A potted history of Craighall and Caighall Park
The known history of our area is nearly as old as the history of Johannesburg.
Johannesburg was established in 1886 and only six years later the first reference is made to Craighall. In 1891 a large estate to the north of Johannesburg known as Klipfontein No. 479, District Pretoria, was purchased by a Scot, William Grey Rattray, for the princely sum of £3 000.
William Rattray renamed the estate Klipfontein ‘Craighall’ after his birthplace in Blairgowrie, Scotland. (Click here for a brief history of the Rattray family’s Scottish antecedents.)
In those days the area comprised scattered pleasant farms and small holdings. These farming operations supplied Johannesburg with its fresh produce and in what is today the Sandton area, there were thousands of fruit trees, fields of healthy vegetables and colourful flowers. The northern areas also served as recreational spots for those wishing to escape from urban life over weekends.
In 1902 Rattray developed some of his property into the residential township of Craighall (it was not a success at that time, being too far out of Johannesburg for those who worked in town) and the rest he developed into a series of large lakes which offered fishing, bathing and boating. There was a hotel, pagoda, beer and tea garden, sports fields and other entertainment areas. Other parts of the property including what is now Delta Park were cultivated fields and grazing for dairy cows.
The amenities were advertised by estate agents of the time as follows:
Within an hour’s drive of the city, through the beautiful suburb of Parktown and the undulating country beyond, the journey out is an initial enjoyment which is only a foretaste of pleasure to come. Bowling over a road which is for the most part a good one, the city dust and bustle is soon left behind, and a more genial climate exercises its exhilarating influence on the spirits. Whether passing through the large plantation of eucalyptus, fir and pine, or traversing the more open country, the way is equally pleasant ... a gleaming lake lies placidly in the lap of a little valley, guarded by a light fringe of foliage, beyond which the veldt swells softly upwards in gentle undulations to where the Magaliesberg Mountains melt in the horizon.’ (A legacy of those early farming days are the (ever diminishing) large gums trees dotted around Craighall and Craighall Park – many of them are well over 100 years old. Protest if developers and the like want to cut them down….)
The first stands for sale in Craighall Park were offered in 1911. It was to be many years, however, before these peri-urban areas were incorporated into the Johannesburg city area. What is interesting is that the City’s boundary limitations were sewage driven!
It was in 1936 that the City received the Report of the Johannesburg and Germiston Boundaries Commission. The Report advocated that Johannesburg grow only in accordance with what its sewage system could handle and thus incorporate only those areas which could be served by the existing sewage works of the city. Many of these settlements were populated by extremely poor people, white and black. Some areas had a sanitary pail collection service, but many did not, and even where there was a service, some inhabitants could not afford to pay the five shillings required for it. The water supply came from wells and boreholes and it would not be long before these were contaminated and a serious health hazard created. On the Report’s recommendation, the areas of Craighall, Greymont, parts of Craighall Park, Linden, Illovo and what was to become Blairgowrie in 1941 were included in the city area. Prior to that incorporation into the City, older residents confirm that the roar of lions could be heard from the top of Beaufort Avenue – see the “Castle” page.
Such rural vistas and lifestyle were to change in the 1930s. By the late 1920s Johannesburg was bursting at the seams. New townships were rapidly being developed as industries grew apace and in 1928 it was proclaimed a city. By 1931 (incidentally the year in which the first double-decker buses came into service), Johannesburg’s total population was nearing 600 000 and it kept on growing. Craighall and Craighall Park now started coming into their own.
With his Scottish background, as Rattray developed Craighall he named the streets after noble Scottish familes, hence 'Talbrager', 'Douglas' and so on. The streets of Craighall Park were named after English ducal families, from 'Somerset' to 'Buckingham'. One notable exception is Kruger Street. This street was named after Mr Sam Kruger who owned a boot factory and the then Craighall Park Hotel (where the Colony Centre is today). (See ‘Residents reminisce’ below.)
An informative book is Johannesburg Street Names by Anna Smith. It's now out of print but local libraries should have a copy. Gillian Rattray, married to Peter, a descendent of William Rattray, and mother of the late David Rattray, has written several books, including The Springing of the Year which is about the family farm at Rorke's Drift - the Rattrays obviously inherited the ability to be successful land owners!
The Joburg City's website has interesting pages on the history of the city. http://joburgnews.co.za/facts/index_heritage.stm.
There are a number of families who have lived in our area, or adjacent to it, for 50 years or more. To read about their memories and other snippets of history go to -
· A short history of the area that was presented to the AGM on the 6th November 1978
Two views of Rattray's Dam, Craighall Park, 1982,
with thanks to the Cook family of Wendy Avenue
with thanks to the Cook family of Wendy Avenue
Sandy Cook writes, "We watched the reconstruction of Rattrays Dam by the City Council in 1982. The mess during the digging out was unbelievable and our tarred road, in a very short time, became a dirt road. Red dust coated our homes inside and out for months! One electricity pylon had to be reinforced as it ended up on a small island in the dam and subsequently the pylon had to be moved as it was in danger of collapsing once the rains started and the river came down.
The dam was very attractive but unfortunately, the demise of the dam was not long in coming, as after the first summer rains it silted up and returned to its original state. If sufficient planning had taken place regarding the siting of silt traps up river, perhaps the outcome might have been different. Could the dam ever be recreated?
Records and plans for houses prior to the late 1940s may not be obtainable, since many were destroyed in a fire which swept through the municipal offices.
One resident has suggested that homeowners should have a 'home diary' to record as much as they can establish about their home, and hand it over to new owners should they sell their home.
If your city’s history interests you, here are some additional references:
Beirne, L.J., ed., Johannesburg Royal Presentation. Johannesburg: Town Council, 1910.
Bodman, W., The North Flowing Rivers of the Central Witwatersrand. Johannesburg: The author, sponsored by CIBA-GEIGY, 1981.
Carruthers, E.J., ‘The growth of local self-government in the peri-urban areas north of Johannesburg, 1939-1969.‘ Unpublished MA., University of South Africa, 1980.
Chilvers, H., Out of the Crucible. London etc.: Cassell, 1929.
Chipkin, C.M., Johannesburg Style: Architecture and Society, 1880s to 1960s. Cape Town; David Philip, 1993.
Clarke, J., ed., Like It Was: The Star, 100 Years in Johannesburg, 1887-1987. Johannesburg: Argus, 1987.
Feetham R., Report of the Johannesburg and Germiston Boundaries Commission, 1936-7.
Grant, G. and Flinn, T., Watershed Town: The History of the Johannesburg City Engineer’s Department. Johannesburg: City Council, 1992.
Johannesburg City Council, Annual Reports of the City Engineer, 1930 to 1963.
Kennedy, L., `A short history of Craighall and Craighall Park’. Unpublished paper presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Craighall Residents’ Association, November 1978.
Marais Louw, J., When Johannesburg and I were Young. Johannesburg: Amagi Books, 1991.
Maud, J.P.R., City Government: The Johannesburg Experiment. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938.
Merry, T.G., The Golden City: Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1886-1946. Johannesburg: City Council, 1946.
Robertson, Claire, ed., Remembering Old Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1986.
Shorten, J.P.R., The Johannesburg Saga. Johannesburg: The author, 1970.
Smith, Anna H., Chronology of Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Africana Museum, 1977.
Smith, Anna H., Johannesburg Street Names. Cape Town etc.: Juta and Co., 1971.
Smith, Anna H., Pictorial History of Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Juta and Co., 1956.
Stark, F., ed., Seventy Golden Years, 1886-1956. Johannesburg: City Council, 1956
Updated January 2009