A short history
HISTORY OF THE AREA PRE-1902
Craighall Lake (The Star)
Long ago, Craighall Park was a vastly different place, with its dusty roads, dairies, and a renowned lake and hotel. Sheila Timmermans, a former resident, penned a captivating account in 1987, chronicling the forgotten corners of this suburb’s history. Her narrative, featured in the Johannesburg Historical Foundation’s Journal Between the Chains, offers intriguing insights into the past.
In the years preceding 1902, William Grey Rattray emerged as a pivotal figure, acquiring the Klipfontein farm for a substantial £3,000, a mere six years after Johannesburg’s establishment. Inspired by his birthplace in Blairgowrie, Scotland, Rattray bestowed the names Craighall, Craighall Park, and Blairgowrie upon the area. Amidst the scattered farms and smallholdings of those days, the suburbs supplied fresh produce to Johannesburg. Rattray, not content with farming alone, harnessed the Braamfontein Spruit to create the iconic Craighall Lake.
Craighall Park, although merely 10 kilometers from Johannesburg’s core, proved a full day’s journey by horse and cart due to sandy and rutted roads, occasionally gated for farm access. The ever-changing road names sometimes confounded newcomers, echoing a past when gates separated stretches like Norfolk and Cambridge Avenues. The Braamfontein Spruit’s serene waters, a sprawling 50-acre lake, attracted picnickers and anglers, a scene of tranquil beauty.
Where did the street names come from?
Drawing from his Scottish heritage, Rattray christened Craighall’s streets after notable Scottish families, hence Talbrager, Douglas and so on. Craighall Park’s street names predominantly honored British Dukes, as in Bedford, Buckingham, Somerset, Clarence and Lancaster Avenues. Chandler Drive held a brewery that initially utilized the hotel for beer distribution, but its demand waned as Castle Breweries took over. Burnside Avenue didn’t derive from a Scottish town, contrary to popular belief, but from the small ‘burn’ stream flowing alongside, feeding into the Braamfontein Spruit. Mr. Sam Kruger, who transitioned from owning a tannery and boot factory to managing the Craighall Park Hotel, eventually gave his name to Kruger Drive.
The period from 1902 to the 1920s saw Rattray dividing his property. He put 229 acre-plots up for leasehold sale, establishing the residential township of Craighall and creating expansive lakes, inviting fishing, boating, and bathing. In 1911, 300 freehold plots in Craighall Park were available for sale at the affordable price of £30, covering transfer fees and exempting buyers from municipal rates and taxes. Remarkably, the current Craighall Primary School was founded in 1918. While parts of the property became cultivated fields and grazing pastures for dairy cows, other sections evolved into Delta Park.
In 1928, Johannesburg transitioned into a city, and by 1931, its population neared 600,000, leading to rapid township development. Craighall and Craighall Park began to flourish. Jan Smuts Avenue, initially known as Old Pretoria Road, gained significance during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 as a vital route between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The road’s curves followed the natural gradients, notably Buckingham Avenue, making it a unique feature of the area’s roadscape.
Old Pretoria Road (now Jan Smuts Ave), Craighall Park circa 1958 (Sheila Timmermans)
One of the old brick and plaster houses, 51 Old Pretoria Road (now Jan Smuts Ave), next to Carwood Dairies (Sheila Timmermans)
PAST LOCAL BUSINESSES AND AMENITIES
Craighall’s famous Braamfontein Lake enticed town dwellers for leisurely days, often accompanied by visits to the Craighall Hotel, a charming Victorian-style wooden and iron structure. Nearby, the original Craighall Hotel, situated near Westminster Drive and Cambridge Avenue, sported a thorn hedge-protected orchard as its backdrop.
The corner of Old Pretoria Road and Abercorn Avenue showcased Innis Hall, a Dutch gabled building financed by Mr. Innis, a miner. This versatile hall hosted dances, wedding receptions, and parties, offering unforgettable experiences before its transformation into an antique shop and eventual disappearance.
A piece of history, the old British Blockhouse, once a haven for young adventurers, bore witness to its British stronghold past through carved names in its rafters. Nearby graves, marked with headstones from repurposed petrol tins, hinted at its storied past, although most remnants vanished with Mr. Sam Kruger’s land development endeavours.
Giles restaurant, now a corner adorned with shops on Grafton Avenue, was once a quaint cafe, and a horse meat butcher and shop operated next door. Records suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Bocus managed it, catering to residents purchasing meat for their pets and even supplying carcasses for the Johannesburg zoo. Meanwhile, an abandoned warehouse stood at the corner of Lancaster and Clarence Avenues, a mystery about its former use.
On a hill, now hosting backpackers, a lookout point during the Anglo-Boer war evolved into a residence known as “the castle,” housing Baron and Baroness von Oertzen, a captivating German couple. Craighall boasted avenues of towering pine trees, some remaining after clearing, while the original gums stood as silent witnesses to time’s passage.
Two well-established dairies graced Craighall. One, situated near Waterfall Avenue and the Old Pretoria Road (now Jan Smuts Avenue), neighboured brick and plaster houses. The other, close to the Spruit, allowed cows to roam the grassy riverbanks, even yielding abundant mushrooms once the lake silted.
Craighall and Craighall Park once boasted their own bus service, operated by four horses and overseen by Klaas, stretching to Parktown North. The service later improved, with buses stopping to collect passengers who would lend a hand on steep hills or muddy roads. Nevertheless, the route only extended as far as the Zoo, where commuters awaited connections to complete their journey.
Craighall’s inaugural Post Office emerged at the intersection of Buckingham Avenue and the Old Pretoria Road. Nestled within a general store, its Wild West appearance allowed riders to step from horseback directly onto the veranda. Miss Julia Liackman, the Postmistress, garnered £3 to £5 per month for her devoted work.
And so, through the pages of Sheila Timmermans’ account, the layered history of Craighall Park unveils itself, recounting a time when dusty roads, dairies, and cherished landmarks painted the vivid tapestry of this vibrant community.