Early sweeping views

I’ve read that Johannesburg has been rebuilt three times.

Initially it was a haphazard town akin to the wild west with lots of tents, tin structures and bars (and some clay huts which were eventually prohibited after the 1891 building regulations). With early deeper mining operations having replaced the basic surface mining, the area now known as downtown Johannesburg started building up. Early street plans were drawn up in the area known as Randjeslaagte and plots sold.

*Click on the photos for a larger view*

Hand drawn map of part of the Rand 1887 showing Market & Commissioner Streets and Ferrerias Camp

Hand drawn map of part of the Rand 1887 showing Market & Commissioner Streets and Ferrerias Camp

As there was still digging in the middle of the triangular area (roughly a few blocks below Bree street up to Joubert park), plots were laid out at the bottom first and later at the top due to influx of people and demand. As this was not planned, they realised that the streets did not match up perfectly. That is why there is a kink in all north-south streets where they cross Bree Street.

Map of Johannesburg from 1890 with Bree Street kink highlighted

Map of Johannesburg from 1890 with Bree Street kink highlighted

The above map is a fascinating look back into the start of Johannesburg just four years in and also the early establishment of suburbs like Hillbrow, Yeoville, Bertrams, Braamfontein, Jeppe and Doornfontein.

Back then, everyone lived on top of each other, but socially, areas started to develop. Wealthier folk and mine managers lived in simple houses around Elloff & Noord Streets and surrounds but were not happy with the small stands. Some miners lived in camps or shacks and tents close to the mines and rivers. There was no electricity, proper water or sanitation. It was noisy, dusty and everything was exposed to the elements.

The government of the time was reluctant to provide services or develop local government as the feeling was that it would all disappear as quickly as it blossomed when the gold dried up (like in California and Australia years before) Of course it didn’t.

Foreigners and fortune seekers came from all over the world. Big mining companies with capital to invest in the expensive machinery to mine and process gold established themselves in Johannesburg. Suddenly what was there became inadequate and the first wave of rebuilding started. The connecting of Johannesburg via railway to Durban and Cape Town helped get much needed building material to the town.

It is said that the tents and tin shacks lasted merely two years. After the first ten years, some early buildings were already being demolished to make way for bigger and better structures. The Rissik Street Post Office and Rand Club are documented examples of this, both having being rebuilt and extended several times. Many other instances are lost forever.

Here are a couple of sweeping views of early Johannesburg. Doing a comparison today is difficult only because of all the tall buildings blocking any view.

Looking North down Rissik street. On the hill ahead would be Braamfontein on the left, old Johannesburg Hospital in the middle and Hillbrow on the right

Looking North down Rissik street. On the hill ahead would be Braamfontein on the left, old Johannesburg Hospital in the middle and Hillbrow on the right

The block showing Wanderers was the position of the original stadium until it moved to Illovo in the 1940s. Johannesburg Station is now in it’s place.

View of Johannesburg looking south from Hospital Hill down Rissik str 1889

View of Johannesburg looking south from Hospital Hill down Rissik street 1889

The spire in the distance belongs to the tallest buidling at the time – the newly erected Palace Building circa 1889.

Ealier view of Johannesburg looking south from Hospital Hill 1888

Ealier view of Johannesburg also looking south from Hospital Hill 1888

The building density is marked when comapring the above two pictures considering they were only taken a year apart.

Johannesburg corner of Jeppe & Eloff street 1887

Houses near the corner of Eloff & Jeppe street 1887

It’s hard to imagine houses once stood in what we know as the centre of town today.

Market street in 1887

Market street in 1887

Market street in 1888

Market street in 1888

These two pictures show Market street a mere year apart.

The pictures below show panoramic views of old Johannesburg circa 1889

Picture 1

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 4

Picture 5

Picture 5

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This entry was published on February 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm. It’s filed under Johannesburg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Early sweeping views

  1. Reblogged this on juta}b} and commented:
    Images of old Johannesburg gives one a feeling what it was like living in that time. Interesting readings about Johannesburg.

  2. Gwyn Thomas on said:

    There are some sites in Joburg central where there has been as many as ten buildings in succession. My grandfather came to Jhb in 1903 and he remembered up until his death in 1953 many buildings which had been replaced by newer ones more than once and then my mother said much about the same thing. Now that Ferreira’s camp is again exposed I wonder what is going to be built there when the taxis have been removed.

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