Vanderbijl Park: Oliver Lodge and Vaal High (1955 – 1957)

I was much happier at the Oliver Lodge than I ever was at Hendrik Vanderbijl. The children were friendlier, the teachers calmer and more approachable. My friends, Patricia and Pamela Webb were at the school although in different classes to me.  I left behind Mrs Verhoop, as well as two girls who bullied me and who had made my life miserable at Hendrik Vanderbijl, not to mention leaving behind the snooty offspring of the founding fathers from “down the river”. Apart from the children who would go on to Potchefstroom Boys’ or Girls’ High as boarders, I would meet my old class (including the bullies) again when I went to the Vaal High the following year. I had always been conscientious and done reasonably well at school, but none of the staff at the Hendrik Vanderbijl had ever taken any great interest in me. As an only child, I was inclined to be a reserved loner.

In my new class at the Oliver Lodge, I made friends with Penelope Berrington and Lyndith Irvine who were “only” children like me. I sat at the back of the class behind Pierre Leibbrandt and his friend Tony van Houten. All the girls liked Pierre because he was good-looking with deep blue eyes and an interesting gold filling in one of his front teeth. Apart from his looks, he also had very good manners and was reputed to be the only boy in the class who did not hit girls – a big plus factor as far as the girls were concerned. Pierre went on to Potchefstroom Boys’ High the following year, and, only recently, I discovered that Tony married Bridget Laurence, who had been in my class at Hendrik VanderBijl.

I particularly liked our class teacher, Mr Webster, who taught the entire class how to do 45˚ writing. After my earlier disaster with Mrs Hicks and the blot, I was surprised to discover that I was quite good at writing like this. Instead of smearing my left hand over my writing, I learnt that I could write as neatly as everyone else by turning my book at an angle. No more blots for me!

Oliver Lodge staff (1956)

1956 Teaching Staff — with Mrs. Warburton, Mrs. Gillespie, Mrs. Broli, Mrs. v. Ravensteyn, Mr. Bouwer,Miss Visagie (Hillary), Mrs. Finegan, Mr Kloppers(principal), Mrs. Park, Mr Webster, Mr. Simpson, Mrs Nel, Mrs. Thompson(secretary), Mrs Lombard and Mrs. Borcherds.

Our English teacher was Mrs Parks, a gentle and mild person, who never had to raise her voice to discipline the class. She gave us some memorable poetry and speeches from plays to copy into our anthology books and recite by heart. I still remember reciting Young Lochinvar and The Quality of Mercy speech from The Merchant of Venice.

During the July holidays of 1955 we went on holiday to the Ferndale Hotel in Margate in the trusty Prefect and had a very enjoyable time there, despite the car’s struggle on the steep hills on the old South Coast road. One morning, because of the strong undertow of the current, I drifted far out to sea on a rubber lilo and had to be rescued by my father, who thought he had seen the last of me.  The residents of each hotel in Margate wore different colours of beads and could be identified by the beads they wore.

I am kneeling at the back.

Children at the Ferndale, Margate (1955)

Ferndale Hotel, Margate (1955)

All the hotels were in healthy competition with one another and the guests easily made friends with one another. Most people we knew went on an annual holiday to the coast with their families for two or three weeks in those days. I don’t think many people could afford to take their family to stay in an hotel with full board for such a length of time today as the cost would be far too expensive for the average family.

My parents (right). Note my father’s white beads!

The following month was my twelfth birthday. For the first time since I had been in Vanderbijlpark I invited a few friends to a matinee of The Student Prince at the Astor, followed by a tea party at the flat. I still remember Anne Blyth as the pretty barmaid and handsome Edmund Purdon who took the part of the prince because Mario Lanza had put on too much weight to be allowed to appear in the film himself. Only his voice remained on the soundtrack to which Edmund Purdon mimed convincingly.

“Student Prince” with Ann Blyth and Edmund Purdon

Towards the end of the year we wrote exams and I played the piano for a musical entertainment our class put on for the school. The class practised songs to be sung at the year-end prize giving. I particularly remember singing the Welsh folk song, The Ashgrove.  I was rather alarmed when Mr Webster and Mr Kloppers (the headmaster) called me to the office and gave me a letter for my parents. I have never been filled with confidence so I assumed that this note was to tell my parents that I had failed my exams and would have to remain in Standard 5 for another year. My parents read the note, but left me none the wiser about its contents. I went to the prize giving feeling rather nervous. To my surprise I received two certificates for courtesy and academic ability and finally a silver cup and the Dux Scholarship for that year. The letter had been a special invitation to my parents to attend the prize giving because of the Dux Scholarship award. That would never have happened at the Hendrik Vanderbijl!

I am presented with Dux scholarship cup by headmaster, Mr Klopper

I am presented with Dux scholarship cup by headmaster, Mr Klopper

Me with my silver cup at Oliver Lodge (1955)

I went to the Vaal High School the following year. The school was still housed in prefabs next to the Oliver Lodge while the permanent school was being built. I was back with many of my old classmates from Hendrik Vanderbijl once again. This was 1956, the year we were meant to return to the UK and our voyage on a Union Castle liner had been booked. Then came the Suez Crisis. For some reason my father thought Egypt would attack ships at sea so the tickets were cancelled, despite my father having sold the Prefect and given up the flat and presumably sold all our furniture.

Parents, me and Mrs Watts, Cape Town 1956

My parents and me, Cape Town (1956)

We went to Cape Town for a long holiday instead, staying at the Esplanade Hotel in Sea Point, where a number of Senators’ widows were permanent residents. I met a girl called Erica Gericke, also a pianist, and we both played the piano in the residents’ lounge. I hope we didn’t upset the elderly residents, but they seemed to enjoy our playing. We also visited my mother’s cousin John McKee and his family in Plumstead several times. Then we returned to Vanderbijlpark where my father was able to go back to work at Iscor once again.  We rented a house at the corner of Stephenson and Parsons Street.Cape Town 1956 Street photo

I remember feeling really depressed at the time, possibly because of all the big changes in my life. Perry Como had a hit called Hot Diggety on the LM hit parade. Instead of starting a new life in the UK as I had expected to do, I returned to the Vaal High and made friends with Mary Ann Schutte, who lived opposite us. Our house in Stephenson Street had a big garden filled with fruit trees and I made a tree house in the largest tree at the bottom of the garden. I spent a lot of time reading by myself up in my tree house and sampling the fruit from the various trees.

The house in Stephenson Street.

The house in Stephenson Street.

My class at the Vaal High (1956) I am the tallest girl in the second row, standing between Janet Lockhart-Ross and Pamela Nicolai. Mrs Coetzee was our class teacher.

We listened to plays on the large radio with the green cat’s eye each evening. My parents must have bought more furniture for the house after selling up everything for our aborted return to the UK. I remember visiting Lubner’s furniture shop in Vereeniging with a pungent smell of good wood to select new furniture.  My father had to work shifts on his return to Iscor. Day shift was from 6 am to 2 pm, afternoon shift from 2 pm to 10 pm and night shift from 10 pm to 6 am. No wonder he suffered from insomnia as he grew older with such a disturbed sleep pattern. He gave up smoking in 1956, so he was not in a very good mood for quite a few months after that, but he was never tempted to smoke again.

Mrs Anderson was one of our teachers at the Vaal High. She had been at university with the famous South African actress, Margaret Inglis, mother of Prue and Sam Leith who have both made names for themselves in the UK . She did a production of Alice in Wonderland with our class. Jacqueline Keenan was Alice. Just as it had been at the Hendrik Vanderbijl, no auditions were held for the play. She chose likely children and I was not one she considered. I was quiet and reserved – presumably she didn’t think I could act.

The following year the Vaal High moved to its permanent site quite a distance away. I went to school by bicycle, freewheeling recklessly down Faraday Boulevard in the mornings and struggling uphill all the way home to the old township in the heat of the afternoons.

Fellow guests at the Berkeley, Old Fort Road – Maisie Weldon and Carl Carlisle

We managed to go to Durban for our annual holiday. We stayed at the Berkeley Hotel in Old Fort Road where Maisie Weldon and Carl Carlisle were staying during their tour of South Africa. We had seen them in their act at the Amphitheatre, where they mimicked singers such as Vera Lynn and re-enacted a scene from a Harold Lloyd film. Maisie Weldon was the daughter of music hall comedian, Harry Weldon who had been a member of Fred Karno’s army along with Charlie Chaplin. They had done a lot of work dubbing all the voices for Tom Arnold’s ice shows. They were very pleasant to us – through them I was quite stage struck!

Mrs Anderson was producing another play with our class that year. It was called A Little Bit of Fame and Glory. One of the characters was a middle-aged aunt of the film-actress heroine, who arrives at her smart London flat and embarrasses her in front of her upmarket friends with her hearty northern ways and strong regional accent. The play called for a Lancastrian accent. Mrs Anderson was at a loss as to who could do this part. I said that I could probably do it with a Scottish accent. She gave me a chance to try the lines. Everyone was astounded that quiet, diffident Jean took  the part to the manner born. The play was a great success. We did it for the school, for the Women’s Institute, and Mrs Anderson entered it in a play competition in Vereeniging. I still have the certificate we were awarded for the performance.

“A Little Bit of Fame and Glory” certificate from Vereeniging

After the play was finished Mrs Anderson invited the cast to a curry dinner at her elegant home “down the river”, where Penelope and I had gone each week for extra Latin lessons when German was discontinued at the Vaal High. We usually had the lessons in her beautiful garden and her manservant came out to serve us with tea and thinly-cut tomato sandwiches. She was an excellent Latin and English teacher and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with all the Latin the others had learnt the previous year.

My father was not happy doing shifts at Iscor and being chivvied to learn Afrikaans. John Corrigan who had worked at Iscor, was now working at Rogers-Jenkins, an engineering firm in the Jeppe Dip of Johannesburg. He offered my father a job there and my father decided to take it. It was the last term of Form 2. I had to leave the Vaal High, where I was quite happy, and move to Jeppe Girls’ High in Johannesburg.

Rogers-Jenkins, Lower Main Reef Road, Johannesburg.

Rogers-Jenkins, Lower Main Reef Road, Johannesburg.

Jean Collen

Updated 3 December 2015.


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shane Constantine
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 02:59:23

    I like your design, have you considered adding and RSS feed feature? That will allow me to get automatic notifications of new websites. If you set up updates via RSS, please email me! I will fav your comment for now. Again Excellent blog!



  2. Chantal Obi
    Nov 08, 2012 @ 15:44:31

    This story captivated my attention and I thoroughly enjoyed how the writer described her holidays and that she has a passion for writing.



  3. annette
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 21:17:55

    Lovely to meet you I also went to Oliver Lodge,&Hendrik vdBijl,&VaalHigh



  4. Anne Pearson (nee Ferguson)
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 00:46:09

    I also went Oliver Lodge and was good friends with Lyndith Irvine also knew Patricia and Pamela Webb and was in the same class as Pierre Lebbrandt



    • jean2371
      Apr 01, 2014 @ 08:54:51

      Hello Anne, Thank you for your comment. I was at the Oliver Lodge in Standard 5 in 1955 and was in the same class as Pierre Leibbrandt. I remained friends with Lyndith until the seventies when we lost touch after she got married. I would love to make contact with her again.



    • Linda
      Mar 25, 2017 @ 19:40:21

      Hi, would you perhaps be related to Alison Pearson who also went to Vaal High in ’76.



  5. ms55
    Jul 28, 2015 @ 15:45:36

    Very interesting reading. We arrived to SA with my family in 1966, my dad also working for ISCOR, and I joined Oliver Lodge School. Funny enough I stayed at the Becquerel Court flats much later when I worked for ISCOR myself (1976-1979) before going to Joburg and worked for a English Computer company, i.e. ICL. I went to Oliver Lodge then Vaal High for a year then to the Carel De Wet Technical High School. Left the country to return to Italy with my wife in 1983.



    • jean2371
      Jul 28, 2015 @ 16:25:51

      Thank you for your interesting comment, ms55. I think many Vanderbijlpark immigrants returned to their home countries sooner or later. I still live in South Africa, but it is very much changed since the good old days of our youth!



      • ms55
        Jul 28, 2015 @ 18:53:49

        Hi Jean. Yes I’m aware of all the changes that have taken place in South Africa as my wife and I visit the country on a yearly basis. That is what my book is all about. How it was, how it went and what it looks like today. It goes all the way up to Mandela’s death on the 5th of December 2013 when my wife and I where visitng South Africa.


  6. Olga Scott- van Ark
    Aug 10, 2016 @ 20:26:35

    My name is Olga Van Ark and I was in Oliver Lodge in 1955. My sister is Marianne van Ark. In 1955. My teacher in 1955 was Mrs Nel. The previous year it was Mrs Warburton. Mr Klopper was the principal. I left at the end of 1959 and then went to the Vaal High School which had moved to the other side of the highway that goes to Parys/ Vereeniging. I moved away from Vanderbijlpark and lived in Durban and Cape Town until 1997 when I moved to the UK



    • jean2371
      Aug 10, 2016 @ 20:50:33

      Hello Olga, Thank you so much for your interesting comment. You must have been a few years junior to me at the Oliver Lodge. I was at the Vaal High in 1956 until the end of the third term of 1957 (Form 2) when we left Vanderbijlpark and moved to Johannesburg.



  7. Linda
    Mar 25, 2017 @ 19:37:24

    I really enjoyed your writing Jean, just thought I would let you know, I stay around the corner in Linde str from your old house in Stephenson/Parsons street, If it’s the house you refer to, it’s now a municipal library and no sight of the fruit trees you describe. So much has changed since we arrived in Vanderbijlpark in 1975. I was in std 5 in OL and also went on to Vaal High in ’76, living in Dawid Anneke at the time, I know exactly what you mean about freewheeling down Faraday blvd to school and returning uphill. Due to business, I recently had to go to OL (for the first time since 1975) which has changed too, but I recognised my old classroom, where you received your trophy. Wow, going down memory lane is a wonderful thing sometimes.



  8. Dick Vlietman, Cape town
    May 09, 2017 @ 14:06:41

    I was in Oliver Lodge 1957/1958 Our class teacher was Miss Reid, Headmaster Mr. B.A. Klopper, What a wonderfull time!!!



  9. Gavin Young
    Jul 21, 2017 @ 22:04:51

    Hi Jean,

    Thanks for bringing back a lot of memories. I was in the same class as Olga van Ark and recognise a lot of the people in your photos. Especially Mrs Finnegan(teacher) and her daughter Maureen(class photo)There was also a younger sister Kathleen and son Kevin(we were best friends)My older brother Ashley and sister Laverne plus younger brother Vaughan all attended the schools.
    I left Vanderbijl in 1968 and have lived in London ever since.


    Gavin Young



    • jean2371
      Jul 21, 2017 @ 22:19:09

      Hello Gavin, Thank you for your interesting comment. I was good friends with Maureen when I was at school and remember your sister Laverne. I always thought she had a beautiful and unusual name.
      Regards, Jean.



  10. Gavin Young
    Jul 22, 2017 @ 10:53:47

    Hi Jean,

    The Finegan family moved to Johannesburg in about 1960.There father Tom was a Chemist and dispensed medicine for the Iscor/Vecor health service.Kevin went to the King Edward school and we use to see each other during the school holidays. I remember the old trams in Hillbrow.Lets hope the family read this and send in some comments.
    Dick Vlietman was in my class as was Jennifer Campbell. Is she a relative of yours?





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