The 1950s and 1960s marked years of transition from businesses owned by enterprising individuals to branches of national or regional businesses. Williams Bros. outfitters became Woolfsons; the Dundee Building Society became part of the Natal Building Society; Hasties men’s outfitters became Hepworths, and Kilty & Co became Beech-Nut Lifesavers. But a number of independent locally-owned businesses continued to flourish, and some of them are referenced below. Sadly, none of the institutions mentioned below still exists, and most are probably not even known to the majority of the town’s current inhabitants.

Boswells Merchants (Pty) Ltd.

“Boswell’s Merchants” was a grocery and clothing store that had its premises in the still-existing two storeyed building at the intersection of Gladstone and Beaconsfield Streets and Boundary Road. Those premises were previously occupied by Atwell’s Theatre, and before that were the Masonic Hall.

The names “Boswell’s” presumably originated from the fact that the business was founded by Robert (“Robbie”) Boswell Robertson – at one time Member of Parliament for Dundee and a Senator in the 1950s. In the 1950s Senator Robertson must have been in his 70s, which suggests that Boswells was probably founded in the 1920s. Advertisements for Boswells in the early 1950’s identify the directors as R. B. Robertson (who lived on the corner of Victoria and Tatham Streets) and H. J. (“Harry” or “Scotty”) Auld (Scoutmaster and staunch member of the Presbyterian Church), who lived at the corner of Grey and Oldacre Streets). Another senior executive in the company was Dave Bogle. By the 1960s Senator Robertson had passed away and the directors of the company were Messrs. Auld and Bogle.

The “hall” portion of the old theatre building was used for clothing and household supplies. (Note that in the photo of the interior of the premises published in the Photo Gallery the outline of the stage surround can be seen in the background.) About midway down that portion of the premises, off to the right, was an entrance to what was presumably the supper room of the theatre in the old days when the building was used for entertainment. That area was used by Boswells for the grocery section of its business. Unlike today’s supermarkets, the layout of the grocery section consisted of a long counter down the far end of the grocery area – i.e. parallel to Beaconsfield Street – behind which the serving staff were stationed. No browsing the shelves and selecting purchases was permitted – one asked the serving staff to take items off the shelves behind the counter, and these were bagged and paid for right there! The doyen of the serving staff members in the 1950s was Mrs. Lombard – mother of Elna – who worked in the grocery department for many years.

One of the quaint (but consumer friendly) characteristics of Boswells (and Wellworths, its Victoria Street competitor) was that cycle-riding delivery men would deliver your order to your doorstep. Each customer had a personal order book – about five inches by three inches in size, and stapled together like smaller versions of our school exercise books – in which orders would be written. The delivery man would show up in the morning at a customer’s home, present the book so that orders could be written in it, and then return to the store for the order to be filled. Later in the day the order would be delivered to the customer’s home – either by a regular two-wheeled bicycle with a carrying basket in front of the handlebars, or by the larger type of commercial bicycle with a two-wheeled articulated bin on the front. No payment was made on delivery of the supplies – they would be placed on the purchaser’s account, to be billed and paid monthly.

Boswells remained in business until sometime in 1970.

C&S Minerals

C&S Minerals was a soft drink bottling business owned by “Oom Ben” Erasmus, who also owned Ben Zan Florist at 48 Victoria Street. C&S Minerals manufactured a selection of carbonated soft drinks – initially its own C&S lemonade and ginger ale and ginger beer products, and later the Hubbly Bubbly and Royal Crown Cola brands. I seem to recall that it also bottled Sparletta products. Locals irreverently referred to the business as “Cough and Spit Minerals.”

Until the 1950s C&S Minerals had its premises in Gladstone Street, between Boswells and Johnston & Keith. Those premises were vacated in the 1950s, and rebuilt to house part of Johnston & Keith’s operations and the Provincial Library Services. At that time C&S Minerals moved its bottling plant to the double storeyed building which still stands at the corner of Tatham Street and Karel Landman Street.

C&S Minerals ceased operations sometime during the 1950s or early 1960s.

Johnston & Keith

Johnston & Keith, builders merchants and building contractors, was founded around 1896 by two Scottish immigrants who gave their names to the enterprise – D. G. Johnston and A.S.W. Keith. By the 1950s neither of the founders was still involved in the business (although Mrs. Johnston was still alive, and still a shareholder, as my Dad and I used to visit her on Christmas day).

In the early 50s the Managing Director was one time Dundee mayor Jimmy Keith, and the General Manager was Jimmy Douglas (both of whom can be seen in the photo in the photo gallery, standing on the right – as you look at the photo – of the vehicle entrance. Jimmy Keith was the nephew of the founder, and the father of Hedley Keith, who played cricket for South Africa in the 50’s, on teams that included such greats as Hugh Tayfield, Jackie McGlew, and Roy MacLean. In addition to Messrs. Keith and Douglas, Hector “Pops” Baxter was also a director. He had been with the firm for many years, and may well have worked for the founders.

In the early 1950s George Clark (my father) joined the firm to assist Jimmy Douglas in running the contracting side of the business. Also joining in the 1950s were Hylton Smith (in the accounting department) and Bert Clarke (also on the contracting side). After Jimmy Keith’s retirement and Jimmy Douglas’s tragic death in a motor accident in the early 1960s, the business was managed by directors Messrs. Clark, Clarke, and Smith. Other non-executive directors of the firm included Denis Smith and Louis Steenkamp Snr.
In the 50s and 60s the business premises consisted of Enterprise Buildings on Gladstone Street, which I believe bears the construction date of 1906 (although Hylton Smith says that he understands that Johnston & Keith only bought that building in the 1930s). Behind that building was the “yard” where trucks were loaded and parked. At the far end of the yard was the “Carpenter’s Shop,” a joinery shop that extended through to King Edward Street). This large facility was equipped with a variety of woodworking and board-cutting equipment. Between the Carpenter’s Shop and the premises of Harvey & Retallack next door was the Plumber’s Shop, where galvanized pipes were cut, threaded, bent, etc., and other activities such as cutting and bending flat iron, making flashing, etc. were performed. That facility later moved to one side of the Beaconsfield Street entrance to the firm’s premises. On the other side of that entrance was “Paint Shop,” where decorating skills – including French polishing and finishing of cabinetry manufactured by the joiners – were performed. All of these buildings still existed – virtually unchanged, at the time of this writing (2010). In the 1960s the construction operations of the business was hived off into J&K Construction, managed by George Clark and Bert Clarke, and that group was housed in the new building constructed on Gladstone Street, on the Beaconsfield Street side of the entrance to the yard.

The Carpenter’s Shop was initially under the foremanship of Mr. Holman, and he was succeeded by Jock De Waal. Working with Jock were his brother Lucas (later promoted to assist George Clark in J&K Construction, and who eventually became General Manager of the builder’s merchants side), Piet Viljoen, Joe Byrnes, and two or three others. The Paint Shop was managed by Hector “Pops” Baxter, and among others Johnny Fulton and Kurt Rossman worked with him. The plumbers included Gordon Collins and Philip Pugin (who later left to establish their own business), and Andy Kirkward (who left for Rhodesia in the mid 50s).

The main office in Enterprise Buildings housed the firm administration and the retail hardware store. The retail sales staff included Dudley Parsons, Louis Steenkamp Jr., Zacariah Moloi, and – after he hung up his paintbrush – Kurt Rossman. The administrative staff was headed by Company Secretary Joyce Smith (wife of Hylton), and included Gerda Wierman (wife of Heinz). Heinz Wierman started off as a tradesman and eventually headed up the Flooring and Decorating division when J&K Constructions was split into three divisions – the third division being Dundee Home Builders. One of the characters of the firm in the 50s was office messenger and tea maker Gideon, a Zulu man in his late 80’s who refused to stop work, and claimed his right to continued employment on the grounds that he was hired by founder Johnston himself! His only duties in his latter years were to make and deliver tea, which he did very, very slowly!

On the J&K Construction side, Bert Clarke and George Clark were assisted by Vernon Whysall (husband of Esme’, and father of Robert, Paul and Neil), Lucas De Waal (in transition between being a joiner and the General Manager of the builder’s merchants division), Dave Ware (later to become mayor of the town), Marge McKeown, and General Foreman Dan Goosen. The foremen and artisan staff whose names I can remember – in addition to those already mentioned – are “Chummy” Milne, Dick Douglas, Bob Holiday, and Messrs. Papenfus (father of Henry), the Oosthuizen brothers, and Mr. Ninow.

In the 1971 the entire Johnston & Keith group was moved to new premises in the industrial area on the Helpmekaar road. The following year the business was purchased by Roy Meaker’s group of companies. The company was later purchased by the W.F. Johnstone group, who after a few years closed the business.

Johnston & Keith left an indelible mark on the town. Buildings that were constructed by the company in the 1950s and 1960s include the Royal Hotel, the post office on Beaconsfield Street, the Memorial Hall, what was originally know as NNA Court (for Northern Natal Auctioneers) on the corner of Victoria and King Edward streets, the high school girl’s hostel in Tatham Street, the main building of the high school itself, the old civic offices on the corner of Victoria and King Edward Streets, and the old junior school (behind the current civic centre), as well as many residential buildings. The company was engaged in building throughout Northern Natal, including, for example, the Kingsley police station, Kopman’s store in Vryheid, and a number of buildings for the sugar company in Pongola. Perhaps the most interesting building constructed by the company is the tiny church at Van Reenen on Van Reenen’s Pass in the Drakensberg.

At its peak “J&K” must have had at least a hundred employees, and it was a significant economic presence in the town.

Kilty & Co. Ltd.

Kilty & Co. Ltd. Kilty & Co. Ltd. – generally known as “Kiltys” – was for many years a jewel in Dundee’s business crown. The company had its first business premises in Johannesburg and also a manufacturing facility on a farm in the Wasbank area, where it made a very popular peanut brittle.

The company moved to Dundee in the 1950s. Kiltys built modern premises on the left side of the road to Glencoe, just after the fork in Karel Landman Street, at the top of Ryley’s Hill, where the road to Glencoe branches off the road to Newcastle.

George Funston and Alec McDavid were the founders of the company, and George Funston was its Chairman and Managing Director. Other executives of Kiltys were accountant John Davies (who left in about 1958), sales manager, Rory Wolmarans, and Eileen Funston, who was responsible for buying, packing and female staff matters. Gordon Campbell joined the company in 1957 and after a very brief career as a salesman, moved into the position of raw materials storeman. Herman Kritzinger was Dispatch Manager, with Joe Connellan, Joe Coetzee, Peter Khoury, Ernie Shilton and Ann Wood in charge of the various production departments. Other employees at that time were Graham Johns, Barry Lane, Hester Lourens, Maude Killian and the wonderful Lena Sithole (mother of Gertrude, Beatrice and Walter), a long time family friend, who used to spoil us as kids by dropping off sweets when she came past our Colley Street home on the way back from work en route to her home at Farm Doctor.

By the time Kiltys was established in Dundee it had supplemented its range to include a variety of really great toffees! These included a cream-coloured mint toffee with parallel green lines across the sweet indicating that it was the mint, a blue-wrappered vanilla toffee, and two or three other varieties. The logo of the company was a kilted bagpiper, and the gift packs of sweets were always in containers bearing the Royal Stewart tartan. The round tins in which Kilty’s sweets were sold were widely used as cake tins in the town and beyond! A photograph of one of those tins appears in the photo gallery of this website – by courtesy of Joe and Marilyn Coetzee.

School tours to Kiltys were always popular with the pupils, as the visitors were permitted to sample the product line! For me the highlight of any tour was being allowed to taste Kiltys own condensed milk that it manufactured for use in its toffees. I recall that this condensed milk was stored in a large vat rather like the tanks used for brewing beer.

During the 1950’s, Beech-Nut chewing gum was added to the product range. Later, following the merger of two companies in the USA, a new wing was added to the Dundee factory to accommodate Life Savers – the “the candy with the hole.” Lovat Coghlan joined the company during this period as General Manager.

Kilty & Co. Ltd., ceased to exist when Beech-Nut Life Savers bought out the local shareholders and then later, following several other overseas take-overs, the Dundee and Wasbank operations were closed and sweetmaking in Dundee was no more. Sadly, the Kilty name is now merely a memory for those of us who remember the ‘good old days’ of Dundee.

[My grateful thanks to Gordon Campbell for his input into the above article.]

Joe Coetzee, whose father worked for Kiltys, contributed the following recollections about the company:

As far as I know, Kilty’s was an established company situated in Cleveland Johannesburg. Both my father Joe Coetzee and “Mac” Mc David worked there. I do not know what his position was. He and my father knew each other previously from some other firm. The photo of the Kilty’s toffee tin I submitted is of that period.

Toffees were already one of their established products. I know that George Funston who became the MD, had a farm (groundnuts, I think) in Wasbank and that a small factory made peanut brittle in Wasbank itself.

In 1951 Kilty’s moved to Dundee to a newly built factory on Ryley’s Hill, some two hundred miles from Johannesburg. Our family moved to Dundee in June 1951. How “Mac” Mc David and George Funston came together and what arrangement they had, I do not know. What does a nine year old know or care about business arrangements? I did, in later years, ask my father why Kilty’s had moved to Dundee and I seem to remember him telling me that there had been a rail transport subsidy or something similar available to promote de-centralization.

At that time, Kilty’s continued with the manufacture of toffees as well as hard boiled sweets, soft centres, spearmints and cachous (little pink breath sweeteners) In addition, to those penny suckers were made. A few years later 1953/1954, Kilty’s began manufacturing “Beechies” chewing gum under licence from Beechnut USA. (i.e to my understanding) and a few years later Beechnut’s “Life Savers” (The hard round sweets with a hole at the centre.) Although some lines were dropped, Kilty’s continued making their more popular sweets.

Condensed milk for use in the manufacture of toffees was also later produced at the factory. Milk in milk cans was delivered daily to the factory by various local farmers. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge but Kilty’s sweets were exported to other countries. I know of destinations such as Freetown, Sierra Leone as well as Italy. The sweets for Italy were labelled in Italian and that’s where I first learned the meaning of “miele” meaning honey. Furthermore, Kilty’s manufactured a well known cough/throat lozenge. When the lozenges were to be manufactured, a pharmacist from the producers in Johannesburg would travel to Dundee to supervise production. He alone would add the necessary medicinal components to the boilings. After the lozenges had been manufactured all scrap and leftover material was collected and destroyed.

As far as I can remember my father, Joe Coetzee, produced the first local “Beechies” chewing gum, the first condensed milk and the first “Life Savers” I remember him showing me a long scope-like instrument through which one peered and adjusted two half moons to obtain the PH reading which in turn was used to obtain the correct acidic balance for the Life Savers. On another occasion he made some Edinburgh type rock candy with his initials, JC, visible when looking at the profile. (I think it was to prove that it could be done) Contrary to our classmates perceptions, my sister and I were seldom given any sweets to eat. The exception was when a new line had been manufactured then Irene and I were given a two or three sweets each of the new line to taste and give our opinion.

In the early years at Dundee, Dave Jones (Peter Jones’ father) and my father, Joe Coetzee, were the only two sweet makers. Someone called “Oupa” Henning was responsible for electrical maintenance. I do not know if Dave Jones was with Kilty’s in Cleveland or not. He may have been. Dave Jones did not stay more than a few years in Dundee. George Funston’s sister, Eileen, supervised the “girls” (i.e the women) who operated the sweet wrapping machines. Other names that I remember over the years are: Shilton, Khourie, Barry Nel and Malcolm John, all sweet makers. There was even a young Czechoslovakian who had escaped from his country (then part of the USSR) while on holiday in Italy. He was a regular visitor to my parents’ home and often stayed for meals. “Kritz” Kritzinger (Dispatch Dept.)

Val Williams, Guelpa and someone else whose name I just cannot remember (he lived on a farm at Talana Hill) were part of the machine maintenance crew. Broken machines don’t make sweets. In the latter sixties after I had left Dundee, Joe O’Grady, an Irish friend of mine, joined the firm as well. I do not know what position he held. Other than Funston and Mac David, I remember some of the executive staff, namely: John Davies, Joe Connellan, Coughlan and Gordon Campbell. There was also a young accountant whose name I don’t remember, but he married Denton Murray’s (a class mate) sister Maureen. I do, however, remember that he drove a red MGA. Malcolm John at one stage owned a Morgan Plus Four. (I still think to this day, that they are one of the best looking sports cars ever built.) 

I also remember that John Davies had a black Humber. My sister, Irene, and his two daughters, Jill and Sally, were once passengers in the car when returning from a swimming gala. In the wet weather, the car left the road somewhere near or in Van Reenen’s Pass. John Davies’ skilful driving prevented the car from rolling as he steered the vehicle part of the way down into the valley where the vehicle came to rest against a rock. Everyone, although somewhat shaken up, came out unscathed. Irene and Sally, who both live in Durban, are still in regular contact with each other.

At the beginning of 1964 I moved away from Dundee and consequently have very little further knowledge of happenings there. In addition, my father became ill in 1970 and was no longer able to continue working. He died in August 1972, which is the last time I visited Dundee.

I have heard that Kilty’s later moved back to Johannesburg. This may have been when Beech Nut Life Savers became the major shareholder. In the seventies I remember buying a packet of spearmint. Although the word “Kilty's” appeared on the wrapping, the manufacturer was noted as Beech Nut Live Savers Inc. (or similar) and their address was some industrial area near Johannesburg. Gordon Campbell, who I think was a nephew of George Funston, should be able to fill in the later history.

Looking back, Kilty’s together with the “Talana” Glass Works, must have contributed enormously to the economy of Dundee. The glass works, became part of Consolidated Glass Works, a company which had factories in Wadeville, Bellville, and later Gwelo in the then Rhodesia. The Dundee glass factory, to my knowledge, at that time, manufactured the bulk of the South Africa’s beer bottles.

Joseph Coetzee; Cape Town January 2011  

Still to come

Consolidated Glass Works

Dundee Brick & Tile

Dundee Chemical Co.

Harvey & Retallack