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In 1891 the first horse-drawn tram moved out of market square and soon connected to such ‘far-flung’ suburbs of Belgravia (via Jeppestown), Fordsburg and Doornfontein to the growing town.
According to the ‘Director’s Report for the year ending 31 March 1893/4, “421 buildings have been erected, including 2 churches, Masonic Temple, Club House, Library, St. Mary’s Collegiate for girls, Police Barracks, etc., etc.; of these 192 went up during the year 1893. The two Parks originally laid out are well maintained and are a source of great attraction. A third square, 450 x 450 feet, has lately been enclosed and planted with trees; this has been given to the inhabitants in lieu of the original Market Square, which was cut up by the railway and partly expropriated by the Netherlands Railway company.”
In 1897, Jeppestown was described as having ‘the most amenities and the best area’ and ‘a neat little suburb on the outskirts of town proper’. Besides the horse trams and later in 1906 the electric trams, the other early benefit was that the government bought some of the land from Jeppe for a railway (the early Rand Tram) to pass through. He agreed on the condition there was a station and that every train that passed through had to stop. This was advantageous in that a business hub grew around the station as well as being very convenient for the suburb’s residents. This hub is probably responsible for the survival of so many buildings in the area.
The first station was known as ‘School Halt’ and named after St. Mary’s school which was originally a block away. The halt was a simple ticket office that was also used as a bookstall and post office. In 1896, it was re-named Jeppe Station
Construction of the second Jeppe station started in 1895 and was completed in 1896. The central portion contained an office, entrance hall, waiting room and luggage room. Plans included two wings which were for station masters accommodation and the other toilets and waiting rooms for ladies. The wings were only built later after the war.
A funny story about every train having to stop is people who missed a train leaving Park Station, could sometimes race through and catch it at Jeppe, as even mail and goods trains had to stop there!
John Page Drive was built over the original street level railway tracks when Jeppe station was rebuilt and the new tracks dropped below street level in the major construction between 1937 and 1939. Page was Mayor from 1938-39.
Until the dropping of the tracks in the 1930s, the level crossing in Commissioner street one block away was still in use.
St. Mary’s School
The first St. Mary’s school, established by Rev. J. Darragh in 1888 was in Park Street adjacent to where St. Mary-the-less is now. It was headed by Miss Mary Ross who married the Reverend on 10 September 1889. Directly after the wedding and in the presence of 800 guests, the new Mrs Darragh laid the foundation stone of St. Mary-the-less which today is Johannesburg’s oldest building.
In 1893, Holmes-Orr bought the school. The children were sent away for the duration of the Boer war and the school was damaged by a nearby factory explosion. After the war, expansion plans for the railway line running through Jeppestown affected the school. The site was expropriated and appropriate compensation was paid. Holmes-Orr, with an additional loan from her brother-in-law, built a new school on the corner of Berg and Marshall Street.
It was designed by Mr St. J. Cottrill of Messrs. Brown & Cottrill. The foundation stone was laid by Archdeacon Furse in November 1903 and the building was completed in 1904.
It’s a good example of Free Style Classicism and Collegiate Gothic style that was popular for school buildings in Victorian times. It originally had red brick walls as pictured above. There was a basement level and above that seven classrooms, Miss Holmes-Orr’s office, the kitchen, dining room, and a small library. The first floor consisted of the dormitories and the top floor was an attic.
In the 1920s, the school faced dwindling pupils and more financial woes. In 1923, with only 13 pupils remaining, it was taken over by the Sisters of St. Margaret from East Grinstead, putting it under the patronage of the Anglican Diocese (something Holmes-Orr tried unsuccessfully to do a few years prior but was denied as her debt was too heavy. She retired in 1924). In 1929 Miss Evelyn Beatrix Darke became the new headmistress. The school sold the building in 1933 and moved to the current St. Mary’s in Waverley in 1935.
In the 1970s is was known as Belgravia College and is now home to St. James Preparatory School which was started by the School of Practical Philosophy who had their headquarters in the old school building before restoring Salisbury House across the road.
Salisbury House, a double-story Victorian building with Edwardian overtones designed by Mcintosh & Moffat, built in 1903 for Mr P. Chat, was originally called Bern’s Building. The ground floor originally had three open-plan shops with window frontage. The first floor consisted of living quarters with separate entrances and a common balcony.
Mr. Anderson, a chemist, bought it in 1908. He renamed it Salisbury House after a teacher, Miss Kate Salisbury, from across the road at St. Mary’s Diocesan School. She soon became Mrs. Anderson. Anderson started a pharmacy on the corner and during WW 1 and converted two ground floor shops into flats.
H. Hansen purchased the building in 1943 after Anderson died and his wife moved to Beaufort West. Hansen still owned the building in the 1970s.
The building has been used in two South African films: ‘The Foster Gang’ and ‘The Cavaliers’. In 2006, the building was renovated and is now used by the School of Practical Philosophy.
It was nominated by the Simon Van Der Stel society as one of the top 100 buildings n JHB to preserve. It’s a national monument and one of very few examples of cast iron verandah facades from Walter Mcfarlane Glasgow (Kensington Flats Noord Str is another).
After standing empty for many years (and stripped of many of its original fixtures and fittings) in 2005, it was leased to and renovated by the School of Practical Philosophy by the JHB property Co. Toward the end of the renovation, a car hit one of the pillars and a section of the newly renovated balcony collapsed. It was eventually repaired sometime after 2012. Recently, it appears another car has hit the pole and the balcony is being held up by temporary scaffolding.
Rathmines – Beardwood House
Rathmines was the home of Irish architect John Francis Beardwood who came to Johannesburg via California in 1895. He originally wanted to settle in Cradock, but Cecil Rhodes convinced him to come to Johannesburg where he joined the offices of Reid & Williams. In 1896 he started a partnership with Ibler which was dissolved in 1899 at the outbreak of the war.
A building from this partnership still exists in Fox Street opposite the courts. It’s currently called Heritage Cafe and is possibly the original structure dating to 1896 with alterations by Ibler and J. F. Beardwood. It was originally listed as a bakery. There were a few houses in Wanderer’s view and Braamfontein credited to them.
Beardwood was very active in the profession. He was elected Chairman of the society of architects London after Leck’s death in 1907. He was treasurer of the TVL branch of architects and president from 1909-1911. In 1914 he was president of the Association of TVL architects.
Like many, my introduction to Beardwood via the Holy Family / Parktown Convent on Oxford Road (1905). Other works attributed to him in JHB are Nazareth House in Yeoville where he worked on extensive alterations. Complete buildings were the Catholic Club in 1902 in Jeppe Street which became the Irish Club from 1907 onwards, St. Agnes Mansions in Plein Street c1905 as well as Patlansky’s Corner c1912 on the corner of Joubert & Jeppe Street. He also designed the first St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Belgravia.
His own home, Rathmines, which he designed for himself and built in 1903, was named after the road he lived in Dublin.
Built in 1903 by builders Arbarren & Freely it was originally called Villa Belgravia and owned by Charles Marx who was chairman of the Johannesburg Turf Club. In 1920 it was bought by Mr Errol Hickman who renamed it Thabana House and ran it as a residential hotel. In 1947 it was taken over by the YMCA. In 1956, Mr L. S. Jones bought the property and restored it (it had deteriorated so badly that Jones had to access it from a broken window) to become a private hostel for Jeppe Boys. By 1958, boarders increased enough for it to become a ‘school house’, and has since been known as Sable House.
Belgravia, like Doornfontein, would later see a mass exodus of the wealthy as they moved north to Parktown. Many of the large mansions were demolished and large stands subdivided to make way for smaller houses to accommodate the burgeoning middle classes. Although Belgravia is still a residential suburb today, Jeppe is a mixture of commercial and industrial. Very few (if any) of the original houses west of the railway survive. Many houses became blocks of small flats – some of which still survive, while others became buildings, factories or shops – many of which still stand. Other areas close by like Troyeville and Bertrams were also attractive to the working middle class, who during the boom years, started looking for houses for their families. The poorer whites flocked to western suburbs like Fordsburg, Burgersdorp, Vrededorp, and Brickfields (Newtown). The even poorer black working class lived in mine compounds, locations near Vrededorp or simply in the veld in derelict buildings or abandoned claims.
Johannesburg Historical Foundation, undated. Some Historic Drives & Walks of Johannesburg. Written and produced by the JHF
Smith, A, 1971. Johannesburg Street Names. Johannesburg: Juta & Company, LTD
The Star. 5 February 1972. ‘Historic homestead is now a school hostel’ by Denis Godfrey.
MacPhail, M, 1981. St Mary’s School Waverley 1888-1978. Johannesburg: Waverley old Girls Association
Beardwood corrections and info supplied by C. J. Beardwood, grandson of J. F. Beardwood.
Added additional information and photos on Jeppe Station, St. Mary’s College, Salisbury House and Thabana House 30 December 2018
Added info and slides from JHF Jeppestown presentation 1 November 2021