In August 1984 Dr. Peter Pirow wrote;
Two thousand years ago Southern Africa was inhabited by Bushmen Hunter-Gatherers and by Hottentot pastorals. I am not aware of any evidence that these people stayed for very long in our area. If there are any painting or artifacts relating to this period then steps should be taken to preserve them. About 1900 years ago a group of people moved south across the Zambezi. These people used iron implements and there is a site of one of their kraals just to the east of the boundary between Hartzenbergfontein and Roodepoort. This site is particularly interesting as there is a bend in the outside wall which I could not explain until my son suggested digging, water was found, so the bend was made to ensure water. I expect there are a number of other Iron Age sites on the Hartzenbergfontein and adjoining farms.
There are many sites around the district to indicate that people have been present here for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. Three of the better known settlement remains are in Grade Road, Walker's Fruit Farms; at the base of Perdeberg (thought to be particularly ancient); and at plot 143 Homestead Apple Orchards. I have also seen the remains of a village, era unknown, whilst standing on the ridge at Walkerville Manor, looking down to the West. These can be clearly viewed in winter when the grass has been burnt.
Local artist, Colleen Mulrooney was commissioned to sketch some of our local historical sites;
One of which is the rock structures that are easily found on the top of Spioenkop. Speculation at the time was that “the deep hole could be a well, or a shaft for iron, which might have been mined by the native tribes which moved through this area on their way to Zimbabwe”.
These ‘kraals’ appear in several places around the area and are not hard to find. Fortunately most of them appear to have been built on high ground – away from farming and residential activity. Those built at the top of Perdeberg are easily identified and stretch for fairly long distances.
As recently as 2006 and 2007 local photographers and hikers have walked to the top of Perdeberg and photographed these sites. Some of the walls appear to be much older than others according to the moss growth and weathering that has softened the edges of the stones. Is it possible that two groups of settlers have built kraals on top of Perdeberg? First the Iron Age settlers, followed centuries later by the Boer kommandos fighting in the area?
Is it possible they are the ruins of Iron Age Settlements?
The following places are known to have Iron Age settlements:
Mapangubwe - the capital of a 13th-century nation state that had well-established links with the Indian Ocean trade routes.
Thulamela (Northern National Kruger Park) - stone ruins of a royal citadel date back to the 15th century.
Makapansgat (near Potgietersrus) – where excavations have revealed Iron Age relics.
Lydenburg – at the Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve walking trails lead to Iron Age ruins.
Vredefort Dome – where Iron Age kraal foundations have been discovered
Mellville Koppies – home to two exposed Iron Age furnaces
By Iron Age standards the Mellville Koppies would be “just down the road”! So why didn’t anyone get excited about Dr Pirow’s articles in 1984? Were we all too busy farming our plots to take notice of something that might one day be of value to our area? Particularly in light of the developments planned for the area, we need to investigate and confirm if these old stone walls are in fact of great historical importance to both Walkerville and South Africa!
Are there any archeologists or historians in our area that could shed some light on the matter, or would like to tackle this project? Please contact Walkerville – we would love to hear from you.
Due to the lack of any kind of written records, it is not known exactly when the first Europeans settled in the district, but it was probably around the same time that gold was discovered on the reef in 1884. Most of what we do know comes from accounts passed on by generations of residents.
As far as can be ascertained the first white to settle in the Walkerville area was an unknown Voortrekker in about 1838. The remains of a hut built with the front axle of his wagon is near Dairy Cottage on Woodacres Dairy Farm. This Voortrekker sold the Hartzenbergfontein property to Hendrik Balthazar Greyling in about 1859 and the whole property, in extent over 3,422morgen was transferred to Greyling on the 11th December 1861. This deed of transfer has been lost but is referred to in numerous other deeds.
Hendrik Greyling died in 1879 and his wife Anna Margaretha nee Scheepers split the farm into undivided portions amongst the nine children and herself. The details may be found in Title Deeds 1879/679 to 687. The children and their husbands actually purchased the undivided tenth shares for 15 pounds a share. Each share was equivalent to over 342 morgen. Each tenth share forms the basis of the present subdivision of Hartzenbergfontein, Walkerville and its surrounds being on two tenths of the original area. A further two sections are still owned by the descendants of the family, namely the two large Kamffer farms.
Judging by the complex water rights relating to the streams round the area where Aloe Ridge School is presently situated (as well as the Walkerville Show-grounds), I would think that the original Greyling homestead (or the remains thereof) are to found somewhere in that area.
In the latter part of the 19th century the district was composed of enormous farms. In the way that such matters were executed in those times, a farm's extent was measured by the distance a horse could walk in one day. This was about 3000 morgan, or 6 300 acres. There were no boundary fences and the law forbade any subdivision, except where portions were left to family members. Probably due to the lack of entertainment as much as any other reason, families were extremely large, and this often led to problems when the head of the family passed away. After the death of President Paul Kruger early in the last century, this statute fell away -sort of. As the population began to increase, people realised that land was a very valuable commodity, and thus began the division of these huge farms into the 5, 10 and 20 acre plots that most of us live on today. However, the law pronounced that only 50% of any one farm could be subdivided - the other half becoming a commonage on which the people who had bought the land parcels could graze their livestock. To this day, the area we still know as the common allows any resident to use that land for this purpose.
The farm Faroasfontein plays a central role in the development of the area. It covered the boundaries we know today as The Common, the Weilbach's farm (the dairy), Homestead Apple Orchards, Golf View and Ohenimuri golf course. It was originally owned by a Mr Botha. For many years it was divided by the main Cape Town - Johannesburg road, which today is the Old Vereeniging Road. The main house was used as one of the overnight stops for coaches travelling to Johannesburg. Mr Botha sold the farm to Johan Daniel Weilbach (descendants of which now own the dairy), who sold the farm to a Mr James Butler (when?) In turn, this was then sold to Mr Arthur Walker in 1918 from whom the area got its name. As mentioned previously, Mr Walker, after his apple growing venture was disbanded, had the idea of dividing the farm into parcels of land and selling them as Homestead Apple Orchards. As an added incentive, any would-be purchaser would be able to graze his or her livestock on the common.
Commandant Johan Daniel Weilbach
Quite a lot has been said and written about Commandant J.D.Weilbach of Faraosfontein, locally. Some of it was rather negative but others again positive. Johan Daniël Weilbach was born in Uitenhage in 1839. His father was Johan Frederick Weilbach and his mother Maria Aletta Fredrika Landman. He moved to the Orange Free State in the 1860’s and participated in the wars between the OFS and the Basutus of Moshesh. He Later moved to Heidelberg district where he also became the Commandant. He fought in the 1880 -1881 war against the British. With the siege of Potchefstroom he was there. At the end of January he fought at the Natal front at Laingsnek, Schuinshoogte and Majuba. After the war he was co-writer with C.N.J. du Plessis of the book on this war: “Geschiedenis van de Emigranten-Boeren en van den Vrijheidsoorlog.”
Whilst farming at Faraosfontein during 1898 he participated in a number of skirmishes with the blacks, the Bavendas. When the Anglo-Boer war broke out in 1898 he led the Heidelberg Commando on the Natal border. Apparently he was somewhat of a hothead and it was therefore no surprise that he clashed with some of the other officers. It was touch and go or he would have been discharged. During December he was temporarily suspended as he was held responsible for letting the British capture a Boer canon setup on the 8th December. However, it was never proved that it was because of his negligence that this happened.
In March 1900 he was again the Commandant in charge of the Heidelbergers when this Commando fought valiantly to defend their positions at the battle of Abrahamskraal. They managed to such an extent against the multitude of British soldiers, that they could retreat in an orderly fashion. By doing this the British were prevented from achieving a great victory.
The Boer forces at Abrahamskraal were under the command of Generals De Wet and De la Rey. They were about 3,000 men strong. The British troops, however, totalled approximately 30,000 under direct command of Lord Roberts himself. High numbers of losses were incurred on both sides. 30 men died on Boer side, 47 were wounded and 20 were taken prisoner. It was told that the British suffered the loss of 60 dead and 360 wounded.
After the Heidelbergers’ retreat during the night they were ordered to join forces with the Boer forces at Bainsvlei near Bloemfontein on Sunday, 11 March 1900. During that afternoon they were at their posts just to be informed that after an hours rest, they must again be on the move. This time they had to move to south of Bloemfontein. That night they could have a decent nights rest after being on the road for two very cumbersome days.
It’s not for us to say whether Commandant Weilbach was a good leader or not. What is of importance is the fact that Commandant Weilbach was the Commandant of the Heidelberg Commando and that he was one of us, from our area. His descendants still farm at Faraosfontein. Eugene Weilbach was the Commandant of the local Commando, the Meyerton Commando. He was a good leader and accompanied this Commando several times when they went to fight on the border. What a waste of manpower because of the futility of this war. In any case, we can lift our hats high to the Weilbach’s of Faraosfontein!
So was the Weilbach farm the start of De Deur? According to old records it would appear so.
The area got its name early in 1800. The name De Deur means “through,” because the Voortrekkers chased wild animals through the kloof between two kopjes. This made hunting very easy.
The area was part of the Heidelberg District. A Mr. L. J. Botha “discovered” the farm in 1860 as government ground. He wrote to the government requesting that the farm be registered on his name. Only on 17 September 1882 did Mr. Botha receive the letter stating that the farm was his property.
Mr. Botha sold the farm “De Deur” after only one year to Johan Daniël Weilbach and Johan Carel Preller. Mr. Preller sold his half of the farm to Mr. Weilbach on the same day. Mr. J. D. Weilbach remained the owner of the farm until 1904.
On 1 February 1904 the farm was sold to “The De Deur Estate Ltd.” The company was eager to sell the farm to the Government and on 11 February 1904 the farm was put up for sale. The Government was interested in obtaining land close to Johannesburg. The farm “De Deur” was divided into a number of small farms and was auctioned on 25 February 1904.
Development proper started in HAO in 1928, although some of the older homes date from the turn of the last century. Mrs Elizabeth Cronje has been living in the same house in 9th Avenue, Apple Orchards since 1945. She and her husband, who had returned from fighting in Egypt, enlisted the help of Italian prisoner's of war to enlarge the small house they had bought. These were paid 1 Shilling a day by the family and the same amount by the government. They were repatriated in 1946. At that time there was no electricity nor municipal water.
Around 1948 a bus service was introduced to take children living in H A O to school in De Deur. By the early 1950's, Walkerville's bus service had become a partisan affair, with people taking sides and becoming quite uppity in defense of their preference. The old Vaal Bus Company still operated its Guys, Albion & Bristols but the South African Railways had become serious about taking over the route and they had brought in the Canadian built BRIL streamliners. What buses they were! They easily hit 80 miles per hour on the long downhill run to Eikenhof. Those Brils dominated the scene for more than twenty years and must surely rank as the best buses ever built.
To us in Walkerville, the choice was an open one for years. The Vaal Bus was a good deal less expensive than the Railway Bus and apart from vibrations and low speeds, they were good transport.
Adventures on the Walkerville bus route
Bus travel in those years was a sociable affair and produced many lively stories of the carrying-on of some of the passenger. Syd, Syddie, Jim, Joe and Bob were regulars. All five were family men on the wrong side of forty, so no one could accuse them of juvenile delinquency. It's very likely of course, their earlier lives were marred by acts of juvenile delinquency and possibly even certifiable manic depression, but by the time I got to know them, they were thoroughly semi-respectable adults who worked long hours at their trades in the city with only the Friday afternoon stop-off at the Lido Hotel to ease their need for philosophic discussions with their pals.
It was to such people that the Vaal bus offered real value for money. Early buses would drop off the members of the social club in front of the Lido and Piet, who drove the last bus, saw it as his sacred duty to collect all his passengers from the bar and under the tables, before he continued the homeward journey. Piet must've had another name, but no one ever bothered to find out, it was easier to simply speak of Piet who looked like Bing Crosby. For Piet the operation always went smoothly. He'd park his bus outside of the hotel, then send someone in to warn the men that he'd give them five minutes to get into the bus, failing which he'd come in and get them.
There was always a bit of pandemonium, panicky individuals would come running out, then have to be kicked off the bus again when it turned out they weren't bus passengers. It was rarely that Piet had to drag in more than two or three passengers, after he had pried loose their grips on tables and chairs. Oh yes, they argued blue murder, some of them, but others would shush them and prop them up in a quiet corner of the bus, and by the time we had passed the slasto quarries at Hartzenbergfontein, they were all asleep.
I tell you all these good things about Piet so you'll understand how everyone felt about him. The gavotte that followed saw everyone anxious not to let him come to any harm.
One Friday night, Piet was doing an almost empty run from Eikenhof onwards with only Syd, Syddie, Jim, Joe and Bob lounging in the seats where he'd put them after loading them at the Lido Hotel. At a point in Hartzenbergfontein, Piet stopped the bus and confessed that he was in a mood for love and that he intended to visit a young lady who lived nearby. The intrepid five promised to guard the bus for their buddy and off he went, setting his cap straight and making snapping sounds with his ticket punch. Some time later when Piet turned out all the house lights, the five men thought he had left permanently, so they commandeered the bus and drove themselves home. Hours after the bus had left, Piet came out of the house and made the discovery. Having no choice in the matter, he was forced to walk to Walkerville, to find a telephone and report the loss of his bus. In Walkerville everyone knew what was afoot. It's very difficult to misinterpret the sight of a well lit bus parading through Walkerville in the early morning hours, particularly when the occupants are hanging out of the windows signing obscene songs.
That must have been Syddie's biggest night ever. He'd been a good singer at one time, but he had argued with a cantankerous farmer one night at the Lido Hotel and the ability to sing well, was lost along with his front teeth. His piano honky-tonk playing style was terrific though. It was such a pity that he had to lisp along with the elegant piano playing. The expert manipulation of the bus's horn could only have been the work of Syddies gifted hands. He came darn close to playing the tune his friends were singing. Nor were they beyond all humour. At daybreak the bus was found neatly parked on the tennis court of an old curmudgeon who hated the turtle doves because they cooed too loudly on his side of the fence.
Walkerville folk were killing themselves with laughter but not saying a word to outsiders, until after the police had duly investigated and gone away again. What the heck! Piet had his bus back in good order and he'd enjoyed his visit in Hartzenbergfontein. There was no need for further action. Besides the intrepid five had given us a good laugh and we all saw it as a simple community affair. Our five criminals assumed a low profile for a while, although Joe appeared heavily swathed in bandages and saying awful things about bus doors that don't stay shut. After two weeks everything was back to normal and everyone, including Piet, was glad not to have to answer too many questions.
Peter du Plessis
Sylvia Mann on her way home from work - 1954
Walkerville's first Post Office was originally situated in the building that is opposite the showgrounds, as was the telephone exchange.
In 2007 we discovered this was not true! The original post office and telephone exchange was situated in the building known as Talberic Estates and the building opposite the showgrounds was in fact a general dealer's shop - see snippets from local residents below
Can anyone help with some information, or possibly a photo, of the old Telephone Exchange building? The one at the end of the tar road behind Dr Rokebrand’s rooms just before you turn right onto the dirt road to go to the Showgrounds. We think for a while it was an estates agents office?
The telephone exchange was in the back of the Old Post office building next to Pit stop. The building on the road to showgrounds was a trading store, run by an Indian man called Mr Jetham. It was the local grocery store, where you could bring through your grocery order, via the "Walkerville here / Walkerville hier" telephone exchange, and it would be taken out for you and packed into a brown cardboard box! Also a sweet counter with jars of penny sweets on the right as you entered the store! Ask me I was a kid then! Blankets and gum boots on the top shelves, wow is this memory lane or what!?
I worked there when it was Vaal Properties and Kay Gordon was the principal, she rented the premises, I don't know from whom. The same people owned the old houses at the back, I think it was an elderly Jewish man who stayed in Johannesburg. Dr Rokebrand’s receptionist, Rinska, helped with Kay's admin and books, (Kay went back to the UK quite a while ago), perhaps she can remember more. Other people who worked there around the same time were Lucy Matthews and her son Donald, from WFF. This was in 1987, wow where have the years gone!
I knew Kay Gordon quite well as I rented the cottage on their property (almost directly opposite the old trading store). Myself and Edwin, her husband / boyfriend, used to jog together up and down that dirt road. She used to operate from the estate agent that had an office next to the cafe at the garage with the Hungarian lady, can't remember her name now. Must have moved after I went overseas. I remember coming home from work one afternoon in '84 and the property was alive with reporters. Turns out that poor Kay had taken her domestic home (to Sharpeville, I think), in her old beige Merc, and the car had been stoned by a gang of youths. Unfortunately Kay's baby was lying on the back seat and it was killed by one of the rocks thrown through the back window. I often think about that, the little guy would have been about 25 now. Was a heck of a time and sort of the beginning of what was to follow for the rest of the eighties. Does seem like a lifetime ago. Easy to see how facts and details get distorted and lost if a proper record isn't kept.
As far as I recall the building you are describing was a general dealer when I was a kid in the 1950’s. The old telephone exchange when we still had a “nommer asseblief” system was in the same building as the old post office.
I remember the Halfway Supply Store very well, Annette's description brings back memories!
Jimmy G Mann (Jnr)
My family lived on a plot in Hartzenbergfontein for over twenty years ... in those days you could walk to the shops in Walkerville, or to Eikenhof. What fun we use to have - my mom loved to walk. We would walk with my mom to buy milk at the Mulder’s plot on the Aloe Ridge school road, where my youngest sister went to school. I remember the old trading store, and the house behind it, my parents use to buy the chicken feed at the store. We would take a slow walk up to the store and they would deliver everything, we were also given the most delicious cup of cinnamon tea when we got there. Do people still live in these old places? and does the trading store still operate?
Pierre Dafel (now living in Cape Town)
The Ohenimuri golf course, named after an Australian apple, was once the thriving social centre for the area. Some very important names from South Africa's political past were lifelong members.
Built in 1934, the course has seen many an expert golfer grace its greens. Although the original designer remains unknown, the great Bobby Locke restructured the course at a later stage. John Bland who was born close by, would often skip school to perfect his swing there. Mr Bland Snr was manager of the tennis club. It is said that the Walker family donated the land for the course on the condition that it remained a golf club.
Mr Arthur Walker II was a regular who played a pretty fair game. A bit of an understatement really, as he has been both a South African and English Amateur champion.
Continued ..... more about our fascinating past