Victoria Street Merchants of the 50s and 60s

The merchants of Dundee’s main street – Victoria Street – in the 1950’s and 1960’s were primarily a collection of individual entrepreneurs, and there were very few shops representing regional or national entities. Taking a walk down Victoria Street of the 50’s and 60’s, starting at the Victoria Street Bridge over the railway line, and going first down the right hand side of the road, the first building (on the corner of Ann Street) was the medical centre where Doctors Mervyn Lloyd, Cliff Lauf, Len Batchelor, and Heinz Stormanns had their rooms. Next was the elegant old stone block constructed Post Office, which during the 50’s was replaced by the new building on Beaconsfield Street. The old building became the town library (downstairs) and the Technical College (upstairs), where apprentices used to take classes (my Dad taught building construction there in the early 50s).

Next was A. F. “Bert” Walters’ Pegasus (and later Mobil) petrol station, service station and store, and bicycle repair shop. He sold bike parts and bicycles, and toys – his shop was a regular stop to check up on what the latest Dinky Toys and Corgi toys were. His son Jonathan was an active local Boy Scout. After Walters came the Royal Hotel, which was rebuilt in the 50’s into its present form. Its private bar was a home from home to a few well known regulars – among them Doug Wright, “Chummy” Milne, and Dick Douglas. That bar was the site of one of the town’s tragedy’s and discussion topics of the decade, when “Dick” Douglas died as a result of being punched and falling off his bar stool in the course of an argument.

Proceeding along Victoria Street across Boundary Road, on the opposite corner of Boundary Road from the Royal was the rather elegant looking Masonic Hotel, with its wrought iron balcony railings (later replaced by an ugly Masonite “facelift” obviously intended to make the building more modern looking). The proprietors in the early 50’s were Frank and Marcia Pretorius. The Masonic Hotel was later reconstructed in the 60’s as the Mpati Hotel. After that was “Gemco” – the hardware and sporting goods store owned by George E. M. Cook, mayor of the town in 1953. He was later assisted in the business by his son, Errol. Next was Swanepoels, a general dealer’s store owned by a man of that name. This business was purchased by John and Peggy Sparks in the late 50’s, after they gave up farming in the Wasbank Valley. After that came the Dundee Bottle Store owned by Frank Ivins – whose son Everard (“Red”) was my contemporary, and a boarder at Glenwood High School in Durban. Then came the Barclays Bank, on the corner of Gladstone Street.

Crossing Gladstone Street, the business on the opposite corner was A. L. Williams men’s outfitters. These premises were taken over by Woolfson’s in the early 50’s, which thereby became one of the first regional chains to become established in Dundee. Woolfsons was managed by Ernie Richards, who with his wife Ollie and sons John, Peter, and Michael lived next door to Archie and Nelsie Trimmer at the airfield end of McKenzie Street (and all of whom later went to the Durban High School with me). After Woolfsons, the next store was H. Albert & Co., Albert Norenius’ printing and stationery business (and publisher of Dundee’s weekly newspaper, the Northern Natal Courier). This business later became R. A. Burns & Co. printers and stationers. After that came the Central Tea Room, operated by Greta Brookes, and later by the Goodes family. Mr. Goodes was a huge man with a brooding presence, and he was assisted in the business by his wife and later by his three (?) sons – the one I knew best being Joe. Next was Fred Ritson’s and Brian “Bunny” Elliott’s pharmacy and optician – C.H. Talbot and Co. After Talbots came Friedman’s Jewelers, which by the mid 50s had become Charles Shaw’s jewelry and sporting goods store (Charles Shaw also served as the mayor of the town, in 1967).

Next to Shaws was Cuthberts, a shoe store – another of the few stores not owned by local businessmen. Though I am sure that I am missing out at least one other store in this part of the street, the next that comes to mind is the Victoria Tea Room, operated in the early 50’s by Mr. W. T. Ramage, and later by Mr. and Mrs. Wilf Curtis. This was the favourite venue of my mother and her friends for Saturday morning tea – a reservation was generally required! Next to that was Pearsons, selling hardware and home appliances, glassware, cutlery etc. The store was operated by Charlie Pearson and his wife, and his sister Nora, assisted by Doreen Douglas as the bookkeeper. Next to that was Wellworths, a grocery store and general dealer owned by Billy Khan and his partner Arthur Carter, and then by “Buff” Chanoch (yet another mayor of the town, in 1966).

Next to Wellworths, and opposite the junction of Victoria Street with King Edward Street, was the office of Smith, Lyon & Thorrold, Hamish Smith’s insurance agency and financial/real estate services firm (No. 41b). (Hamish Smith was another Dundee mayor, in 1948 to 1949, and a grandson of one of the town’s founders, Peter Smith). Next door was what in later years became the newly constructed (in the 70’s) offices of the NLK (Natalse Landbou Kooperatief), but I cannot now clearly recall what businesses were in that section of the street prior to the reconstruction. One may have been Rodene Dry Cleaners, owned by Maurice Coffey (No. 37a), and another Arts & Crafts owned by F. C. Greyvenstein (No. 37b), followed by Baker Bros. Plumbers owned by R. W. H. Baker (No. 39a). Model Butchery was probably in that area too, and G. H. David “cartage contractor and delivery agent” had premises at 37 Victoria Street. After that, on the corner of Willson Street, was GL Motors, operated by Theo Gehren and his son Denis, which sold Morris, Austin, Wolseley and Riley vehicles. (The “GL” stands for Gehren and Law, but I do not believe that mechanic Jimmy Law had any ownership interest in the business by the time I became aware of such things: Jimmy was the father of Peter “Plaw” Law, a contemporary and fellow Boy Scout.) Theo Gehren was mayor of Dundee from 1953 to 1957.

On the opposite side of the street – moving back from Willson Street towards the Victoria Street Bridge was a produce auction hall - the "Dundee Market" - owned by Charlie MacKay. I have a vague recollection of visiting this business on quite a regular basis in the early 50s, and through the mists of time I also seem to recall that produce was auctioned off, but it may also have been sold in regular retail fashion too. Next to that was the Dundee Municipal offices and town hall, which extended to King Edward Street (the town hall later became the town library). On the opposite corner of King Edward and Victoria Streets was the Northern Natal Auctioneers, which later became part of Stockowners. The original building was demolished in the 60’s and replaced by the first three storey building in downtown Dundee (built by Johnston & Keith, the building firm with which my father was affiliated). Down the lane next to this building, behind the stores on Victoria Street, was the building used by TocH as its meeting room. Next on Victoria Street (No. 44) was the office of Mr. Harold Goudge, who I seem to recall offered insurance services and was an estate agent, and also operated the Dundee Building Society. Three or four stores followed – the first of which was Claude Woodroffe’s photographic studio. Another was Ben-Zan Florist owned by “Oom Ben” Erasmus, then Dundee Bazaar, a newsagent and general dealer owned by Rory Wolmarans. After that was Norman Henderson’s barber shop (which previously had been located between the Dundee Cinema and Woolfsons, in Gladstone Street). Next came what I believe was initially called Hasties men’s outfitters, but which for most of the 50’s and 60’s was Hepworth’s men’s outfitters – another regional chain. This business was managed by Bob Hulley.

Next to Hepworths, on the corner of Gladstone Street, was the Corner Service Station, the local Caltex petrol station and service station. The original, single storey building was replaced by the current building that was constructed in the 50’s – it was a two storey building and called “Denham” Building – named for owners son and father Denis and Hamish Smith. An Indian gentleman –Sewpaul – was for many years the public face of the business, and undoubtedly its best known employee. Opposite the Corner Service Station was the Standard Bank – with its distinctive facade which included Dundee’s only public clock! Even though it was part of the Standard Bank building, this clock was owned by the municipality, which contracted with Mr. Durham to wind it for a fee of six guineas a year!

Next to the Standard Bank was H. Whitfield, later named the Dundee Stationers, operated by Marge Whitfield. This store was also a general dealer, with a focus on gifts and stationery. For some reason I still remember to this day the number plate of her car – NDE 117! Her son “Dossa” was an active local Boy Scout. After Dundee Stationers came the Dundee Pharmacy, operated in the early 50s by Arthur Wallace and then by Joe (or “Joe-fat”, for some reason – he was very skinny!) Milne. I seem to recall that Mick de Waal may also have been a principal of that business.) I also seems to recall that one of the stalwarts of that business was an Indian gentleman, Siddiah – who, although not a pharmacist, knew as much about the business as any pharmacist. Next door to the pharmacy is an institution that was a key element in the social lives of most of the children of the 50’s and 60’s generation – the Cosy Tea Room. It was there that we used to gather and dink Fanta grape and “brown cows” (Coca-cola with a scoop of ice cream floating in the coke) and listen to music on the very cool Wurlitzer juke box. Trevor Krause was the owner of this business, and as his children (two sons, and a daughter nicknamed “Fifi”) grew up they helped with the business. Next to the “Cosy,” on the corner of Boundary Road, was Joyce’s ladies outfitters. In the 60’s it became a Lewis Furnishers store.

Across Boundary Road was the Junior School, occupying almost the entire block bounded by Victoria Street, Ann Street, Beaconsfield Street, and Boundary Road. The school’s boarding establishment faced Victoria Street, directly opposite the Royal Hotel – where the Civic Centre now stands. The school itself was located towards the Beaconsfield Street side of the lot. On the Victoria and Ann Street corner of the lot is the cenotaph, commemorating the sacrifice of Dundee and Districts’ sons in World War 1. And then just across Ann Street was Shardelow’s garage, which sold Pontiac and Standard Vanguard cars, GMC trucks, and John Deere tractors.

The Victoria Street bridge over the railway line was not built until around 1953.