I was very glad to receive this interesting article from Carol Billings. She too had grown up in Kensington and shares her memories of life in the suburb in this article. Jean Collen
30 January 2014
Carol has kindly sent photographs of the Mayor and Mayoress of Johannesburg in 1941. These photos should be of interest to Geoffery Nkoana, who asked about a solid 9ct fully engraved gold key which was presented to the mayor when the Regent Bioscope in Langerman Drive, Kensington was opened in 1941. Geoffery’s mother was working for Mayor T.P. Gray at the time of the presentation.
MEMORIES OF KENSINGTON by CAROL BILLINGS
Alison Birch and Carol Billings with their mother (1998)My sister Alison Birch forwarded the link on ‟Kensington‶ to me, to read and to reminisce about, which both my husband and I did. I also passed it on to other people who have lived there, or in the surrounding suburbs, as we knew they would also enjoy reading your article. Growing up in Kensington in the 1950s and 1960s was certainly very special.
Our father’s parents lived in Apollonia Street in Fairview, and later moved to 80 Langermann Drive, which we see on Google Earth now houses a veterinary practice.
Our mother’s parents were originally from Rochdale in Lancashire and went to South Africa where they married in St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town on the 9th December, 1908. Our uncle was born in Bloemfontein, and when granny was expecting our mother, she returned to the UK where she gave birth to her in Blackpool. They then returned to South Africa.
Grandfather had been working for British Railways, and worked for the South African Railways when they settled in South Africa. When they moved to Kensington, they lived at 33 Orwell Street.
Our mother did voluntary work for St. John’s Ambulance, and this is where she met our father. When World War Two was declared, our mother volunteered for the South African Military Nurses, and because she was still very young, our grandparents had to give their consent for her to do so. She started off nursing at Entabeni Hospital in Natal, and was then drafted to work in the desert at Quassein in Egypt. This work played a very important part in her life, and until her death in 1999 she was the secretary of the South African Military Nurses’ Association in Johannesburg. She returned to Egypt for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein Celebrations, and also went with the Association to Delville Wood in France for a Memorial Service.
Our parents married at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg on the 24th January, 1948. Alison was born in April, 1949, and I was born in July, 1950, at the Marymount Maternity Home. This hospital is now a place for people suffering with Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar Disease. Sadly our father passed away in February, 1951, when I was only 7 months old. He had Rheumatic Fever when he was young, and this had weakened his heart. He was an Aeronautical Engineer, and lectured at the Johannesburg Technical College in Eloff Street.
Alison and I both attended Jeppe Preparatory School, and then went onto Jeppe Girls’ High.When our father passed away our grandparents sold their home in Orwell Street, and moved into our house at 152 Roberts Avenue. They looked after us during the day whilst mother went to work at Colgate Palmolive, where she remained for 39 Years.
I recall vividly that Alison and I caught the tram to Jeppe Prep each morning, and returned on another one after school each day. As we got a bit older, we asked our grandparents for permission to join our friends in buying slap chips from the fish and chip shop in Fairview called Little Beaver, and we would walk home down Roberts Avenue together with our friends eating our chips.
Our blazer badges for Jeppe Prep had the letters JHSPD embroidered on them, and all the children in Kensington used to say, ‟Jolly Hot Sausages, Penny a Dozen!” Jeppe Prep was a wonderful school and the students all knew each other and supported each other. We participated in a lot of sports and other activities while we were there.
I left Jeppe Prep at the end of 1962, and sadly at this point, the girls went onto Jeppe Girls’ High, and the Boys to Jeppe Boys’ High. However we always supported our old school friends whenever there was a rugby match, or swimming gala. The girls would also go to the dances at the Jeppe Boys’ School, and vice versa. The Jeppe Boys High School had boarders and one of the houses for the boarders was called Tsessebe House. It was intended that the girls’ school would also have boarding facilities, but this plan never materialised.
At Jeppe Girls’ High, we wore a fancier blazer than at Jeppe Prep, and we were teased by many as it was black with white stripes and, as a result, we were often called the Zebras. Mother always used to complain as these blazers were very expensive because of the stripes, and we got them from McCullough and Bothwell. One of the ladies who made the Jeppe Girls’ dresses comes to mind: June Harris. June was also very involved at St. Andrew’s Church. At both schools the girls wore white panama hats in summer, and black felt hats in winter. The Jeppe Schools were incredibly proud of their uniforms, and I recall having very strict dress inspections on a regular basis. Your dress had to be so many inches above your knee, and heaven help you if it was too short!. We would always take off our belts, so that our dresses appeared slightly longer. Your hair had to be tidy, off your face, and tied back at all times.
I attended Jeppe Girls High from Standard 6 in 1963 until Standard 8 in 1965, and I then left and went on to the Johannesburg Commercial College in Johannesburg. There we wore a black and white small checked pleated skirt, with a black blazer, and a straw basher. When I left Jeppe 4 other girls joined me at the College, where we did a Commercial Matric.
Rhodes Park was a really beautiful nature garden, and we used to go to the swimming pool often, as in those days most people did not have pools at home. Even the Jeppe girls used to go to do their swimming practice at that pool although I’m not quite sure why they did not use their own pool to practise for galas. When we were at Jeppe Prep we would go to Jeppe Boys High to swim, as the Prep did not have their own swimming pool at that time. At the weekend there were always lots of people visiting the park. There was equipment for children to play on, and one was able to walk around the beautiful gardens. They had horticulturists working permanently in the gardens of Rhodes Park. There was a bandstand, and on Sunday there were different bands playing there. Crowds sat on the lawns listening to the beautiful music.
We often watched the baseball games there. There was a physically disabled man, whom everyone called Coach, and there were two families of boys from Kensington who did exceptionally well in baseball: the Tew brothers, and the Coulson brothers. There were also a lot of sand banks in the part, and children loved to bring cardboard boxes to the part, and slide down these embankments.
There was a bowling green, and our grandfather was a member of the club. We always attended the club’s Christmas parties which were fantastic. I had a friend who was a member of the Rhodes Park Tennis club so I would often play on those courts with her, and in turn she would come to the tennis club in Juno Street where my sister and I were members. I had another friend whose parents were members at the Fotheringham Park Club in Malvern, and again I would go with them, and she would come with me to my club.
Every Christmas a Carol Concert would be held in Rhodes Park. One year the Reverend Risdon from St Andrew’s was so busy directing the music and getting everyone to sing that he nearly fell into the fish pond! I fondly recall all the candle lights, and the stunning sound of all the Christmas Carols, echoing throughout Rhodes Park.
The tearoom in Rhodes Park was another firm favourite with us, and their cream scones and tea were a real treat. At one stage the Arnold Family ran the tearoom. The tearoom was also a very popular venue for wedding receptions. There were always brides having their photos taken in the park, particularly around the fish pond. My late mother-in-law was a dressmaker, and wedding-dress specialist. They lived in Ocean Street and she made many dresses for Kensington brides.
We used to visit the Library at Rhodes Park a lot too. Not only did we take out books to read, but we spent many hours there doing projects for school. One always found a friend there also busy working on a project.
We attended St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. The church had a very high steeple, and the children always loved climbing up the stairs to the very top. The church bells were rung regularly. On Friday afternoon there was a Youth Club at St. Andrews, and many children from Kensington attended the club even if they were not members the church.
In those days the Mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Atwell and his family, lived in Ocean Street. On Shrove Tuesday, we would also go up to a church in Malvern, and we would have ‟Pancake Races‶ in the street.
Kensington also had numerous Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts packs at different venues. My sister and I were Guides with the 26th Johannesburg Pack, and we used to have our weekly meetings in the church grounds in Onyx Street.
Nels Rust was the dairy situated in Bez Valley, and they did deliveries to all the houses with horse-drawn carts. Milk and orange juice were still delivered in glass bottles. Fotheringham’s Bakery at the top of Marathon Street did home-deliveries of bread. Some men rode around the suburb on oxwagon, selling fruit and, while others rode bicycles selling green mielies, and shouting ‟Green Mielies‶ as they rode along.
The Kensington Castle was well-known in Kensington and was a private residence. The Kensington Hall was another historical building. At one stage the Foster Gang hid in the koppies in Kensington near there.
At the bottom of Protea Street, a block of residential flats, called Astra House, were erected for war veterans as homes for when they returned from the war to civilian life. We moved to these flats after our grandparents passed away. We were able to rent a flat in this complex because mother had nursed with the S.A.Military Nurses during the war. Shortly after we moved there, construction work was started on the Strathyre Girls Home for the Salvation Army next door to Astra House. The Jukskei River was also situated at the bottom of Protea Street, creating a border between Kensington and Cyrildene.
There were numerous well-known businesses in and around Kensington in those days – Marie Distiller’s hairdresser in Fairview, Dave and Johan’s for hair in Bez-Valley, Dolly’s Hats in Bez Valley, to name but a few. My sister remembered a few businesses at the Lancaster Shopping Centre, opposite Jeppe Girls’ High.The butchery was originally owned by three brothers, but later only by one brother – Brian Gungarine and his wife Dawn. My husband’s late brother René and his friend Dudley actually worked in this butchery.
Dr. Yudelman was a very well-known dentist, who practised in Kensington for many years. When we last heard he was still working and his son had joined the practice.
After leaving Johannesburg Commercial College, I started working for the Schlesinger Organisation in Braamfontein. They were situated in the very modern glass, coffin-shaped building at the top of Rissik Street, overlooking Johannesburg Station. My office was on the 20th floor of this Building, and I had stunning views of Johannesburg from my window. Mr I.W. Schlesinger had begun the Schlesinger Organisation in Johannesburg, and his son John, and his two cousins Sylvan and Julian, and another two directors Aubrey Harmel and Manfred Moross took over the running of the Organisation in later years. Schlesinger Organisation owned a lot of the cinemas and theatres in Johannesburg.
The Academy Theatre was at the top of Rissik Street and we used to love going to watch live shows there, starring wonderful actors like Rex Garner. Talented musical artists visited South Africa in the 1960s, such as the Everley Brothers, Demis Roussos, B.J. Thomas, Francoise Hardy, The Kinks, The Seekers, Johnny Mathis and Max Bygraves. South Africa also had very good local artists, and we enjoyed watching their shows too. Des and Dawn Linberg, 4 Jacks and a Jill, The Bats, The Staccatos, and the Dealians come to mind. When we were young we went to restaurants where we could dance, such as The 252 Tavern, Ciros where the Bats often played, Archies in Hillbrow and the Criterion in Benoni, to name but a few.
On a Sunday we often went to a resort at Van Wyks Rust to watch the talent show there. Well-known South African musicians, such as Dennis ‟The Cat”, Dennis McLean, Gene Rockwell, and Jody Wayne often appeared there.
We were married at St. Andrew’s Church in November, 1969, and both our children, Byrone and Lauren, were christened in St. Andrew’s Church.
My husband Peter and his family lived on the corner of Protea Street, and Cumberland Road. He attended Kensington South School, and then went onto Queens High School, which was still situated on Langermann Drive. In later years that school became part of the Military and the new Queens High was built at the bottom of Queens Street towardsCyrildene. When Peter left Queens High he studied at the Witwatersrand Technical College in Smit Street, Braamfontein, where he qualified as a Master Butcher and Polony Maker.
We live in Cape Town now, but still have family on the Billings’ side who live in Derby Road, next to Leicester Road School, and when we visit Johannesburg, which is sadly not that often, we pop in to say hello, and we find that Kensington is still a very sought-after and beautiful suburb of Johannesburg.
Carol Billings (Guest Blogger)