‘Exhilarating air of peace and calmness’: Accommodation in Craighall Park

‘Craighall Park Township, which forms the northern boundary of the Johannesburg Municipality, is one of the beauty spots of the Rand. .. The business man finds in the exhilarating air a peace and calmness, which are part of the place, a restorative to the nerves.’

No, this is not part of a 21st Century marketing drive for Liz at Lancaster Guest House, but rather comes from The Transvaal Leader 10 March 1911 (p. 8 c.7) where Craighall Park is advertised as a rural escape from the hustle and bustle of the town.  The idyllic atmosphere of out-of-town is couched wholly in the language of the  English picturesque – no harsh dry Highveld here, but rather pure idealized English countryside with all the accompanying activities of boating, fishing, country strolls, and that most English of pastimes, picnicking:

‘… broken stretches of water which have been caught and collected by the surrounding hills, glisten in the sunlight. Craighall being [sic:is] particularly fortunate in possessing an abundant supply. The lake itself is a fine sheet, where boating can be had in the most favourable circumstances. There are any number of boats to be had. In the vicinity are to be found numerous shady nooks, leafy trees, patches of verdant green, and miniature waterfalls, restful and cooling to the eye; while the place suggest ideal spots for walks and picnicking. Fishing, too, is a pastime that can be indulged in owing to the lake having been stocked with carp. …’

This discourse of Englishness is entirely understandable given the historical context of the founding of the township of Craighall Park  or should I say Britishness given Rattray’s Scottish heritage. William Grey Rattray (died July 1928) purchased the estate (which included present-day Craighall, Craighall Park and Blairgowrie) in 1891.  This was only 6 years after the proclamation of both Johannesburg’s gold diggings and of the original adjacent townships that were later to make up the southern part of Johannesburg CBD.  Originally part of the larger farmland Klipfontein no. 479, District Pretoria,  Rattray named this estate after his home in Craighall, Blairgowrie, Perthshire Scotland. [Blairgowrie is the name of the suburb adjacent to Craighall Park on the north.]  (David Rattray of  The Zulu War battlefields fame, was the granson of William).

Although 229 acre-plots were made available for sale by 99 year leasehold in Craighall in 1902 [post the South African War], and 300 plots (of the 600 surveyed), by freehold in Craighall Park in 1911 [post Union], the suburbs of Craighall and Craighall Park were initially seen to be too far out of town to be fully viable.  In addition, Craighall Park in 1911 was about an hour’s drive from the city centre and fell just outside the tram service which ran to Parktown North, the adjacent suburb to the south.

Initially outside the municipal boundary and so avoiding municipal taxes, Craighall Park came under the jurisdiction of the Craighall Health Committee when Johannesburg was established as a city in 1928.  The 3 suburbs of Craighall, Craighall Park and Blairgowrie were incorporated into the municipal area of Johannesburg in 1938 and improvements such as the tarring of roads and installation of street lights only occurred after the Second World War.  The original house comprising part of Liz at Lancaster’s guest house dates to 1948. Liz and her then husband bought the property from the original owner in 1971. For the changes in the buildings of Liz at Lancaster see future blog.

As Rattray developed Craighall, and with his Scottish background, he named the streets after famous Scottish families, hence Talbrager, Douglas and so on. The streets of Craighall Park were named after English ducal families, such as  Somerset, Buckingham, Lancaster, etc.  Buckingham Avenue [one below Lancaster] in Craighall Park was one of the main roads off Jan Smuts, itself one of the original roads to Pretoria. History has it that in order for the ox-wagons to manage the steep hills in this area, the road curved to follow the gradients of the hill. Presumably some of the subsequent roads like Lancaster and Rutland were built to follow the same curve as Buckingham which explains why these roads start at the Parktown North side of the suburb (in the south) and curve round to meet Jan Smuts much further north.  Craighall Park is such a confusing suburb largely because the roads do not follow the traditional grid pattern.

The recreational aspect of Craighall Park is evident in the number of hotels which were found in this suburb in the early days. Rattray farmed the land of his newly founded estate but he also dammed the Braamfontein Spruit to make the Craighall Lake. In 1905 the first advertisement appeared for the Craighall Park Hotel (which was apparently Rattray’s original home). This advert referred to the hotel as an ideal recreational spot for city dwellers. Mr Sam Kruger who owned a boot factory and then later the Craighall Park Hotel (where the Colony Centre is today) gave his name to Kruger St – a sole exception to the English ducal heritage of Craighall Park !!

Interestingly, when Liz at Lancaster applied for consent use   to run a Guest House,(according to  municipal bye-law),  the title deeds had to be changed as they included a clause which stipulated that: ‘no hotel restaurant or hotel business or any tea room’ could be carried on without the consent of owners of 4 other property owners in Craighall Park.  After investigation it transpired that this stipulation had nothing to do with protecting the  non-commercial nature of the suburban neighbourhood , but related to historical title deeds of hoteliers who were protecting their commercial rights !!  Incidentally I was also not allowed to have a slaughter pole or cattle kraal on my property !

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