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Hospital Hill was a popular name for the eastern part of the March 1888 surveyed part of the township Johannesburg. It included the land on the hill where the first general hospital was built (the land granted by the government), Joubert Park and northerly surrounds, Kruger Park (which became the Wanderer’s Sports Club) and parts of the old railway station. Today it sits anonymously between Braamfontein and Hillbrow except for the fact that it houses a high percentage of medical and government-related buildings that form a wide strip from the bottom of Smit Street right up to the old Fort to the north and over the hill down to the edge of Parktown.
Johannesburg’s first and temporary hospital was a three-roomed brick and thatch building (possibly) in Commissioner Street that also doubled as the goal. It opened in early November 1886. The first patient was miner Thomas Gray who most likely had typhoid. He died on the 4th November. The second death was Charles Johnson who fell down No.2 reef in Doornfontein in December 1886. Interestingly, it was only in January 1887 that 12 stands were set aside in the area bounded by Harrison, Diagonal, Bree and De Villiers street for a small cemetery. It is not known where these men were buried. Read more on the history of cemeteries from an earlier post HERE.
In April 1887 a two-room galvanised structure was purchased to serve as a dedicated hospital situated next to the goal which appears to have been demolished in January 1888 according to a sketch by Ida Stone dated 11 January.
It was not until October 1888 that the government agreed to funds and land for the erection of Johannesburg’s first proper hospital. The foundation stone was laid on 29 March 1889 by General N.J. Smit (Vice-President of the Transvaal Republic) and it was finally opened on 5 November 1890 by J. M. A. Wolmarans.
The first chairman of the hospital board was John Carr. Both men have streets named after them. Carr was a Roman Catholic and persuaded the Holy Family Sisters to staff the hospital which they did until 1915 under Reverend Mother Adele. The sisters continued to serve the public on a smaller scale at the Kensington Sanatorium.
The hospital was ‘lofty with handsome fireplaces’ and had 130 beds, an operating room, and surgical equipment. In 1893 the eastern wing was added and in 1897/8 the Barney Barnato block was completed. The operating theatre also dates to 1897 and was designed by Granger & Fleming.
In 1904, the foundation stone was laid by Princess Christian for the Stroyan Ward designed by G St John Cottrill as well as plans prepared for the outpatients and pathological departments, the superintendent’s house, laundry, and the powerhouse.
In 1908, around a third of the hospital’s patients were African and coloured. Patients were charged by their ability to pay and the hospital served both the wealthy and destitute. Even then, medical schemes by the mines and government subsidised the bills.
The superintendent’s house is in danger of falling down. It’s been in a state of disrepair for a number of years. It dates to 1905 and was designed by W. H. Stucke. There have been reports of a possible renovation as of 2015. It’s the last of at least three old houses on Hospital Hill but certainly one of the most interesting from a design and architectural standpoint.
A chapel, designed by Gordon Leith, was built on the hospital grounds in 1949.
East and West pavilions with operating theatre and combined bed accommodation for 109 beds opened in 1913. Both pavilions were designed by W. H. Stucke. In 1915, medical staff quarters, dispensary and central kitchen with provision for a kosher kitchen opened. A three-story building, named after Julius Jeppe, to accommodate a further 111 patients was completed in 1919 and designed by the PWD.
In 1921, a non-European hospital (a branch of Johannesburg Hospital opened in 1925 and still standing) was erected across the road on the site of three old houses that were used for nurses training. It provided for 506 patients who paid for care based on income. The three-story building on the right in both pictures below was the old police barracks and was used for overflow patients.
In 1924 large extensions to the nurse home were completed as well as ten clinical side rooms for student training.
In 1933, prior to the new Hospital, there were 1107 beds available in Johannesburg:
General Hospital – 511 Beds
Queen Victoria – 38 Beds (still in Doornfontein)
TVL Memorial Children’s Hospital – 133 Beds
Otto Beit Convalescent Home – 52 Beds
Non-European Hospital – 293 Beds
Fever Hospital – 80 Beds
The old hospital building from 1890 was demolished in 1937 to make way for the current Ronald Mackenzie Block which was completed in 1939 and designed by Gordon Leith.
This was one of three Leith designed hospital buildings, the other two being the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital (Braamfontein 1943) and the Chamber of Mines Hospital (Cottesloe 1937-9). All three were influenced by the ‘Steamboat Style’ inspired by the massive ocean-liners of the time. Van Der Waal described Leith’s design of these buildings as ‘streamlined effect…by rounding the corners, by giving the buildings a machined finish (smoothness), stacking the building forms and using parallel lines. In the General Hospital Leith used the Steamboat Style in the salient half-round balconies in the upper central section of the block like building.’
Today, the old hospital complex still survives but was superseded in the 1970s by the Johannesburg General Hospital (now known as the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital) which went up on Parktown ridge. The site on the ridge was once the home of Sir Lionel Phillips known as Hohenheim and was the first house built in Parktown in 1894. The house was donated to the hospital administration and converted onto the Otto Beit Convalescent Home in 1915.
Also on the ridge on the grounds of Otto Beit, the E. P. Baumann Convalescent Home for Babies was built in 1938. This building also made way for the new hospital.
An interesting aside regarding the 1890 hospital’s original foundation stone: When the old building was demolished, a cavity was found under the foundation stone. In this cavity was meant to be a bottle containing coins and newspapers from the time. It turns out that the bottle was actually stolen shortly after the stone was laid as per board minutes from 10 July 1889. The coins were worth less than 2 Pounds and despite a 25 Pound reward, the items were never recovered.
Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital was a branch hospital originally administered by the Johannesburg Hospital from 1913 onwards. The first Queen Vic was established and built in 1904 by the Guild of Loyal Woman and designed by Allen Wilson. It was in Doornfontein in Siemert Road next to the Lions Shul and could accommodate 50 patients.
The Queen Vic was transferred to Milner Park (what the area was known as back then) to a new building built in 1943 (designed by Gordon Leith) which still stands at the bottom of Joubert Street extension and corner Sam Hancock Street at the bottom left of the Fort complex. There is a strong similarity between Leith’s work on the main block at Johannesburg Hospital and the design of the Maternity Hospital and the Chamber of Mines hospital in Cottesloe.
As of November 2015, there was a tender out for repurposing and renovating the building (which is currently empty). The nurse’s homes appear to have been demolished and are now part of Constitution Hill. According to Artefacts, the nurse home was built in 1932 and the nurses quarters in 1938 and were both designed by Leith.
Requests for Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital birth records can be made HERE
Across the road from the second Queen Victoria is the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children which was opened on 23 October 1923 by H.R.H Prince Arthur of Connaught. The project was started in 1919 by the Johannesburg Branch of the National Council of Woman as a memorial to those killed in WW1. Prior to the TMI, children’s beds were allocated to Ward 26 at the first General Hospital on Hospital Hill.
The Johannesburg Municipality gave 12500 Pounds and 8 acres of land for the hospital. The balance came from mining houses, charitable organisation, and the public. Near the completion of the building, it was realised that there was no money for equipment. A bequest from Mrs. Louisa Beck who died in the UK in May 1923 saved the day.
The hospital was handed over to the Provincial Administration at the opening ceremony. It consisted of a Memorial Hall on the ground floor, six wards with a 112-bed capacity, two operating theatres, radiology and physiotherapy departments as well as a nurses home. The buildings were all designed by Cowin, Ellis & Powers. Dr. E.P. Baumann, who developed pediatrics in Johannesburg as a study and a service in its own right, led the medical team.
Children’s mortuaries for both Jewish and Christian denominations were built. The Christian mortuary is part of the original plans but the Jewish mortuary and Christian Chapel plan and build dates are not known. They are currently housed in a single structure that includes a chapel, although the Jewish section is separate.
In 1926, the Ross-Rotary Ward opened. The ward opened onto a solarium which was beneficial to patients suffering from Perthes’ Disease and TB.
E. P. Baumann Convalescent home for 26 babies under 2-years-old opened on 1 May 1938. This was a Leith designed building on the grounds of the Otto Beit Convalescent Home on Parktown ridge.
In 1941 a 90-bed ward block was completed.
In May 1965, the new building was opened for Outpatients, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, a Central Sterilizing Department, a laboratory and a Child and Family Unit.
In 1978-9 the Children’s Hospital was incorporated into the new Johannesburg Hospital in Parktown. The buildings were left vacant for a while as new uses were developed.
The Children’s Memorial Institute is currently home to approximately 30 organisations, most of which are NGOs but are all non-profit. These organisations provide a multitude of services to children with special needs and disabilities, mainly in the educational, medical, social, psychological and legal sectors.
The Johannesburg Fever Hospital for infectious patients was opened in 1916. Cases were sent by the Public Health Department and admission was compulsory where isolation at home was not possible. It could accommodate 80 patients. Parts of this hospital still stand just behind the Civic Centre on Hoofd Street just across the road from the old Woman’s Prison. They were designed by PWD under J. S. Cleland.
South African Institute for Medical Research (S.A.I.M.R), one of the world’s pioneer medical research organisations, was founded in 1912. The Union Government in 1912 contributed the money and the state donated the land adjacent to the general hospital at the eastern end of Jorrisen Street which was previously used as a military parade ground connected the fort. On 23 April 1913, the two foundation stones were laid for the building which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
The director’s house was also designed by Baker and completed around the same time. The building was completed in 1914. Further work was done in the 1930s when the roof was raised.
Some of the institute’s early groundbreaking work was on pneumonia and malaria. Before this, the government laboratory was a wood and iron building on the corner of De Korte and Hospital Street.
Across the road on the corner of De Korte and Hospital Street is the building that housed the old Lady Dudley Nursing Home. The Lady Dudley appears to have been around since the mid-1920s based on various death notices picked up on genealogical sites and may have also been housed in a different location or a different building on the current site. The current building is probably late 1930s and was refurbished in 1989. It was initially exclusively a nursing home but was also known as Lady Dudley Hospital after the 1960s. From accounts, it certainly took care of other medical procedures and emergencies. The building has been converted into student accommodation and probably ceased to be a medical building in the early 2000s with the general decline of the area.
From comparing the photos below, the original balconies were later enclosed and another floor added to the existing rooftop.
Other medical and government buildings:
According to Ildi Fenyvesi, the “building across the road from the Civic Centre” is the Forensic Chemistry Laboratory of JHB (a unit of the NDOH). It was a laboratory providing a forensic chemical testing service for clients such as the SAPS and pathologists.
This was the original medical school dating to 1919-20 and designed by A & W Reid & Delbridge in the Traditional Style after the model of the Italian Palazzo before the one in Esselen Street was built. Part of the 1894 wall that surrounded the police parade ground still stands outside the old school buildings.
The former Colin Gordon Nursing Home in Esselen Street was designed by Wilhelm Bernhard Pabst in 1941 and completed in 1943. The building was re-opened in 2017 as the Esselen Street Clinic with restoration work done by Ntsika Architects and is a national monument.
Also in Esselen Street next to the residence is the Furner designed 1930s Medical Society Building.
Also in Esselen Street on the opposite side of Hillbrow near the Berea border is the former Princess Maternity/Nursing Home. It was built in 1947 and designed by Stegmann, Orpen & Porter. Since 2005, it has been the Tswelopele Frail Care Centre. Prior to that, it was the Emseni Chronic Care Unit which was part of Rhema Service Foundation. The date when the Princess closed is not known.
Work on building a new and much-needed goal (jail) started on the top of Hospital Hill in 1892.
In April 1895 work started to construct the high walls or ramparts around the goal. The Fort was used to command Johannesburg during the Boer war (1899-1902).
In 1908 it was proposed that the fort be demolished to allow easier access to the northern suburbs and a new goal built in Vrededorp. This scheme was declined due to the depression at the time. It was a working prison up to 1987 (except during the Boer war) and throughout its history has imprisoned Boer generals, strike miners, Indian passive resisters (including Gandhi), treason trialists (including Nelson Mandela) and various apartheid resistance fighters alongside common criminals. It’s remembered as a particularly harsh prison. The fort was declared a national monument in 1964. In its early days before high-rise buildings, it was a commanding site and had clear views across Johannesburg.
Johannesburg’s first gaol (before the fort) was completed at the end of October 1886 and was one of JHBs pioneering buildings. It officially opened in November and was a three-room brick and thatch structure (possibly in Commissioner Street) built by Col. Ignatius Ferreira who was the veldkornet in charge of law and order in early Jo’burg and after whom Ferreirasdorp is named. It was viewed as a temporary solution and long-term prisoners were transferred to Pretoria. It was said that prisoners were more comfortable in the new goal than the commissioner in his galvanised structure.
Importantly, the gaol also served as the first hospital and the jailer, Barend Bruyn, looked after both prisoners and patients.
Next to the old fort is the woman’s prison which was built in 1923. This Victorian-inspired jail held the infamous murderess Daisy De Melker as well as resistance stalwarts Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu. In the mid-1980s it was being used as HQ for the now-defunct Parks police and for the Traffic police. It’s now a woman’s centre, exhibition space and museum part of Constitution Hill.
Just below it, divided by a service road, where a parking lot for Constitution Hill now stands, used to be the old government mortuary which was commissioned by President Paul Kruger. It was built in 1896 by the Department of Public Works who was responsible for many of the government building at the time and was known as ‘Lykehuis te Johannesburg’.
It was completed around the time the walls around the old fort were being built, but it remained outside of the fortress but was part of the jail complex. It was a simple structure built to hold the dead until cremation or burial.
It appears that the original 1896 building was demolished and replaced by a more modern building. If I were to guess, I would say the mortuary was rebuilt sometime in the 1940s or 1950s as it seems to compliment the maternity home just further down in the same block. The three-story block of flats behind the premises was a simple late art deco inspired building made up mostly of yellow-orange bricks that seem to define government buildings and police stations from that era.
I spent a short time there while growing up and lived in flats at the back of the premises for a few months in 1987 and remember the layout vividly. There was also some curvature on the balconies of the flats reminiscent of Leith’s work on other medical buildings in the area.
Below is a section of the old mortuary from an aerial picture from the late 1960s. Note the empty space in the top right where the Civic Centre should be.
After 1994 it was unable to cope with constraints of the new society and was moved to the old non-European hospital around the corner. It was eventually demolished in 2003 and not incorporated into the museum and constitution Hill.
Beyond the eastern rampart, across Queen’s Road, is the Governor’s House and the Hillbrow Recreation Centre, previously the officers’ mess or club. It is probably 100 years old, estimated to have been built in 1908, according to a report by heritage consultant Herbert Prins.
The Governor’s house dating back to 1905 is a single-story house with a long front veranda, iron roof and three well-established palm trees in its front garden. The house originally consisted of three lounges, a passage lobby, dining room, five bedrooms, two fireplaces and bay windows. Special features include a trough built into the west wall of one of the lounges, hipped ceilings, timber slatted ceilings and an attractive skylight in the hall. Sash windows have been replaced by metal ones. It was recently restored after years of neglect and fire damage. Originally the land and house were part of the Fort grounds.
Across the road from the Governor’s house is the Florence Nightingale Nursing home. It was designed by H. Battiscombe and built in 1937 and appears to have closed down in the 1980s and turned into a block of flats. It was recently the subject of a photojournalism piece on ‘hi-jacked’ buildings in Johannesburg – not one of Hillbrow’s success stories.
The Athenaeum Club opened on the corner of Klein and Wolmarans Street in February 1904. It was described as ‘delightfully situated on Hospital Hill just far enough from the town to escape its disagreeables yet not too far to exclude its conveniences.’ Members were drawn from public & military schools or colleges, British universities, and the Transvaal Civil Service. Note the hitching posts on the pavement. It closed in 1913 having never been as popular as it’s London namesake. The club was demolished in the 1950s and was replaced by a building for the telephone department – possibly a telephone exchange building. This was again demolished and a new exchange in black marble with a clock tower went up in the early 1980s. According to Clive Chipkin, the building (1983-1990) is the work of Gallagher Aspoas Poplak Senior. The building still stands although I suspect, not in use.
A recently lost relic of early Johannesburg was the hitching posts which stood outside the club. Two of them were still standing on the pavement inWolamrans Street in 2015, but have since been removed or recycled.
Finally, Hospital Hill also refers to a geological series of shale known as the ‘Hospital Hill Series’.
Norwich, O. I, 1986. A Johannesburg album-Historical postcards. Johannesburg: AD. Donker
Van Rensburg, C, 1986. Johannesburg-One Hundred Years. Pretoria: Chris Van Rensburg Publications
Van Der Waal, G-M, 1986. From Mining Camp to Metropolis. Pretoria: Chris Van Rensburg Publications
Chipkin, C. M, 1993. Johannesburg Style-Architecture & Society 1880s-1960s. Cape Town: David Philip
Chipkin, C. M, 2008. Johannesburg Transition-Architecture & Society from 1950. Johannesburg: STE Publishers
Macmillan, A, 1935. The Golden City. London: W. H. L. Collingridge LTD
Stark, F, 1956. Seventy Golden Years. Johannesburg: Municipal Public Relations Bureau
Beaconsfield, M, 1973. 50th Anniversary Golden Book of the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children. Kimberley: Nothern Cape Printers
University of Pretoria institutional repository http://repository.up.ac.za/
The Johannesburg Hospital – Gear & Salmon
Thanks to Gwyn Thomas for the additional photos taken in March 2017
The next post on Hillbrow is coming soon. I’ve been working on both but decided to post Hospital Hill separately as it’s too much for one post. I welcome any additional info on some of these medical buildings and others I may have omitted.