Those were the days: Craighall Park, then and now

Craighall Park has been my home for 47 years: I moved here when I married in early 1973;  it’s where I have run my business from for 25 years, (I started Liz at Lancaster as a guesthouse in 1994 with one room and by 2007 had gradually expanded to 7 rooms); and it’s where my sons grew up.   …. So I have a loooooong connection to  this area which I love. Craighall Park is one of Johannesburg’s older suburbs, and has a rich history: it celebrated its hundreth birthday in 2012. My training as an historian, researcher, marketer and guesthouse-owner along with my various dilettantish interests have led me to blog plenty about the suburb, both for Liz at Lancaster’s website as well as for Safari Now and SA-Venues. 

So this is how I came to spend a wonderful morning with Dave Gurney and sister Jane, who reminisced about Craighall Park in the 1950s. Dave is a well known town planner and Joburg Heritage stalwart. They grew up in Rothesay Ave

The Gurney’s house in Rothesay Ave, Craighall Park in the 1950s. I had to leave the black photo corners in the image – remember those?

Dave recalls he and his friends racing down Grosvenor Ave on their bikes and as they passed under the syringa trees they leapt upwards to grab an overhanging branch leaving the bikes to continue on down the hill to be stopped and collected by the designated teammate. One of these little adventures resulted in a broken arm for Dave! 

During the 1950s Craighall was veldt from HydePark all the way down the hill and across the Spruit. One of their favourite jaunts was to follow the underground tunnel and then explore the rocky outcrop on the other side of Jan Smuts.
Underground tunnel 1950s – young childrens’ heaven to explore. Source: Dave Gurney
No helmets or knee pads in the 1950s. Dave Gurney careering around the corner

Local trading store, post-office and police station

There is an interesting building on the corner of Rothesay and Buckingham Aves which, according to Dave Gurney, was an old trading store which sold everything from consumables likes soap, paraffin, food supplies and of course pots, pans, blankets and general household goods. Rothesay ended at Buckingham Ave – beyond that was veldt. 

In the 1950s, this building on the south-eastern corner of Buckingham and Rothesay was a real traditional trading store

The first post office was at the corner of the Buckingham Ave and Old Pretoria Rd (now Jan Smuts) located in a general trading store. By the 1950s the Post Office was in a building on Westminster Drive where the Light Shed is now.

Site of the Old Craighall Post Office Cnr Westminster and Jan Smuts Ave

What was Craighall Police Station during the 1950s, is now occupied by the military. 

Old Craighall Police station now occupied by the army

Older history of Craighall Park 

All this got me thinking about older history of the area. 

Why ….

….. does one of the main roads through Craighall Park changes its name 3 names?  Norfolk, becomes Cambridge, becomes Grosvenor. According to Timmermans in the days when Craighall Park was comprised of smallholdings and farms, there were gates along the dirt tracks between the farms (which needed to be opened and closed along the journey). The name changes are traces of where the gates of the farms used to be.    

Why ….


…. amidst all the streets named after English dukes, is there a Kruger Drive and a Chandler Drive? Near the Craighall Park Hotel on Westminster Drive  Sam Kruger owned the City Boot Factory and so Kruger drive was named Kruger Drive after him. (Anna Smith Johannesburg Street Names p. 282). 

Chandler & Co was one of the earliest brewery’s established on the Rand – established in Ophirton in 1887. There was a long British  (and so colonial) tradition of breweries (prior to the late 1950s) being linked to what were known as “tied houses”. These were hotels which were linked to the brewery and could only sell their beer. Chandler’s Brewery supplied the Craighall Hotel.  (Smith p. 81)

Where was the Craighall Park hotel?

Many Joburgers will remember the Colony Hotel which stood where the Colony Centre is now. However, Craighall’s original hotel was located closer to Cambridge Ave with its main entrance on Westminster Drive. Given the distance of Craighall from the city, many people made the journey for a day’s outing or even to spend the weekend at the hotel. 

Craighall Park Hotel The Ideal Health and Pleasure Resort
Craighall Hotel.  Source: Like It Was The Star 100 years in Johannesburg 1887-1987 p. 54

And at the bottom of the hill was the Rattray’s  Lake where the hotel had an annexe – a wood and iron building with a wooden railed stoep surrounding the building.  Trips in a one-horse trap were organized by the Craighall Park hotel management so that guests could relax by the lake for afternoon tea or evening drinks, with live music from military bands. (Timmermans 2016)

Rattray’s Dam a popular duck shooting and fishing spot. Source: “Like It Was” The Star 100 years in Johannesburg 1887-1987 p. 54

According to Smith, Sam Kruger of City Boot fame, also owned the local hotel in the early days.  According to Men of the Times 1905 (page 318) the Craighall Park Hotel was once Rattray’s private residence.  Did Rattray sell to Kruger? It is also not clear whether this private home refers to the hotel at the top of the hill or the annexe on the dam at the Spruit at the bottom of the hill. 

In the 1950s one of the original weirs of Rattray’s Dam still existed (on the east side of Conrad Drive). 

Jane Gurney crossing the weir 1950s. This weir, much larger than the current one on the west of Conrad Drive, is no longer extant.
Current weir on the Braamfontein Spruit on the east side of Conrad Drive 

From ox wagons to speed bumps

At the turn of the 20th Century, one of the main routes from Johannesburg to Pretoria, the old Pretoria Road went straight through Craighall Park.  In 1917 it was decided to rename this main artery as well as the other Pretoria route further east, to Jan Smuts and Louis Botha respectively. The oxen outspanned at the bottom of Craighall near the spruit and on the journey from Pretoria to Johannesburg would usually have to in-span a new set of oxen for the long uphill journey into town. To help mitigate the fascist hill directly up Jan Smuts from the Buckingham intersection to current Hyde Park, the ox wagons and mail-coaches would follow Buckingham Ave which, although longer, at least followed the contours of the hill and so eased the arduous climb.  

And now we have speed bumps on suburban through-roads to slow speeding vehicles. And instead of avoiding riderless bikes hurtling down Grosvenor Ave, we have to dodge oncoming taxis!  




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