Hospital Hill was a popular name for the eastern part of the March 1888 surveyed part of the township Johannesburg. It included the land on the hill where the first general hospital was built (the land granted by the government), Joubert Park and northerly surrounds, Kruger Park (which became the Wanderer’s Sport Club) and parts of the old railway station. Today it sits anonymously between Braamfontein and Hillbrow except for the fact that it houses a high percentage of medical and government related buildings that form a wide strip from the bottom of Smit Street right up to the old Fort to the north and over the hill down to the edge of Parktown.
Johannesburg’s first and temporary hospital was a three-roomed brick and thatch building (possibly) in Commissioner Street that also doubled as the goal. It opened in early November 1886. The first patient was miner Thomas Gray who most likely had typhoid. He died on the 4th November. The second death was Charles Johnson who fell down No.2 reef in Doornfontein in December 1886. Interestingly, it was only in January 1887 that 12 stands were set aside in the area bounded by Harrison, Diagonal, Bree and De Villiers street for a small cemetery. It is not known where these men were buried. Read more on the history of cemeteries from an earlier post HERE.
In April 1887 a two room galvanised structure was purchased to serve as a dedicated hospital situated next to the goal which appears to have been demolished in January 1888 according to a sketch by Ida Stone dated 11 January.
It was not until October 1888 that the government agreed to funds and land for the erection of Johannesburg’s first proper hospital. The foundation stone was laid on the 29 March 1889 by General N.J. Smit (Vice-President of the Transvaal Republic) and it was finally opened on 5 November 1890 by J. M. A. Wolmarans.
The first chairman of the hospital board was John Carr. Both men have streets named after them. Carr was a Roman Catholic and persuaded the Holy Family sisters to staff the hospital which they did until 1915 under Reverend Mother Adele. The sisters continued to serve the public on a smaller scale at the Kensington Sanatorium.
The hospital was ‘lofty with handsome fireplaces’ and had 130 beds, an operating room and surgical equipment. In 1893 the eastern wing was added and in 1897 the Barney Barnato block was completed.
In 1904, the foundation stone was laid by Princess Christian for the Stroyan Ward as well as plans prepared for the outpatients and pathological departments, the superintendent’s house, laundry and the power house.
The superintendent’s house is in danger of falling down. It’s been in a state of disrepair for a number of years. There have been reports of a possible renovation as at 2015. It’s the last of at least three old houses on Hospital Hill but certainly one of the most interesting from a design and architectural standpoint.
A chapel was also erected, possibly between 1895 and 1905. Actual date to be confirmed.
East and West pavilions with operating theatre and combined bed accommodation for 109 beds opened in 1913. In 1915, medical staff quarters, dispensary and central kitchen with provision for a kosher kitchen opened. A three-story building, named after Julius Jeppe, to accommodate a further 111 patients was completed in 1919.
In 1921, a non-European hospital (a branch of Johannesburg Hospital opened in 1924 and still standing) was erected across the road on the site of three old houses that were used for nurses training. It provided for 506 patients who paid for care based on income. The three-story building on the right in both pictures below was the old police barracks and was used for overflow patients.
In 1924 large extensions to the nurse home were completed as well as ten clinical side rooms for student training.
The old hospital building from 1890 was demolished in 1937 to make way for the current Ronald Mackenzie Block which was completed in 1939 and designed by Gordon Leith. Today, the old hospital complex still survives but was superseded in the 1970s by the Johannesburg General Hospital (now known as the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital) which went up on Parktown ridge. The site on the ridge was once the home of Sir Lionel Phillips known as Hohenheim and was the first house built in Parktown in 1894. Hohenheim was donated and converted onto the Otto Beit Convalescent Home in 1915. Also on the ridge was another home that was converted into the E. P. Baumann Convalescent Home for Babies. This home also made way for the new hospital.
An interesting aside regarding the hospital’s original foundation stone: When the old building was demolished, a cavity was found under the foundation stone. In this cavity was meant to be a bottle containing coins and newspapers from the time. It turns out that the bottle was actually stolen shortly after the stone was laid as per board minutes from 10 July 1889. The coins were worth less and 2 Pounds and despite a 25 Pound reward, the items were never recovered.
Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital was a branch hospital originally administered by the Johannesburg Hospital from 1913 onwards. The first Queen Vic was established and built in 1904 by the Guild of Loyal Woman and designed by Allen Wilson. It was in Doornfontein in Siemert Road next to the Lions Shul and could accommodate 50 patients.
It transferred to the Milner Park (what the area was known as back then) in 1906. It was replaced by the current building built in 1943 (designed by Gordon Leith) which still stands at the bottom of Joubert Street extension and corner Sam Hancock Street at the bottom right of the Fort complex. There is a strong similarity between Leith’s work on the main block at Johannesburg Hospital and the design of the Maternity Hospital.
As of November 2015, there was a tender out for repurposing and renovating the building (which is currently empty). The nurse’s homes appear to have been demolished and are now part of Constitution Hill. According to Artefacts, the nurse home was built in 1932 and the nurses quarters in 1938 and were both designed by Leith.
Across the road from the Queen Vic is the old Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children which was opened on 23 October 1923 by Prince Arthur of Connaught.
From Artefacts.co.za: “It consisted of the memorial hall on the ground floor, six wards totalling 112 beds, two operating theatres, radiology and physiotherapy departments and a nurses’ home. Dr E.P. Baumann, who developed paediatrics in Johannesburg as a study and a service in its own right, led the medical team.
From 1923 until the building of the Johannesburg Hospital in Parktown, TMI was the Children’s Hospital. The verandas had a special function. Children suffering from Perthes hip disorder, a congenital problem that was treated by putting them in plaster so they would grow correctly, were taken out onto the verandas to benefit from the sunshine.
By 1935 the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for children consisted of the Main Building with its memorial hall, a block to the east of it which was the Observation Ward, the Nurses Home which was south of it and a western wing of wards. Only 207 beds initially but it was extended in 1965. The new building was opened for Outpatients, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, a Central Sterilizing Department, a laboratory for SAIMR, and a Child and Family Unit.
In 1978-9 the Children’s Hospital was incorporated as part of the main Johannesburg Hospital and the buildings were left vacant for a while as the new use was developed, that of accommodating special needs clinics and later the NGO’s which provide fundraising and special support services to children in need.”
The Johannesburg Fever Hospital for infectious patients was opened in 1916. Cases were sent by the Public Health Department and admission was compulsory where isolation at home was not possible. It could accommodate 80 patients. Parts of this hospital still stand just behind the Civic Centre on Hoofd Street just across the road from the old Woman’s Prison. It was (probably) designed by PWD under JS Cleland.
South African Institute for Medical Research (S.A.I.M.R), one of the world’s pioneer medical research organisations, was founded in 1912. The Union Government in 1912 contributed the money and the state donated the land adjacent to the general hospital at the eastern end of Jorrisen Street which was previously used as a military parade ground connected the fort. On 23 April 1913, the two foundation stones were laid for the building which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
The director’s house was also designed by Baker and completed around the same time. The building was completed in 1914. Further work was done in the 1930s when the roof was raised.
Some of the institute’s early groundbreaking work was on pneumonia and malaria. Before this, the government laboratory was a wood and iron building on the corner of De Korte and Hospital Street.
Other medical and government buildings:
Work on building a new and much-needed goal (jail) started on the top of Hospital Hill in 1892.
In April 1895 work started to construct the high walls or ramparts around the goal. The Fort was used to command Johannesburg during the Boer war (1899-1902).
In 1908 it was proposed that the fort be demolished to allow easier access to the northern suburbs and a new goal built in Vrededorp. This scheme was declined due to the depression at the time. It was a working prison up to 1987 (except during the Boer war) and throughout its history has imprisoned Boer generals, strike miners, Indian passive resisters (including Ghandi), treason trialists (including Nelson Mandela) and various apartheid resistance fighters alongside common criminals. It’s remembered as a particularly harsh prison. The fort was declared a national monument in 1964. In its early days before high-rise buildings, it was a commanding site and had clear views across Johannesburg.
Johannesburg’s first gaol (before the fort) was completed at the end of October 1886 and was one of JHBs pioneering buildings. It officially opened in November and was a three room brick and thatch structure (possibly in Commissioner Street) built by Col. Ignatuis Ferreira who was the veldkornet in charge of law and order in early Jo’burg and after whom Ferreirasdorp is named. It was viewed as temporary solution and long-term prisoners were transferred to Pretoria. It was said that prisoners were more comfortable in the new goal than the commissioner in his galvanised structure.
Importantly, the gaol also served as the first hospital and the gaoler, Barend Bruyn, looked after both prisoner and patient.
Next to the old fort is the woman’s prison which was built in 1923. This Victorian inspired jail held the infamous murderess Daisy De Melker as well as resistance stalwarts Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu. In the mid-1980s it was being used as HQ for the now defunct Parks police and for the Traffic police. It’s now a woman’s centre, exhibition space and museum part of Constitution Hill.
Just below it, divided by a service road, where a parking lot for Constitution Hill now stands, used to be the old government mortuary which was commissioned by President Paul Kruger. It was built in 1896 by the Department of Public Works who were responsible for many of the government building at the time and was known as ‘Lykehuis te Johannesburg’.
It was completed around the time the walls around the old fort were being built, but it remained outside of the fortress but was part of the jail complex. It was a simple structure built to hold the dead until cremation or burial.
It appears that the original 1896 building was demolished and replaced by a more modern building. If I were to guess, I would say the mortuary was rebuilt sometime in the 1940s or 1950s as it seems to compliment the maternity home just further down in the same block. The three-story block of flats behind the premises was a simple late art deco inspired building made up mostly of yellow-orange bricks which seem to define government buildings and police stations from that era.
I spent a short time there while growing up and lived in flats at the back of the premises for a few months in 1987 (don’t ask…) and remember the layout vividly. There was also some curvature on the flats balconies reminiscent of Leith’s work.
Below is a section of the old mortuary from an aerial picture from the late 1960s. Note the empty space in the top right where the Civic Centre should be.
After 1994 it was unable to cope with constraints of the new society and was moved to the old non-European hospital around the corner. It was eventually demolished in 2003 and not incorporated into the museum and constitution Hill.
Beyond the eastern rampart, across Queen’s Road, is the Governor’s House and the Hillbrow Recreation Centre, previously the officers’ mess or club. It is probably 100 years old, estimated to have been built in 1908, according to a report by heritage consultant Herbert Prins.
The Governor’s house dating back to 1905 is a single-story house with a long front veranda, iron roof and three well-established palm trees in its front garden. The house originally consisted of three lounges, a passage lobby, dining room, five bedrooms, two fireplaces and bay windows. Special features include a trough built into the west wall of one of the lounges, hipped ceilings, timber slatted ceilings and an attractive skylight in the hall. Sash windows have been replaced by metal ones. It was recently restored after years of neglect and fire damage. Originally the land and house were part of the Fort grounds.
Across the road from the Governor’s house is the Florence Nightingale Nursing home. It was designed by H. Battiscombe and built in 1937 and appears to have closed down in the 1980s and turned into a block of flats. It was recently the subject of a photojournalist piece on ‘hi-jacked’ buildings in Johannesburg – not one of Hillbrow’s success stories.
The Athenaeum Club opened on the corner of Klein and Wolmarans Street in February 1904 . It was described as ‘delightfully situated on Hospital Hill just far enough from the town to escape its disgreeables yet not too far to exclude its conveniences.’ Members were drawn from public & military schools or colleges, British universities and Transvaal Civil Service. Note the hitching posts on the pavement. It closed in 1913 having never been as popular as it’s London namesake. The club was demolished in the 1950s and was replaced by a building for the telephone department. This was again demolished and replaced by Telkom as new headquarters (in black marble if I recall) in the 1980s and still remains although I suspect not in use.
Finally, Hospital Hill also refers to a geological series of shale known as the ‘Hospital Hill Series’.
Reference for this post:
University of Pretoria institutional repository http://repository.up.ac.za/
The Johannesburg Hospital – Gear & Salmon
Thanks to Gwyn Thomas for the additional photos taken in March 2017
The next post on Hillbrow is coming soon. I’ve been working on both but decided to post Hospital Hill separately as it’s too much for one post. I welcome any additional info on some of these medical buildings and others I may have omitted.