A sense of place: Kilner Park

One of the things that I’ve noticed in researching family history is that we often have very little sense of where family members lived. We’ve sometimes visited the towns or houses where they lived, but things have often changed a lot since they were there, and it is often difficult to picture what it was like in their time.

It therefore seemed to be a good idea to record where we live now, our neighbourhood, before it changes and becomes unrecognisable.

Corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park

Corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park

This is where we live, at the corner of Owen Avenue and Slater Street, Kilner Park, looking south down Owen Avenue. We’ve lived here for over 25 years, so the trees have grown quite a bit since we first came. The green fence is our third fence. The first one was a low diamond-mesh one, and after 13 break-ins we replaced it with a higher one in 1991. The thorn tree in the corner of our garden was the envy of our previous neighbour, who said he wished he could include it in his garden before we moved in. It’s now about twice as big as it was then. The photos were taken on 5 September 2013, early spring. Most trees are still winter-bare. Others are just beginning to show  new leaves.

Corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, Kilner Park

The picture above is from the other end of Owen Avenue, on the corner of Matterson Street, looking north. The open ground on the right is a servitude for the electricity pylons that go right around eastern Pretoria.

Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Matterson Street, Kilner Park

Looking west down Matterson Street. This is the way in and out of our bit of Kilner Park, the only way in and out by car. At the end can be seen the N1 freeway bridge. On the left is the railway line. Not much use to us, as we are almost exactly halfway between stations.

A memorial near the corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, to N.A.R. Coetzee, known as "Kat". Persumably he died in a road accident nearby, though that seems a bit strange in our quiet little cul-de-sac, which gets very little traffic.

A memorial near the corner of Owen Avenue and Matterson Street, to N.A.R. Coetzee, known as “Kat”. Born 6 Oct 1959, died 25 Dec 2010

N.A.R. Coetzee was presumably he killed in a road accident nearby, though that seems a bit strange in our quiet little cul-de-sac, which gets very little traffic. Who he was, or how he died, we don’t know, but obviously someone still misses him.

Hartbees Spruit, looking North

Hartbees Spruit, looking North

After a dry winter there isn’t much water in Hartbees Spruit, seen from the bridge in Matterson Street, and the reeds are still winter-brown. But you can see, if you look carefully, a couple of weavers building a nest in the tree on the right. There are two nests, but I’ve heard that if the female weaver is not satisfied with the nest, she demands that the male build her another, so there may just be one pair of birds.

Queens Corner shopping centre, built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School

Queens Corner shopping centre, built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School

My destination, about 2,5 km from our house, was Queens Corner in Queenswood, the shopping centre, where I had to pick up some medicines at the chemist, a 50 minute walk. It was built on one of the sports fields of Clapham High School, and opened in about September 2000, so it’s been there for 13 years,and sometimes it feels as though it has been there for ever. The chemist is part of a chain called Pharmavalu, and when it opened we continued going to the one in the other shopping centre across the road, and wondered if there would be enough business to support two of them. The result was that the original one was forced to close down. It was originally called Queenswood Pharmacy, and later became part of a chain called Hyperpharm, but even then it couldn’t survive.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, to the east. Soutpansberg Road on the right.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, to the east. Soutpansberg Road on the right.

I walked back down Soutpansberg Road. Both Queenswood and Kilner Park were built on land that used to belong to the Methodist Church, and apparently one of the conditions was that no bottle stores or pubs should be built there. But some one must have gone to some trouble to remove the restrictions in the title deeds, because there are now several bottle stores in the area — they don’t seem to suffer from competition as the pharmacies do. Kilner Park was named after the Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society, John Kilner. It was the site of a Methodist educational centre, called the Kilnerton Institute, but, like the theological seminaries of several other denominations, John Wesley Seminary (part of Kilnerton) was forced to close and moved to Alice in the Eastern Cape in 1963. It reopened on its old site briefly after the end of apartheid in 1994, but moved to Pietermaritzburg a few years later.

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, lokking west, towards Queens Corner

Old shopping centre in Queenswood, looking west, towards Queens Corner. The tree on the left is a jacaranda, having just lost its leaves. In another 6 weeks it will be all over blue flowers

The jacarandas that line Soutpansberg Road are bare now. They are always the last to lose their leaves in winter, and the last to bloom in spring, towards the end of October. I crossed C.R.Swart Drive. It used to be called Kilnerton Road, but was renamed by the old Pretoria City Council just before the end of apartheid, after the former National Party Minister of Justice who enforced so many of the apartheid laws, including the closing of the Kilnerton Institute. When Pretoria was incorporated into the new megacity of Tshwane the new council renamed several roads, but not this one, which remains as an insult to black people and a monument to the destruction of black education in South Africa.

The Kilner Park shopping centre is much smaller than the Queenswood ones. When we first moved here in 1984 it had a tea room (convenience store) on the right, called Tony’s, where our son Simon used to go to play arcade games like Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It was later taken over by someone else, and eventually incorporated into the Casbah Roadhouse, which opened some time in the late 1990s. We wondered if it would survive long, being off the beaten track, but it produced good food and cheap with generous servings. Their hamburgers had real meat, and one could get a large curry and rice for R18.00, Now the large curry and rice costs R120.00 and the hamburger patties are mass-produced, over-salted and tasteless, and probably consist of beef nostril and imported kangaroo offal.

Kilner Park shops, with the Casbah Roadhouse and Jock of the Bushveld Restaurant, and the Neon Cafe on the left

Kilner Park shops, with the Casbah Roadhouse and Jock of the Bushveld Restaurant, and the Neon Cafe on the left

There have been several restaurants there.

When we moved here in 1984 it was called the Count du Barry, and had a picture of a bloke riding on a shrimp. We never went there then. But it was taken over by a Yugoslav called Misha, who painted Yugoslav scenes on the wall, of Dubrovnik harbour and shepherds in the hills. He produced good pizzas, and flying saucers (pizza bases with no cheese), and a Yugoslav dish for carnivores, which consisted of 12-13 sausages with onions. Delicious stuff, but exceedingly filling. He also continued some desserts from the previous owners, notably the “Count’s Coupe” -made with ice cream and cherries.

Then Misha l;eft, and the name changed to “Peasant’s” (they kept the pictures of Yugoslav rural scenes). It was replaced by McLaren’s, which replaced the picture of Dubrovnik with a large and badly-painted Scottish flag, which seemed unnecessary vandalism. We went there for Christmas lunch once, after church, and when they served tinned fruit salad for an exorbitant price, decided never again. They did, however, give each of us a cheap wallet as a gift, and I still use mine, thought much of the imitation leather covering has worn off.

The restaurant later became a Blue Bulls fan venue (the local rugby side), and is now the Jock of the Bushveld. They advertise cheap lunches on Thursdays, and I’ve been meaning to try them some time, but have yet to get round to it.

North Shore flats, on the south side of Matterson Road

North Shore flats, on the south side of Matterson Road

On the south side of Matterson Road, beside the Hartbees Spruit, is North Shore flats, which, if I recall correctly, were built about the time we moved to Kilner Park at the end of 1984. And so back across the Hartbees Spruit, and home.

Hartbees Spruit, looking south towards the Colbyn Wetlands, with a train passing through. North Shore flats on the left

Hartbees Spruit, looking south towards the Colbyn Wetlands, with a train passing through. North Shore flats on the left

 

 

 

The changing scenes of life

Yesterday I went to Johannesburg to do some research in the Family History Centre, and after it closed I had a couple of hours to kill before fetching my son from work in Fontainebleau, and so revisited some of the scenes of my childhood and youth.

Glenhazel Court, 1959

We lived at Glenhazel Court at 2 Long Avenue, Glenhazel from August 1958 to August 1959. It was then the only building on the top of the hill. The place where I was standing when I took the photo was a vacant piece of land. It used to be a riding school, run by Mr and Mrs Groos, and they also ran a nursery school there, but they left in about 1951 because there was no water. It was then outside the Johannesburg municipal area, and the relied on a borehole, which dried up, so they sold their horses and moved to Bramley. For a long time the house and stables stood derelict, and at the time of the photo was taken someone had just bought it for sevelopment, and graded a road down the middle of the property, now called Tancred Road, where I stopped the car to take the second photo on my cell phone.

Glenhazel Court, 2010

Now it is surrounded by other buildings and it is hard to imagine what it looked like before. There were some houses behind it, to the wewst, when we lived there, but there were lots of empty plots in between, and none of the roads were tarred. The photo below was taken from the balcony behind the building when we lived there.

Sunset from Glenhazel Court, 1959, looking towards Fairmount

When we first went to live there in 1948 the whole area was called Sunningdale, and the part now called Glenhazel did not exist. We lived around the corner, in what is now Ridge Road, from 1948-1954, and the house is now unrecognisable. Perhaps it was demolished and rebuilt. The only thing I recognised was the deodar trees.

Book review: The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History

The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford Companions) The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History by David Hey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not sure at what point one can say one has “read” a reference book such as this. But I think I’ve read enough to comment on it. It is quite a substantial book and comes at quite a substantial price (£25.00), which I didn’t have to pay as I borrowed it from the library.

The first part of the book is devoted to twenty articles on various aspects of family and local history. They are by various contributors, and deal with topics such as beginning family history, surnames, researching Afri-Caribbean ancestry, family and society, landscape, industrial and labour history, domestic architecture, historc churches and more.

The second part is arranged alphabetically, like an encyclopedic dictionary, and consists of shorter articles, most of them less than a column in length, on a wide range of topics. A random sampling of entries includes parlour, potatoes, pottery and postcards, lectern, leasehold and leather, contraception, copper and copyhold tenure.

The longer thematic articles are a mixed bag, and generally I found them disappointing. Some were interesting and informative, while others were merely annotated bibliographies that conveyed little actual information. An example from the article on Domestic Architecture is typical (p. 143):

From the very beginning it was recognised that a regional approach was necessary to chronicle the separate development of the smaller house in different parts of the kingdom, where local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials, farming practices and economic prosperity, to create local solutions to the housing needs of the population. The two pioneering studies both came from Yorkshire. In 1898 S.O. Addy, a Sheffield solicitor and prolific antiquary on subjects ranging from dialect to cutlery, published The Evolution of the English House, and in 1916 C.E. Innocent, an architect and another native of Sheffield, published The Development of English Building Construction. Both books drew on local examples and remain invaluable because they record rural houses at a period before the radical alteration demanded by changing perceptions of public hygiene had obliterated much of the evidence of the original forms.

He tells us nothing about the original forms, or the changes – simply that you can find out about them in two out-of-print books that are probably inaccessible to many readers. Nor does he tell us about how local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials etc., he simply mentions that they did so. If you are a family historian, and want to know what kind of houses your ancestors lived in, this kind of article is worse than useless. It tells you nothing, except that you have paid a lot of money for a book that does not give the kind of information you expect to find in it. This kind of article would be very useful as a resource for an author writing an article for this kind of book, but it is no substitute for the real thing, and the actual article has yet to be written.  Boo hiss to OUP for giving us an unfinished book.

Several of the thematic articles take this form, being simply annotated bibliographies, with no real information at all. If the book were advertised as a companion to historiography, rather than to history, that might be acceptable, but as it is it verges on fraudulent advertising. This kind of writing might be all right as a literature survey at the beginning of an academic thesis, or as an article in a scholarly journal. But at least the literature survey is followed by the meat of the thesis; here there is no meat at all. I might have given it four or five stars, were it not for this shortcoming.

The alphabetical section is generally better.

It contains quite a lot of useful information, and I’ve enjoyed reading it in bed before going to sleep. One can read a couple of short articles and perhaps jump around looking for references to other things. But in view of the shortcomings of some of the longer articles, I’m not sure that the book is worth the price. One can probably find more information on the Web free of charge, like this article on domestic architecture, for example.

The book does make several references to web sites, though as that kind of information can quite quickly become outdated, I’m not sure how useful it will be in a few years time.

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