Over the last 10 years, while writing this blog and researching early Johannesburg, I’ve looked at thousands of photographs in books, online, and in various archives. While backing-up photos, I came across a number of early street shots of Johannesburg and thought it would be a good idea to try and date them by identifying the buildings.
One of the photos was clearly of the old wood and iron library in Kerk Street taken from above. I knew this photo well as it had been licensed from the Dutch Archives for my book ‘Johannesburg Then & Now’ and I’d already attempted to date it. I’d gone with c1896 as an educated guess.
Another photo was of Eloff Street looking south. There wasn’t much I recognised outside of the Magistrates Buildings which once stood where Gandhi Square is today (previously Van Der Byl Square and Government Square before that).
Looking at these two photos together, it struck me that they were likely taken from the same location as they both showed Eloff Street from an elevated position – one view was south and the other north-east showing just the south-west corner of Eloff and Kerk Streets in the foreground.
Using old maps I located the likely point. Markhams Building. This would have been one of the tallest buildings in Johannesburg at the time.
Another wonderful photo had been doing the rounds at the time showing a portion of town with the old telephone tower in the background with The Wanderers fields behind it and the Braamfontein ridge beyond. Again, this was from an elevated position but felt like it was a block west from Markhams. I opened both photos on the screen and nudged them together…
It was a near-perfect match.
On the screen was a view of Johannesburg looking north with Braamfontein, Hospital Hill, Hillbrow, Joubert Park, and the edge of Doornfontein in the background. I trawled through my saved images looking for anything that might fill in the missing pieces. I’d taken screengrabs of a number of photos I thought were interesting from the Dutch Archive collection. It was there that I found another seven photos that made up the rest of the panorama.
One photo stood out. It was of Pritchard Street and Von Brandis Square looking east with Langermann Kop in the distance. I knew this photo from the Barnett Collection Vol.1. In the same volume on separate pages, I found the Kerk Street library and other Eloff Street photos. The captions confirmed that the photos were taken from Markhams. The rest of the photos don’t feature in either Barnett books, so I feel rather lucky to have found them. Some cursory searches on the internet did not bring up this specific group of pictures. I believe their connection has remained a secret until now.
I present a panoramic view of Johannesburg c1897 from Markhams building from the old Wanderers looking north right around to Pritchard Street looking West toward Fordsburg and everything in-between.
*Right-click to download the panoramas to view and zoom in
The most striking observation is that only two buildings within the town centre still stand today: Markhams, where the photo was taken from, and The Rissik Street post office (although it was the three-storey version as the fourth storey was only added in 1905). The facade of Kimberly House also stands today.
Markhams was only completed in 1897, but this photo was likely taken during Markhams construction, giving a clear view of the town. Clues to the earlier date are that the foundations of what would become Pollock Mansions which was completed in 1897 can be seen next to the library. Also, Permanent Building (or Victory House as we know it today) has also not yet been built (completed in 1897) and nor had the 2nd part of Stuttafords on the old Aspey’s corner (completed 1896/7). Importantly, the Rissik Street post office is clearly visible. According to records, the cornerstone was laid on 26 January 1897. Since it’s mostly built, It is reasonable to assume that this is around the middle of 1897
Prior to 1890, most buildings were single storey. Between 1890 and when this panorama was taken, many of the old wood and iron buildings were replaced with brick buildings, some going up to 3 or 4 storeys, about as much as the building methods would allow at the time. After 1902, steel construction methods from the US would push the height to 10 storeys and eventually beyond that in the 1930s.
Outside of the town centre, one can make out the old fort on the ridge but prior to the ramparts going up, and the first general hospital
The town is also very empty with few people. It’s possible the photos were taken on a Sunday or a holiday.
Below is a numbered legend showing details on the main recognisable buildings.
*Right-click to download the panoramas to view and zoom in
1. Telephone Tower (1893/4)
The first telephone exchange was in a red-bricked Dutch-style hexagonal tower built earlier that year and situated between Plein and De Villiers streets in Plein Square, where it initially housed less than 200 lines. There were no underground cables back then so all the lines were carried inside via a series of exterior frames. The building was designed by the Public Works Department under Sytze Weirda.
2. 2nd Synagogue De Villiers Street (1892)
Park Synagogue in De Villiers Street (corner Joubert) was opposite the telephone tower. It was designed by architects Menze & Brauer and built in 1892 by Messrs Alpine and Short. It was consecrated on 11 September 1892 and opened on 14 September by President Kruger (some sources say 16 September). The adjacent Jewish school from the end of 1897 had not been built at the time of the photo. The synagogue operated until 1912 when it was acquired by the railways and used a military headquarters until 1928 when it was demolished to make way for the 1930 Park Station.
3. Wanderers (c1890)
The land was originally known as ‘Kruger Park’. Although not visible, the original Wanderers clubhouse would still be standing next to the middle tree-line on the grounds. It would be destroyed by a fire in 1898 and rebuilt. The train station expansion would eventually take up the Wanderers grounds after it moved to Illovo after WW2.
4. Military Buildings/Barracks (c1890)
The land where the SAIMR building stands today was used as a parade ground and there were military buildings nearby of which the walls still exist.
5. Fort (1892)
Johannesburg’s first permanent prison was built in 1892 on the crest of Hospital Hill behind the police barracks and parade ground. In early 1896, after the failed Jameson Raid, President Kruger instructed that high walls or ramparts be erected around the existing goal to create a ‘military fort’. Work was completed in 1899.
6. 1st Johannesburg Station building (1894-6)
In 1894, Dutch railway architect Jacob F. Klinkhamer designed the new Park Station building which replaced the early wood and iron buildings of the stop known as ‘Park Halt’.
The structure was fabricated at the ‘Pletterij Den Haag’ foundry in Holland in 1896 and transported in pieces to Johannesburg for assembly. Due to political unrest in the years leading up to the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, only the island platform with its pitched corrugated iron roof and elevated central barrel vault along with five buildings were erected. This is the same steel structure preserved in Newtown today. Its assembly started in 1896 and was completed in 1897. The structure was in continual use until 1951, even after the modern 1932 station building was completed. In 1948, it was dismantled and re-erected in Esselen Park in Kempton Park at the Railway College. It stayed there until 1993 before coming back to its present position on a concrete podium in Newtown. In the panorama, it is obscured by trees and smaller buildings and is shown approximately where it would have been.
7. Hotel Victoria (1895/6)
Designed by McCowat in the Second Empire style, it was reminiscent of famous London Hotels of the 1850s and 1860s.
8. General Hospital (1890)
Designed by A.H. Reid & McCowat and opened on 5 Nov 1890). The east wing was completed in Jan 1893.
9. Site of Pollock Mansions
The basic foundations can be seen of what would become Pollock Mansions in late 1897.
10. Public Library (1893)
This is the original wood and iron library that found its first permanent home in Kerk Street in 1893. It was previously used as a church. A new library building replaced the old structure in September 1898.
11. Joubert Park
In 1887 the Diggers Committee requested a ‘public park or garden to be planted with trees’ from the Kruger Government. It was originally known as ‘Joubert’s Plain’ after P. J. Joubert, Commander-in-Chief of the military at the time. The ornamental fountain was built in 1895 and the conservatory in 1898.
12. Johannesburg Public School (c1892s)
These buildings may have been connected to the Dutch Reform Church in Von Brandis Square.
13. Freemason’s Hall Jeppe Street (1894)
Designed by Frederick George Green 1894 with the foundation stone laid in June 1894. The hall was the HQ for many years until replaced by the new Masonic Arts Building in Kerk Street in the 1930s. This was the second Freemasons building in Johannesburg, with the first dating back to 1887 in Rissik Street.
14. NH of G Church (1892)
Built on Von Brandis Square, it was the only church to be located on a square and was built in April 1892. No plans exist and by the end of the 1890s it was no longer used as a church. It eventually made way with the rest of the square for the Law Courts in 1909/10.
15. Salisbury Chambers (1891)
An early residential building in Johannesburg designed by A. H. Reid.
16. Masonic Hotel (c1890s)
Listed on Goad’s Map, it also comes up on Artefacts under Salisbury Chambers. They were next to each other.
17. Cumberland buildings (1897)
Listed as a boarding house.
18. Herbert Evans (1889)
The first paint shop was opened in 1889 and later expanded.
19. Estcourt Buildings (1897)
20. Wesleyan Church (1889)
The first Wesleyan church was in Joubert Street near the corner of Commissioner Street (on the site of the future His Majesty’s Theatre) and its foundation stone laid by Captain von Brandis in July 1887. The first Methodist minister in Johannesburg, Rev. F. J. Briscoe, used to preach from its pulpit. It soon became too small and a bigger church was built in 1889 just a block away from the first synagogue on the corner of President and Kruis Streets and opened on 21 Jan 1889. It didn’t look like a traditional church with its numerous windows and ventilators but these were necessary as the building was also used as a school. It was enlarged in 1892 and was in use until 1919 when it was demolished.
21. Heath’s Hotel (1894/5)
Designed by A.H. Reid & A. C. B. Williams.
22. President Street Synagogue (1888/9)
The first synagogue in Transvaal was the President street Synagogue erected in 1888/9. It was one of the first brick buildings in Johannesburg and designed by Reid & McCowat and built by Mr. Rowe. The foundation stone was laid by E. Mendelssohn on 24 September 1889 but was apparently dated November 1888. The synagogue faced south on President Street between Kruis & Von Brandis Streets.
23. Mounts Bay House (1892/3)
Street-level store housed the first Chudleigh Brothers store. This would be replaced in 1912/13 by the 2nd Chudleigh Building.
24. S.A. General mission Hall (1897)
25. Castle Brewery (1893/4)
Designed by C. R. Snell and built on the site of the first Catholic Church. Part of the church buildings was turned into stables that survived until the 1950s. The Brewery with its five-storeys and chimney stack was the tallest building in Johannesburg for a short time until Markhams was completed.
26. Lazarus & Jacobson (c1890s)
27. Hirsch Loubser & Co. (1896)
Had on older adjoining building or warehouse on Eloff Street. They appeared to be agents for roofing and other building materials.
28. Thrupps (1892)
This was the first Thrupps store in Johannesburg.
29. 2nd Theatre Royal (1888/92)
The second Theatre Royal was also a portable corrugated iron structure erected on the corner of Commissioner and Eloff Street in May 1888 by the leading impresario, Luscombe Searelle. Royal Theatre of Varieties in Commissioner street is listed in the Longman’s 1896 directory. This was William Luscombe Searelle’s Theatre Royal (Johannesburg’s second-ever theatre) that he converted and re-opened on 27 December 1892 after finding himself under pressure from the recently opened Standard Theatre.
30. Albert Buildings (c1892)
31. Goldreich Building/His Majesty’s Theatre (c1890)
Goldreich’s building was also used as a temporary post office. It would later house the first His Majesty’s Theatre in 1904 which would eventually make way for the current Art Deco version.
32. Court Buildings (1889/93)
The half-completed Goldfields Club in the middle of Government Square was converted into the Court Buildings in 1893. The square is known as Gandhi Square today (Van Der Byl Square prior to this and originally Government Square)
33. Rosenburg Building (c1896)
Designed by W. H. Stucke
34. Old England Building (c1893)
35. Hosken Building (1897)
Designed by J. S. Donaldson
36. New Club (1897)
Designed by W. Leck, it was a significant competitor to the Rand Club.
37. Dufus Brothers (1893)
Gabled retail store.
38. Standard Arcade (1895)
Plans by Carter & Mcintosh from August 1895 indicate ‘Additions and alterations – including additional levels, rooms and business premises.’ Additional floors and cast-iron balconies were added in 1911.
39. Parker Brothers (1897)
Parker Brothers store on Market Street in the process of being built.
40. Standard Theatre (1891)
The Standard Theatre in Joubert Street (behind the Rissik Street Post Office) between President and Market Street was completed next and opened on 12 October 1891 by Capt. Von Brandis. The architects were J. S. Donaldson and J. A. Moffat and initially had no buildings around it. The arcade was added later in 1895.
41. Paddon & Brock Building (1893)
Like its neighbour ‘Dufus Brothers’, these retail store buildings were in Neo-Queen Anne style with gables and plaster accents and more ornate than some of the simpler shops built in 1889-92.
42. Rissik Street Post Office (1897)
Designed by S. Weirda & the Public Works Dept. This is the earlier three-story version and was one of the largest buildings in the town at the time along with Henwoods.
The foundation stone was laid on 27 January 1897 by the postmaster general, Isaac van Alphen. The new post office was a gracefully proportioned three-storey building with a basement and a series of attic rooms, and two small turrets flanked a central tower. In 1904, a fourth floor and a clock tower were added. The building continued to function as a post office until 1996.
43. 2nd Rand Club (1889/90)
The 2nd Rand Club was designed by A.H. Reid & McCowat and opened on 1 Feb 1890. It was lauded as one the finest establishments in Johannesburg. The original club was built on the same site in 1888 out of wood & iron and soon replaced by the second. The current Rand Club building (also on the same site) dates to 1904 and was designed by Leck & Emley.
44. Old Arcade (1889/90)
Designed by Canning & Goad, it was the first and most attractive of Johannesburg’s covered shopping galleries and connected Market Street (now Albertina Sisulu Road) and Commissioner Street. It opened in 1889/90, with 20 shops on the ground floor and 51 offices on the first floor. The ornate glass ceiling featured an intricate fish-scale pattern, and the ironwork used to support it was imported from Walter MacFarlane’s Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland.
45. Marius Court (1894)
46. Gordon Mitchell & Co. (1897)
47. American Novelty Store (c1890)
48. Birch Building (c1895)
Birch was evidently a clothing store.
49. S. A. Mutual buildings (1894/5)
Designed by W. H. Stucke it’s been described as ‘introvert-eclectic’ with a Victorian grid.
50. 1st Natal Bank (1891)
Designed by H. B. Houge. The 2nd Natal Bank built in 1899-1902 presumably started before the war and completed after. This 2nd building is still standing.
51. Guildhall (c1890)
The current Guildhall was built on the site of the old Guildhall in 1915. When it was still open, it was considered the oldest bar in Johannesburg.
52. Zinman Buildings (1895)
Designed by W. H. Stucke
53. Chamber of Mines Building (1894)
Designed by Emily & Scott
54. National Bank Building (1892)
Designed by W. Leck
55. Robinson Bank (1895)
Designed by Reid & Green
56. 2nd Market Square Buildings (1890/1)
Designed by A. H. Reid & McCowatt
57. Demolished corner at Pritchard and Joubert Street
The 1st Store Brothers Building stood on the corner but burnt down in 1896. It was replaced in 1897 by the Anglo Austrian Building.
58. Thorne & Stuttafords (1893)
Although not the first choice of stands, this was where the first Johannesburg branch opened in 1893. The owners initially wanted the corner stand known as Aspey’s Corner.
59. Aspey’s Corner (1890)
Owned by Draper J. T. Aspey and was known as ‘Collonade’, this was Stuttaford’s first choice but had to wait a number of years to acquire the stand. It eventually went onto the market and was purchased. The second part of the store was built in 1897 and incorporated into the first.
60. Palace Buildings (1889)
Designed by J. S. Donalsdon and H. Lindhorst it was known as the Rand Eiffel Tower. It was sadly demolished in the 1950s.
61. Henwoods (1893)
Designed by W. Leck it replaced the earlier Henwood’s Folly which was one of the earliest shops in Johannesburg near to the square.
62. Kimberly House (1892)
The facade of the building still stands and was a general merchandise store in its day.
63. Trocadero Restaurant (c1890s)
64. Grand National Hotel (1888/91)
Designed by J.S Donaldson. It featured several shops on street level with the hotel on the first floor.
65. Lennon Druggists (c1890s)
A second storey was added in the early 1900s.
66. Rand House/ Jolly & Co. Drapers (c1890s)
67. Hamilton house (c1890s)
Site from which the panorama was taken. Established a mere eleven years after the founding of Johannesburg, H.W. Markham Outfitter and Clothier became a premier supplier of outfits for the mining town’s male inhabitants. The six-storey building, the tallest in Johannesburg for a short period, is on the corner of Eloff and Pritchard streets, in the hub of the city’s retail district where it rubbed shoulders with other men’s and ladies outfitters, jewellery stores, and a drapery. It was the most valuable piece of real estate in the city at the time and remained so until at least the 1970s.
The plans are dated 1896, and the building was completed in 1897. It was designed by George Ransome, the architect of the first Markham store in South Africa, which was built in 1873 in Adderley Street, Cape Town. At six-storeys tall, Markham’s building overtook the Palace Building and Castle Brewery as the tallest structure in Johannesburg – until the construction of the city’s first nine- and ten-storey steel-framed skyscrapers around 1904.
In his book, Johannesburg Style – Architecture & Society 1880s–1960s, Clive Chipkin describes the Markham’s building as a ‘quaint colonial imitation of the Second Empire Style in Paris’. The design of the façade was partially based on that of the new Louvre Museum in Paris, built in 1857, and of the Halifax Town Hall in England, constructed in 1863. The exterior was heavily textured with ornamental mouldings, cornices, pilasters, and balustrades. The four-sided clock tower, which was installed a few years after completion, was an iconic feature of the city’s skyline and could be seen from miles away.
Most of the building’s features were lost in a series of alterations that included plastering the façade and gutting the interior. The building was saved from demolition in 1978 thanks to the efforts of the heritage community, the City of Johannesburg, and the public. Some 26,000 people signed a petition to save the building over a two-day period.
Barnett Brothers were David and Joseph Barnett who came from Jewish parentage via Wales. Joseph, the older brother, took up photography as a hobby in 1891 and turned professional three years later setting up the J. Barnett and Company in 1895. Most of the early Barnett photos were taken by Joseph. In 1897, he traveled abroad but picked up bronchial problems. While climbing in Switzerland he caught pneumonia and died back in Wales in the same year.
David took over the business and continued taking photos that included those of the Boer War. His main shop was near the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Street and the processing of the photos was done at his home at 2 Sherwell Street Doornfontein. The original Barnett store was in the Mutual Buildings. David, now a director of a number of Schlesinger companies, sold the photographic business in 1920. 2000 photos were kept safe and now form part of the Barnett Collection owned by The Star.
It’s likely this panorama was taken by David Barnett given Joseph was out of the country for most of 1897.
Special thanks to my wife, Fiona O’Connor, who painstakingly stitched these photos together. Given that the photos are 124 years old, there were many instances where they did not match perfectly or were altered in the scanning process. After many hours of adjustments in photoshop with color-corrections, the final panorama is near perfect. Adding the building colours and legend took another whole day.
Thanks to HiltonT on Flickr for supplying the images.
Norwich, O. I, 1986. A Johannesburg album-Historical postcards. Johannesburg: AD. Donker
—. 1966. Barnett Collection Vol.1: Johannesburg: The Star 1966
Van Rensburg, C, 1986. Johannesburg – One Hundred Years. Johannesburg: Chris Van Rensburg Publications
Van Der Waal, G-M, 1986. Van mynkamp tot metropolis. Pretoria: Chris Van Rensburg Publications
Stark, F, 1956. Seventy Golden Years. Johannesburg: City Council of Johannesburg & Johannesburg Publicity Association
Gill, F, 1957. The Story of Stuttafords. Cape Town
Kaplan & Robertson, 1991. Founders and Followers: Johannesburg Jewry 1887-1915. National Book Printers Cape Town.
Just want to say thank you for all these lovely photographs of Johannesburg, It sure waken old memories and is much appreciated!
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Thanks so much Mark. I am old enough to remember the trams (I was very young) and later, the “trolley buses”. You are doing incredible work and keeping the history of Joburg alive.
Another fascinating read, your efforts are really appreciated. I’ve always found the history and development of Johannesburg so fascinating.
Amazing research. Fascinating to see the architecture of old buildings. I would love to buy this in a book form.
THANKS MARC FOR THE OLD JOHANNESBURG PHTOS AND DETAILS,
I LIVED IN JHB AS A STUDENT IN EARLY 60’S SO FAMILIAR WITH THE OLDER BUIDLINGS THE,
Have you or any of your readers know of a Ken Hogg who worked in JHB City Cuncil and used to draw views of cities with Birds eye view perspective ( A photo from drone nowadays.
ken formerly Pretorianer
Thank you Marc & Fiona! Splendid work! I’d love to see that panorama in greater detail. When I click on it, its tiny. Any way of seeing a bigger picture? Thanks
Thank you! Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a higher res version.
Got it, thank you! It’s amazing – such detail. I can only really place Joubert Park and the Rissik Street post office (where a pigeon shat on my shoulder as I was shaking a collection tin for charity) from my 1974-1978 Joburg days. There was a lot of beer haze, admittedly.
What a pleasure to see the the past.
This is amazing work. Thank you for all your effort.
Thanks so much for this amazing work and the insights. Do you perhaps have any old images of the Sunnyridge Germiston area in your archives please?
Hi Luigi, thank you! I don’t have anything on Germiston I’m afraid.
Do you by any chance have the old horse stables before they were converted to Kwa Mai Mai men’s compound Cnr Anderson and Berea Road, City and Suburban
Anyone have any ideas as to why there aren’t any photos of people building the buildings? Photography was (obviously) a thing by the 1890s… and they were doing some amazing work.