Sir Herbert Baker on the East Rand - by Peter Wood
Sir Herbert Baker worked in South Africa bet-
ween 1892 and 1913, and is famous for design-
ning the Union Buildings and lots of houses
for politicians and mining magnates. His first
work in the Cape was an extension to Tokai
Reformatory and a house designed for the
Cape Minister of Justice, James Rose-Innes.
Later Baker designed Groote Schuur, the
Mount Nelson Hotel, the Royal Observatory
& the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town, the
Pretoria station building and several houses in
Parktown, Johannesburg. Baker built several
Anglican church buildings - St Andrews in Cape
Town & Hlatikulu, St John the Divine Memorial
Church in Mafeking, and the Woolsack building
at the University of Cape Town.
The East Rand is not noted for Herbert Baker architecture, nevertheless there are more Baker-designed structures in Boksburg than in Parktown. But if you want to see these, you will have to be quick. Most of them will probably not survive long; 4 of his houses have just been demolished, and others are likely to disappear soon. The Boksburg suburbs were from the start areas for working class and middle class people, so one cannot expect typical Baker “Glenshiel” style houses here, as no-one who elected to live in Boksburg could afford to build the kind of houses Baker designed for Parktown. Instead, the surviving Baker structures in Boksburg are with one exception examples of the “industrial” or “commercial” work he did
The most imposing surviving Baker building in Boksburg is the Anglican Church of St.
Michaels & All Angels (above), situated on the corner of Plein & South streets – just south of Commissioner street. This church was built in around 1910 in what was then the comm-ercial centre of Boksburg, originally known as Vogelfontein
Visits to the church can be arranged by phoning 011-917-5065.
On the East Rand, Baker also designed St. Dunstan’s Charch in Benoni for Rev. A. T. Hare
Final inspection of this church was nearing in December 1909. (Ref 7, p 181)
The other examples of known Baker architecture in Boksburg are mine structures that Baker designed for Sir George Farrar, who was then chairman of ERPM. Baker also designed Farrar’s house – Bedford Court - now St. Andrews School for Girls – at Bedford Farm, overlooking Bedfordview. This Baker structure is of similar opulence to his other designs like “Northwards”. St. Andrews School is situated close to Sir George Farrar’s grave on what was formerly his farm, Bedford Farm. The house was occupied in about March, 1903.
Knowledge of the Baker mine structures in Boksburg is due to the work of Dennis Radford of Witwatersrand University Department of Architecture
This Municipal Seal was used officially by the Boksburg Town Council between 1904 and 1957
Radford also mentions (reference 1, Table 5) that Baker designed 14 cottages as married quarters, built by Ostlund between October 1908 and January 1909. In December 1987 Radford said that these quarters still survived. It is possible that these structures are the housing situated just east of the ERPM Clubhouse, War Memorial and Recreation Hall (see orthophoto map above), but as Radford did not publish a map showing these houses, I am not 100% sure if the existing houses are the ones designed by Baker. (The old ERPM Recreation Hall – not a Baker design - now styled “Normagene’s Dance Hall” is visible in the top left-hand corner of the map. The ERPM Recreation Hall was opened on March 19th, 1910)
The remaining surviving known Baker-designed structure at Boksburg is the alterations and additions to the ERPM clubhouse. The additions and alterations to the clubhouse were built between July and November 1908 by the builder A. Stuart. When Radford wrote his article (reference 1), he believed that the alterations to the ERPM clubhouse no longer existed in 1987. However, by comparing the surviving structures with a newspaper article from 1904 that shows both a photograph of the ERPM clubhouse when it was opened, together with a plan of the original clubhouse (Reference 4), and by a comparison with old postcards that show the original clubhouse as well as the clubhouse with later alterations, it is clear that the existing structure next to Comet Road, now known as the Assay Office, is indeed that designed by Baker. The alterations to the Clubhouse, however, subsequently underwent further alterations to convert them into an assay office. The outer walls of the alterations to the clubhouse – which has very much the appearance of a chapel – and the roof were retained. However, at some date after 1908, industrial extract ventilators were added to the roof and assay ovens and equipment were installed inside the building, in order to convert it into the assay offices of recent times (subsequently vacated)
Above: ERPM “Assay Office” left with ERPM Clubhouse (until recently used by Boksburg Lake Rotary & Rotaract clubs) right. The ERPM clubhouse was designed by Macintosh & Moffat and built by Forsyth & Reid at a cost of £4,000 (Reference 4). Note the industrial extract ventilators on the roof of the “Assay Office”. These must have been installed at the time that the alterations to the Clubhouse were converted into the assay office. The brick lean-to structure to the left of the Assay Office is apparently also a later addition to the original structure
Right: ERPM “Assay Office”, with ERPM War Memorial in foreground.
The Assay Office was originally designed
by Herbert Baker as Alterations &
Additions to the adjoining ERPM
Clubhouse. The brick lean-to structure
to the left, steel enclosure in front and the
roof ventilators are later additions.
However, the external walls, including
the buttress walls, and the roof are
identical to old postcard views. The
buttress walls now present on the front
of the original Clubhouse were not on the
structure as opened in 1904, but were
probably added at the time the Alterations
were built in 1908, as they are of similar
style to those on the “Assay Office”.
Some non-Baker structures in the area are also of interest. The ERPM Headquarters Building, situated to the West of Comet road near the ERPM War Memorial still survives, though it is no longer used for mining purposes. It is possibly the last remaining example of a mine headquarters building from 100 plus years ago. The old ERPM Recreation Hall, opened in 1910, was for many years, together with the Assembly Hall in Commissioner street, the leading Boksburg venue for concerts and social events. Also nearby is the Angelo Hotel on Main Reef Road; the oldest surviving hotel in the area. Dalton House, the former ERPM boarding house, lies to the north of Baker’s “Assay Office”. In the suburb of Plantation, the house that originally belonged to Attorney (later General) Christiaan Beyers is still visible just to the north of the Railway line next to Boksburg Station (formerly Vogelfontein station). The Landdrost’s Hof of Sytze Wopkes Wierda, dating from 1890, in Church Street was mentioned earlier. Wierda was also the architect for the original Boksburg Post Office in Market Street. Opposite the old Post Office is the Masonic Hotel, a well maintained relic of the 1890’s. The Boksburg North Hotel, at the corner of Cason (Main Reef) Road and Trichardts Road still looks the same as it did in July 1914 when the barman Alexander Charleson became the first victim of the Foster Gang, when he ran to help an employee of the nearby National Bank, who was being assaulted by Foster.
Radford, Dennis. Baker and the mining houses – an initial investigation into this aspect of his architecture, S. Afr. J. of Cultural & Art History. 1989, 3(3), pp. 257 – 267.
Radford, Dennis. Mining villages of Herbert Baker: an investigation of their form and layout, S. Afr. J.Cult. Art Hist. 1990, 1(2), pp. 53 – 62.
Radford, Dennis. The architecture of Herbert Baker’s mining housing, Journal of Art and Architectural History, 1991, pp 1- 9. (??)
East Rand Express, March 5th, 1904, pp 38 –39. Article on opening of East Rand Proprietary Mines Club. (includes photo of Clubhouse & floor plan)
Postcards of unknown date in private collection of Jimmy Mitchell, Chairman of Boksburg Historical Association – View of Dalton House (ERPM Boarding House) from West (Comet Road side) with ERPM Clubhouse in background (taken before 1908, as the clubhouse alterations are not visible); View of ERPM clubhouse from South East corner, showing alterations & additions to clubhouse at the rear (taken after 1908, showing also buttress wall to front of clubhouse, not present at opening in 1904.)
Greig, Doreen E. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town, Purnell, 1975.
Keath, Michael. Herbert Baker: Architecture & Idealism 1892 – 1913: The South African Years. Ashanti, Gibralter.
The most easily identified of the mine structures Baker designed for ERPM are the “Terrace Houses” situated just north of East Rand station. These structures were built by Forsyth and Reid between September 1910 and July 1911. Baker set these houses in groups and rows on either side of the main road, Cason Road, leading from the ERPM headquarters at Angelo to Boksburg. Baker designed 70 semi-detached , 3 single storey, 2 double-storey and 5 terrace units. Several of the buildings were erected around an existing “green”.
Above is shown one of the Terrace Units opposite the ERPM Bowling Club. The surviving houses are generally in poor condition, with roofs requiring paint & gutters hanging loose.
The Gauteng provincial Roads Department and
Boksburg City Council recently diverted the route
of the R21 highway from Pretoria to Boksburg,
by extending Rondebult Road over the Spoornet
railway line east of East Rand station, over ERPM
land to Rietfontein Road in Boksburg North.
During this process some of the mine houses as well
as the Boksburg Blockhouse dating from 1902 were
destroyed. However, most of the Baker houses
survived until fairly recently
Right: All that remains of one of the terrace houses
east of Rondebult road, June 2007
In the orthophoto map above, dating from 2002, double-storey terrace houses are shown with red numbers. The four double storey units to the East of Rondebult Road were demolished in June 2007 and it is not known how long the remaining structures will survive, as developers appear to be demolishing most of the mine houses in the area