School in Kensington (1957 – 1958)

I arrived in Johannesburg just in time for the last school term of 1957. There were no available places in the Form 2a class at Jeppe Girls’ High so I was placed in Form 2c with the History teacher, Miss Kay as my class teacher.


Jeppe Girls High School, Kensington

It was not very pleasant being a new girl again and  arriving there in my Vaal High uniform. One of the girls in my new class asked why I hadn’t gone to Queen’s High as my uniform was almost identical to the Queen’s uniform. In those days there was no such thing as off-the-shelf uniforms. There were a number of dressmakers in Kensington who made school uniforms to measure. I went to one of these dressmakers to be measured and my mother bought the required amount of material to have the uniform made. It took at least a week for the dressmaker to make my uniform, but this meant that I had to attend school in my Vaal High uniform for over a week.

It was difficult arriving at a new school at a time when everyone was preparing for the year end examinations for which they had been studying all year. Although the Vaal High and Jeppe were in the same province, the schools had different text books and seemed to have been studying entirely different material! I was a very conscientious child and it did not occur to me that the staff might make allowances for me in these exams. Margaret Masterton was kind enough to lend me all her note books and I copied them out and spent all the hours heaven sent trying to prepare myself for the exams.

Vivian Vernon, one of the girls in my new class took pity on me and asked me to sit with her and her friends at break. We sat in the quadrangle to the right of the school. Some older girls stood on the grass above the quadrangle and bullied me because I was new and not wearing the school uniform. They made life very unpleasant for me for a time. One particularly obnoxious girl was called Lindy Wright, but thankfully I have forgotten the names of the other girls in her unpleasant little gang. Even all those years ago there were bullies who delighted in making the lives of those who were not part of the established in-crowd as miserable as possible.

There had never been compulsory sport at the Vaal High. I wasn’t very keen on sport at all. I wasn’t a fast runner and I didn’t enjoy gym either – other girls bounded over the beastly horse while I usually landed on top of the thing and had to do my best to struggle off it while the others giggled at my lack of prowess.

Despite all the upheaval of the sudden move, living in a boarding house, called the Valmeidere Hotel in Roberts Avenue, run by a Scottish couple called  Murdoch until we found a suitable flat in Samad Court at the corner of Queens Street and Langermann Drive. Samad Court is still here, but the flats were turned into offices some years ago. Samad Court, Kensington as it is today

I managed to pass the exams quite adequately at the end of the term and was moved into Form 3a at the beginning of 1958. I was just getting used to the girls in 2c and now I had to face another entirely new class of clever girls the following year.

After my success in the Vaal High play I decided to audition for the school play at Jeppe in 1958, Lace on Her Petticoat by Aimee Stewart, produced by Miss Constance Cox, the French mistress. This was a Scottish play so my authentic accent stood me in good stead for it. I was given the male lead of Hamish Colquhoun. The cast was a small one so we all became very good friends during rehearsals and the run of the play: Margaret Malcolm, Gillian McDade, Elizabeth Moir, Elna Hansen and Winifred Smith and me. As far as I remember, Elizabeth was the only other Scot in the play. I don’t think many people realised that I had a Glasgow accent, while her accent originated in Aberdeen!

Lace on her petticoat19

“Lace on her Petticoat”

Gillian McDade was head girl in 1959 and emigrated to Canada after she left university, where she died of cancer a number of years go. Her mother was a stalwart of Children’s Theatre Productions and Gillian and I ushered at some of these productions and were allowed to watch the show as a reward for our ushering efforts. Elizabeth Moir, as Elizabeth Rankin, became the first woman Dean of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand and emigrated to New Zealand some time ago. I lost trace of the other girls in the cast, but it would be lovely to hear from anyone involved in that very happy production.

I remained at Jeppe Girls’ High from the last term of 1957 until the end of the second term in 1958 when we returned to the UK on board the Winchester Castle._

We lived in Southampton and I attended St Anne’s Convent for a term as no government grammar school would accept me as I had not done the 11 plus examination. I remember it as a period when I hardly uttered a word to anyone. Most of the subjects and syllabi were different or more advanced than what I had been doing at Jeppe._


Jean Collen (nee Campbell)




MEMORIES OF KENSINGTON by Carol Billings (Guest Blogger)

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.

Johannesburg mayor (1941)

Johannesburg mayor (1941)

Mayoress of Johannesburg (1941)

Mayoress of Johannesburg (1941)


Taken in Benoni in 1998.

Taken in Benoni in 1998.

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.

School badges


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.Jeppe Preparatory School

Various scenes of Jeppe Prep.

Various scenes of Jeppe Prep.

Jeppe Prep1 Jeppe Prep2Photos of Jeppe Prep (Carol Billings)

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.

When one speaks of Kensington, so many places and things come to mind.Rhodes Park, Kensington

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.

The cross on St Andrew's Church, Ocean Street, Kensington.

The cross on St Andrew’s Church, Ocean Street, Kensington.

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.

Photograph taken at a friend's wedding in 1969.

Photograph taken at a friend’s wedding in 1969.

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)


Andrew McDougall read this story yesterday (23 July 2015) on his programme The Canon Piper on Radio Today 1485 Here is a link to the programme: The Canon Piper 23 July 2015.

Recent photo of Windy Brow. Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Recent photo of Windy Brow. Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart











I was born in Scotland and lived on and off in the United Kingdom for some years as well as in other places in South Africa, but I have lived in the suburb of Kensington, Johannesburg for most of my life since 1957. I came to South Africa from Scotland with my parents when I was five years old and spent my early years in Vanderbijl Park, a small town in the Vaal Triangle, where we knew most people. I cycled to the Vaal High School, coasting at speed down Faraday Boulevard in the morning and struggling uphill in the heat of the early afternoon.

In 1957 my parents made a sudden move to Johannesburg when my father was offered a job at Rogers-Jenkins with an old work colleague. The engineering company was situated in the Jeppe Dip of Main Street. Even in those days my parents were worried about the high crime rate in Johannesburg in comparison to our relatively crime-free small town. They put our furniture into storage and we lived at the Valmeidere Private Hotel in Roberts Avenue opposite Jeppe Boys’ High until we found somewhere permanent to live. I transferred to Form II (Grade 9) at Jeppe Girls’ High for the last term of that year. I was 13 years of age at the time the world was marvelling at the sight of Sputnik circling the earth each night. My parents thought the roads in Kensington were far too busy for me to ride my bicycle to school, so I caught the tram instead. The tramlines were in the middle of the road, so I prayed that oncoming cars would slow down long enough to give me time to reach the tram and mount its steep iron steps. On the first day at my new school I dodged the oncoming traffic as I walked halfway into the middle of Roberts Avenue to board the tram, and clung to one of the overhanging leather straps as the tram hurtled unsteadily down Roberts Avenue towards my new school. The conductor played a big part on the trip. He forced his way through the passengers to collect money for fares, giving tickets and change from the elaborate stainless steel machine attached around his neck with a leather strap, shouting, “Move further down the car,” to allow yet more people to squeeze into the tram on its peak-hour journey. “Hold tight, please! Move forward in the car. Kaartjies asseblief. All tickets please..” The ticket was to be guarded with one’s life in case the dreaded ticket inspector came on board. I didn’t know what the punishment would be if I lost my ticket, but I thought it must be jail at least, if not death by hanging.

In those days there was no such thing as off-the-shelf school dresses or gym slips. My mother had to buy material and take me to a recommended school dressmaker to be measured for my new uniform so I had to wear my Vaal High uniform until the new uniform was made. Girls in my new class eyed me curiously. One asked in hostile tones why I hadn’t gone to Queen’s High as the Vaal High uniform I wore was almost identical to that of Queen’s High. A kinder girl took pity on me and asked me to join her and her friends to eat my sandwiches with them at break. On the first day I wore my brand new Jeppe Girls’ High School uniform, I carried my regulation panama hat adorned with a band in school colours.

At the Vaal High, hats had not been a compulsory part of the uniform, although my mother had always insisted I should wear one to protect my pink and white Scottish complexion from the harsh sun of the Transvaal High Veld. The only vacant seat on the tram that morning was next to a large, fierce-looking Jeppe girl who sported a severe pudding basin haircut under her hat. She had a prefect badge attached to the front of her green school dress. She glowered at me in disgust, seemingly at a loss for words. I summoned up a watery smile, hoping to break the ice.For some reason she was extremely annoyed with me and I had no idea why. Eventually she managed to speak through her rage. “Why aren’t you wearing your hat? You are letting the school down. Put it on at once.” “I’m new. It’s my first day wearing my uniform. I didn’t know I had to wear it,” I muttered, pulling the offending object onto my head, the elastic tight under my chin. The girl softened slightly. “If you weren’t new you would be in detention this afternoon, writing out two hundred lines. Never let me see you without it again.” I learnt that it was a mortal sin to be seen without one’s hat at Jeppe Girls’ High! Apart from the fact that the girls don’t have to wear hats any more, uniforms of the Jeppe schools have not changed much in the last fifty years but they can be bought off the shelf now. The hard-working Kensington dressmakers of days gone by have long since vanished.

The red tram trundled on its way to school down the hill in Robert’s Avenue, past the suburban houses, interspersed with the Methodist Church on the right, the Kensington Hall on the left and the old low-rise, facebrick block of flats on the corner of Juno Street, which was used as an exterior shot on Egoli, M-Net’s erstwhile soapie. Soon I was venturing further afield on the tram, even braving the trip to the crowded city on Saturday morning.

Kensington remains much the same today as it was in 1957 with its neat suburban houses, the Jeppe Schools, the Kensington Clinic, known then as the Kensington Sanatorium and run by nuns, who later moved upmarket to the Kenridge Hospital in Parktown, now renamed again as the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre, the first private academic hospital in South Africa. The Reverend Fr. Stewart Peart sent me a photograph of Kensington Sanatorium in Roberts Avenue.  It  was designed by the Irish architect, John Francis Beardwood and built in 1897.

Kensington Sanatorium

On the way to the city– “going into town” – the tram passed through the suburbs of Fairview and Jeppestown. Nearer town was a big Chinese grocery store called Yenson’s. People came from all over Johannesburg to shop at Yensons because things were very reasonably priced. Then the tram swept along its tracks on Main Street into the city centre with its smart shops, such as Ansteys, John Orrs and Stuttafords.  Upmarket ladies of leisure from the suburbs, complete with matching hats, gloves, seamed stockings and hair newly set (sometimes blue-rinsed) whiled away their time, while  their maids, gardeners and nannies kept their homes, gardens and offspring in pristine condition.

Pritchard Street, Johannesburg, looking towards John Orr’s Department Store (far right).

These matrons met their friends for morning tea in one of the big department stores. Starched tablecloths, silver cutlery, pleasing crockery and an attentive waiter who probably knew his clientele by name served them. They drank tea or coffee and selected fancy cakes from three-tiered revolving plates to the strains of a discreet pianist or Hammond/Lowry organist playing popular tunes of the day. They were further entertained with a dress show of the latest fashions on sale in the shop. The mannequins paraded round the tearoom, discreetly informing each table of the cost of these creations, which could be purchased in the dress department of the store. Thrupps, the upmarket grocery store had a branch next to John Orr’s in Pritchard Street,  so the ladies often rounded off their morning in town by calling in at Thrupps to discuss the cost and quality of the Stilton cheese with the grocers, and take some delicacy home as a treat for their hard-working husbands to round off their evening meal. The centre of the city has probably changed in character more than any other part of Johannesburg. Many of the buildings remain, but they are used for different purposes today. The smart department stores have either closed or moved to shopping malls in the suburbs. The businesses which remain in the city have their solid security gates firmly locked  at closing time. The  city hall with its fine organ, was the venue for symphony and lunch-hour concerts fifty years ago. The symphony concerts are now presented at the Linder Auditorium in Parktown, and  there are very few concerts held at the city hall these days. Even the fine central library has been closed for renovations recently. I wonder if it will every open again.   We moved into a flat in Samad Court at the corner of Queens Street and Langermann Drive. Samad Court is still here, but the flats were turned into offices some years ago. In the middle of 1958 we returned to the UK and when we came back my parents bought a house in Juno Street. We lived next to the tennis courts and bowling greens of the Kensington Club – I passed there the other day and it looks as though the tennis court next to our old house has disappeared. A half-built building has taken its place.

Our home in Kensington (1959)

Our house had a coal stove in the kitchen where the food was cooked and we had a coal fire in the sitting room so we were never cold in winter as we often are today when we are trying to cut down on electricity usage, and there’s a shortage of gas for heaters. Periodically we would have coal delivered to our cellar from Mac Phail’s, whose slogan was “Mac won’t Phail you”. My mother had an account with the local butcher and Ford’s grocery store and she  placed orders at these shops by phone. She had leisurely discussions with the butcher about the best cuts of meat, and with Mr Ford about the quality of his fruit and vegetables. These orders were delivered to the house, and a quart of milk arrived from the dairy early each morning, and a fresh loaf of bread with a tiny label stuck to it was delivered periodically by a local bakery.My closest friend at school was Daphne Darras, whose father owned the big plant nursery at the corner of Juno Street and Kitchener Avenue, the site of the Darras Shopping Centre today.

Jacaranda time in Juno Street.

There were two cinemas in Kensington in 1957 – the Regent in Langerman Drive where Kentucky Fried Chicken is today, and the Gem at the other side of Kensington, bordering Fairview. I remember seeing Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins at the Regent many decades ago. My father took our dog for a walk every evening and sometimes he would walk to the library at Rhodes Park which was open until 8pm in those days. If he was still alive I don’t suppose he would risk taking these evening walks now. Saturday mornings On Saturday morning, the town was crammed with shoppers and cinema-goers. In 1957, girls wore wide skirts with starched hooped petticoats so it was a real crush walking along the pavement with all those skirts brushing against each other.  Shoes with pointed toes and high thin heels made walking precarious, not to mention setting us up for corns and bunions by the time we reached middle age. My mother was adamant that I should wear sensible shoes with tickey (small) heels rather than hurple around in three-inch heels, probably putting my insides and my spine out of alignment into the bargain. The Jo’burg cinemas were impressive art deco palaces, but the décor was enshrouded in a smoky fug, in an era when smoking was still allowed in cinemas – but not in theatres. I certainly wouldn’t survive in a fug like that now with smoking banned in public places, but it didn’t worry me then. We saw Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor in the Colosseum in Commissioner Street, where the interior was created like a fairy castle with little turrets and windows on the walls, and the ceiling a night sky of deep blue, glimmering with stars.

Colosseum, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg

There was also the Empire and Her Majesty’s. Both these cinemas were sometimes used as venues for live shows, variety, musicals and opera. Stars like Johnny Ray, Tommy Steele, Tommy Trinder, Max Bygraves and Cliff Richard graced the stage of one or other of these theatres in the fifties. The first variety show I saw in Johannesburg was British comedian, Tommy Trinder at His Majesty’s. I was mesmerised. “If its laughter you’re after, Trinder’s the name,” was his by-line. We sat in the dress circle and I was so excited by the experience that I missed my footing on the deeply carpeted steps at the interval, and, to my deep mortification, I rolled all the way down, unable to bring myself to a halt until I reached the bottom of the steps. A year or two later, Cliff Richard came out to do some shows with The Shadows at the Empire. I didn’t really like that kind of music but I went into the city with some school friends to find a mob of people blocking Eloff Street outside the old Carlton Hotel where he was staying. They were all screaming for their idol, “We want Cliff…”. At last the crowd was rewarded when he appeared briefly on the balcony of the hotel to wave rather diffidently at the massive crowd to the accompaniment of cheers and howls of mad adulation from his besotted fans, who were oblivious of the fact that they were causing a massive traffic jam in the centre of the city at rush-hour.

Old Carlton Hotel, corner Eloff and Market Streets, Johannesburg. Demolished in 1964.

The Music Studios After I left school I took music lessons in town. I studied singing with famous British duettists, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s building in Pritchard Street just off Eloff Street, and piano with Sylvia Sullivan whose studio was in Edinburgh Court in Von Brandis Street diagonally opposite  the Jeppe Street post office.

Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler (1963)

OK Bazaars, corner Pritchard/Eloff Streets, Johannesburg

Sylvia Sullivan Chorister. I am in the middle, wearing a hairband.

Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth (1963)

Sylvia Sullivan with her great-niece

In those days most music teachers of any repute had studios in town and their pupils travelled by bus from all over Johannesburg. My parents bought me a leather music case and I was always interested to recognise fellow aspirant musicians with similar cases to mine on the way to their music lessons at one or other of the studios. These days music teachers work from their homes in the suburbs and pupils are usually taken to their lessons by car.

Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth outside their first home at Waverley, Highlands North (1956

Sylvia Sullivan was a highly qualified and gifted teacher of singing and piano. She took her work very seriously and expected her pupils to do the same. She was very strict but always gave credit where it was due. She was at her studio for early morning lessons, then off to teach class music at Parktown Girls’ High School and Nazareth House, then back to the studio for more lessons after school finished, until late in the evening. Mrs Sullivan had a suite of rooms in Edinburgh Court, with grand pianos in the two bigger studios, and uprights in the smaller ones so that pupils could put in some last minute practice before their lessons. In addition to their  private lesson she expected her pupils to go in to her studio early on a Saturday morning to work at ear tests, sight-reading and duets. Once a month she held a performance day when everyone had to play or sing to her and fellow pupils – quite an ordeal – but it got us used to performing in public and at examinations. The morning was rounded off with choir practice as members of the Sylvia Sullivan Choristers.

Anne and Webster had a large, airy studio, with an inter-leading office, and a tiny kitchen in the narrow hall, where pupils waited for their lessons if they arrived early. They had a Chappell Grand piano and a full-length mirror, so that pupils could look at themselves while they were singing, not only to make sure that their posture was good and they looked pleasant, but that they were opening their mouths on the high notes and singing with flat tongues no matter what vowel they sang.  On the wall were innumerable pictures of themselves with various well-known celebrities, taken in their hey-day when they had been top of the bill on the variety circuit and, in addition, Webster had been one of the foremost oratorio soloists of his generation in the United Kingdom. When I was nineteen they asked me to accompany for Webster in the studio when Anne had other engagements. Acting as his studio accompanist was one of the highlights of my life.



Seeing the photograph of the Kensington Sanatorium in its early days reminded me of  an incident when I was playing for Webster and he drove me home after we had been working in the studio one Saturday morning. My best friend, Ruth Ormond had tickets for the forthcoming recital by the distinguished soprano Maria Stader and she asked the Booths to accompany her to the concert. On Saturday morning, Webster came into the studio feeling tired. He grumbled about having to go to the Maria Stader concert that evening with Ruth and Anne when he would have preferred to have had an early night.

After we finished working he drove me home at lunchtime in his blue Hillman Minx convertible. It was a lovely warm day so he put the roof down. He said sombrely that it would be better if I could go to the concert in his place. But then he added, “It would break Ruth’s heart if I didn’t go.” Without being bigheaded he was perfectly aware of the power and influence he exerted over us lesser mortals.

Just as we were passing the Kensington Sanatorium he said, “It’s such a lovely day. Let’s just keep on driving all the way to Durban”. Lovely impossible idea.

Instead of driving to Durban, he dutifully took me home, and he and Anne went to the concert with Ruth that night as planned. I heard all about the concert on Sunday when Ruth and I went to the SABC to a studio recital given by Shura Cherkassky, the world-renowned pianist. I remember his brilliant performance of the Mozart sonata in B flat, which was in my own repertoire, and Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

I remained close friends of Anne and Webster and Sylvia Sullivan until their deaths.

Changes in Kensington  Houses in Queen Street and parts of Langerman Drive are largely used for business purposes today. I remember two elegant houses at the corner of Langerman Drive and Queen Street when they were large private residences. Windy Brow has been used for various business ventures, while the other was demolished completely to make way for a garage, but most of the original Kensington houses are still standing. Kensingtonians are lucky that the CBD shifted to Sandton rather than to the East, so the suburb has not changed as much as many other Johannesburg suburbs. When I look back on the South Africa of my youth and compare it with South Africa today, things have changed so much that I sometimes feel as though I am living in an entirely different country. But although there have been many, changes in Kensington, some for better, some for worse, it is still much as I remember it fifty odd years ago and retains an ongoing sense of community for its inhabitants.

3 March 2015 – Update Yesterday I had a phone call from the Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart, who had attended the funeral service of Mrs Marcella Gill  at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Kensington that morning.  While he was in the area he managed to take some lovely photographs and I am posting them here. I am very grateful to Stewart for sharing these photographs with me. I was musical director at St Andrew’s for 13 years and retired at the end of 2005 so I was pleased to see that the church in Ocean Street looks very much as I remember it.

St Andrew’s, Ocean Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart

The next photograph is of the Atwell’s former home in Ocean Street. Unfortunately a large wall has been erected so one cannot see much of the house itself, but I’m sure it will still be of interest.

The Atwell's former residence, now with a large wall surrounding it. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart.

The Atwell’s former residence, now with a large wall surrounding it. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart.

Many people wondered what had happened to the once-beautiful home at the corner of Langerman Drive and Queens Street – Windybrow. Stewart took two photographs of the building, which is now in a sad state of decay.

Windybrow, corner Langerman Drive and Queens Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr Stewart Peart.

Windybrow, corner Langerman Drive and Queens Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr Stewart Peart.

Windybrow, corner Langerman Drive and Queens Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr Stewart Peart. Sadly in a state of decay.

Windybrow, corner Langerman Drive and Queens Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr Stewart Peart. Sadly in a state of decay.


Recent photo of Windy Brow. Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Recent photo of Windy Brow. Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Photo: Rev Fr Stewart Peart

Updated – – 16 June 2015

Jean Collen ©

Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

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