Some housekeeping: Please follow me on Instagram at @johannesburg1912 where I post interesting Johannesburg related stuff on weekends (mainly).
Follow this blog via e-mail HERE. Scroll down on the right after archives.
My first book ‘Johannesburg Then & Now’ is still available at local bookstores or internationally via Amazon or kindle. Click HERE for the relevant links
Fordsburg was established in 1888 on land that had once been part of the farm Langlaagte (more on the history of the early farms HERE). It was owned and laid out by the private firm of Ford & Jeppe Estate Company who had acquired land to the east and west of the new mining camp. Lewis Peter Ford, after who Fordsburg was named, was once the Attorney General of the Transvaal under Sir Theophilus Shepstone’s administration. Julius Jeppe Senior along with his sons Carl and Julius Junior (later sir Julius Jeppe) made up the rest of the company. They named the other piece of land on the eastern side of the mining camp ‘Jeppestown’ in 1889 and levelled out Commissioner Street (which represented the base of the triangular piece of ‘uitvalgrond’ known as Randjeslaagte on which Johannesburg was officially established) which joins the two suburbs. More on the history of Jeppe HERE.
Early names that the suburb was known by were ‘Veldschoendorp’ and ‘Biccardsburg’. The former name has also been associated with Brickfields presumably due to the high concentration of Afrikaaners.
Before stands were laid out (by W. H. Auret Pritchard) and sold for business and residential use in 1893, the area was used a nursery supplying trees grown from seed for various plantations, notably the Sachenwald plantation where Saxonwold, the Johannesburg Zoo and Zoo Lake are today. Street names like ’Nursery Road’ and ‘Pine Avenue’ are the only lasting reminder of this. It is also recorded that in 1891, one of the first horse-drawn fire engines in Johannesburg was put through its paces at Mint Dam in Fordsburg, where it shot a jet of water 100 feet into the air.
Stands for business and homes went up for sale on 10th May 1893. Stands on either side of Main Street between the bridge and Terrace Road where for business. Those facing Lovers’ and Nursery Walk, Pine Terrace, Park Lane, Commercial and Fountain Roads, and North Circular Road were for residential use. Some existing trees from the nursery were to be left in the suburb.
Fordsburg square was set aside as an open-air market in 1888 under the jurisdiction of the Johannesburg Town Council. It was this square that featured heavily in the 1922 miner’s strike.
G-M Van Der Waal describes it as “…Market Square in Fordsburg is a replica of Johannesburg’s Market Square. The square was bounded by a row of little shops and two hotels while the two-story Market Buildings stood on the south-eastern corner of the square itself. A cast-iron drinking fountain was built near the market building. All the elements of a town centre were therefore present, albeit on a smaller scale.”
The Fordsburg Market Building was designed by W. H. Stucke in 1896 and consisted of a large market hall surrounded by offices so it wasn’t visible from the street. It was damaged, along with other buildings in the vicinity during the 1922 strike, and demolished sometime after.
An early drawback for stand sales was an area known as Fordsburg Dip, which was a swampy section on entering the suburb from the east caused by a stream that flowed from its source in Brickfields (Part of Newtown today, but considered Johannesburg’s first slum and subsequently the first slum clearance in 1903. Poor Afrikaaners and others settled there and set-up brick-making businesses due to the abundance of clay). Jeppestown had a similar dip due to the Natal Spruit. Heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the natural depression in the ground where the streams ran. The Ford & Jeppe company built the first bridges over the streams (Natal Spruit in 1888 and Fordsburg Spruit in 1890). They were both later canalised. The Fordsburg Spruit can still be seen today between Main (Albertina Sisulu Road) and Main Reef Road.
A park was laid out south of Main Road known as Fordsburg Park even though it’s technically in Newtown. It was later renamed John Ware Park. The park is still there next to the spruit and features old palm trees, a dis-used pool along with tennis courts and a clubhouse. It appears to have been used by the SAP at some point until 2009/10. As of 2019, it has been gutted and stripped. There are no other parks or open spaces in Fordsburg.
Due to the proximity to the mines (Robinson, Crown Mines and City Deep), Fordsburg became a popular working-class suburb for miners. Indian and Chinese traders set up businesses in the area and often lived on the premises thanks to less restrictive clauses in Fordsburg leases which allowed stands to be used for business and residential purposes. It also became a base for various horse-drawn transport and cab drivers, an occupation largely taken up by Afrikaaners. Many had come from the rural farms to find work in Johannesburg, and not suited to mining, had to find other forms of unskilled employment. Many became destitute or got involved with prostitution. The electric trams (introduced in 1906) also had a negative effect on the horse transport industry putting more Afrikaaners out of work.
Generally, the area attracted the working class and poor, like many of the western suburbs. There were also strong Jewish and Lebanese communities in Fordsburg and adjoining Mayfair.
Only one stand was sold with the right to apply for a liquor license when Fordsburg was originally laid out. This presumably went to S. Sack, the proprietor of Sacks Hotel who started trading in a single-story building in 1892 which evolved into a hotel in 1895. Indications are that more liquor licenses were issued soon after as other hotels like the Mynpacht Hotel opened in 1896. Both the Sacks and Mynpacht were opposite the market square. Bottle stores like E. K. Green and Jooste & Bryant had branches in Fordsburg from early on.
Other hotels and boarding houses filled the main streets along with workshops, eating houses and bars. Later, the English pub tradition stamped its mark as new establishments were opened to cater to the growing population coming from England.
Sacks Hotel on the corner of Main Street & Central Road (opposite the market square) originally opened in 1892 as a single-story shop and bar. It proved such a prime position (probably because it was the only licensed establishment in the area at the time) that the owner, S. Sack, bought up more stands for expansion. The current building was designed in 1895 by Reid & Green and expanded in 1903 and again in 1905 on one side and then the other. Before it expanded, the Hotel had a billiard room and dining room on street level with the rooms above. Other businesses on street level before expansion were a chemist, a branch of National Bank of SA, and an undertaker.
The hotel took some shell damage around the main entrance facade in 1922 which was only repaired in the 1970s. A bomb, evidently, also crashed through one of the ceilings.
It is possibly the oldest operating hotel in Johannesburg. The building is currently called the Orient Hotel and has been modified substantially, especially the corner facade and surrounding balconies. From old maps, it appears there was a bar on the corner facing Main Road with its own entrance. The original hotel entrance appears to be in the same place today as when it first opened although greatly altered.
Diagonally opposite Sacks is the old Mynpacht Hotel on the south-western corner of Central and Main Roads. The now-removed date on the gable once read 1896.
Its bar and restaurant, Monk’s Inn and Red Lantern were popular into the 1980s, mirroring counterparts in Jeppestown like the Cosmopolitan and Grand Station Hotels. The old Mynpacht building is now used as retail space and the balcony has been enclosed.
Two blocks north on the corner of Main & Crown Roads stood the Tramway Hotel with its lovely conical turret and shuttered windows.
It was still thriving in the 1970s, but presumably business later dropped off leading to it being demolished along with the Olympia Buildings behind it. The Tramway was also caught in the cross-fire during the 1922 strike.
The Plantation Hotel plans by Stucke & Bannister date back to February 1905. Foundations for the hotel on the corner of Main and Park Lane commenced on 22 February 1905, a week after the plans were approved. The site was previously an older version of the hotel c1894 owned by G. Engel.
The new hotel cost 4000 Pounds to build and was owned by The Commercial Hotel Co. LTD (competitors to South African Breweries who owned many suburban hotels in Johannesburg at the time). Plantation Hotel was one of the four main hotels in Fordsburg and the building is still extant on the corner of Main and Park Lane (although no longer a hotel). It was a stone’s throw from Fordsburg’s only public park. Sadly, the original gable has not survived.
Next door to the hotel was a skittle alley dating back to May 1894. It was designed by G. Schrieber for owner G. Engel who also owned the earlier version of the Plantation Hotel next door.
The Stars & Stripes Hotel was on the corner of Lilian Avenue and May Roads and was one of the hotels in Fordsburg owned by South African Breweries.
Alterations were done by Stucke & Bannister in 1903 which means the building was probably pre-1900. The door detailing visible in the 1973 and 1990 photos have now been removed and the cast-iron verandah disappeared sometime before the 1990s.
Crown & Bells Bar stood on the corner of Clare & Crown Roads. The build date is estimated to have been in 1914. The building has been demolished. No photos or plans have been found.
Pioneer Hotel was also in Crown Road just off Pioneer Road. It is indicated on the Goad’s 1910 map, but no further info is available other than it was owned by Sarah Cohen and her husband. She was Afrikaans and he was Jewish and she had to move out during Pesach. Its position was on the edge of where the Octavia Hill housing scheme is today, therefore, it may have been demolished in the early 1930s when the scheme was built.
The Elizabeth Hotel once stood at the corner of May and Mint Roads. It was a typical c1900 corner hotel. In 1944, it was converted into a factory for Kaigor Manufacturing Co. which specialised in ‘American kitchens’.
Fordsburg Hotel c1912 was one of the few hotels built in the suburbs between 1900-1920. It was designed by H. William. It has also been known as Connolley’s Building and Brigadiers. On the Goad’s 1910 map prior to the hotel being built, single-story shops stood on the corner, one of them housing a tailor. It appears to not have lasted long as a hotel.
Dino Badroodin is the current owner of the building and is in the process of fixing it up along with two adjacent buildings. Many of the basic period features like wooden floors, doors, frames, stairs, and ceilings are intact. The basement is built out of ceramic baked bricks and lit via breeze-block type glass built into the pavement. The light is directed into the space via an angled shaft.
Housing accommodation and choice increased generally as new suburbs appeared coupled with a fairly efficient trams system connecting the town thus negating the need for boarding houses and residential type hotels of old. Hotels for tourists or short term visitors were centered around town.
Early houses were of corrugated iron lined with sun-dried bricks from Brickfields. The following photo, taken in 1973, shows a row of corrugated iron miners’ houses that stood between Main Reef and Central Road.
Later, after 1902, brick semi-detached houses in the English style were erected and taken up by miners and their families imported from Cornwall in England (known as Cousin Jacks) as well as Scotland, Ireland, Australia and elsewhere. Very few of these remain. To follow are several examples of houses and cottages still standing in 2019. Many were built between the late 1890s and 1920.
Various churches catering to the diverse community still stand today, but two casualties of progress were the Fordsburg Synagogue in Terrace Road built in 1906 which stood where Oriental Plaza is today, and the Wesleyan Methodist Church dating to 1894-5 (VD Waal) whose concrete floor outline in Lilian Road is all that is left.
The Fordsburg Hebrew Congregation was originally formed in 1893. Funds were collected and the money was used to purchase a Sefer Torah, the consecration of which took place on 10 March 1895. Until the synagogue was built, the Sefer Torah was housed by various foundation members, and services were held in Jewish homes in Forsdburg or a hired hall for Holiday Services.
The congregation was made up of predominantly Eastern European Jews that had moved out of Ferreirasdorp to the new suburbs due to the improvement of their economic situation. Jeppestown also had a similar Hebrew congregation and built their fist synagogue in 1903. By the early 1900s, the first wave of Eastern eupropean Jews has established themselves enough in the town to leave the slum conditions for a better life. New waves of Jewish immigrants would still arrive and they would be more political and socialist leaning, especially those after 1908. Fordsburg was a major attraction for these subsequent waves. The wealthy Anglo and German Jews lived in Doornfontein and later Parktown and beyond.
In 1902, two stands were purchased between Lovers Walk and Terrace Road and funds were raised for the building. The Fordsburg synagogue was designed by J.F Kroll in 1904 with a deviation plan in 1906. The cornerstone was laid on 25 April 1906 by Mrs. L. R. Melman and the building was completed in September 1906. Kroll would also go on to design the Fox Street synagogue in 1912. He also designed the Osborne Chemist building in Jeppestown that still stands.
The owner of the building is listed as L. Saltman who was also the president of the building committee. Saltman owned another building with shops on Main Road.
The Synagogue was opened on Sunday 16 September 1906 by Max Langerman. The Sefer Torahs were carried through the street under a canopy while a string band played music. Langerman gave a speech after which the Torahs were placed in the ark. Rabbie Hertz then gave his address.
In 1920, the stand next door was purchased and a Talmud Torah was built by Block & Jankelowitz.
In 1924, new entrances gates were designed and installed.
By the early 1960s, the congregation had diminished and the building was sold to the YMCA. The proceeds were donated to Selwyn Segal and the foundation stone was moved to a new building connected to the Jewish Old Age Home in Sandringham. The old Synagogue building was eventually demolished to make way for the Oriental Plaza in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
The congregation was also known as the Fordsburg-Mayfair Hebrew congregation and was the subject of a book by Bernard Sacks called ‘The Fordsburg-Mayfair Hebrew Community 1893 – 1964’. Mayfair got its own synagogue later in 1928 which will be covered in a later piece. The current Emmerentia Synagogue has its roots in the Fordsburg-Mayfair Hebrew Congregation.
The Wesleyan church was designed by A. E. & J. H. Till in 1894. The plans were submitted in October 1894 with the building likely commencing in early 1895. There appears to be an earlier and smaller church to the right of the 1894 church which was later converted into a classroom. This can be seen in the sketch.
The 1894 church was enlarged in 1904-1905 and the expansion included two classrooms, a guild room, and a minsters vestry and would increase the capacity to 900. The church tower was also enlarged and a parsonage was also built on the property in 1904.
Today, the entire original area of the church and all the buildings are gone. The concrete floor shape of the 1894 church is all that remains.
On the corner building next to the vacant Wesleyan church compound is a permanent mosaic mural. It was done by Hannelie Coetzee in 2010 and is of her great grandmother who was an impoverished Afrikaaner from Fordsburg who had to queue for food after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.
The Fordsburg Parish Church is listed in the Longman’s 1896 directory as being on the corner of Lilian & Clare Roads headed by Rev. R. H. Bellamy. No further info exists.
Still standing although no longer used as churches are the old Maronite and Presbyterian Churches as well as one other hidden church building on Mint Road.
The Maronite Church was originally the Dutch Reformed Church (possibly also a ‘Dopper’ church) designed by G. Kroon 1903 (M. Hart). It was sold to the Maronite community in 1935 who upgraded to Fordsburg from their original church on Diagonal Street. More HERE
This was the third Dutch church in Fordsburg and the cause of some confusion. According to the various online histories of the Nederduitse Hervormde Gemeente (NH of G) and DRC, the first church was built in Mint Road south of Main and was consecrated on 6 December 1895. Two months later on 19 February 1896, it was destroyed in the famous dynamite explosion. Money was collected and the church was rebuilt and ready by 20 November 1896 (the foundation stone was laid on 21 August 1896).
It appears that the above church for the NH of G congregation was actually built in Central Road (not Mint). On both the Goad’s Map key plan, the church appears on Central Road between Park Road and Marais (Barney Simon & Lilian Ngoyi -previously Bree- Street today) and was one block east from where the Maronite Church is today. It was likely the first Dutch church in Fordsburg and only stood for two months until destroyed in the explosion. Its position in Central Road is consistent with the damage range of the explosion. Additionally, a parsonage for the church was built next to the rebuilt church on stands 73 & 74. The house was designed by Fleming & Reynolds in 1899 but was probably only built in 1902 or 1903 due to the war.
It is stated that the original DRC building was on Mint Road, south of Main Road. This would put it too far away to have sustained the damage it did. The evidence suggests that the church building that matches the description that still stands behind a facade on Mint Road and that was converted to the Tivoli Theatre in the late 1930s was not the original DRC church from December 1895 that was rebuilt. It was simply the first DRC building that was sold because it became too small. It was labelled only as ‘Church’ on the 1910 Goad’s map and ‘Tivoli Theatre’ on the 1937 map.
The Longman’s Directory of 1896 lists a ‘Dopper Church’ at 15 Mint Road, which is a few blocks south of the DRC church. The site of 15 Mint Road was recently business premises, but it is now being re-developed. Unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence. This building was also sold as it became too small for the congregation.
It appears that the Dopper community (a Calvinistic breakaway of the DRC) moved to Melville in the early 1900s as opposed to the other two Dutch churches that remained in Fordsburg and moved later to Mayfair and Brixton.
After the Second Anglo Boer War, there was an influx of Afrikaaners to the city. The rebuilt NH of G church in Central Road along with the DRC church from 1903 in Mint Road served the Fordsburg community until the late 1930s. The NH of G church in Central Road was sold and demolished in the early 1940s and the DRC building was sold to the Maronites in 1936.
After the second world war, English, Afrikaans, and Jewish communities slowly started moving to other more affluent suburbs as they climbed the economic ladder. The Afrikaans Fordsburg congregations relocated to Mayfair, Vrededorp, Brixton, Braamfontein, and Melville.
The Presbyterian church was designed in 1896 by Granger & Fleming and built in 1897 to serve Scottish artisans living in Fordsburg. Before the church was built, services were held in the Masonic Hall led by Rev. Andrew Brown. The foundation stone was laid on 9 January 1897.
Money was raised and the church commenced with the laying of the foundation stone on 9 January 1897. Andrew Elliot was the contractor. The first service, dedicated to Rev. James Gary, was held on 23 April 1897. The ladies of the congregation raised money for the bell which was made by Wright, Boaz and Co. of Johannesburg. A manse was also built nearby for Rev. Brown in 1903. The old church building is now the Divine Bakery and still features much of its ecclesiastical interior details.
According to Anna Smith’s ‘Johannesburg Firsts’, the church was also the site of an innovation by its architect G Grainger Fleming of ‘a sloping floor’.
An oddity is what looks like the disappearance of the bell tower when comparing the plans to the recent photos. It is noted that during the 1922 strike, a bomb was mistakenly dropped on the Presbyterian church. It is possible, although not confirmed, that this was the cause of the missing bell and roof.
A Presbyterian Hall is listed on the Longman’s 1896 directory as being at 20 Central Road, but no further info has been found. It’s also been listed as Fordsburg Public Hall.
There is another building a block to the north on Central between Marias and Gillies that also resembles a church. It has a plaque that has been plastered over. Hopefully, I can extract some of the words to shed some light on what this building was. It doesn’t appear on the Goad’s maps. This may be the above mentioned Presbyterian Hall, but further investigation is needed. The street numbers of old do not always match up to current numbers.
Lastly, on the churches, there was a Salvation Army Barracks (now demolished) at 14 Clare Road listed in Longman’s 1896 Directory. There was also a Salvation Army Hall in Crown Road between Avenue (now known as Dolly Rathebe) and Commercial Roads in Goads 1937 map. The original build date is not known, but plans for alterations exist from 1929. The building has also since been demolished, probably c1950s.
Close by (where the more industrial part of Newtown is today) were the Indian, Malay and African locations although the African location was demolished along with Brickfields in 1903 when the area was cordoned off with corrugated iron and set alight due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Newtown will be covered separately.
African workers also lived in the back rooms of some white-owned houses and businesses. There was a real community spirit and different races mixed freely and lived together in relative harmony.
Main Road, the principal business street in Fordsburg, was connected to town by horse tram in the later part of 1891. The electric tram replaced the old horse tram on February 20th, 1906. This was a major drawcard as the majority of residents relied on public rather than private transport to get around.
From the left, a wine store and the first single-story Rose Bros. store on the corner of Mint and Commercial Road. Across the road are an auction mart and the Truro Beer Hall at the end that incorporated a billiard hall. Postcard probably dates back to the late 1890s.
The new Rose Building was designed by Hill Mitchelson in 1905 for E. Rose. The building is a mix of Neo-Classicism and Neo-Gothic with a Victorian-style corner turret with an Art Nouveau cast-iron verandah. Rose Bros. was a furnishing company that specialised in baby goods and were agents for the Alwinn Go-cart and perambulator (baby pram) which could fold up.
The damage was due to the artillery bombardment against the miners who took part in the strike in 1922. The striker’s base was the market square across the road and many surrounding buildings were hit.
Looking north down Central Road the shops on the right still stand albeit without the iron verandah. The shops were Graham Bros. outfitters, a milliner and Lonney’s bookstore. Across the road is an early version of the Sacks Hotel. It later expanded to take up the whole block including the corner. Across the road from Sacks on the left with the clock tower is part of the old market buildings. Across the road is where the Mynpacht Hotel which stands today. The postcard is likely c1895.
All the buildings on the immediate left of the postcard still stand although greatly modified and extended. The corner building on the right is the home of Shalimar Delights (best sweetmeats in Johannesburg). The building is listed as being designed by J. Prentice and Co. in 1908, but this may have been the extension. It’s clear from the postcard comparison that its pre-1900. In Goad’s 1910 map it’s listed as a drug store and the outfitter has become a plumber.
Main Road looking east at the corner of Lilian Road. The postcard is earlier than 1913 as the building on the corner hasn’t been built yet. The shops of W.C. Robinson & Co on the right may still be the same ones standing.
The building In the later photo on the corner of Main & Lilian Roads was designed by Beardwood in 1913 for W. C. Robinson – presumably the owner of the shops in the postcard. On the 1934 Goad map, it’s listed as ‘Drapery with chambers over’. This is the same building that features the ‘Oumagrootjie’ ceramic artwork mentioned earlier.
The Oriental Plaza car park now stands where all the buildings on the left are in the postcard at the corner of Main Road and High Street. The elegant corner building was Crandon Building c1897. Further down, the domed building behind the tree was once the Cornish Club. Across the road on the right at the kink in Terrace Road once stood the Central Hotel. Closer on the right is the old Rand Beer Hall building which is all that stands today.
The Cornish Club was designed by Wilkie Allen (of 38 Eloff Street corner Bree) in 1903. Building commenced in November 1903 and was completed on 26 May 1904 for a cost of 4000 Pounds. Before completion, there was a further addition. The owners are listed as Penchanz & Melman.
The market square and surrounding buildings featured prominently in the 1922 Rand Revolt.
It was the ‘Battle of Fordsburg’ that ended the Rand Revolt in 1922. Many of the unions had their headquarters near the market square. The revolt lasted two and a half months until Martial Law was proclaimed on 10 March 1922. Four days later the strikers were overpowered. Several market buildings were extensively damaged during the bombing attacks and demolished. Still standing from the battle are Rose’s Building, Sacks Hotel, Mynpacht Hotel and the old police charge office (which was extensively damaged but rebuilt).
The square today is a hub of commerce with markets and businesses run predominantly by post-Apartheid immigrant communities and is well worth a visit. The market and surrounding streets stay open late on Friday nights but are also open the rest of the week.
The northeastern corner of the toilets can be seen on the right in the photo above.
The building that housed the store P. McIntosh was badly damaged by gunfire and a bomb during the 1922 strike. Out of shot to the right stood E. K. Green Bottle Store, while not as badly damaged, was also demolished and replaced. The photo below includes the bottle store.
The public toilets played a critical part in the strike as they housed snipers who shot out of the windows. Built in 1914, it is the only surviving building from the strike on the original Fordsburg square. In the 1980s, interior walls and urinals were unknowingly removed that still had bullet holes from the strike. The building still bears the original Johannesburg coat of arms and received a blue plaque in 2013.
The current post office in Central Road was originally the three-story Police station and charge office with a magistrates building at the back. It was designed by the PWD and dates back to 1898. The building was badly damaged during the 1922 strike after which the third floor was removed and the building restored. It then replaced the original Fordsburg post office in 1923. Info on the original post office is further down in the post.
The railway lines and stations were close by and in 1911 (possibly completed in 1913), the subway was built that connected Fordsburg to Pageview (Fietas) and Vrededorp. Prior to that it was probably just a regular street-level railway crossing. It is claimed that it was the dynamite explosion that created the depression in the land that eventually accommodated the subway. The railway lines were originally above ground but were dropped below ground in the 1930s as part of a major overhaul. This dropping of the tracks starts in Mayfair just after the subway.
Although designated a white area, Fordsburg’s Indian population started increasing from the 1930s in part due to overflow from adjoining Pageview and also because the area was exempt from the Asiatic Land Tenure Act of 1932. In the 1940s and 1950s, Fordsburg also had a reputation of being at the cutting edge of black urban culture defined by its four bioscopes and various jazz clubs. Three of the cinemas were on Central Road within two blocks of each other.
Avalon was part of a chain of bioscopes owned by the Moosa Brothers that originated in Durban and was built in the late 1940s (unconfirmed). It was one of the elite cinemas in the area showing mainly Indian films. The building still retains its logo but has been converted into retail premises. It likely closed around the same time as the Lyric across the road in the late 1990s.
Lyric was across the road from Avalon and was owned by the Hassim Brothers. After closing, possibly in the late 1990s, it was vandalised by vagrants and left in a state. It has since been transformed into a block of flats.
Majestic Bioscope was a 700 seater cinema built in the late 1950s and the last survivor in Fordsburg. In 2011, it was used as the base for the Forsdburg Film Festival, but it didn’t last past one year. In 2013, scenes for Riaad Moosa’s ‘Material’ were shot in the building. Now it’s used as a church with a creche at the back.
The Planet Hotel in Gillies Road had a venue in the basement for dinner and dancing in the 1960s that catered to black patrons. Mandela and Oliver Tambo were evidently regulars. It was later refurbished into offices and renamed Planet Plaza. A 2016 auction notice lists feature like a 700 seater cinema, warehouse, shops, and apartments.
Solly’s Corner was a popular Fordsburg meeting place in the 60s and 70s, especially after the movies or dancing. It was purchased by the Ackahlwaya family in the late 1950s and was the start of their takeaway empire. The business has several branches today all around Johannesburg.
Today, Fordsburg is a major centre of Indian and Pakistani culture with a strong Muslim influence. It’s full of Halaal restaurants and Indian owned businesses catering to all walks of life and style. Somalis, Nigerians, Zambians, Tanzanians, and Angolans also call Fordsburg home.
The Oriental Plaza, completed in 1974 to house the displaced shopkeepers of Pageview, is still a major shopping attraction and took up about 15 blocks of established residential and business premises. ‘Displaced’ is too kind a word. Families were forcibly removed in Apartheid style from their businesses and homes. Businesses had to relocate to the Plaza and homes to Lenasia – some 30kms away.
Red Square was among the spaces taken up by the Oriental Plaza. It was an open community square and where many political meetings and defiance campaigns took place in the 1940s and 1950s. Mandela, Dr. Dadoo and Dr. Moraka have all given speeches on Red Square.
The full story of the Oriental Plaza and Fietas/Pageview and Vrededorp will be covered in an upcoming piece.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the old mine dumps on Crown Mines at the edge of Fordsburg were replaced by factories and warehouses. The suburban areas just off the main roads are a mix of residential buildings, flats, and houses with light industry and factories.
Other notable Fordsburg buildings
The original Fordsburg post office in Mian road was the first of the three PWD Weirda suburban post offices and dates to 1897 (the other two were in Braamfontein and Jeppe of which only Jeppe still survives). They were all two-story blocks with Neo-Renaissance gables above the entrance with plaster accents on red-brick walls.
In 1910 a verandah and outbuildings were added by CJ Gyde of the PWD. Tonkin of the PWD added a roof to the verandah in 1912.
The plans below differ slightly from what was originally built when looking at the gable and roof detail. What is interesting is that the 1912 plans still show a totally different gable. The Barnett photo proves that this is the correct post office.
In 1926 the building was converted from a post office to shops/business premises by Saul Margo after the move to the old refurbished police charge office. Prior to the building being demolished in the late 1930s for the new Standard Bank building, it was used the local YMCA.
The current Standard Bank building was originally a corner stand of shops for W. Joubert built in 1893. It was converted into a double-story building in 1897 for new owner F. C. Duncker. In 1908 it had a new owner L. K. Jakobs & Co. By 1917 it was already a bank and architects Aburrow & Treeby were responsible for alterations and additions which included removing the second story. The old bank building was taken over during the strike by commandos to fire on the strikers in the square. The 1922 photo below ties in with the timeline of the building plans.
The current building takes up two stands (the original stand and the old post office next door) and was designed by Stucke, Harrison & Smal in 1939 and completed in 1940.
According to Goad’s 1910 map, the first Standard Bank was originally on the opposite corner diagonally.
Going two blocks west from the Standard Bank: At the corner of Main Road and Park Drive is Mayfair Stores (Goad 1910) which once housed Norman Anstey & Co. Later it was called Christies Buildings (Goad 1935) and had 3 stores drugs, furniture, jewellery with chambers on the 2nd floor. It’s mostly out of shot on the old photo and only the roof can be seen above the balcony on the left.
Across the road were the Olympia Buildings and Tramway Hotel. The statues were gone by the 1973 photo. Both buildings have been demolished.
On the opposite side, only small shops exist from both Goads maps and have both been modified. The current FNB was once the National Bank of SA on the 1937 map.
This next view featured in my book ‘Johannesburg Then & Now’, is half a block down from the corner of Main Road and Park Drive. The building on the left at the corner of Main and Crown was known as Saltman’s Buildings. It was a Jewish owned building that housed various stores (a bakery, Clarkes Bros Grocers and a bankrupt stock bargain store) and had chambers on the 1st floor. It was demolished after 1937. Saltman was involved with the running of the Fordsburg synagogue.
The photo was taken after 1897 but before 1910 as the former Fordsburg Hotel c1912 on the corner has not been built yet. It has also been known as Conolly’s Buildings and Brigadiers. After the single-story building is Mostert’s Building (now called Mainford House) designed by Kallenbach & Reynolds in 1908, followed by the original Forsdburg post office, followed by the two-story building that housed Hepworth’s Clothiers that eventually became Stand Bank on the corner of Main Road and Mint Street. The second story was added in 1897. The current Standard Bank building takes up the corner stand and the post office stand.
Further on is the old Market buildings and in the distance still keeping on the left are the Cranston Buildings mentioned earlier.
Still standing in the now photos are the former Fordsburg Hotel and Mostert’s buildings.
The former Mostert’s Building is known as Mainford House today. It was designed by Kallenbach & Reynolds in 1908 and is owned by Dino Badroodin who also owns the old Hotel next door. The building originally had a balcony covering the pavement and was used as offices and rooms. The first floor was once the WITS School of Commerce and was still being advertised as such in 1974. It was also used as a passport and ID book centre as can be seen from the hand-painted signage outside the main entrance. I would guess this came after the WITS school in the 1980s and operated into the 1990s.
Although the building’s interior has been substantially modified, some of the original Oregon ceilings are still intact.
I’m not convinced that the school was aligned with the University of Witwatersrand. The courses were predominantly aimed at women.
Bree Street Indian Primary School (BIGS) was the first school for Indian pupils and was opened in 1913 (approximate date) on the corner of Bree & Malherbe Streets. The primary school had a racially mixed complement of teachers and served children from both Fietas and Fordsburg. This beautiful example of Edwardian architecture is relatively unchanged today and still features its turret.
The Johannesburg Indian Secondary School (JSS) or Indian High School was built in the 1940s a block away from the primary school on the corner of Bree and Burgher Streets. Although reference points to the built date of 1940s, the design is similar to other Public Works Department buildings from the late 1920s like Transvaal Memorial Children’s Hospital and the Helpmekaar Boys School Buildings in Braamfontein.
Many future community leaders were educated at JSS. Both BIGS and JSS were jointly administered during the period 1948 – 1988. During this period many children did not go beyond Std 7 (Grade 9) for then their parents required their presence in their shops.
Initially, the Indian high school teachers were white only as there were not any qualified Indian high school teachers at the time. The Johannesburg Institute for Indian Teachers first opened its doors in 1954, but as there was no designated campus, college students were forced to share a premise with the Johannesburg Indian High School. All Indian education fell under the jurisdiction of the Transvaal Education Department.
When the Johannesburg Indian High School relocated to new premises in 1968, this tertiary institution was given full use of the premises and changed its name. From 1969 on, it was called the Transvaal College of Education. The T.C.E relocated from Johannesburg to a new campus in Laudium, outside Pretoria, in 1982.
Both buildings are now occupied by Johannesburg Muslim School.
Prior to the Indian Schools, there were several schools listed in Fordsburg in the 1896 Longland’s Directory. St. David’s School on the corner of Clare and Lilian Road (presumably connected to the Parish Church), Wesleyan Fordsburg Boys & Girls school housed on the Wesleyan church grounds in Lilian Road, a private school on 29 Lilian Road and Mrs. Buholtz’s Private School at 19 High Road.
The school below known as the Lilian Street School was between Commerical and Avenue Road. The shape of the school matches the 1910 plan.
There was also a metal-clad school on Crown between Main & Commercial Roads behind Mostert’s building that was demolished before 1937.
Israelestam’s Buildings on Main Road (between Pink and Park Lane) date back to 1904 and 1905. They were designed by James Wilkie Allan for A. Isrealestam and consisted of three shops with Turkish Baths behind them.
Gundelfinger Warehouse on the corner of Pine and Clare Road dates back to the 1890s. It appears on the Goad’s 1910 and 1937 map and still stands. It appears Gundelfinger Wholesalers & General was a grocery business with several branches around Johannesburg. The 1937 map below shows the business as warehouse type of set-up – perhaps a Makro of its day.
The following quote is from Cripps’ thesis on food provisioning. “The turnover of shops was high. Of the 29 Grocers and 26 ‘Italian Warehousemen’ in Longland’s 1893 Directory, only five of the former and nine of the latter survived to have an entry in Longland’s 1897 Directory. Only five of both categories survived until the 1906 Post Office Directory (P Amm & Sons, T W Beckett & Co, G B Gundelfinger Wholesalers, A Tarboton, and C H Thrupp), all of whom had advertising budgets for full-page advertisements in directories, and in the press. Of the 83 grocers in Longland’s 1897 Directory, only 11, including the four 1893 survivors, were still there in 1906. Names may have been changed of course, but not on a large enough scale to counter the trend”. The Gundelfinger grocery business is no more and only Thrupps has survived from those early days.
Octavia Hills complex in Pioneer Road (Art Deco) is named after the British campaigner for social housing for the poor and open spaces. She was also one of the three founders of the British National Trust. Lionel Curtis, the Johannesburg town clerk in 1907, was the BNTs first honorary secretary.
The Octavia Hill housing scheme was built by the Housing Utility Co. established in 1934 to redevelop slum areas. Octavia Hill was one of its first projects and was designed by Cowin & Ellis. Jan Hofmeyer in Vrededorp and the Maurice Freeman complex in Bertrams appear to be linked along with Octavia Hill in the slum clearance and development projects of the 1930s. All three initially provided housing for poor whites while displacing other races further from the city.
Mia’s Building and Lilian Ngoyi (previously Bree Street) shops are adjacent to the primary school and Oriental Plaza. They represent a historic retail townscape c1920s similar to parts of Jeppestown’s retail district.
The corner of Mint and Fountain had a Fairground on it according to the 1937 Goad’s map. 1910 map shows a corner shop with a balcony. The stand is open today and large amounts of pigeons seem to always congregate there.
Diagonally across from Mynpacht was the old Freemasons Hall that was demolished in the 1960s. It appears on both Goad’s maps, but I’ve not found any photos of the hall.
A cardboard factory building stood on the corner of Fountain and Nursery Roads. It was demolished between 2015 and 2017.
Reiker and David Free State Bakery in Mint Road appear to have been established in the late 1890s and was on the southern end of Mint Road.
Messrs A. & J. Tawse had a bread and biscuit factory on High Road in the 1890s. Both bakeries have long been demolished.
Finally, this art deco building in Gillies Road which was once an Indian owned mansion known as Orient & Hadie has always been fascinating and seemingly out of place in Fordsburg.
From Yasmin Mayat’s Thesis:
“The importance of the historic environment has however been neglected with little consideration or regulation. Historic building stock has mostly been retained for economic reasons with little consideration in terms of preservation. Current trends in redevelopment have occurred due to demand and interest from recent immigrants. Since heritage conservation centres on issues of identity whether along political, ethnic or religious lines, conflict is inevitable. The everyday identity has shifted between established users and more recent ones.
The acknowledgement of heritage has been neglected by the majority of residents in Fordsburg. Eric Itzkin, Deputy Director of Immovable Heritage at the City of Johannesburg, concurs on what little relevance the heritage to Fordsburg has for its residents. Itzkin (Interview 22/10/2012) thinks that it is possibly due to the fact that new communities do not identify with the existing heritage and have little nostalgia for the built environment.”
This perhaps sums up the heritage conundrum in the inner city in that certain owners and/or occupiers of heritage buildings are relative newcomers to the area with no interest in the heritage aspects of the properties they occupy and have no memories of or connections to the suburbs they live in. It’s the ‘outsiders’ with heritage and historical knowledge, perhaps ingrained from parents and grand-parents that bemoan the current state of buildings but who left the areas years ago (either by force or by way of upward economic movement)
Special thanks to Yasmin Mayat for access to her Fordsburg thesis notes, research and various plans.
Dutch Churches history:
Maps, plans, and directories:
Donaldson & Hill’s Stands Map of Johannesburg
Goads Insurance Maps 1910 and 1937
Longman’s Directories 1890 and 1896
JHF Tours booklet
Museum Africa building plans and approvals
Lleyds, G. A, 1964. A History of Johannesburg. Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandeling
Norwich, O. I, 1986. A Johannesburg album-Historical postcards. Johannesburg: AD. Donker
Tony Spit, T. 1976. Johannesburg Tramways. London: The Light Railway Transport League
Shorten, J, 1970. The Johannesburg Saga. Johannesburg: John R. Shorten
Smith, A, 1971. Johannesburg Street Names. Johannesburg: Juta & Company, LTD
Hughes, L, 1978. Johannesburg-the cosmopolitan city. Johannesburg: AD. Donker
Meiring, H,1986. Early Johannesburg-Its buildings and its people. Cape Town & Pretoria: Human & Rousseau
Carrim, N. 1990. Fietas: A Social History of Pageview: 1948-1988. Johannesburg: Save Pageview Association
Van Der Waal, G-M, 1986. From mining camp to metropolis. The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Chris Van Rensburg Publications
Beavon, K. 2004. Johannesburg. The making and shaping of a city. Johannesburg: University of South Africa
McKibben, J. 1993. Octavia Hill: The outstanding woman Johannesburg forgets. Between the Chains Vol.14
Stark, F, 1956. Seventy Golden Years. Johannesburg: City Council of Johannesburg & Johannesburg Publicity Association
Sacks, B, 1964. The Forsdburg-Mayfair Hebrew Congregation 1893-1964. Johannesburg: Fordsburg-Mayfair Hebrew Congregation.
Thesis, dissertations and online heritage surveys:
Mayat, Y. 2013. Fordsburg’s Urban Memory – Cultural significance and its embodiment in the ordinary landscape. University of Cape Town
Brink, E. 2008. Heritage Assessment Fordsburg Newton West Mayfair. City of Johannesburg
Rugunanan, P. 2015. Forged communities: A sociological exploration of identity and community amongst immigrant and migrant communities of Fordsburg. The University of Johannesburg.
Cripps, E. A. 2012. Provisioning Johannesburg, 1889-1906. University of South Africa
April 2022 – Added more information and photos on The Forsdburg Hebrew Congregation.