History of Braamfontein Pt.1

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Braamfontein today is largely unchanged from 30 years ago. It seems like it’s always just been this way, but its long history starts off as a farm in 1853 to a booming middle-class residential suburb in the mid-1890s to the 1930s. During the economic and building booms of the 1930s and 1950s, many businesses relocated to Braamfontein. Blocks of houses and old churches were demolished to make way for commerce. WITS University was established in the 1920s. The expanding Johannesburg train station swallowed the old Wanderers club and sports grounds in the 1940s. The Civic Centre development in the late 1960s took up a whole grid of suburban houses. Slowly but surely the suburb became a business hub that also included residential flats and supporting businesses catering to students at WITS and the thousands of office workers that filled up the buildings during the day.

Aerial view of central Braamfontein

Aerial view of central Braamfontein around the late 1950s (Source: Museum Africa)

Over the last few decades Braamfontein has also been home to legendary nightclubs as well as some popular and fine dining restaurants. These and various other landmarks will all be covered in the parts that make up this history of Braamfontein.

In the beginning, Braamfontein was originally a farm that adjoined Randjeslaagte (the triangular piece of government-owned land between the farms) on the west. It occurs in the records as early as 1853 and was owned by Gert Bezhuidenhout. By the time gold was discovered in 1886 various families were living on it. The name means ‘bramble fountain’.

Map of the farms before the discovery of gold in Johannesburg

Map of the farms before the discovery of gold in Johannesburg (Source: Watershed Town)

The original farm stretched from Westdene in the west right through to the western boundary of Houghton in the east and from Greenside and Emmerentia in the north across Parkhurst and Parktown and right down to the bottom of Newtown in the south. The valleys that lie between the ridges contain tributaries of the Braamfontein Spruit which run to a point near Victory Park. One rises at Sturrock Park and runs under the gas works. Another rises on the ground of Barnato Park in Berea and the third runs under the Johannesburg Country Club cricket field. Braamfontein spruit itself rises in the vicinity of Parktown and runs down to Sans Souci, through Parkview Golf course, Parkhurst, Craighall, Bryanston and Rivonia. On its course it is joined by a feeder from Zoo Lake, the Sturrock Park tributary, one from Westdene dam which eventually flows into Emmerentia Dam. A further feeder rises from Newlands/Greymont area running through Roosevelt Park to join the Emmerentia feeder. In November 1892 Herman Eckstein formed the Braamfontein Estate Company so it could take from him and develop the 1580 morgen of the farm Braamfontein that he had acquired from Lourens Geldenhuys and his brother Frans. The company would go on to develop the exclusive suburb of Parktown which I’ll cover in some detail in the future. Before that, Lourens bought one of the subdivisions of Braamfontein from the Bezhuidenhout family who owned Doornfontein. On selling the eastern part to Eckstein, the brothers kept substantial portions for themselves (now Greenside and Emmerentia) which were still being farmed up until the 1930s.

Map of Braamfontein from 1890

Map of Braamfontein from 1890. Properties around Kruger Park (later Wanderers) was known as ‘Wanderers View’ and those blocks on the left topped by Steimens Street was roughly the area known as ‘Clifton’ (Source: Watershed Town)

The area we know as Braamfontein today runs from the Braamfontein cemetery in the west to the Civic Centre in the east and from Wolmarans Street in the south up to Hoofd Street in the north and includes the ridge. It’s been known by this name since 1888 when the area north of Noord street was surveyed although it was never declared a township.

Braamfontein in 1896

Braamfontein in 1896

Braamfontein today

Braamfontein today

However, there are two almost forgotten older names associated with Braamfontein. One is ‘Clifton’ or ‘new Braamfontein’ and the other is ‘Lindique’s Portion’ or ‘old Braamfontein’.


Clifton appears to be the part of Braamfontein north-west of the current JHB station or old Wanderers back then. It was not a separate suburb but just a popular name that the area was known by. On 12 November 1894 a meeting was held by Braamfontein ratepayers association and one of the motions was that the area known as ‘new Braamfontein’ be changed to Clifton. A much bigger area was suggested (almost all of what we know as Braamfontein now). Part of the reason for the suggested name change was the difficulty in finding addresses. Over time this name appears to have fallen away and forgotten. I came across a plan from 1933 for an addition of an organ room to a now demolished church in Steimens Street. The plan had ‘Clifton’ crossed out and replaced with ‘Johannesburg’ One of the last remnants of this name was the Clifton Methodist Church on De Korte Street (designed by G. Fleming) which was built in 1897 and demolished in 1973. The picture below was taken in Dec 1972 and the notice board on the last service displayed 1 Cor. 13:4 ‘Love suffereth long and is kind’

Clifton Methodist church in Decemeber 1972 just before being demolished

Clifton Methodist church in December 1972 just before being demolished (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

Original drawings of the church

Original drawings of the church (Source: Museum Africa)

Plans for the parsonage built next ddor

Plans for the parsonage built next door (Source: Museum Africa)

Picture of the church and parsonage

Picture of the church and parsonage (Source: Museum Africa)

Before the Methodist Church was built, the area was also known as Braamfontein Enclosure and was the site of a quarry. This quarry may be the remnants of Frans and Louwrens Geldenhuis’s failed attempt at striking gold after they bought a part of Braamfontein to mine the ‘Clifton Reef’. They ended up dividing the land amongst themselves and focused on farming instead. In 1896 it was reported that the enclosure had been given to the government to erect churches and schools. The old quarries were filled up, fences erected and 390 trees were planted. A post office and a Dutch Reform Church were also built on the site. The name ‘Clifton’ existed as far down as the corner of Juta and De Beer Streets where across the road from Kitcheners there once stood the Clifton Hotel. I’ve also seen an unofficial map from 1905 where the whole of Braamfontein was labeled Clifton.

Plans for Clifton Hotel which was across the road from Kitcheners.

Plans for Clifton Hotel which was across the road from Kitcheners (Source: Museum Africa)

It is also worth noting that on the Tompkins ‘Plan of Johannesburg’ from 1890 Brixton, Vrededorp and Newtown were indicated as part of Braamfontein. Many street names and squares that appeared on the Tompkins plan no longer exist.

Lindeque’s Portion

On 7 January 1884, Johannes Jacobus Lindeque purchased the south-western portion of the farm Braamfontein from either Fans Van Dyk or Gert Bezhuidenhout (details are vague but it is known that various parts of the farm were dub-divided and sold many times over at escalating prices). According to Anna Smith’s ‘Johannesburg Street Names’, it was an area of 48 stands west of Diagonal Street bounded by President Street on the north and Ferreirastown on the south. Looking at an old map, this looks like the area around Brickfields or Newtown today. At the end of 1887 Lindeque’s Portion was purchased by the government to increase Johannesburg’s water supply. It is also mentioned that Lindeque’s Portion was the site of the Johannesburg country club which means that the portion of land was much bigger than 48 stands mentioned. From what I can make out, Gert Bezhuidenhout’s farmhouse was in what we know today as Auckland Park. His homestead made way for the Auckland Park Hotel (and lake) in 1890 which was a popular retreat in the early days of Johannesburg. In 1906, the hotel made way for the Johannesburg Country Club clubhouse which still stands today. It is also mentioned that a Piet or Petrus Lindeque bought the eastern part of Braamfontein from Bezhuidenhout in 1884 and built a homestead there in 1887. This may or may not be the same homestead that became the hotel, but it is known that a New Zealander named John Landau (the street ‘Landau’s Terrace’ in Richmond on the Melville border is named after him) bought Lindeque’s farm and named it Auckland Park after his hometown.

Another long-lost name associated with Braamfontein is ‘Wanderers View’. This referred to those homes on the hill directly above where the train station is today that looked onto the Wanderers sports ground. Running up and on either side of Rissik Street to where the Civic Centre is today were some magnificent houses that had views of the sport grounds and the city in the distance. One such house still stands and was for many years part of WITS hotel school which opened it’s doors in January 1969 and was originally known as the ‘Smit Street Hotel School’. Houses on Smit Street and Wolmarans Street were also often referred to as being in ‘Wanderers View’

Hotel school house on smith Street and the only remaining 'Wanderers view' house

Old Hotel School house on Smit Street once known as ‘Gables’ is the only remaining ‘Wanderers view’ house (Source: Marc Latilla)

Wolmarans Street early 1900s and an example of what Wanderers View was

Wolmarans Street in the early 1900s as an example of what Wanderers View looked like (Source: Johannesburg Album)

Wanderers Sport Ground

Although not technically part of Braamfontein, I thought I would add the history of the Wanderers here as it played an important part in the suburbs history. I originally wrote this piece for JHBlive in Dec 2013.

A little known fact is that Wanderers used to be on the border of the old town and Braamfontein right next to the railway line. Town planning during those gold rush years was haphazard and short-sighted mainly because the ZAR government believed the rush would be short-lived and result in a ghost-town. As the reef proved almost never-ending, the town grew at a fast rate and many early land allocations had to be moved or relocated as the growth spread over municipal lines. Early cemeteries, hospitals and jails had to find new homes according to updated and modern town planning principles. Although the old Wanderers lasted in its original position until the late 1940s, its directors saw the future coming in the 1920s already when the railways slowly started swallowing up pieces of the club as it expanded to cope with high transport demands.

Wanderers looking north with Hillbrow in the background 1938

Wanderers looking north with Hillbrow in the background 1938 (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

On 2 May 1888 a petition from the inhabitants of Johannesburg containing a request for a piece of land for sport and recreation was considered by the Executive Council of the ZAR. It was granted and the lease signed on 3 March 1890 with the Wanderers Club taking over a piece of ground previously known as Kruger’s Park. The site was a block of stands north of Noord Street and west of Eloff Street extension – right where the Johannesburg Railways Station is today and very close to the current Joubert Park. Note ‘Kruger Park’ on the 1890 map. This was the original position of the club. Also see how much growth took place in the six years between the maps.

Union Cricket Ground match 1886

Union Cricket Ground match 1886 (Source: Johannesburg album)

As an aside: Just below to the right of Kruger Park and under Joubert Park is the Union Grounds. This is where Johannesburg’s first recorded cricket match took place in December 1886 between the Witwatersrand Pioneer Cricket Team and a team from Heidelburg. The Wanderers Cricket Club was formed in 1888. The first international match played at the Wanderers was in January 1889 against a visiting English team led by Major Warton. They beat a Johannesburg and team and the Transvaal team. The visiting side included C. Aubrey Smith who would later become a Hollywood star playing British roles. He stayed on in Johannesburg and got involved with local cricket and theatre.

View from Rissik Street in 1888 with proposed Wanderers site in the distance

View looking north up Rissik Street in 1888 with proposed Wanderers site in the distance (Source: Johannesburg: One hundred Years)

It is said that the name Wanderers was chosen by its founders (at Sam Height’s Bodega Bar in Commissioner Street) because they were all wanderers themselves. As there was relatively little in the form of general recreation during those early years, the club quickly became the sporting and social centre of Johannesburg hosting Cricket, Tennis, rugby, soccer, cycling, boxing and gymnastics. Over time, other sports clubs edged in like the Ellis Park complex in the 1920s that took away tennis and rugby. Until 1915 when City Hall was built, the club also hosted music, opera and drama. Notably pianists Mark Hambourg and Paderewski performed there as well as contralto opera singer Clara Butt.

First clubhouse

First clubhouse (Source: Barnett Brothers)

In 1895 the large grounds were used to house the Jameson Raid refugees. In the aftermath of the Braamfontein dynamite explosion in February 1896, the club was used as a temporary hospital (and again during the Anglo Boer War, WW1 and the 1918 flu epidemic). In February 1898 there was a fire and new pavilion had to be built. The grounds were also used as an assembly post for commandos and prisoners during the 1913, 1914 and 1922 industrial strikes and upheavals.

Rebuilt main hall

Rebuilt main hall (Source: Johannesburg Album)

Wanderers early 1900s

Wanderers early 1900s (Source: Johannesburg album)

In the 1920s and 1930s, anyone who was anyone was seen on a Saturday night in evening dress or tails at the Twelve O’Clock Club housed in the gymnasium hall. In 1932 Greyhound racing was introduced and proved popular until banned in 1949. The original lease was cancelled in 1906 and the land handed over to the municipality. Bit by bit from 1925 onwards, the Wanderers land was taken over by the railways. During WW2 it was negotiated that the rest of the Wanderers would be taken over by the railways for the expansion of Johannesburg Station. After 58 years, the Wanderers stopped using the old grounds on Sunday 27 October 1946. The last major event was a soccer cup final attended by a record 40 000 people the previous month.

Wanderers in Illovo 1950s

Wanderers in Illovo 1950s

With foresight, the management of the club purchased some land in Illovo in 1936 and named it Kent Park after long standing Wanderers Chairman Victor Kent. The new grounds were originally only meant to cope with overflow, but would become the Wanderers new home. The Transvaal Cricket Union made the new Wanderers its home in the mid-1950s.

Piece of cricket trivia: The ‘longest six’ ever was hit by South African batsmen Jimmy Sinclair in 1902 at the old Wanderers while playing against Australia. He hit the ball onto an open truck on a passing goods train on the way to Cape Town where it was retrieved 1300km away. The ball is evidently preserved at the new Wanderers club.

Kitcheners at the Milner Park Hotel

Milner Park Hotel BAR

Milner Park Hotel BAR (Source: Marc Latilla)

There has always been an element of nightlife in Braamfontein. From the late 1980s to early 2000s there were venues like The Dirtbox, Wings Beat Bar, Dukes and Therapy? to name a few.

Milner Park Hotel in 2010 before the renovations

Milner Park Hotel in 2010 before the renovations (Source: Marc Latilla)

Braamfontein’s recent night life revival started around 2009 when Andrew Clements started using and hiring out the old Milner Park Hotel as a DJ venue. Charles Leonard and I started our monthly REFORM! parties on Thursday nights at the end of 2009 at Kitcheners while there were still residents living in the rooms above the bar (the parties still faithfully take place at Kitcheners every few months). The entrance had the old reception area and the SA Tourism plaque proudly announced that it was a ONE STAR establishment.

Tourism board plaque

Tourism board plaque (Source: Marc Latilla)

Kitcheners main reception before renovations

Kitcheners main reception before renovations (Source: Marc Latilla)

Kitcheners reception looking out into the street through the window to the left of the entrance before renovations.

Kitcheners reception looking out into the street through the window to the left of the entrance before renovations (Source: Marc Latilla)

The entrance ceilings and old wallpaper during renovations

The entrance ceilings and old wallpaper during renovations (Source: Marc Latilla)

Renovations started in 2010 and the upper floor of the hotel was converted into office space. The bar next door was gutted and eventually became Great Dane which opened in 2012. The old entrance has since been transformed into another bar area but the original Carvery Bar has been left largely unchanged which lends to its charm.

Interior of the bar from a REFORM! party in 2012

Interior of the bar from a REFORM! party in 2012 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Interior of the old dining room and now main dancefloor 2012

Interior of the old dining room and now main dancefloor 2012 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Kitcheners lead the way to establishing Braamfontein as a left-of-centre clubbing and bar destination. Milner Park Hotel, or Kitcheners as its known today, is considered the second oldest bar in Johannesburg. It is certainly the oldest building left in Braamfontein and is among one of the few remaining buildings in Johannesburg built before 1900. It’s on the corner of De Beer and Juta streets which in the 1890s had a very strong German community with thriving German owned businesses (and was even known as ‘little Germany’). According to Mike Bosazza’s piece in the Johannesburg Heritage Journal, it was built in 1898 and was originally known as the Hansa Bar and Hotel. Unfortunately the plans for the hotel no longer exist making it difficult to verify. Looking at dated plans from buildings and other hotels close by, the date is plausible.

Milner Park Hotel in 1964

Milner Park Hotel in 1964 (Source: Museum Afica)

The piece below is from 101 beloved bars of Southern Africa. We now know the name ‘lost in the mists of time’ it refers to, and that it was still known as the Hansa Hotel in 1915…

“In 1899, southern Africa slipped into the cataclysmic Boer War, also known as British high commissioner Sir Alfred Milner’s ‘Little War’. At the end of the conflict in 1902, Milner had a meeting with the strong-willed commander of the British forces General Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, at a small, newly built hotel in what is now Braamfontein. This inn, whose name is lost in the mists of time, served as a watering hole for British troops and as a stopover for postal riders between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is not clear if Milner had by then won Kitchener over, or what they discussed. What is known is that they met in the hotel’s carvery bar: an intimate room with a small, leather padded elbow-rest wooden bar, pressed-steel ceiling, smoked-glass-partioned kiosks, sash windows, heavy drapes and velvet-patterned wallpaper. Soon after, this establishment changed its name to the Milner Park Hotel, and the pub’s to Kitchener’s Carvery Bar in acknowledgment of the honour bestowed on them. Today this hotel and pub are respectively the second oldest in the city after the Booysens Hotel and the Guild Hall. Little has changed on the Milner Park or the Kitchener, which imbues them with a certain creepiness. It is probably this, or over indulgence, which has given rise to a number of ghost legends. There are cold spots in Room 2 and mysterious footsteps in Room 14. And in the pub there have been reports of the wallpaper suddenly distorting and morphing, while others claim to have seen the apparition of a high ranking, red-jacketed British officer at the bar.” From the description above, very little of the interior of the Carvery Bar has changed since those early days which is quite a rare thing in our rapidly changing times.

Hansa Hotel

Hansa Hotel from 1915 during the anti-German riots in Johannesburg (Source: Thomas Schlotfeldt)

Milner Park Hotel 1976

Milner Park Hotel 1976 (Source: The Star – Chipkin Archives)

On a recent trip to Margate at St. Micheal’s-on-sea on the South Coast, I came across a branch of Munchener House. The original German restaurant was situated at 11 Biccard Street Braamfontein for many years. Intrigued, I went in to find that it was opened by one of the original owners in the 1990s. Inside was a copy of the old menu.

11 Biccard Street

Site of Munchener House 11 Biccard Street (Source: Google Earth)

Munchener Haus Margate

Munchener House Margate (Source: Trip Advisor)

Upcoming parts will cover the history of Braamfontein cemetary, the dynamite explosion, WITS, Ohlosson’s Brewery, the Rand Show as well as show before and after pictures of the area where the Civic Centre now stands. I’ll also post old pictures and plans of old houses, hotels and churches that no longer exist.

Thanks to Thomas Schlotfeldt for the additional Milner Park Hotel info and the 1915 photo.

This entry was published on July 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm. It’s filed under Johannesburg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

34 thoughts on “History of Braamfontein Pt.1

  1. Brilliant !

  2. Very nice, Marc. Where on earth do you get these photos?

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Mostly my own collection of out-of-print books and for others I buy digital/web rights from the museum’s archive that I trawl through every now and again looking for unused/overlooked pictures.

  3. Emma Huismans on said:

    Great stuff Marc Latilla and well written.

  4. Graham Dickason on said:

    The trees on the western border of the old Wanderers ground were eucalyptus – I remember that as a boy when we played after school games there in 1943.

  5. Pingback: History of Braamfontein Pt.3 (Explosion, Cemetery & Early Rand Show) | Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

  6. Great stuff! Found it fascinating. Consider supporting Lost Johannesburg on Facebook with some of the images, if you have not done so already. They are always looking for more content.

  7. Pingback: Father Coffee – Worth the visit |

  8. Fantastic. You settled an argument for me on the early farm layouts of Joburg. I have the map in some book of mine but yours was easier to access. thank you

  9. Pingback: Lost churches of early Johannesburg | Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

  10. very interesting, thanks for sharing! I wonder if you know anything about the very old ruin of a house on the corner of Smit and Hospital streets? Not sure if it is on the same grounds as the old Hotel School. I find it so sad to such a house in such a state.

  11. Thank you for doing this! Loving 19th century Joburg history.

  12. Found this blog entry while researching the meaning of Braamfontein. Very informative for me as we stay on Juta street this week. Neat to see the evolution of Milner Hotel. Cheers.



  15. Sigi Howes on said:

    Absolutely loved reading this, especially the history of the Wanderers.

  16. Dear Marc, thank you for this walk through Braamfontein. I stayed in Braamfontein from 1948 (my birth year) to 1958 when we had to relocate due to the Civic Building. Japie Bosman sent you fotos of houses on Ameshoff Street, the children and Nanny was their house, the next picture 58 Ameshoff Str was our house, one on the left. I remember many other places in Braamfontein, will give you those at a later date. Thank you for the time you have spend on this to bring back memories to many who stayed in Braamfontein.
    Be well, stay safe.
    Best regards

  17. Brian Lynch on said:

    Thanks Mark for memories of old Braamfontein- I am investigating my wife’s ancestry and on her grandfather’s death notice he died at 41 Noordhusia Court Clifton. Would you be able to say approximately where that would be today? I spent two years 1958 and 1959 attending the Witwatersrand technical college in Smit st before it relocated to John Orr technical college in Cottesloe.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Brian, It appears that building was demolished – possibly sometime before the 1960s. I checked a building register in a 1960s township map (date not confirmed but after Harrow Road was widened in mid-late 50s, but before the highways in the late 60s) and it doesn’t show up. Checked a few other places but nothing I’m afraid.

    • Rodney Cain on said:

      Hi Mark,

      Outstanding history of Johannesburg and surrounds. A walk down memory lane for me which was most welcome and most enjoyable. Your research is amazing.

      Thank you for helping to keep the memories alive.

  18. William (Bill) Putter on said:

    Hi Marc. Thanks for the memories – Braamfontein and its surrounds were my stomping grounds during my adolescent years (ages 4 to 13 years). Between 1940 and 1949, when we lived in College Mansions on the c/o Ameshoff & Biccard sts., the area was still known as ‘Clifton’. Attended Spes Bona (junior school) and the Clifton Methodist Church, was mesmerised by movies at the Gaity Theatre (‘bioscope’ in those days),enthralled watching soccer from behind the posts at old Wanderers, and sucked toffees (Wisons?) purchased from the Bank Tearoom on the c/o Biccard & Jorrison. Saw a reference to Argyle somewhere. Looking at maps/pictures I have a suspicion that it mostly comprised a dead-end street in which many of the houses, over a period, were converted into a chain of boarding houses (named Piervale) by one of my maternal uncles (Henry Townsend & wife Girly). I lived there for a short period around 1955.

  19. Lovely blog you have heree

  20. Therese boltar on said:

    I have a copy of an affidavit in the Pretoria archives signed by my great grandmother Wife of Charles Edward Williams witnessed by their daughter dated Dec 1904 re my great grandfather, Charles Edward Williams ‘forcibly removed’ from his Farm ‘Braamfontein near jhb ‘rented from ‘Piet Barnard Snr of Pretoria’ , by British soldiers and ‘brought into town.’
    ‘Capt Fuge’ in his report dated 2. July 1901 stated that the farm was ‘ I understand mr Heath’s property’
    Can anyone tell me where the farm was ?
    It seems that it was where the zoo and the zoo lake now is

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Therese, Braamfontein farm was a huge area that covered Braamfontein, Parktown, Westcliff, Greenside, Emmerentia, Linden, Melville… Around that time, the Zoo lake area was owned by the Braamfontein Co. who developed Parktown. The zoo was once part of the plantation called Sachenwald which became Saxonwold in the 1920s, but the land that became zoo lake was given to the city when the company developed Parkview in the early 1900s (along with the beginnings of the zoo). It would take some digging to get to the facts and timings around your info. Heath may be connected to Heath’s Hotel, but I’m just speculating…some hotel owners and managers did own ‘farm land’ in the north where they grew produce for their establishments.

      • Therese Boltar on said:

        The correspondence I have is dated during and immediately after the Anglo Boer war It seems that portions of the ‘braamfontein farm was sold each identified by the owner In 1901 Charles Edward Williams complained that ‘lieutenant Crichton and his Scotch or Irish Fusiliers had trodden and destroyed his mealie crop ‘ and he had been ‘forcibly removed from [his] farm Braamfontein 4 miles from JHB’ ‘into town’ His full address was ‘part of Braamfontein , ward Witswatersrand, annex Johannesburg. Postal address; P.O. Box 4425 Johannesburg The farm had ‘6 acres of ploughed land planted with barley, potatoes and rape seed and a mealie crop and a number of ‘Dairy cows’ and haystacks destroyed by the ‘Scotch or Irish fusiliers’ and an ‘iron house 12’ x12’ x10’ which they ‘removed entirely and not returned’ Regards Therese

        Sent from my iPhone


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