'This is quite a long read. I got my mother to write out her memories of Hilton and the Midlands quite a few years ago. Some of you may find it interesting, especially the little bits of history about Hilton Village.
In 1932 we moved to the Manor in Hilton at a rental of £8,00 per month for a big house with 7 bedrooms and 60 acres of land.
I started at St. Anne’s prep which was a dreadful school with terrible teachers. In 1934 I went up to the College which was much better. The only person we ever did any work for was the Afrikaans teacher a Miss Wiehahn who was a real tiger but could teach. Any other homework was left if there was Afrikaans homework to be done. It’s the only thing I ever got a prize for at school!
We had a wonderful time at school. There was lots of sport and we often went out for picnics on the back of lorries. Hilton boys often used to come as well and in the holidays there were always house parties (dances) at each other’s homes. There were no partners and the parents all came to the parties as well and the music was a wind-up gramophone. We used to have lovely dances like the “Paul Jones”, “Lambeth Walk” and all sorts of other fun dances.
When we used to go to dances in the summer it invariably rained and we often got stuck going up the hill to “Wellington” (at Tweedie) to the Mackenzies or to Riversfield. There were no tar roads then and we used to have to get out and push. It wasn’t so bad on the way home but usually we had to take off our long evening dresses and kilt up our petticoats and take off shoes and stockings and when we got to the party would have to clean up. We loved going to “Wellington”. They were so hospitable and served wonderful meals; never less than seven puddings and huge joints of meat. They had six children and we were friends with the three girls who were at St. Anne’s with us.
In 1939 I left school and did a secretarial course in Pietermaritzburg. I used to get a lift into town and then walk up to the station and catch the train home. It took forty minutes to make the journey from Pietermaritzburg to Hilton. I was very keen to go nursing but my father wouldn’t hear of it. I worked for a year at £6,00 per month and then in May 1941 I managed to persuade him to let me join the Women’s Army (Women’s Auxiliary Army Service). I served there for 5 years mostly at Oribi Camp but had a year or two at Robert’s Heights (Voortrekkerhoogte). I made some really wonderful friends and we really had a good war.
Dad’s mother was my Officer Commanding at Oribi. They were very hospitable to all the troops and it was through her that I met up with Dad. She persuaded me to go to a dance with him before he went up North. I wasn’t keen as I had known him at Michaelhouse and didn’t care for him! However, the dance changed all that and our romance was conducted by letter for the two years he was in Italy.
When I joined up my father bought me an old Austin Tourer, “Jumping Jemima”. I think it was a 1926 model. Old Owen Walters who was a great mechanic fixed it for me. The total cost £6 7s 8d. I used to drive it into town and leave it at a friend’s house on the corner of Chapel and Loop Streets. The house, a big double story is still there and my friend Pay (Mythin) lived on the opposite corner where Raldor is. We used to all get onto army bicycles (about 10 of us) and ride out to Oribi and then ride back in the afternoon. Petrol was rationed so it was a way of saving. Later on, I got an Austin 7 sedan, this time “Bloody Mary”. I think she cost £34,00 and it still served me very well.
In those days there was a stream which ran down a sluice under the road opposite Monzali’s and if the car boiled we were always able to stop and get water there.
Whilst I was in the Army and after the war we used to go every Saturday night to dance at the Ansonia. I must say it depended on whether the troops were in town otherwise we had no partners. They were wonderful parties and we all had a great time. We often used to go to films at the Grand Theatre where Capital Towers is now. It was huge holding about a thousand people.
When we were children, we always went to the beach for the month of July and always went to Umhlanga Rocks as it was called. We used to rent a cottage for £7,00 per month and they were very basic. It was difficult to get fresh milk down there and anyway there were no ‘fridges so we always had condensed milk (at 6d per tin!). In those days we only had black woollen costumes which always stayed wet: Ugh! It wasn’t until the late ‘30's that we got pretty ruched cotton costumes–much better. My earliest recollection of our trip to the beach was when I was nearly 5 and Ann was about 9 months old. We were living at Lidgetton and left at about 6.00am. By 8.00am we stopped for breakfast near where the Country Club is today. We probably had a puncture. Every car in those days carried a puncture mending outfit. We went on stopping frequently and eventually got to Umhlanga Rocks at about 6.00pm. In those days it was mostly bush and there was a little shop where we used to go and buy sweets, usually marshmallow fish, four for a penny. We often stayed in a big cottage where the Beverly Hills is now built. There was always a crowd, we always used to share the cottage with friends and we always had a great time.
We used to love going to St. Ives (Uncle Willie and Mullie Raw) where they used to have great tennis parties. We didn’t play but there was a small room where there were lots of old clothes and we used to haul them all out into the garden and playhouses. We never thought about putting them away again. St. Ives was one of the first homes that I ever saw an icebox. A big wooden box and every week a great block of ice would come up from Pietermaritzburg by train and would be put inside the icebox to keep things cool. At St. Ives the loo was about fifty yards from the house right down in the orchard. There was a wonderful grapevine on the way, always lots of grapes in season. Another thing we enjoyed there was when the sheep were sheared and we used to watch them being clipped and then used to get into the bales and tramp the wool down–all nice and greasy from the lanolin. Uncle Willie used to breed racehorses and in 1934 won the July with a horse called “Legacy” and the same year won the Gold Cup with “Miss Colin”. After the July win, all the nieces and nephews who were at the beach were taken to the Beach Show’s (amusement park) and each given five shillings to spend–a fortune in those days.
Something we really loved when we were children was when the pigs were killed. All country people kept a couple of pigs. The killing was always in mid-winter. A shallow pit was dug and lined with hay and a big pot of boiling water was kept on the go. When the pig was killed, it used to be laid in the pit and boiling water poured over it and we would scrape off all the hair with a knife. Once the skin was clean, the pig would be cut up into hams, bacon etc. All this had to soak in a mixture of saltpetre, brown sugar and water, usually for about a month. Lots of sausages were made and we had a special attachment that fitted over the end of the mincing machine for the sausage skins to go over. We always had lovely homemade hams and bacon.
When we lived at the Manor, the quarry was operational and at twelve noon every day a bell would ring and blasting would take place and no-one could go on the road whilst this was going on. Once we had been playing tennis and had just come off the court when a big piece of rock landed on the court. The quarry was noisy and very dusty and we were glad when it eventually closed.
Hilton had its share of odd people. Old Mrs Ballenden who lived at Sedgeley was a real old character. Once Mum and I went to visit and we hadn’t been there long when she said to her son “Frank, there’s a baby there. Take it by the leg and throw it out of the window”. Mum and I nearly died laughing. About five minutes later she said “Frank, these people want to go home. Call for their carriage and horses”. The Manor was built by the Badocks and Madeline Badock married Frank Ballenden.
Another place we loved going to was the Weightman-Smiths (they lived in Groenekloof Road). They had a big old wood and iron house and always had lots of games to play. Old man Weightman-Smith came out to teach at Weenen County College (my grandfather’s school) and then taught at Hilton. He took place in the 1928 Summer Olympics. Mrs Weightman-Smith was a wonderful person who was always involved in “good works”.
Where the present Kwikspar is today was quite a hill and on top of his was Elliotts’s Store and where the old bottle store was, was Egans store. Mr Elliott was quite rough but his wife was very nice. They had a son and daughter and their grandson, Ken Elliot, was head of Maritzburg College.
Mrs Mackintosh, who was a pillar of the Church, lived at “Craigellachie” and had a huge garden and every year used to have a Church fete there. The Hilton boys always gave a gym display put on by Percy Bould. In those days it was; exercises and jumping over the horse. It was a great place for the St. Anne’s girls to meet the Hilton Boys!
Whilst at St. Anne’s when we played any away matches, we were always taken over by old Mr Maynard in his lorry. He also had a wood and coal delivery service. He lived up near the Collins’s up Quarry Road.
At St. Anne’s the swimming bath was a cement pool quite near Mike and Cherri’s house in Vlei Road. In fact it was just in the valley there. It was always green and cold but I learned to swim there. There was also a shooting range and we learnt to shoot with a .22.
Canon Rogers, who married us, was the priest here. He and his family of three girls and one boy lived at the Vicarage and every Saturday I used to walk down to read the comics in the Daily Mirror, Betty the youngest daughter was a little older than I was. Old Canon Rogers always had a huge cup of tea which sat on the mantlepiece and he used to drink out of it all day. Mrs Rogers was a member of the Viyella fabric family and had some private income. She and Reggie Rogers were cousins.
In 1941 the Manor was sold. £6 000,00 for a big house with seven bedrooms and sixty acres of land, but in those days my father didn’t have six thousand pence let along six thousand pounds which was a great deal of money, and so we moved to “Yelverton”. Ann and I slept on the verandah which had been enclosed with diamond mesh; no wonder we both like fresh air.
The Hilton Tennis Club where it now is came into being as a result of Dad and Lance Roberts approaching James Craib (Des Craib’s father) and getting him to donate that land which is now called James Craib Park. The three tennis courts were built and were just earth courts which had to be rolled and marked before we could play. There was just a little shack for the tea things and a fire had to be built to boil water. Later on, the three courts were hardened by members of the club and later still more courts were built and properly hardened.
The Garden Club was started by Mrs Bergman My mother was one of the original members and the shows which were well patronised were held in the old hall. There was always a cooking section and Miss Ladds had a good Indian cook named Charlie who often won prizes, usually 2/6 (twenty-five cents) for first prize. David even won a prize for scones when he was about ten beating Hazel Dunn.
The church had a Ladies Parish Association which met once a month and they raised enough money to buy the crockery and cutlery for church “do’s”. Most of the original crockery has been broken or lost. We also used to have brass cleaning where a group of us used to meet and clean all the church brass.
After the war, Ann and Noelle Paver who was Mrs Jock Smith’s niece used to get Mr Hayter and his lorry (he took over Mr Maynard’s business) and at Christmas time used to collect up a crowd and go around the village carol singing in aid of charity.
Mrs Jock Smith together with Mrs Parks was instrumental in starting the Hilton Library which was first housed in an old house that had been at one time a butchery at the top of Groenekloof Road. As more and more books were bought and given it eventually moved to the town board offices where volunteers used to work in the library twice a week lending books at five cents each and this eventually led to the nice provincial library near the old post office.
The building which houses Khubela stores was at one time the post office/telephone exchange which was run by the Schofield twins, Molly and Letty, both redheads. Also in this building was a store owned and run by Mr Gibbons and his wife. He was a crusty old man but she was a gentle, sweet person. This store, after the war, was bought by Iain Henderson who livened things up considerably in the village.
In the spring the MOTH’s and Women’s Institute used to get together and using the Collins’s “Edgehill” used to have people come to look at gardens. The Craib’s “Wychwood” and several others were open as well. Lunches and teas were always served at the Collins’ and with entrance being charged quite a lot was made for various charities.
The MOTH’s and WI also had Christmas Tree parties for their children. Father Christmas came in various vehicles and once came in a donkey cart. This particular Father Christmas had had a few too many beers and as the donkey trotted towards the Old hall he fell forward and arrived draped around the “disselboom”. He wasn’t hurt and everyone had a good laugh.
Every year a fete would be held on what was then the village common. This was situated where Laddswood Lodge has now been built. It was a dusty piece of ground and after the war, we had a great fancy dress hockey match there.
Dad dressed up in an old green dressing gown of mine and red fez he had brought back from “Up North”. I can’t remember who we played but it was great fun.
Laddsworth school which was started by Miss Ladds and operated from the Old hall moved to where Laddswood Lodge now stands. Miss Ladds who had been teaching from about 1907 carried on for several years. Ann used to ride to school on a Basuto pony called “Mush”. The other teachers at Laddsworth were Miss Rogers and Miss Pringle both excellent teachers.
The White House used to be the home of Ted Campbell who discovered clay on the property that was suitable for making pottery. He built himself a kiln and made quite a lot of pottery. He was a good handyman and quite self-taught.' as shared by Shirley Forsyth's son Mike Forsyth, owner of MGF Attorneys.
Pictured above is the late Shirley Forsyth during WWII and below on her 90th birthday.