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HISTORY OF PARKTOWN

 

In 1892 Florence Phillips rode north away from the dusty, noisy, mining town to the ridges. When she reached the crest she saw below the forest of the Sachsenwald (planted to provide timber pit props for the mines) and then the open veldt stretching out for forty miles to the blue mountains of the Magaliesberg. She persuaded her husband to build her a mansion, here in the clean clear air, right where the Johannesburg Hospital stands today.

The Phillips were soon joined by other successful entrepreneurs. There were gates into this private township and street lights were installed when certain eminent citizens found difficulty negotiating the winding roads late at night. However, the darkness was useful to the conspirators within the Reform Committee who were involved in the planned uprising against Paul Kruger's government to be triggered by the Jameson Raid.

The defeat of "Dr Jim" and his 600 mounted police at Paardekraal led to the rounding up of the Reformers. The gentlemen of Parktown considerately rode into town to await arrest at the Rand Club. Several months in the Pretoria gaol, the dramatic trial, 4 men condemned to death and Johannesburg was in an uproar, the stock-market plummeted! They were reprieved and Parktown's leading lights returned, but the conflict was not resolved and three years later war broke out.

Some decamped to the safety and comfort of Cape Town or London; others raised volunteer regiments and distinguished themselves in battle. Charles Mullins returned with some nasty bullet wounds and a Victoria Cross. June 1900 – the Boers were fighting a guerillla war, but Johannesburg was in British hands, Lord Milner moved into Sunnyside Park, the magnates returned to re open the mines and the Belle Epoque dawned.

Croquet on the lawn, lavish dinners, dances , soirees and life was all gaiety and enthusiasm for the Empire. But the winds of change were change were whispering through the town. By 1907 the Miners' Strikes had begun, and by 1922 guns were fired from the Parktown ridge on the vexatious workers in Vrededorp.

The buildings range from the truly Victorian home centred on the family built by Thomas Cullinan of diamond fame, through a range of essentially English Edwardian villas designed for entertaining to the beautiful and deceptively modest stone houses of Sir Herbert Baker which blend Cape Dutch and European elements while using local materials in an effort to "create a new order of South African architecture."

 

GEORGE NESS HONOURING A MASTER CRAFTSMAN

 

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The PWHT will be paying tribute to this art metalworker whose beautiful handwork adorns so many buildings designed by Herbert Baker, F.L.H. Fleming and Gordon Leith.

“Whether it be a piece of twisted iron, or sheet of copper or brass, he handles it delicately like a true artificer. Give him he time and he will turn out a piece of art…

Those works of art can be seen in gates, hand hammered iron nails, rood screens and lecterns; iron lamps, bell-pulls, brass escutcheon plates, copper fireplace hoods, pewter jugs. St George’s Church holds some wonderful examples of his work, but does the Union Buildings, Northwards, Villa Arcadia.  

“Characteristically he hides his light under a bushel. And not only his light, but himself.  It is also characteristic that his shop of wood and iron has no sign-post. Those who want him must look for him. He will not advertise. “

The South African Architectural Record of June 1927 has tributes paid by D.L. Lefebvre and F.L.H. Fleming. Fleming’s language is more temperate, but his sentiments are clear;

It flows that the architect, in designing, will rely largely upon the opinions of the skilled workers and it is in this respect that a man of the skill and experience of Ness is of such incalculable value to architects and indeed to the State itself.”

When George Ness died in September 1928 his pallbearers included F.L.H. Fleming (Baker’s partner ) Gordon Leith , the most successful architect of his day and John Barrow, who with his father had been responsible for so many of the great Baker buildings.

The Trust received an enquiry from Ness’s great grandson in England and when we checked in Brixton we found his grave unmarked.  His monuments are in daily use by the owners of so many wonderful buildings, but we felt it important that his legacy be acknowledged.

 

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BUILDING UP THE RECORDS OF THOSE THAT HAVE DISAPPEARED

We are looking for memories of the homes that have long since gone. In the Research Centre we are gradually adding information on the hundreds of houses which were demolished for the College of Education, the Hospital, the M1 and later the offices.  Two people have brought in wonderful family photos of Ridge Heights and Towie. Mike Fleming’s research into the old drawings has turned up a cowshed designed by Baker and Fleming (his grandfather) and a few of the houses demolished for JCE.

If you have any information or photographs on any of the homes that have been demolished please get in touch with Flo or Sarah. Just e-mail the office.

We are happy to make copies of old photographs so there is no need to part with the originals. On the other hand if you find the photographs are just becoming clutter then do send them our way. BUT we can’t do anything with them unless you identify the buildings.

Fortunately Helen Aron’s photographs in the beautiful book Parktown 1892-1972 provide a fine record of some that were demolished, but many more have disappeared over the years. Sometimes we have names and no photographs or building plans.

So please help us build the archives. 

 

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Last Edit : 07/07/2008

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