Different styles and patterns of plaster-work, wrought-iron lamp
brackets, stone-work and more, lent to the house – at least for a small boy with a perhaps overactive imagination – a charm which could be worked into an infinite number of scenarios for play.
What was not imaginary was the cellar which ran beneath the length of the house on its north side.
The cellar was reached via a double trap-door let into the kitchen floor, which opened – amid a gust
of dusty, cob-webbed air - onto a set of concrete steps leading down into the murky depths. It was
always an adventure to open the trap-door and descend the stairs, in the vague belief that there
were secrets and unimagined horrors to be encountered. This trepidation probably stemmed from
the fact that an uncle, who had returned from service in the War to study medicine, had stored in
the cellar a four-gallon paraffin tin in which was kept a dissembled human skeleton. The sight of the
tin, let alone the bones it contained, invariably give rise to a frisson. My mother, who as a girl on
Lamglaagte Estates Gold Mine, had lost a leg in an accident involving a horse-drawn cart, also kept
her discarded artificial legs down there – a further source of self-induced horror.
My parents had always told us of the old German, a Dr Rudolf, from whom they had bought the
house, and that he had been a Nazi sympathizer who had given refuge in the cellar to one Robey
Leibbrandt, a fugitive who was wanted by the authorities for collaboration with Germany during the
war. This story was enhanced by the fact that, onto the window frame in one of the bow windows
was screwed an old-fashioned throw-switch – which my father claimed was used by Rudolf and
Leibbrandt for the aerial of the radio with which they kept in contact with Nazi Germany. I’m not
sure that this was true – but what I do know is that there was a type of pallet built into the cellar,
which we were told was used by the fugitive as a bed. I also know that, when we were slightly older
– in our teens – we did come across a portrait of the Fuhrer, hidden behind the foundation structure
which formed a wall in the cellar. Recent research into Leibbrandt’s life does indicate that he had
received help from a friend in Melville while on the run during the war – so perhaps the story is not
as far-fetched as we might once have thought. It ought to be borne in mind that the War had ended
not long before, and was still very much part of the experience of both adults and children – and in
those days, a German was a bloody German – none of the pusillanimous nonsense which is raising
18
its head on the Left in Britain as I write on the eve of the 100th anniversary of WW I, that the
Germans “are not to be blamed” for that conflagration.
Sadly, the house – which was recently advertised for sale as a property “with a French Provencal
character”, has been allowed to fall into dilapidation – it has been sub-divided, and a visit has
revealed severe neglect, and alterations which have been effected have been grossly insensitive.
………………………..
19
The “Café de Move-on”
Costa Phitidis
Some of the readers of this journal will be familiar with the term, “Café de Move-on”. This is the story behind the man who owned this early
street vending business in Johannesburg, as told by Costa Phitidis, grandson of Constantinos Phitidis .
Constantinos Phitidis was born in Cyprus on September 20, 1867, during the occupation by the Turks,
in a village in the mountains, called Phiti. He came from a family of twenty or twenty four children,
many of them multiple births, and the parents found it difficult to support them all. They came from
a line of priests and the family name was Hadjipappacharalambos. “Hadji” indicates that someone
has been to the Jordan River, “papa” means priest, and “haralambos” means “Harry’s son”. These
were difficult times. In about the year 1876, Constantinos’ father really couldn’t afford all those
children. There was a sultan in that area, whose son was sickly, and he took Constantinos to live with
his family, as a friend for his son; and when the Turks went back to Turkey, he took Constantinos back
with them. He must have been eight or nine years old. This son was very sickly and he died from
what appears to have been smallpox. The Turkish mother insisted to her husband, the sultan, that he
had brought the Greek child into the house, and that he had brought this pestilence there. They then
ejected the child from the house. At that time, he was about nine or ten years old. He lived out in
the open, suffering from smallpox that he had contracted from his foster home; but he found a plant
with medicinal properties, which he rubbed all over his body – he had scabs – and he was cured.
Wherever he went in the world, he took this plant with him. He made a medicine out of it, called
Phitidene, which even his grandchildren in later years used for cuts and bruises. Times were hard for
Constantinos as a Greek child alone in Turkey with no papers, and with no prospects. He decided to
stow away aboard a ship, which sailed around the Mediterranean for a year or so, and finally he
landed up in Alexandra, Egypt, where the boat sank. Having no papers, he lived the life of a street
urchin, but he was able to find employment, working for a street vendor, and earned enough by
selling nuts and other foodstuffs on the streets for about ten months.
One day, a wealthy man bought something from him, walked across the road and dropped his wallet.
Constantinos ran after him and tried to find him but he had vanished. He gave the wallet to his
employer who found the owner and returned the wallet to him, receiving a reward for his honesty.
This reward was not shared with Constantinos, so he left and, on hearing about the gold rush in
America, got on to a boat as a stowaway and landed up in California, not yet a man, but willing to
find his way wherever there was money to be earned. He had no experience of prospecting, but had
to earn a living, so he did what all true Greeks did when starting out in a new country - he started a
food store. He built up a successful enterprise, adding a small hotel and a laundry to his food
business. Then the earthquakes and the fires came and his businesses were destroyed, as they were
built of wood. Once again, Lady Luck appears not to have smiled on him.
News of the diamond rush in South Africa reached him, so he boarded another boat and disembarked
in Lourenco Marques. He walked from there to Kimberley in the 1890’s. He was a strong young man
20
by then, and bought a claim, doing all the digging himself. He was prospering but Lady Luck had yet
another card up her sleeve. There was a lot of rain in that period and being keen and young, he had
dug faster and deeper than the diggers around him – with the result that all the sides of his claim
collapsed on him, and he was buried under the mud for an hour or two. He was dug out, but decided
to leave the claim and went back to what he had always been good at - selling food. Miners were
dying like flies from typhoid and food diseases, so he stuck to selling prepared meals to the locals.
The original “Café-da-Move-on”
When he heard of the gold rush on the Witwatersrand, he took the money he had made in
Kimberley and came up to Johannesburg which is where he started his “Café de Move-on”. This was
in 1896. He acquired a wooden horse-drawn cart from America and if you look very carefully at the
photo, you will see that it says “Ice Cream” and “American Cold Drinks” on the side of the cart. So
he started trading in Market Square, selling ice cream which he had learnt to make in California, and
Coca Cola1. Health laws in this mining town were strict, and there was one which said he had to
move his cart every hour if there were no customers. He used to keep his horse tethered nearby in
case he had to move, but he employed a little girl who used to play around in the area, to run up to
the cart when an hour was almost up and make as though she was going to buy something - and he
was thus able to stay for another hour. He did very well out of it.
The Anglo Boer War broke out in 1899 and the Greeks fought on the side of the Boers, harbouring
as they did memories of the English having taken over Cyprus. Phitidis became friendly with both
1
This is questionable, since the Coca Cola Company was incorporated in the US only in March, 1886.
21
Paul Kruger and Jan Smuts. While fighting for the Boers, he was captured by the British and
interrogated by them. They had a Cypriot on their staff, Michael Nicholaides, who could speak
seven languages and was used by the British as an interpreter, so they used him to interrogate
Constantinos. They got to know each other and Constantinos, for his part in the war, was deported
to France in 1900/01, where he stayed. He must have been a man of some wealth by that time as
he bought a few antiques while there, which his grandson in Johannesburg still has in his
possession. On his return to Johannesburg after the war, he became a respected businessman,
acquiring a number of properties in town. He is thought to have owned 20-30% of Braamfontein at
some point. Then the depression came, and he was nearly wiped out - but he was still left with the
main businesses he had started, the ice cream manufacturing (Transvaal Dairies) and the cafes. He
started a chain of what became known as Phillips Cafes (corner cafes). The Greek corner café is the
equivalent of the English pubs and was the meeting place of Greek people. There were about six
of these in Johannesburg, all of which had high standards - they used to have silverware on the
tables and one could buy a big steak with eggs for one shilling and sixpence. Four of these cafes
were situated at 65 Commissioner Street, 72 Market Street, 93 Rissik Street and St Domingo Avenue
in Mayfair West. He did well out of these cafes although the life was hard, with seventeen or
eighteen hour days, and having to deal with inspectors with their onerous restrictions. He also had
partnerships in bakeries and property. The early days were hard for him, but he was respected by
the community as he worked hard and he became a doyenne of Johannesburg. In order to cope, he
brought out his nephew, Homer, from Cyprus. Homer was only eight years old when he arrived, but
Constantinos looked after him and later brought out his brother and sister, Harry and Athena. They
were put to work in the family business.
As a leader in the Cypriot/Greek community, Constantinos used to arrange marriages. Men used to
come here from Greece/Cyprus and there was no one to marry, so Phitidis brought Greek girls in
from those countries and paired them up with local men he knew here. On one occasion, he
arranged for a woman, Marika, to come and get married to someone. She got on the boat and
while she was still on board, this man fell ill and died. So, not wanting to waste good wife material,
he told his friend Michael Nicholaides, a bachelor and the interpreter who interrogated him during
the Anglo Boer War, that it was time to get married - and he married Marika. Constantinos’ son,
Alec, later married their daughter, Elizabeth. Michael and Constantinos became business partners,
running businesses together.
Constantinos’ marriage to Alexandra Gabriel Michaelides was the first Greek wedding in
Johannesburg. On December 15 1907, at the age of forty, he married one of the women he brought
out from Cyprus. She was only about eighteen at the time, so he lied about his age, telling her he
was thirty five! It was a big wedding and took place in St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in town. At the
time, there were no Greek churches here, so church events took place in Anglican churches, and
people were buried in the Anglican sections of the cemeteries. A Greek priest, Archimandrite
Nikodemos Sarikes, was brought out from Alexandria to preside over the wedding. Their first child
was named Elinas, and he was the first Greek baby in Johannesburg, born in 1909. He grew up being
called Alec. Constantinos and Alexandra had 5 children. After the fifth child, Alexandra died and
Constantinos never remarried. He brought up the five children and the three adopted ones. Their
second child, Artemis, had rheumatic fever at the age of thirteen, and died on September 21, 1927.
George grew up and became a pilot. He fought in the Second World War for Britain in the RAF. Just
before the Battle of Britain, they sent him out on reconnaissance. He flew back and as he was about
22
to land, something went wrong with the plane, which crashed and he died. He had no family. Eric
was the other son and Athena was his other daughter.
On the old section of Johannesburg Hospital (in Hillbrow), at the bottom of the property, if you look
carefully under the ivy, there is a plaque stating that Phitidis sponsored part of that building. He
built it because of losing his daughter, Artemis.
He was a leader in the community (Chairman of the Hellenic Community of Johannesburg), and he
contributed to the building of the first Greek church in Johannesburg (the Cathedral of Saints
Constantine and Helen, 1913), and built up the Cypriot brotherhood and societies. He was the first
president of the Cypriot Brotherhood in 1934. There weren’t many schools in Johannesburg when
he first got married and started his family. In Observatory, as you walk into the Anglican Church,
there is a plaque stating that he donated money to a school there.
He did very well and became a benefactor. He solved problems in his home village in Cyprus. He
built two schools and roads, and brought water to the village as there was no proper supply. He
provided a reservoir and the village put up a statue with an inscription saying, ’whoever passes by
and has a thirst, quench your thirst’. The old family home has been made into a museum with all the
old kitchen equipment, etc. To this day, the locals are grateful for what he did.
He had a full life, a strong man with a strong sense of presence. He was strict. His children never
spoke to him – they had to wait for him to speak to them first. On February 3, 1900, Smuts signed
permission for Constantinos to cycle from Johannesburg to Boksburg in three days. This ‘passport’
describes him as being five foot, six and a half inches with dark eyes. He always supported the
Afrikaners. His son, Alec and his wife, Elizabeth, were very progressive, supporting the United Party.
Costa, their son, remembers that he was registered at Jan Celliers School but on his first day, they
threw him out for being a foreigner. So he ended up at Parkview Junior. Constantinos impressed on
him that he must get an education. He should not have to work as his father had done.
He was given the freedom of the city. He used to entertain when the king and queen came here. He
was a wealthy man about town and when the exiled King of Greece came here, he used to visit him.
When Phitidis died, his obituary made the point that, normally, when famous people die, a town is
named after them, but in Constantinos’ case, he was named after a town because when he came to
SA, no one could pronounce his name so they asked him where he came from and he said Phiti, so
they called him Phitidis. It means the man from Phiti.
He died at his son’s house at 27 Torquay Road, Parkwood on 26 August, 1950, suffering from
gangrene of his leg. It was a slow death and he had to have bits cut off him as the gangrene spread.
His grandson can remember the terrible smell in his room! He had a cage over the leg to prevent the
sheets from touching his skin. His grandson remembers that he used to visit him as an old man and
describes him as a lovely man. Smuts came to visit him when he was ill. Constantinos used to tell his
grandson stories about how difficult the early days were. To wash yourself, you had just a basin of
water and then you used the same water to wash your clothing. At the time of his death, he was
living with his son Alec and his family but prior to that, he lived in Rissik Street, on the corner of de
Villiers Street or Hoek Street. He owned all those properties there and lived in a flat upstairs. This
was when his grandson, Costa, was a young boy visiting him. He remembers King George driving
past and the good view he had of the motorcade from the flat window.
23
Constantinos is buried in Brixton cemetery, along with his daughter, Artemis, his son Alec and Alec’s
wife, Elizabeth. His wife, Alexandra, who died on 14 November 1929, is also buried in Brixton but in
a lonely grave some distance away from the family plot. No reason has been given for this but it is
strange, seeing she was predeceased by her daughter, which means that the family plot was already
in place when she died. The family believe that she was in a sanatorium at the end of her life,
possibly because of the grief of having lost her teenage daughter. Perhaps she never recovered from
the shock. Was there perhaps a stigma attached to having been in a home for the mentally
disturbed?
The above article has been written from material received from two of Constantinos’ grandchildren. The editor takes no responsibility for
any inaccuracies in this article.
24
REVIEW
By William Gaul
A Platteland Pilgrimage: 102 Country Churches of South Africa
By Phillipe Menache & Darryl Earl David
Booktown Richmond Press, pp. 127
ISBN 978-0-620-54170-1
This is the second volume on South African ecclesiastical architecture by Menache and David, the
first being 101 Churches of South Africa.
Produced in A4 format (soft cover), it is a book that will give great pleasure to anyone who has the
slightest degree of interest in our architectural heritage, with beautifully produced colour
photographs on every page. The text is mercifully free of architectural jargon, yet gives the reader a
clear idea of what the various churches are like in terms of the construction and setting of the
buildings. South Africa seems to have been blessed in terms of the number and variety of church
buildings, and these two volumes (there is apparently a third on the way), give an overview of their
locality and condition. Not all have been treated with the respect owing to them: the authors speak
of “degradation and decay” in the case of some of the buildings, but, on the bright side, they
mention also that certain of the churches have been rescued through adaptive re-use. Included in
the book are a comprehensive index, a map showing the general location of the churches in the
country, and a very useful Glossary explaining the meanings of architectural terms to the uninitiated:
who knows the meaning of the word “voussoir”, for example?
Interesting biographical and professional information is given in the section on “The Principal
Architects”, and I for one was made aware for the first time of the tremendous contribution to
ecclesiastical architecture in this country by Sophia Gray, better known as Sophy Gray, whose only
qualification in the field was a natural talent and the fact that she was the Bishop’s Lady. A personal
favourite among all the buildings featured in the book is her Cathedral of St Mark in George. Not
originally designed as a cathedral – it was declared as such only relatively recently – the building
seems to possess the grace, dignity and proportion that Anglican churches are expected to possess.
No review worth its salt is without a quibble or two: I found the use of exclamation marks excessive
and irritating; focus on the text is lost as one anticipates the next “!” This is a stylistic matter and
may simply reflect a prejudice of my own. The misspelling of the name of Herbert Baker’s partner,
Francis Masey, though, is an error of fact, and needs to be corrected.
All-in-all, this is a book that would grace the book-shelf on any heritage enthusiast, or perhaps the
cubby-hole of the car of anyone travelling about the country, and who may be interested in the
churches to found in every dorp along the way.
WJG
25
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