“There are many factories belonging to ICI and its’ associated companies and some are much older than Umbogintwini, but there can surely be few that have a more interesting history.”
(Mr. W. V. Blewett  –  factory manager 1922 – 1928 when Kynochs was part of Imperial Chemical Industries)

This updated version follows extra information that I have obtained as well as comments and information supplied by the Toti-ites – 60’s and 70’s Facebook Club. The great comments provided at the end of my website have also triggered many memories for me. I have responded to all those who have contributed by using their personal email addresses rather than on the public forum, so thanks to all for the interest shown.

Umbogintwini as most of us knew is the anglicized version of the Zulu word Mbokodweni or eZimbokodweni for the “river where round stones are collected” i.e. as used in grinding corn. The anglicized version was in any case too long for most with the name being abbreviated to Twini. My cousin from Durban, who also lived for a short period in the village, further abbreviated the name (tongue in cheek) to MBog. In the same way adjoining areas of Amanzimtoti to the south and Isipingo to the north were usually abbreviated to Toti or Pingo. By comparison adjoining Athlone Park retained its full name.

My name is Ken Grubb and I lived in Twini village between 1955 and 1975. I felt the need to put pen to paper after recently googling an “aerial image of Umbogintwini” and was shocked to see that the village area has been almost totally obliterated by new works including high density residential units, shopping centres and commercial works. Other than the remaining parts of Chamberlain and Oppenheimer Road, it looks like the area has been written out of history. The Jubilee Hall and war memorial, formerly opposite the corner of Oppenheimer and Highbury Roads, have even been demolished although the Catholic church cemetery is still in place. The 18 hole golf course is now covered with shopping centres. Also I could not find any composite information on the village which gave me further motivation to produce this article. Even the museum that had been established in the early 2000s appears to have vanished.

I moved to Highbury Road in 1955 when my father got a job at Kynochs, as it was still referred to until the 1960s. Growing up in Twini would fulfil most boys’ dreams with all the outdoor activities from ‘bundu bashing’ to catching karanteen off the rocks at low tide at Twini Beach. Collecting was almost a Victorian way of life whether it was stamps, coins, butterflies, birds and even snakes. The village, being almost a self-contained entity, was probably the last vestige of that classic village lifestyle of old. Everything seemed more or less as it was in my time, even up to the last of my regular visits to Twini in 2002 when I took some photographs of Highbury Road. If I had known. what devastation was to follow I would have taken many more photographs around the village.

After Umbogintwini Primary School I went to the Kingsway High School of old in Doonside then completed my compulsory military training in the South Africa Air Force in 1971 before completing my first degree in Geology at the University of Natal. My wife Tricia and I decided to make a move to Brisbane Australia in 1981 having watched a movie set on Hayman Island on the Barrier Reef. We selected Brisbane because it is roughly on the same latitude as Durban  –  amazing logic. Not knowing anyone in Brisbane, we now look back at the optimism of our youth. Anyway my qualifications and engineering geology experience held us in good stead so we made quick headway in our new land. I obtained a Masters in Applied Science at Queensland University of Technology in 1989 and then got registration as a Registered Professional Engineer in Queensland and a Chartered Professional Engineer in Australia in the same year, having being the first geologist to my knowledge to obtain the Queensland accreditation. I subsequently set up Moreton Geotechnical Services P/L (, which has been operating for 32 years, and now specialises in building over abandoned coal mines in the Ipswich region. Our three kids are all true blue and all have completed degrees and are moving on with their own lives.

My memories covered below, which are in no particular order, are far from comprehensive and are planned to be updated from time to time. For this reason I have left a blog at the end for others from the Twini area who are interested in adding to my story and supplying photos if possible. Hopefully my article will also bring back many memories for others.

Names where applicable have been restricted to first names to protect the privacy of those mentioned unless subsequent permission is given to include surnames. The spelling of some Zulu names in particular are not necessarily correct as I have used the letters to produce the nearest English pronunciation. Both imperial and metric measurements have been used.

Finally the information below is based on my recollections as well as information from books, internet references and other sources that I have generally provided throughout my article.

Topography and Geology

Twini is located on an ancient sand dune subparalel to the coastline at between 80m and 90m above sea level. The material in the dune sand was laid down up to 2.5 million years ago and originally comprised four main components, i.e. well rounded quartz grains, shell fragments, some feldspar grains and iron–rich grains. The shell fragments were subsequently leached out with time, the feldspar weathered into clay and the iron rich grains ‘rusted’ to give the red colour that we know, also the name Berea Red Sand. It is this iron-rich clayey sand soil, together with the sub-tropical rainfall, that gives the luxuriant natural vegetation and good gardens. The Berea Red Sand is underlain by sedimentary Ecca Shale which was laid down approximately 300 million years ago and generally not visible in the village area. The shale is in turn underlain by the Dwyka Tillite formation from an ice age approximately 350 million years ago. The tillite is visible along the banks of the Twini River near the old road bridge crossing.

Beach rock is by comparison a very young rock formed where high shell concentrations have been ‘dumped’ close the shore line. I was amazed on one occasion at Twini beach to find a rusted penknife in solid shell beach rock, the leaching shells from the subtropical rainfall having formed the cement to ‘glue’ all the pieces together!

Another very modern ‘rock’ that I discovered was around a spring in the deep valley area near the factory’s Indian village. A large volume of crystal clear, but iron-rich, water exited from a vertical hole near the base of the steep slope. Rain water percolating down through the red sands carried the iron with it. The iron content on exposure to air rapidly hardened over all the leaf matter to form an ironstone with ‘fossil’ leaves.

Natal Pre-European Settlement

The area of Twini has been inhabited since the early stone age i.e. more than 250,000 years ago. Natal pre-European habitation has extended through the stone age to the iron age up to 1824 AD with the inland Duma San ‘bushmen’, and coastal Khoi hunter gather ‘strandlopers’, being present for thousands of years. The ancestors of the Zulus, i.e. the Nguni-speaking agro-pastoralists apparently arrived in the area about 800 – 1000 years ago. Bartholomeu Dias sailed around the tip of Africa in the 1480s, Vasco de Gama landed on the Natal coast in 1497, Jan van Riebeeck established a permanent Dutch settlement at Cape Town in 1652 and in 1824 the proper settlement of Durban, 23 km to the north east of Twini, commenced.

The book titled “Southern Land” by A.R. Willcox gives good coverage of South African life from millions of years ago, through the cultures in the stone and iron ages, and then up to coastal voyages around parts of African from as early as 600 BC with other voyages and human movement into European settlement times.

My own contact  with the ancient history of Twini came to the fore in the mid-1960s as a teenager when electrification of the railways involved the removal of the original road bridge to the factory and excavating downwards about 10 – 15m from original ground level to form the banks mainly on the western side.  I would scramble across the bright red exposed sandbank to collect a large range of artifacts including a stone grinder, stone axes, a lovely quartzite scraper that fitted perfectly into the palm of my hand, as well as plenty of clay pottery. No matter how hard that I collected I was never able to form a complete pot when sticking the pieces together. Drilled ostrich shell  small discs and even irregular shaped glass beads for necklaces or similar were found in the upper levels with the full zone comprising about 5m to 10m down from about 2m below ground level. The burnt out vertical charcoal ‘posts’ of a kraal were also exposed in the bank. I presumed that my deepest finds were of middle to late stone age, i.e. between 25,000 and 180,000 years of age. The glass beads in the upper levels probably went back to the 1700s or 1800s. There was no slag (left over from the production of iron) at that location however a large amount of slag became exposed close to the surface when the sports field, near the later Dickens Road bridge crossing of the railway line, was excavated. That near surface location was probably a late iron age production facility, probably of 1600 to 1800 AD vintage. Excavations for the ‘Surfview’ units above the beach at “Windy Corner” in Athlone Park in the late 60s also exposed extensive shell middens with a range of implements including a small cylindrical indurated shale implement (possible snuff grinder) and a broken bone implement about 100mm long resembling a knife blade and believed to be for prizing flesh out of opened shellfish

The factory

The factory and village came about as a result of Mr Arthur Chamberlain (uncle of British PM Neville Chamberlain) seeing an opportunity to supply explosives to the South African gold mines at a cheaper rate than he could supply from the Kynochs factory in Arklow in Ireland. Mr Kynoch had resigned by then and Mr Chamberlain became Chairman. The Natal Government in 1907  (prior to Union in 1910) granted the company a lease on 1,400 acres (566 hectares) of land  Twini which was originally part of a reserve. Clearing of the land even included the use of Indian elephants with their Indian mahouts.

The factory, originally known as Kynochs Ltd, was set up to produce explosives as well as chemicals including nitric and sulphuric acid needed in the production of the explosives. The factory came into production in 1908. The name changed to African Explosives and Industries in 1924 before the ramping up of the production of explosives during WWII when the Royal Navy maintained a presence when purpose-built double storey houses for the officers were constructed, with some porthole windows on the lower levels, in Highbury Road.

The production of phosphatic fertilizer became progressively more important until that component of manufacture passed to the Modderfontein plant in the 1960s, by which time (1966) the operation had become known as African Explosives and Chemical Industries, one of the many subsidiaries of the Anglo American empire. The nitrogen plant, the tioxide plant and the perspex plant also came into production in the late 1960s. The factory remained under the single AECI umbrella in those days. Messrs Flack, Rice, Pike and Inggs were the factory managers during my time.

Explosions at the factory were not uncommon and on one occasion a monkey also jumped into the sub-station near the factory entry gate resulting in a huge flame and explosion that shook the whole district. The weekly air raid siren fire practice, which could be heard throughout the village, was quite spine-chilling. Tanker loads of sulphuric acid going to Saicor at Umkomaas for the production of rayon were a regular sight along Oppenheimer Road beyond the bottom of our garden and the calendars supplied to employees in the 1960s were high quality prized items.

The South Coast Sun supplement of 3 July 2008, covering 100 years of the Umbogintwini Industrial Complex, provides some interesting further information on the factory and village. The supplement includes a photograph of the staff house in the village.

Reference:  South Coast Sun, 3 July 2008

The village

Mr Warner, interestingly a land surveyor from Brisbane, was contracted from Australia to lay out the factory and village. Mr Warner’s residence (after the house that had been built for him in Twini) was a farm in what we now know of as Warner Beach. Multiple generations of the Warner family to this day in Queensland have become land surveyors.

Twenty three men and their families from the Kynochs factory in Arklow, near Dublin in Ireland, moved to the area from 1908 to assist with the construction of the Twini factory with the men living outside of Twini until the first houses were built. Men from other parts of England were also amongst the earliest people to be employed at the factory. Some of the earliest families included Scorer, Weller and Hughes. Pioneer and later families included Kelly, O’Brien, Johnston, Roach and others. The split between the Republic of Ireland and North Ireland in 1922 had as yet not taken place. In May 1910, the first white child in Twini was born to Mr and Mrs Cutler.  Interestingly my recent detailed ‘Y’ DNA test results have revealed that my male line go back to ancient times in Ireland, i.e. around 6,000 – 7,000 years ago. This was a revelation as I know my great grandfather arrived in Durban in the 1870s. Prior to that the men in my Grubb line came from Macclesfield in England and prior to that Dublin in Ireland in the 1700s having all been in the silk weaving industry – see

Highbury Road, which was the first road for residential construction in the village, became the focus of the earliest amenities buildings and residences. Additional residences and amenity buildings were constructed as the village expanded with Chamberlain Road becoming the next road for development. The name ‘Highbury’ must have had some significance to those early Irish migrants as the other road names are connected to company executives or company managers.

Highbury Road – looking north from near the Jubilee Hall, 2002.

Construction ranged from the early iron-clad on stumps type, to semi-detached single storey with underfloor ventilation, to more modern single storey slab on ground construction as well as double storey construction including for the Royal Navy houses and two small blocks of flats in Oppenheimer and Scully Roads. The “new village” as it was known around Udal Road was constructed in the late 50s and early 60s. Some new single storey houses in Highbury Road, constructed in the early 60s, comprised the more modern slab on ground construction. The double storey “staff” house, originally built for Mr Chamberlain, was subsequently modified for visiting personnel as well as for business lunches. The variable residential architecture, over about 55 years, represented the different eras and development phases of the factory.

African policemen, with their knobkerries, would regularly patrol the village to ensure that the ‘tsotsis’ and ‘skebengas’ did not cause problems.

The village appears to have essentially remained unchanged until December 2004 when 90 hectares comprising the village and golf course was sold to Keystone Investments for their Arbour Town Development.

My sketch above shows much of the village layout and location of its structures as I recall these. The main road access to the village, before the construction of the N2 highway, was via Kingsway and Oppenheimer Road. Oppenheimer Road extended through the village and then via Kynoch Road across the old rail bridge to the time office being the main entry gate to the factory. Pardies service station, the second post office, Theos Supermarket, a butcher and bottle store were located along Oppenheimer Road between Cocking Road and Chamberlain Road. Mr Suddards and then Mr Green were the proprietors of Theo’s Supermarket in my time. St Johns Church was located near the corner of Oppenheimer and Chamberlain Roads with the Jubilee Hall and war memorial being located on the south side of the intersection of Oppenheimer and Highbury Road. The entry to the railway station was (and still is) a short distance further along. After crossing the old railway bridge into Kynoch Road and towards the time office there was the original post office and main electricity substation on the north (right hand) side and Bjorseths original trading store (subsequent distribution centre) on the left. The trading store was subsequently relocated to Prince Street. I still have great memories of the African section of the store, with its strong smell of spices, its Indian salespeople and old Mr Bjorseth (Eddie’s father) who sat near the counter talking to all the customers who came in. I clearly remember meeting John G. in that part of the store in about 1965 when going to buy rubber bands for my new catapult. I was amazed to find out that John, of similar age to me, had flown back from an overseas school to be with his parents for the school holidays. Anyway a weatherboard residence on stumps was also located behind the original post office along the track that followed the railway towards Durban where the dairy was located. This was the only residence located across the railway from the village. Napier fodder (a very tall sugarcane-like cattle feed grass) also occupied the old dairy grounds, the napier fodder being regularly used by coucals to make their round ball-like nests about 5 foot off the ground. The time office prevented public access into the factory grounds however Kynoch Road continued onwards past the sports field on the right and the hospital on the left. Further along the road again was the Indian village on the left and further along and downhill was the sewerage works near the head of the steep sided poorly drained valley on the right which we called the “swamp”. The road then continued downhill to the African sports field and the road bridge over the Twini River. Beyond the bridge, and all through the floodplain to later Prospecton, were sugar cane fields with the Orient club on a hill north of the bridge.

A very steep high bare clay bank on the river side of the Orient Club was the location of many birds nest holes including European rollers, bee-eaters and sand martins. Sakabulas (long tailed widow bird) were a common sight in the cane fields and I even found a black-backed Sisticola nest, with eggs, in the cane stubble close to the ground. Their beautiful uniform glossy brick red eggs are possibly the only birds in the world with red eggs.  A hilly area between the bridge and Orient Club (western side) also became a motorbike scramble track which drew crowds from miles around at the weekend. The annual burn-off of the sugarcane leaves resulted in large black smoke clouds and lots of ash at our place when the north easterly winds were blowing. That pollution differed a lot from the white powder that ended up on our verandah at regular intervals when the land breeze was blowing. Our veranda had to be regularly swept and polished as a result. More than 100 youngsters of various age groups and eras lived in and around Highbury Road in my time so there were always a lot of social interactions, perhaps a lot more written memories could follow mine? The Whitely family were one of the families who lived in our road. Mr Jimmy Whitely had a ‘skiffle band’ and they set up a session one night in a garage across the road from our place when the Bakers lived there. The Whiteleys were however more well known for the father, mother and four girls all having names that started with the letter ‘J’. Another lad by the nickname of “Eggy” who lived in the same house after the Whiteleys left, got a lot of attention when his Dad flew back to England in the mid-60s with S.A.A. in a Boeing 707, such were the developments in flying when the average person could travel quickly in style and not have to catch the mail boats.

My place

I lived at 12 Highbury Road with my parents and two brothers and my sister Jenny who was born at the Twini hospital, the rest of us having been born in Durban. In the early 1970s the street numbering was changed for some reason when our house was renumbered 18.  This is the place where the Farringtons also lived for 20 years.

Numbers 16 and 18, previously 10 and 12, Highbury Road. 2002.

Our house was one of the first houses completed around 1910. Our house was very centrally located to most facilities being within 10 minutes or less walk of Pardie’s service station, Theo’s store, the bottle shop and butcher, both the old and new post offices, the Jubilee Hall, tennis courts, swimming pool, squash courts, library, club house, golf course, Bjorseth trading store, railway station, sports field and hospital. The Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian Churches were also within close proximity. An Indian ‘sammy’ with a basket at either end of a sliced bamboo trunk slung over his shoulders would regularly walk around the village selling fresh produce. By the mid-60s however he had made enough money to do his rounds with a Toyota ‘bakkie’. A very regal Indian fellow would also come around to do haircuts for the kids sitting on chairs in the garden. This service was later displaced by Johnny Johnson who after work had a barber’s room in the distribution office, i.e. original Bjorseth store near the time office. Chemist deliveries were made from Newman’s in Toti by an African bloke on his bicycle, which was also the mode of transport for the ice-cream man and many of the boys going to Kingsway High school at Doonside i.e. for those that didn’t want to catch the train. Incidentally boys’ high school education in my day included rifle practice at the school range close to the double storey classrooms, all under the watchful eye of Mr Brunner. Latin was also one of my semester subjects in standard six = year eight. One high school bloke by the name of Bert would head towards the station in the morning only to often detour into a large tree in the nature strip at the bottom of our garden. He would wait for both his parents, who worked at Kynochs, to drive over the railway bridge before heading back home across the road from our place, to catch up with his girlfriend and play Elvis music!  Mike and Len also reminded me of the local taxi service provided by Peter McNaught-Davis and his wife.

Anyway our house was a semi-detached three-bedroom rendered brick house with the floor positioned about 3 foot above the ground with some wide undercroft access openings for ventilation purposes. The roof over a 10 foot high ceiling comprised corrugated asbestos. A verandah, with double French type doors, fronted the road with two other entry/exit side doors to the garden via the kitchen and rear of the house. The kitchen originally had a separate pantry room which was subsequently demolished to produce a larger kitchen. The chain-activated toilet, or lavatory as we knew it, was originally a small outhouse contemporary room attached to the house. A new modern type toilet was constructed over the rear garden steps (which were extended) in the mid 60s to provide all weather enclosed access with the house.  The renovations and maintenance of our house, including regular painting every five years or so, was carried out by the company.

Our garden appeared to be huge but in reality it was probably a quarter or third acre lot, with a Cape Honeysuckle fence fronting the shorter boundary to the road, an Australian Myrtle (Lillypilly) fence down the full length of the northern boundary, a Bougainvillea fence down the full length of the southern boundary and a three strand wire fence at the lower end fronting the nature strip above Oppenheimer Road. The land sloped gently to the lower rear boundary before steepening up through the nature strip. Our very long serving housemaid, by the name of Vieena, had her kiah at the bottom left hand side of the garden. Our long term garden man was Gobess, who was replaced by Phineas when Gobess passed away, both travelling daily to our house for work during the weekdays.  We also had chicken runs, bird cages and greenhouses in our garden. My Dad started with the run of bird cages and then got into collecting gems and making jewellery. I still have part of the gem collection in a nice mahogany cabinet with the old ultraviolet light removed. My Dad and brother Clive were however mainly into flowers and orchids in later times. Breeding and selling tropical fish and doing student work at the bottle store paid my university fees.

We had a wonderful garden which had views out to the cooling towers at the old power station at Pinetown to the north, “table top” mountain beyond the large fertilizer shed in the factory to the west and we could also see the smoke from the steam engines over the trees for a long way towards Toti. Our garden included a large makushla tree (with big lucky beans) and a flat crown tree at the front gate, as well as two large mango trees and five very large avocado trees, as well as other native and exotic fruit trees including peach, guava, mulberry and macadamia nuts (which we always knew as Queensland nuts), also bananas, grenadillas (passionfruit) grapes etc. The avos were of two original varieties with elliptical or round fruit with the fruit regularly being over half a kilogram each. The avo variety currently sold in Queensland is not much larger than the size of the pip of our avos of old. The round avos, which we called “butter pears” were our favourites as the fruit was smooth like cheese or butter, whereas the elliptical pears tended to be a bit stringy. The excess round pears, similar in size to bowls, also had the benefit of being able to play bowls with, such were the wasteful conditions that we as kids never appreciated at the time. A high horizontal branch on one of our avo trees also provided good anchor points for our well–used swing. We gained a lot of interest from neighbours one season when a watermelon vine grew up our large mulberry tree with the result that full grown watermelons were hanging like large Christmas decoration balls up to 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Our mangoes were also in demand by the local Indian community, particularly the green ones which were either sliced and eaten with salt or used to make chutney. For a number of years we also had wild spinach growing around our lower fence line. An old Indian bloke used to collect the spinach in big hessian sacks and within a few days he would return with delicious large homemade samoosas with spinach filling. These were always gladly anticipated.

18 (previously 12) Highbury Road, from the rear, 1962

For good international reception my Dad stretched a thin copper wire from our solid state radio for about 30m through two of the avocado trees in the garden, so that we could get “Voice of America” and listen to the count-downs for the space launches from Cape Canaveral.

Guy Fawkes night on 5 November each year was excitedly anticipated at our place. My Uncle Ted would buy boxes of fireworks from his Chinese shop owner friends in Durban and bring these out to our place. Kids, and some adults, from the whole area would come around to take in the fun. We would have a great time with sparklers, squibs, big bangs, roman candles, spinners and rockets. The rockets, including on one occasion one with a clear plastic cylinder with a space man located at the top of the rocket, would be fired off to great heights. Extra fun was also had early the following day to see who could find the left over rocket sticks.

Other activities at different times at our place included raising silkworms to produce diamond and circle shaped bookmarks, making blow pipes, catapults (slingshots) and crossbows, whereas others were into major projects such as making ferro-concrete boats e.g. by Mike and his brother at the end of McGowan Road, where a huge hull was propped up next to their house. Blowpipes were made using different length curtain brass pipe with the darts simply being a pin with a piece of cotton wool for short pipes, or golf tees carefully trimmed for a perfect fit into the pipe with the front comprising a small nail as the point for the long pipes. The reach and accuracy of the long pipes would have made the Amazon Indians proud! Guava branch prongs were best for our catapults and the crossbows were very accurate for 20m or more.

Number 26 Highbury Road (previously number 20), 2002

My good friend John,  from Railway Road, and I had plenty of fun and adventures collecting wild orchids as far away as Shongweni waterfall as well as collecting all sorts of other things and breeding bantams and tropical fish etc. We even built in-ground fish ponds using bricks at both our places. Little did we realise at that time how aggressive cement was on our bare hands, that resulted in the skin on our hands peeling for days afterwards. To this day John has maintained an interest in plants, now having a magnificent bonsai collection of commercial scale. During some of the Christmas holidays we would travel overnight by train with his Mom and sister Su to stay with his relatives in Kroonstad or on his Uncle’s mealie farm named “Doornhoek” near Welkom. Amazingly as 15 year olds we even hitchhiked 300 km each way from Kroonstad to Kimberley to stay with another of John’s cousins and to visit the famous ‘big hole’ at Kimberley. July 20th 1969 also holds good memories when John and I sat on the steps outside my bedroom in the night looking at the moon in the vain hope of seeing a satellite land on or leave the moon during the first moon landing.  Walking to John’s house along Railway Road on hot summer afternoons was an eye opener. The fine grass clippings from the bowling greens above, which had been thrown over the red earth bank along the edge of the road, would start smouldering and smoking without any human assistance. It was only years later that I heard the expression ‘spontaneous combustion’ where the sun’s heat alone triggered the burning. That section of bank was the same place where I dug out small clusters of muscovite mica, i.e. a transparent flaky mineral used for insulation purposes.

Macoyas, i.e. wild mushrooms, would pop up magically under the thorn trees in the nature strip below our garden, during and after thunderstorms. These mushrooms, to the size of saucers, would come out of nowhere in an hour or so. There would always be a mad rush to be the first to get to the mushrooms as all the locals would also be on the look out. Anyway the sliced pieces fried in butter generated a smell like steak and a delicious taste.

In 1966 I planted our Christmas tree (Norfolk Pine) that had become too big for our house. On my last visit to Twini in 2002 the tree soared far above the other trees as shown in my earlier photograph. This tree would have been an easy location marker for my place in the event that the house and surrounds had not been demolished.  Our Christmas tree would have reached the height of the five large Norfolk Pines that were located in Highbury Road, past the intersection with John Coke Road. Neil from Highbury Road reminded me of the lovely blue-headed lizards which frequented those trees.

Garden Creatures

Some creatures in our garden included birds, bats, snakes, moles, shrews, chameleons, frogs, giant snails, shongalolos (long black millipedes), click beetles, cicadas and the unwelcome termites.

We had a vast array of birds in our garden and around the village. Paradise fly-catchers, barbets, sunbirds, weavers, yellow-eyed canaries, drongos, woodpeckers, Narina Trogons and the list goes on. Because we had bird cages all the locals would bring injured or orphaned birds for us to look after. One orphan was a baby African Hoopoe that I fed until it was able to walk. I then had the task of working out how to teach it to feed, knowing that these birds would walk along the ground and probe their long beaks into the soil to catch worms. Anyway I got it to follow me, with the bird walking on the ground and me pushing my index finger into the sand. Much to my excitement I found that the Hoopoe copied me and in no time was able to distinguish whether there were one or two worms in the hole, going back for a second grab when appropriate. The Hoopoe stayed in my room and would fly in and out through the window for about two weeks before it decided that it was time to go permanently.

Piet our pied crow was another example of an injured bird brought to our house. He was found with a broken wing on the side of a road somewhere, so my dad made a lovely cage out of a large cable drum placed about 5 foot off the ground on a steel pole. Some of the outer cylinder planks made a door, other outer planks were removed and replaced with bird wire with some of the inner cylinder planks removed for a night time sleeping place. Piet stayed with us from 1962 to 1975 in Twini then moved with us until 1978 in Toti before some other good person took him off our hands when we moved again. The cable drums in various forms also came in very handy for other uses. Some of the cable drums had metal internal cylinders rather than wood slats. Anyway my Dad made a great six foot diameter garden table under one of the avocado trees by removing the outer perimeter wood slats and one of the wooden ‘wheels’ and then burying the metal inner cylinder vertically into the ground with the remaining wooden ‘wheel’ as the table top.

Catching birds was a regular pastime, whether it was by walk-in traps with pull strings or caller traps, using bird lime (a sticky bubble gum-like substance made from mistletoe berries) or even spraying with a hosepipe, usually for escaped budgies. Green twinspots, lavender finches and swee waxbills were the main interest although rooibekkies and others were trapped as far away as in the sugar cane fields. The birds were either swapped or sold to blokes that came from as far away as Jo’burg.

Oppenheimer Road and nature strip near the entry to the station, 2002

Twini was alive with snakes. Mr. Blewett, who was factory manager from 1922 to 1928 and is mentioned in the 100 year South Coast Sun article, stated “since I first worked at Umbogintwini I have tramped many miles in all parts of Africa, but no other place I know has had anything like as many snakes as that area on which the factory was built”. The same applied in my time with red-lipped heralds and house snakes being the most common, but green and black mambas, boomslangs, night adders, egg eaters, sand snakes, Natal black snakes, cobras and others being everywhere. Our neighbour Ken P. got me started with catching snakes. On one occasion Ken came over to our place with a black snake around his neck like a necklace, which we kids naturally also took turns at doing. It was only after Ken went to the snake park on Durban Beach that Mr Fitzsimons let him know that his ‘pet’ was a Natal black snake and apparently one of the most poisonous snakes in the province. The water meters in the road were the best place for catching snakes as the finger hole permitted the snakes to enter the buried pit box and either catch frogs or to rest for the day or night. On one occasion Mr Wise, from 20 (subsequently 26) Highbury Road, sent his garden boy up to our place for me to come and help with a snake that they had found in their large paper bag with chicken food. For the one and only time in all my snake catching time, my Dad instinctively decided to also go down (with our trusty Gecado 27 air rifle) to see what was going on. The bag had been placed in the middle of the lawn and the scrunched up top had partially opened. Nothing could be seen until my Dad approached the bag, and when about 10 feet away, the flared head of a Rinkals cobra came momentarily out of the top of the bag and spat venom across my Dad’s right cheek  –  the snake having aimed purely on the basis of vibrations from his feet moving across the ground towards the bag. Needless to say that bag was peppered with lead pellets from a distance and the dead 4 foot cobra was eventually retrieved. The big issue here is that my Dad and I could have been permanently blinded in one or both eyes due to the toxicity of the venom.

Three types of bats were seen. The most common were the small insect-eating bats which would sleep in the newest vertical cylindrical banana leaves during the day. We would catch them by placing a clean jam jar over the opening at the top of the new banana leaf then squeeze the bottom of the leaf progressively upwards until the bat ended up in the bottle. We were always extremely careful not to get bitten as we had been warned that they could carry rabies. A large white-winged bat variety was often found in our large avo trees. These solitary bats would constantly move around the tree trunk to hide from you. On one occasion we had a bunch of bananas ripening on the verandah which when ‘approached’ on the inside of the door window would find a very large fruit bat (similar to the flying foxes in Australia) hanging on the bananas and baring its teeth at us. Needless to say bananas were never placed there again.

Looking south along Highbury Road from near the corner with John Cope Road, 2002

Moles with their soil mounds were everywhere. These near blind, rat-like creatures had a shiny silver grey coat. Some people had an intense dislike for the moles as their mounds spoiled the look of the lawns. Moles were easily caught simply by staying dead still until they started pumping up the soil and then quickly digging below the mound with a spade. The only problem was that the underground tunnels contained families of moles so catching them one at a time was a hopeless exercise.

The termites, or white ants as we called them, were quite large and would come flying out in their thousands in the evening after summer rains. Timber (non-treated in those days) left on the ground would seldom last more than a week or two. The termites would even get up off the ground into timber stockpiles, although I did notice that they made no impact on some heavy strong Australian jarrah that I recall being left overs of some railway sleepers. Anyway the veranda was usually covered in masses of large termite wings the night after these were shed. The termites did however provide a great source of food for many of our birds as well as for the small round milky skin toads that would pop out of the sandy soil in the night to have a feast.

Early Memories

One of my early memories included walking down the railway line towards Pingo with my Dad and seeing a purple crested loerie with wide open purple wings and emerald green body gliding below and away from us into the nearby trees  –  what a beautiful sight. We then took a short cut through the tropical bush, from near the later Dickens Road bridge over the railway line, towards the “new village’ only to be confronted by a large eye-height bush buck i.e. Nkonka. Both sides stared at each other for what seemed to be a long time before the buck simply turned around and trotted away at an unconcerned pace further into the trees.

Reference: Railway Society of South Africa – Natal Branch

Walking along the railway lines towards Durban or Toti, e.g. to go to the bird sanctuary in Umdoni Road, was not uncommon in those days as the steam trains could be heard from miles away. Prior to electrification the trains running from Pingo to Twini had to negotiate the Twini Hill, the grades of which dramatically affected the speed. The following extract (approximately 1930s) from “My Story  –  A Family Saga” by Malcolm Stewart is worth quoting here as it also had relevance in my time. The article itself also gives a great insight into the early days of Warner Beach, Doonside and Toti.

“In the vicinity of Umbogintwini there was a long steep gradient which the locomotives of the time surmounted only with great difficulty, and at a veritable snail’s pace, in spite of the most valiant and strenuous efforts of the engine crew, and so, as a diversion from the tedium of the journey, young blades would hop off the train at the bottom and trot alongside, beating the train to the top where they would once again gleefully rejoin. This was quite contrary to regulations and was done in a spirit of tempting fate and retaliation, but nevertheless, they always took great pains not to reboard the train in the carriage in which the ticket examiner was working.

The lawbreaking pranksters possessed two great advantages however. One was the plumes of coal dust grit, spewn into the air, and the other was the thick black smoke billowing over the train, both of which were necessitated by the need of the engine crew to build up the required head of steam, but both of which also made ticket examiners, and guards, as well as the other passengers very averse to looking out open windows to identify culprits. In fact, one’s proximity to the Umbogintwini hill could be very accurately judged, from the crashing of train windows being raised by experienced travellers, keeping out the smoke and dust.”

Oppenheimer Road towards Twini station over rail pedestrian bridge, 2002

The article not only gives some idea of the conditions in the passenger steam trains but also relates to my time when heavily loaded sugar cane trains heading from Pingo to the Illovo sugar mill would chug up the hill. The trains were so slow that local lads would jump onto the moving wagons and strip off the sugar cane by throwing the sticks to the edge of the track until the guard at the end would go ballistic. The lads would then jump off the wagons to return later to pick up the cane sticks and have a great feast on the nature strip below our place. It was not unusual for heavily loaded goods trains to also leave half of their load on the Pingo flats and then return to pick it up after leaving the first half at Twini after negotiating the hill. Needless to say all the shenanigans came to an end when the rail was electrified. The passenger service was very well patronised in my time. When the Royal Show was on in Pietermaritzburg, Standard 5 kids from Twini Primary would even catch a regular service at about 6.30 AM before connecting with the special train to get to Maritzburg around 10 AM, before doing the return trip starting around 2 PM. Rabbit pelts, fairy floss and toffee apples were always popular buys at the show.

The Railway Society of South Africa (RSSA) Natal Branch have graciously permitted the use of the photographs, taken by past members, shown in the website. They have a very impressive website worth looking at, showing many photos of stations along the south coast line. Many photos of Merebank, Reunion, Toti, Warner Beach etc are included, which I feel sure will bring back many memories.

Reference: Railway Society of South Africa, Natal Branch

My family also have a long association with the railways with my father’s grandfathers on both sides having worked for the Natal Government Railway. The May 6th 1951 Sunday Tribune article below covers my great-grandfather and great-grandmother Hume’s story. You will see that major floods and the Illovo bridge figure prominently.

Reference: Railway Society of South Africa, Natal Branch

Reference: Railway Society of South Africa, Natal Branch

Twini Beach

Walking with my parents from home to Twini beach, not more than half an hour, was also one of the earliest memories. A narrow dirt track zigzagged down the steep slope through the coastal silverleaf trees down to the beach about 250 feet (80m) below, the start of the track being at the sharp corner in Ocean View Road, nearby which in later years also became the launch pad for hang gliders. This was a popular beach for the locals until the 60s, particularly at low tide when about 1 mile length of beach rock was exposed for a distance of up to 20 yards (18m) off the sand line. A deep pool had also been blown out by Kynochs during the early 1900s to provide a swimming pool for the village people. Many small natural pools in the rocks were like mini aquariums that provided refuge for dogfish and other species as well as live cowries, sea urchins and even small octopus. The rock edge was also a perfect spot for fishing at low tide. Scratching around in the sand and gravel in the small tidal pools frequently produced coins and on one occasion even a nice gold ring. Going down the track to the beach was however fraught with some danger including on one occasion when a night adder lay in a rutted-out section of the track which had to be quickly bypassed, as well as when a large green mamba, at eye level in the silverleaf trees just off the seaside edge of the track, on another occasion had to be got past. My Mom gave up walking to the beach after a while because of the steep walk back and because of her fear of snakes. I have many other good memories of that beach including catching many karanteen (good eating, with fried battered roe the best) and even following a lost small penguin along the wave line heading towards Durban. The penguin was many hundreds of kilometres from its normal range toward the Cape. Large deep turtle nest holes were also not an uncommon sight in the elevated parts of the beach.

Reference:  South Coast Sun, 3 July 2008

Jubilee Hall

Mr Oppenheimer, Harry as he liked to be known, officiated at the opening of the Jubilee Hall in 1958 which I attended with my Dad. As a kid I didn’t realize how important a figure he was in the world as Anglo American for which the AE & CI factory at Twini was a subsidiary, and De Beers were intimately tied up with his family. In simple terms the main gold and diamond supply of the world was tied up with his family. The main excitement for me however was the same night at the sports field when an epic fireworks display was put on. This included metal frameworks constructed such that a goose would walk along, lay an egg and the egg would hatch with the baby following its mother until the light frame fireworks ran out. In another scene two battleships fired at each other until one of the ships caught fire at the end of the scene.

The Jubilee Hall was more of the social centre of the village than the clubhouse. The Jubilee Hall replaced a small wooden building on stumps that was located behind the war memorial. Susan Baker, from across the road, would taken me at about 4 years of age to attend Sunday School there. The Jubilee Hall had the entrance with outside facing ticket office and opposite steps up to the projection room fronting Oppenheimer Road with glass French type doors for opening fronting the full length of the western side verandah. A small room off the verandah was the original library before it moved to the old house past the tennis courts and later swimming pool. The stage and undercroft storage was located at the far southern end. The Dam Busters of WWII bouncing bomb fame and Operation Noah are two of many movies held at the hall which I can still clearly remember today. Operation Noah came about after the construction of Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world at the time, on the border between Southern and Northern Rhodesia i.e. Zimbabwe and Zambia. The filling of the lake resulted in a huge number of wildlife being rescued and relocated. The hall was also used for multiple other purposes including Womens Institute meetings, flower shows, company Christmas parties for the employees’ kids, badminton, as well as being leased out for other functions including discos, Twini Primary School prizegivings and weddings. At one Christmas party we even had a live local band, called ‘Peter and the Dolphins’ as I recall, keeping us entertained with the “Four Jacks and a Jill” entertaining patrons on another occasion. I became a regular badminton player, with many others including Johann from down the road with his incredible backhand smash and Mr Ron Sparkes training the juniors and managing the seniors. Tricia and I also had our wedding reception at the hall with all catering organised by the Womens Institute with the always energetic Mrs Flora Rice at the helm. Jubilee Hall was also a major stop for the school bus to and from Kingsway High School. Joy from Highbury Road reminded me of how they would run down the road to get milk from the milkman who parked his cart outside the Jubilee Hall.

Reference : Amanzimtoti Lions Club Collection

The following extract in ‘A History of Amanzimtoti’ is from the 27 October 1966 edition of the Tom Tom: “The Umbogintwini Dramatic Society is presenting ‘Something to Hide’ by Leslie Sands, produced by Bertha McSkimming in the Jubilee Hall Umbogintwini on November 17, 18 and 19. The cast includes Polly Summerville, Robert McMillan, Bob Schuter, Elinor Railton, Enid Hedgcock, Jennifer Schuter and Basil Hedgcock.” Separate articles on the same page discuss the Umbogintwini and District Caledonian Society meeting, also that Mrs Strangman of Umbogintwini won a portable radio in the Kingsway Old Pupils Club cricket meeting and that S. Bjorseth of Umbogintwini was a M.O.T.H. Cinema prize winner.

War Memorial

The war memorial was located adjacent to the south west corner of Oppenheimer and Highbury Roads i.e. across the road from the Jubilee Hall. I remember watching at least two of the memorial gatherings held annually at the monument. It is shameful that the memories of those who were killed in war have been lost by the removal of the monument, which took up so little space. Many thanks to my brother Mark and to Russel Andraos who supplied the following pictures from the M.O.T.H. collection. I have also sketched up a scaled version of the full monument. Lest we forget.

Reference: M.O.T.H collection

Twini River Lagoon

The Twini River lagoon and beach also holds many memories. This is another feature which has been wiped out of history due to the redirection of the river out to sea via a canal on the Pingo side –  the aerial photo indicates that this is now just an elongated dry patch. In my time this was a long narrow brackish lagoon where the river water built up to a point where the beach bar was breached and the river flowed into a small ocean bay between submerged rock shelves. The wave action then rebuilt the beach bar, with the back lagoon being a good spot for fishing. Access to the beach was originally via a steep narrow walkway along the southern side before an access track was constructed for vehicle access from the car park to the beach. Mullet, tiger fish, gobies and other small fish could always be caught. The main interest however was the rock salmon and other larger fish. On one occasion my friend Terry from the ‘New Village’ and I rode down to the lagoon on our bikes with rods. Hudd Road and Linscott Road was our usual route to Golf Course Road and then to the lagoon. Terry caught a 6 pound rock salmon which gave a huge fight. That however turned out to be the easy part, taking the fish back home with our old three speed bikes, rods and tackle, especially up the steep part of Linscott Road, was the difficult part. On another occasion my Dad caught a large queenfish using one of the lures that he made. On another occasion we also had three Kens in our fishing trip to the lagoon, so for communications purposes the eldest our neighbour Ken P. was called Kenneth, Ken R who lived next to the St Johns Church was called Ken and I being the youngest was called Kenny. The lagoon even had a jetty off the golf course level which gave better access to the deeper water for fishing. The aerial image indicates that the relict structure still exists, isolated in the middle of dry land. On another night time fishing trip with my Dad and Uncle Ted we had a fantastic view of the Skylab satellite which moved at relatively slow speed and because of its low proximity to earth was like a huge yellow ball. On yet another trip I found a bleached whale skeleton on the Pingo side of the lagoon. I ended up carrying one of the large vertebrae back home with some difficulty, for our feature garden next to the old toilet which included the ancient pottery and other interesting artifacts which had been collected. The lagoon beach itself was a very popular place for young surfers and other ‘beach bums’ from Twini and Athlone Park. I can clearly remember Richard, Gavin, Andre, Bernard, Allan, two Marks, Steven and at least ten others near the beach rock face on many occasions. Coincidentally a number of those characters now live on Brisbane’s Sunshine Coast and on Bribie Island. Fishing for green shad with my Dad in the bay was also a big thing in winter. We would get to the bay before daybreak, bait up and start fishing, usually successfully. The only problem was that it was so cold that my fingers became numb and shrivelled. The only way to provide relief was to quickly bait up and cast out by standing in the waves which were quite warm compared with the beach. My brother Mark would also regularly catch crayfish off the rock shelf. It’s also a special place to my family as my Dad’s ashes were also spread beyond the bay in 1997.

Reference: Frances Clayton collection
Picture showing the sandstone rock face, Surfview units, Benvicks house in Radar Crescent, the golf course club house, the lagoon behind the beach bar, and the partially dismantled Dakota.

This is the same beach where the Dakota aeroplane ditched in the sea on 28 December 1973 after running out of fuel a short distance from the airport, on a trip back from a Lesotho casino. I was doing uni student work at the bottle store when the Dakota came in so low that we all ran outside to see what was happening and realising that the plane was in trouble, virtually gliding on its last breath to land in the breakers just outside the bay at Twini lagoon. Those that died jumped out of the plane which saved most of the remaining passengers and crew when it simply floated to the shore. The beach appears to have become informally known by some as Dakota Beach because of that incident.

Roderick reminded me of adventures along the Twini River from the area of the African sports field where huge guavas could be picked. Areas of rapidly deposited sand resulted in quicksand situations where you found yourself instantly thigh high into the very loose sand  –  very frightening! There were also two old sand-filled circular brick-lined well points in that part of the river. There was however about two foot of internal water with overhanging grass which was great for catching small fish, eels and shrimps which hid in the grass edge. The grass also provided good nesting spots for wagtails, as well as the occasional water snake which would give you a huge fright when they darted out of the grass. Bilharzia was potentially always an issue, however I only heard of one case where children contracted the disease from playing in a fresh stockpile of sand obtained from the river.

Sports facilities

The village was very well endowed with the adjoining bowls green, tennis courts, squash courts, swimming pool and 18 hole golf course with a club house and caddy facilities, in addition to the main sports field, with its concrete cricket pitch, a short distance away.

Karen Muir the Springbok child prodigy swimmer, who held fifteen world records at the time, opened the swimming pool. Us kids, although of similar age to Karen, climbed onto the tennis court perimeter fence to get a better view of her swim. Few swimming pools existed in those days. The public sea pool at Inyoni Rocks at Toti and a private swimming pool at the Anderton’s house in Radar Crescent Athlone Park were the main locations for swimming before the Twini pool opened. In the summer months Mrs Anderton, would invite her lady friends around the pool for one afternoon per week. All the kids from far and wide would also be welcome to go swimming at the same time, with the ladies keeping a keen eye out for any silly activities.

The golf course, originally cleared to grow cotton, was always kept in immaculate condition. It was a good short cut when walking to Toti provided you kept an eye out for whizzing golf balls.  I vaguely recall hearing that Gary Player, one of the greatest golfers of all time, played on the course. The well-known Indian player Sewsunker Sewgolum, known as “Papwa” also won a major title at the course. The other nearest golf course at Twini lagoon was usually referred to as the Isipingo Golf Club although officially named the Amanzimtoti Golf Club.


The sports field also holds good memories where the annual factory sports was held. In addition to the usual track events, there were traditional events such as the greasy pole, i.e. a 20 foot or so timber telephone pole that had been greased up with a coconut hanging at the top. The first man to the top to retrieve the coconut received a prize. The guys tried all sorts of tactics to reduce the effects of the grease such as removing their shirts to use as rolled up grease catchers on the way up. A bloke by the name of Bevis was unbelievable as he usually won the competition. Having sack fights on a horizontal pole on a timber frame and coconut shies were other events. The announcer for the day was usually Mr Bob Hann, the chemist at the hospital across the road in real life. At one of the annual sports days we were given an amazing show with about 30 Zulu men dressed up in full black and white cattle skin battle regalia. A small bloke was in the front stirring up the ‘warriors’ who would bang their shields with sticks in unison as well as lift each bare foot and bang it again in unison with such force that the ground vibrated. I believe that some of the Zulu ‘warriors’ were also in a music group (possibly Ladysmith Black Mambazo) as my Dad mentioned that one of the plant workers had got back from a performance for the Queen in London. Informal soccer and cricket was also played on the field when word got around that a game was on.  Formal soccer was also played at the field by the Twini Park Football Club before the senior and junior teams moved to the Dickens Road field. Jimmy was the goalkeeper and manager of the senior team as I recall with others including Woody, Ronnie, Ian and others. The juniors or ‘lighties’ were later very successfully trained Mr Crawford (after his family arrived from Zambia) with Roy, Mark and others playing to quite a high standard. Those were the days when soccer supporters were fanatically split down the middle between Durban City and Durban United. An undated reference in “A History of Amanzimtoti” also states that S. Inggs of Twini School set a new record of 12.7 seconds for the under 12 boys 100 yards race at the interschools at the sports field.

Twini Primary

Twini Primary School also brings back a lot of memories. When I started there in 1959 Mr Stander was Headmaster however beloved “Pop” Ferron was the Headmaster from 1960 for the rest of my time there. The school initially went to standard 6 (grade 8) before changing to standard 5 (grade 7).  Before South Africa became a republic on 31 May 1961, traditional English activities such as maypole dancing were enjoyed at the school. In those early days we were even supplied with milk by the school which was even delivered by a helicopter on one occasion much to the absolute amazement of all. The main playing field, on the south side and below of these original school buildings, had only been excavated around 1960. The concrete footpath, to the footbridge over the N2 at the southern end of the school field, provided a great spot for billy cart runs and skateboarding. A lovely amphitheatre had also been made in a clearing in the thick tropical bush across the road from the main entry to the school. A couch grass area sloped down to the near level stage with freshly cut tree branches installed vertically to form a ‘curtain’ from behind which we kids would make our entry onto the stage. Shows were usually put on at night with our parents sitting on the grass slope and some lights strung up around the place to provide sufficient light for all concerned. Singing classes in about Standard 4 included Molly Malone (alive alive oh, singing cockles and mussels), It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Loch Lomond (you take the high road and I’ll take the low road), Waltzing Matilda etc.

The boys would play soccer or marbles and do other things before school and in the morning and the main lunch time breaks. These activities were on the top field between the school buildings and the tennis court, cricket pitch and groundsman’s residence. I and many others used to run or ride our bikes to and from home during the main lunch break. During one of our soccer games before school the school bully by the nickname of “Fatty” would get a long piece of rope and with one of his henchmen at the other end would pull the rope tight and run across the field to mow down as many as possible. On another occasion “Fatty” brought a Gecado 23 air gun to school and again, during a pre-school soccer game, used green lantana berries as ammunition to fire at whoever was within range. I believe “Fatty” subsequently mysteriously left the school! When we found out that someone had the words to “Ag Pleez Daddy” we all got to school early and gathered in the assembly covered area to copy down the words.

Mrs Gardiner, Miss Gibson, Miss Pascoe and Miss Cooke were some of my teachers. Miss Cooke, who was my Standard 5 teacher and close to retirement, was an inspiration when telling us about her travels in Europe, all by mail ship in those days. I very clearly remember Miss Cooke taking our class down to the sports field on 11 November 1965 when we only had a few weeks left in junior school. An SAA Boeing 727 flew over on its final approaches to Louis Both airport when Miss Cooke told us that Ian Smith had declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) for Rhodesia. Miss Cooke went on to explain what it meant and also to provide advice for our futures when we entered the big pond of high school.

On the sports field it was usually a tussle between Robin from Chamberlain Road, Roderick from Athlone Park and me for the high jump title, also between Peter and Ian from Athlone Park and me for the 100 yards race.

On one occasion with my desk next to the south facing window in Standard 5, I spotted a sand snake coming along the edge of the block. I immediately jumped out the window to catch the snake much to the horror of Miss Cooke and a lot of the pupils. That otherwise made me so popular that classmate Martin, who lived down the road from me, was so impressed that he even gave me a lift home for lunch on his coveted new three speed bike. Martin was amazingly knowledgeable for our age group, regularly giving me updates on how Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) was doing when fighting Sonny Liston, as well as the development progress of the Concorde airliner and TSR2 spy plane and much more. Anyway good cricket games were also had at Martin’s place with his brother John and other neighbours including Richard.

‘Yokkie’ another school friend from Reservoir Rise in Athlone Park invited me to his place one afternoon to see his Dad’s Chinchillas, i.e. nocturnal rabbit-like animals that were in big demand for their pelts. After that we went along the road to look out to sea to see the Windsor Castle mail ship on its trip to Southampton via Cape Town. That lovely ship was not far offshore after leaving Durban on Thursdays for its run every two weeks to England.  There are some great pictures, and even a You-Tube clip, of this ship online.

Twini school received a number of international pupils during my time. They came from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Zambia, Mauritius, England and Holland. One of the girls in our Standard 5 class was Mary, whose family I recall had arrived from Kenya following the Mau Mau crisis. Her friends included Ann and one of the Karens in our class who were also new arrivals at the school.

The well known singer and writer Penelope Jane Dunlop (AKA PJ Powers) states in her book “Here I am” that she went to Twini school before she became a singer. She mentions having lived at 33 Churchill Road Umbogintwini (actually Athlone Park) and winning Eisteddfod and tap and modern dancing competitions at the school.  I did not achieve any dizzying heights at primary school but did manage to get the woodwork prize in standard 5 at the school prizegiving at the Jubilee Hall. Penny S. and Corinne H. were the bright sparks in my Standard 5 class. My Twini Primary motto “Aim High”, my Kingsway High motto “Ut Prosim” (that I may serve) and my air force motto “Per Aspera ad Astra” (through hardship to the stars) have however kept me on the straight and narrow!

We had three Miss South Africas from our area. Disa Duvenstein from Athlone Park was the winner in the 1967 competition. I am not sure whether Disa went to Twini School however her brother went to the school in my time. Mr Duivestein was also well known in the area for his attempts, with other local businessmen, to locate a treasure ship off the Wild Coast in Pondoland where gold coins had been found along the coastline. I can’t recall which ship it was, possibly the 1554 Portuguese Sao Bento or 1782 British Grosvenor.

Highland Gathering

The Highland Gathering was a highlight of the year for me. The first gathering was held at Twini Primary School on 15 June 1963 as part of the fund-raising for the junior school. I remember Mr Steyn or possibly Mr Raath practicising as the lone piper from Athlone Park before the main event. Dr and Mrs Dalziel and Mr and Mrs Leesam were also heavily involved with the event. The gathering turned out to be a huge success with tombolas, girls competing with traditional dancing over crossed swords and the bagpipe bands being judged throughout the day. The end of the gathering culminated with the mass band marching and playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ and other music that reverberated through the whole district. There were so many bands in the mass pipe event that they could barely do any marching across the sports field before having to turn back on themselves. The Queen’s Piper even came out from England to judge the bands in about 1968. The event was subsequently moved to Hutchinson Park in Toti, possibly for extra space. That venue however failed to capture the atmosphere of the Twini site. In recent years there apparently have been up to 1,000 bandsmen and women competing, so the success story rolls on.


Reference: A Brisbane Collector’s SAAF Harvard, Ken Grubb collection

The regular fly-pasts of the coastal surveillance  Sunderland flying boats, based at Congella, was also one of my early recollections. The Sunderlands were replaced by the Avro Shackletons which were a variation of the famous Avro Lancasters of WWII. The Harvards, Shackletons, Vampires, Sabres, Canberras, Mirages, Impalas (aeromachies), Buccaneers, Hercules, Transals, Allouette and Puma and Superfrelon helicopters of the air force as well as all the airways Constellations, Skymasters, Viscounts, Comets, Boeing 707s, 727s and 737s and other commercial planes would fly at fairly low altitude over our house to or from the now abandoned Louis Botha airport. Unfortunately I missed the Concorde’s test flight to Louis Botha Airport in the early 1970s. Watching the WWII pilot veterans keeping up their training with the Harvards on Saturdays was a scene to behold. The Harvards from No. 5 Squadron would do loop de loops, do vertical stalls and other antics. On one occasion a well known major even flew south to north along Highbury Road just above the power lines waving his aircraft’s wings along the way where his fishing mates lived!  On another occasion a flight of large four-engine propeller US Airforce planes (B50s ?) with their orange banding accompanying an off-shore aircraft carrier fleet came in so low that everything shook and shuddered as they passed. I was in the flower garden helping my dad with a new agapanthus bed around 1963 when the first flight of dart-shaped Mirage fighters to Durban flew over in a magical ‘V’ formation. The mirages, which required rear parachutes to land, became notorious for breaking the sound barrier with the sonic booms shattering windows up and down the coast.

Reference: “A history of Amanzimtoti”
Highland gathering, Hutchinson Park, 1973

Adventures to the South

Walks and outdoor activities towards Toti to the south were mainly via the railway tracks or along the golf course. The railway track route would take us along the edge of a large open channel, originally for effluent from the factory, and past the ‘forest’ as we named it, which I believe is now part of the Umbogavango nature area. Grey duiker (impiti), bushbuck, mongooses, monkeys and the occasional genet cat were observed. Animals jumping into the long grass-lined effluent drain were often heard but never seen. These were perhaps water mongooses or otters which were known in the area and definitely not legavaans or monitor lizards, which grew to at least 6 foot long, and had a totally different sound when jumping into water. Fortunately we never came across the very dangerous bush pigs that became a serious nuisance on some of the smallholdings in the Toti area in the 1970s. Occasional leopard sightings were mentioned by others in the dense bush areas and around the cliff lines along the Twini and Umkomaas Rivers where dassies (hyrax) were common at the cliff locations. There was great excitement when a pair of crested eagles first set up nest in the ‘forest’ which included plantation pine trees. Those birds subsequently became a regular sight.

The open channel was left in place with the effluent then going in underground pipes to outlet at the end of a high gantry near Toti Beach, the effluent simply pouring from high above into the sea at the low water mark. The underground pipes were subsequently extended to about 1.5 km along the sea bed and out to sea. The construction of the undersea outfall was a huge attraction with many people visiting the beach to see progress with the amphibious ‘duck’ vehicles riding along the beach and then going straight into the waves like boats and out to sea were the main attraction. The old beachside gantry was also demolished as part of the works, so if you didn’t know the current name Pipeline Beach you would be totally unaware of what  passes under you and out to sea. In my time this was a popular spot for daytime fishing for blue shad in winter, also daga salmon (mulloway/jewfish) in the night. The daga salmon that were caught were regularly 20 – 40 lbs and their large ivory-like balance stones (otoliths) were regularly made into earrings by my Dad at the request of his fishing friends for their wives. Massive sardine runs in winter would also beach around the pipeline, with the accompanying frenetic activity with people running into the water to scoop up the sardines, the diving gannets and other birds going crazy, gluttonous sharks, so full with sardines, would often simply roll up and down the beach in the waves. There were frequent stories of night time fishermen at the pipeline hearing the drumming sound of diesel engines out to sea but relatively close to the beach. These were firmly believed to be Russian submarines getting up to nefarious activities. This was also a good beach to use my metal detector that I bought from the U.S. in 1969.

My brother Mark reminded me of the sinking of the coastal trader “Griqualand” off the pipeline beach on 14 November 1970. The ship caught fire and was sunk by shelling by the Royal Navy HMS Dido as it was a danger to shipping. Our family, on hearing the gunfire, travelled to Ocean View Road to watch the sinking.  The wreck has since apparently become a good place for spear fishing for daga salmon. I don’t recall any flotsam from the wreck getting to the nearby beaches, totally different from when the Aimee Lykes ran aground on Aliwal Shoal on 26 October 1963. The 3000 tons of cargo was then jettisoned only to be found for miles along the local beaches for many weeks afterwards. The Aimee Lykes was eventually dragged off the rocky shoal with great difficulty and spent 6 months in repair in Durban before returning to the U.S.

Interestingly I note that a major international internet cable to be installed around the African coast in planned to have a landfall connection at the Pipeline Beach. The WIOCC planning report by Acer gives some really good information on all potential impacts that they need to consider.

The book tilted “A History of Amanzimtoti” by M.J. Meitiner provides a lot of short stories, information, newspaper cuttings and photographs which also covers surrounding suburbs including Twini.


St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Highbury Road and St John’s Anglican Church in Oppenheimer Road were located within the village boundaries, whereas the Presbyterian Church is located just outside the village boundary in Prince Street and the Methodist Church is located further away in Athlone Park.

Our family are not particularly religious, or political for that matter, however as kids we went to the Methodist Church for a short while. Any religious inclinations that we may have had were dashed due to an English fellow by the name of Reverend Polly who had very little to say other than giving us endless ear bashings on South African politics. My brother Clive and I ended up avoiding Sunday school by hiding in the garden when Mr Higo arrived on Sunday mornings whilst rounding up the local kids for church.

I can’t remember much about St John’s Church, however the well-attended St Patrick’s Catholic Church, a short distance from our place in Highbury Road, brings back plenty of memories of friends and their parents walking past our place around 6.30 A.M. on Sunday mornings heading to church. Mrs Kelly in her South Coast Sun article of 2 October 2017 (click onto gives a good write-up on the 100 year commemoration of the church on 26 August 1917. Information on the graves in the cemetery can also be obtained by going to the eGGSA library site with the words ‘Umbogintwini St Patricks Church cemetery’ which includes headstone details in photos of the church.

Reference: Google Maps
Presbyterian Church

I recall the building of the Presbyterian Church, the history of which is covered by clicking onto The article not only gives information on AE&CI and the Twini club, Jubilee Hall etc, but also has some photos including of Mr Wheelock and Mr Sheares. Dr McLeod, of Twini hospital fame, and one of the main movers in establishing the church, died in Kenya in 1965. His funeral service, “probably the largest ever held there”, was held at the church and his name is also apparently on a foundation stone there.

Scout Hut

The scout hut was located along Rees Road near the original road gate separating Twini from Athlone Park. This was the place where the cubs and scouts got their training, also a location where fights between some of the boys were settled. Vim Hofland has put together a nice website with photos and names including Ian Derwent and others (click onto for more details including a picture of three Springbok Scouts i.e. himself, Stuart Boyd and David Gurr at the Jubilee Hall.

Across the road from the scout hut was a flat mainly bare red earth area with a bank that we all knew as “sandy bank”. Much fun was had there by myself, Dux, Millie, Leonard and others. Fun included climbing the silverleaf trees, eating monkey apples, collecting “money balls” i.e. pill-millipedes with hard brown shells that rolled up to sizes larger than a large marble, also getting Millie’s fox terrier to catch rats in the mown grass mounds.

Harry’s Shack

Harry’s Shack was a local institution. It was located on the spur line platform, directly through the nature strip and across Oppenheimer Road below our place. This small square tin shed had all the essentials for the local kids when the got their pocket money, or people riding past on Oppenheimer Road or walking past to Twini railway station. “Cooldrinks” such as Coke and Pepsi, milk, bread, pies, cakes, sweets and bubble gum including Wicks and Chappies, could all be obtained from this small shop. A farthing (quarter penny) would buy one bubblegum.

Two Indian blokes did the sales whereas a retarded tall Indian fellow by the name of Gunda kept the surrounding, mainly gravel area, in immaculate shape simply by using a ‘broom’ only made from tree branches. Gunda exhibited some albinism and had slightly buck teeth, and always wore oversized longs that were strapped with string around his waist. He was always barefooted and a harmless chap who enjoyed talking to kids but was otherwise kept on a tight rein by his two bosses.

A large Chinese Elm tree was located close to the shack. The tree supported a population of European sparrows, otherwise know as “mossies”, as well as some Indian mynahs and doves. Occasional prolonged wet weather in winter would usually result in many of the birds dying and lying around the floor for Gunda to clean up.

The railways later built a fenced enclosure near the elm tree. Platelayers in their big trucks would pull up to get supplies or park under the tree in the afternoon, killing time until knockoff.

My brother Mark reminded me of the boxing matches that were also held there.

Anyway the shack was later condemned as a supposed health risk to meet new standards. This was just a pretext in my mind as I never heard of anyone getting sick from the supplied foodstuffs.


The hospital was operated by the company for the benefit of the employees and their families. Located on elevated land above the sports field, this relatively small set-up with at least three or four wards had Dr McLeod as the very popular resident doctor for most of my time, with Dr Bougas and Dr Groves taking over in later years. Dr Fraser and Dr Gordon from Scotland also preceded Dr McLeod.  Mr Bob Hann was the chemist for the dispensing of medicine with Sister or Matron Holder being in charge of the wards. The hospital provided a great service whether for general ailment assistance, medical procedures or childbirth.

Dr McLeod of Scottish origin called the children his ‘bairns’. Going to see the doctor usually started by being given some big pink calcium tablets which were sweets as far as we kids were concerned. As was the usual practice in those days Dr McLeod would also do house calls at all hours of the night if required.

Destruction of the village starts – 2008

16-18 (Formerly 10-12) Highbury Rd
Lee Farrington Collection, 24.12.2008

19 (Formerly 13) Highbury Rd


Twini village provided a unique setting during my time; whether for the close proximity to the beach and most of the necessary facilities or for the high level of social interaction and other aspects described above.

The lifestyle, for a young boy in those days, was also many worlds away from the current sedentary digital lifestyle.

Paradise fly catcher by Ken Grubb, 30.12.1967

Progress must happen however it is a crying shame that the current development in Twini has totally obliterated all traces of the environmental and heritage value of the place.

Destruction of the village started in 2008, exactly 100 years after the first sod was turned at the factory.

My website provides some knowledge of a place that has almost been written out of history.

Finally my article may hopefully spur others on to record their knowledge and experiences of the Twini of old.

Thanks to Tricia, Gavin and the local Facebook club for all the help.

See all the great comments at the end of the website and add yours!

More Information

The following sections are recollections of people covering the “good old days” of the factory and village. These sections, again in no particular order, provide additional great insights on the way of life as it was then. Some of the names mentioned e.g. Murray, Kavanagh, Weller, Hewitt, Buchan and Roche are surnames that I knew or were around in my time.

Read about the “new chum” who took on three large black mambas and survived or the bloke that scored 304 not out in a cricket match against the Transvaal.

Early Days at Umbogintwini – Part 1

by W V Blewett

There are many factories belonging to ICI and its associated companies and some are much older than Umbogintwini, but there can surely be few that have had a more interesting history.  It was built over 50 years ago in a South African reserve and it was thought it would probably have a life of only a few years before the Rand Mines petered out.  I hope I shall be pardoned if I tell you something of its early story, not as a detached historian, but as one who was there.

The erection of the factory started in 1908 in what was then wild “bush” country about 15 miles from Durban on the south coast of Natal.  Kynoch Limited who had an explosives’ factory in Ireland had decided to compete for a share in the large market for nitroglycerine explosives (“dynamite”), a market which till then had been shared between Nobels, with a factory in the Transvaal quite close to the mines, and De Beers, whose factory was near Cape Town some 900 miles away.  This market was, of course, the gold fields of the Rand near Johannesburg, which had been discovered in 1885 and which were, after more than 20 years, still expanding their output!  It was estimated in 1908 that the mines would reach their maximum output in about 1912 to 1915, after which it would slowly decline.  What a different story it has turned out to be – a continuous and undreamed of quantity of gold still being produced there three-quarters of a century since the first gold was found.  I watched peak after peak of production being passed after 1908; and then came the discovery of rich gold fields in the Orange Free State; and again the discovery of extractable quantities of uranium in the gold ores and the old residues.  What the Fairy Godmother still has in store for the gold mining companies of South Africa I don’t know: has she kept her greatest surprise till last?

But in 1908 we were told that we must hurry on with the erection of the factory and make some profit quickly before the mines began to give out!  Umbogintwini was well-placed to compete.  The then separate colony Natal granted Kynoch Limited very attractive conditions and the great port of Durban was only 15 miles away, while the distance to the Rand was only half that from De Beers’ explosives’ factory at Somerset West.  The grant of land was about 1500 acres.  It was largely covered with trees or almost impenetrable scrub.  The village of the same name was later built on the ridge of land on the seaward side of the area; here, from the golf course which was laid out several years later there was a beautiful inland view of flat-topped hills and in the other direction of the Indian Ocean.

What a place for snakes!  Since I first worked at Umbogintwini I have tramped many miles in all parts of Africa, but no other place I know has had anything like as many snakes as that area on which our factory was built; but I’ll keep the snake stories till later.

The Zulu word “umbogot” means a large round pebble as used for grinding corn, etc., and Umbogintwini was called after the river of that name, the bed of which had lots of these pebbles in it.  “Umbogintwini” was thus “the place of the large round pebbles”.  Before the factory started there was only a “Halt” of that name of the South Coast Railway which passed through what afterwards became the village.

I was one of a small group of four “Works Chemists”.  My section was the acid factory making sulphuric acid from pyrites and nitric acid from nitrate of soda; but in the early days we did shift work in any part of the factory.  One of the first jobs was to learn enough of the lingua franca – a degraded form of simple Zulu known as “kitchen Kaffir” – to be able to give orders to the African workers who came from several of the surrounding native territories, Pondoland, Basutoland, Zululand, etc.  Kitchen Kaffir was spoken and is spoken though most of South Africa and in Central Africa – I found it very useful in Rhodesia when I was last there about 10 years ago.  (North of Central Africa the lingua franca is Swahili).  We had about 1000 African workers (a number increased to 3000 during World War I).  The Europeans were largely from Ireland – the others being a mixture of farmers, remittance men, sailors, alcoholics, pioneers, in fact a most interesting bunch of men but a bit difficult on Saturday nights sometimes.

Somebody once said that England was the country where druggists were called chemists, and sure enough the Africans seeing us Works Chemists working in the chemical laboratory were soon calling us “tagati” (witch doctor) and asking for “medicine” for their aches and pains.  They brought us snakes so that we could make medicine from their organs, and they looked to us to dress their acid burns and their cracked skulls after their Saturday night brawls.  At first we had no hospital, but later one was built and a doctor called every fortnight.  They must have been a healthy lot; in fact the acid burns were far and away the most troublesome infliction.  Raw Africans coming new to the factory had no idea that harmless looking sulphuric and nitric acids could destroy flesh in a few minutes, and these accidents were, I’m afraid, fairly common in those days, resulting in severe burns.

The factory started manufacturing in 1909 and most of us began to feel that we had settled in South Africa, and I am the only one of those Works Chemists who has left South Africa.  We came to think with John Buchan that it was “the finest country under the stars”.  That year we were asked to vote for or against the “Union” of the four British colonies that made up South Africa (German South West Africa was, of course, not included in those days) and were persuaded that if we had a Union the two white races, British and Dutch (Afrikaner) would become “one-stream”.  The Africans of course would remain, as always, hewers of wood and drawers of water.  In those days the “paternal” relationship between whites and blacks seemed a practical and permanent arrangement and was as acceptable to the African as it was to the European.  Hardly anyone foresaw either the bad effects that unplanned industrialisation would have or the detribalisation that would result.  As for nationalistic ideas among the Africans, they were thought to belong to the past!  Natal, it should be added, had already started to give a few Africans the opportunity to improve their status and if one reached a certain standard of education, character and citizenship, he could be placed on the same footing as a white man so far as legal and administrative restrictions were concerned.  This privilege, which I saw in the working, was granted to only a few Africans in Natal, but unfortunately (so I think) was withdrawn when the Union was formed.

Generals Botha and Smuts toured Natal to convince us that Union would be a good thing for everybody; and in fact Natal was so dependant on the Rand Mines that it would have had a very difficult time outside the Union.  As it was both Natal and Umbogintwini rapidly developed and all went well, except for a couple of serious explosions, until the First World War.

The first Sunday we young chemists spent in Natal we went out to the factory to get to know its environs and we walked along a disused road with a ditch on either side overgrown with tall reeds.  There was a noise in these reeds like a cow crushing through them and we stiffened and stopped.  Out of the reeds came the big, flat, brown head of a large python (boa constrictor) and we each took a flying leap across the opposite ditch and gave that spot a wide berth.  An adventure I had later was much more exciting.  I had been picnicking in the bush and had left my friends to pack up while I strolled towards and then across a little stream, using the rocks as stepping stones to cross to the far bank of the stream which was a low cliff covered with shrubs and grass.  As I approached it I was puzzled at seeing a lot of stones and earth rolling down the cliff all mixed up with s big, dark, writhing snake.  I called out “Here’s a snake” and my friends shouted back “Kill it”.  I had only a walking stick and I attacked the snake with this before I realised there were three large snakes apparently fighting in the mixture of earth and stones.  It was the mating season.  Two of the snakes, too occupied to notice me and no doubt wondering what had hit them, went off up the cliff on a few feet of tail each, and the third went into a bush at the base of the cliff.  I threw stones into the bush to make it show itself and it came out of the bush at the height of my shoulder.  The stick with which I had lashed at the snakes had snapped off, leaving about 18″ in my hand.  With this I hit the snake across the back of the neck; no doubt someone had told me this was the correct thing to do.  It was, and it killed the snake.  When my friends ran up they told me it was a black mamba and the Africans who appeared confirmed this.  The black mamba is the most feared of all African snakes as it is so big and poisonous.  (One had chased an officer on horseback in the Zulu war, bitten him on the thigh and killed him in a few minutes).  We skinned and measured the snake – it was 10 ft 6 ins.  “But you should have seen those that got away”.

I have never heard of any other “new-chum” innocent enough or fool enough to attack three large black mambas – but new-chums must be specially protected or have beginner’s luck.  I won’t say how many snakes we found on occasion at the factory.  When we had to clear a new patch of grass and had enough workers they would surround the whole area and work in towards the centre, cutting the grass and killing escaping snakes as they went.  The number they killed at the centre of the grass patch on such occasions was unbelievable – mostly small ones, of course.  What was remarkable was how few people were bitten at Umbogintwini.  One day I saw a man bitten.  He was on a motor bike on a steep path through the bush, and as the bicycle roared past me up the slope a green mamba several feet long slithered quickly across the path and the man rode over it to kill it.  It reared up and bit him on the ankle.  That, too, was hardly believable; but I saw the two punctures on his ankle and got him into hospital, which was close at hand.  We gave him an anti-venom serum injection.  It would be dramatic to add that he died in agony; he didn’t, he had nothing worse than a headache.  The snake got away.

At first the staff all lived in Durban and travelled to and fro by train every day, but before long the younger ones found homes or lodgings along the coast nearer Umbogintwini, for it was a few years before we could build a village at the factory; I suppose there wasn’t the money.  The South Coast, as it was called anywhere south of Durban, was then regarded as “out in the bush” and no one foresaw it becoming the highly attractive residential strip of coast that it became later.  I lived in a pleasant little spot called Amanzimtoti in a house on a hill overlooking the Indian Ocean.  At that time an old Zulu chief of royal blood, Shingana, came to live only a few hundred yards away from me.  He had been moved out of Zululand because it was feared he might become the centre of any rebel movement; for there had been a Zulu rebellion in 1906 and this old man was looked upon as the Great Chief.  He was the 17th son (daughters were not counted) of Mpanda, a brother of Tshaka the greatest king of the Zulus, the most powerful African monarch in history whose power was known from Cape Colony to the great lakes of Central Africa – a great general and a bloodthirsty tyrant.  And so I came to know a nephew of Tshaka, thus making a link with the first quarter of the 19th century.  Shingana made himself known to me by sending a Zulu messenger to ask me to translate a letter, in English from a Dutchman in Northern Natal, which I did.  I took an interpreter with me to his kraal (group of huts) but Shingana, whom I found squatting, dressed only in a loin cloth, near the fire in the centre of his typical, round wattle and grass hut, insisted on my speaking in my poor Zulu and wouldn’t let my interpreter speak.  I learned afterwards that this was a matter of court etiquette, as a Zulu of the royal family must have as an interpreter only a member of the Mtetwa tribe.

Shingana had fought at Isandhlwana in the Zulu War of 1879 when he commanded an impi (regiment) on the occasion of the annihilation of a British force.  When I asked him to tell me about the battle he said “How can I talk about our fighting you?  We are friends now”.  He was captured later in that war and was sent to St Helena with King Cetywayo.  He had no complaint against his treatment by the British apart from his being allowed only one wife during his exile.  He told me he had, or had had, 70 wives and 110 children, but I didn’t check his figures.  Shingana was not a tall man but the sons I saw were magnificent specimens all six foot tall, with one exception, and wearing only leopard skins; a Zulu could wear this “costume” only if he had killed a leopard single-handed with an assegai (spear).  He was always friendly and courteous but I had the impression that he was disappointed in me because he had hoped, having learned that I was a “chemist”, that I would help him overcome some of the effects of old age.  He must have been an old man, over 80 years of age, when I knew him and he died a few years later.  I often wished I had known more Zulu so that I could have talked to him about “the old days” for there was more than a streak of greatness in the royal Zulus.

All three South African explosives factories had been expanded during the war years and it became obvious that after the war only two of the three factories were needed to keep the mines supplied.  The best-sited factory was at Modderfontein (Nobels) as it was in the gold mining area.  Umbogintwini, in my opinion, was the next best site, but De Beers had only the one factory (built by Cecil Rhodes) and were not likely to close that down.  When in 1919 Nobels and Kynoch joined the other explosives factories in Great Britain to form Explosives Trades Limited (which afterwards became Nobel’s again) Modderfontein and Umbogintwini came under the same management, it was obvious that Umbogintwini would be regarded as redundant.  Before this was announced I had been made manager of Umbogintwini and it soon looked as if I was to be the caretaker of a defunct factory which could only be “scrapped” and not fetch much as scrap.  It went “against the grain”, in those of us who had spent many years at Umbogintwini, to scatter the little community and evacuate the little village with its attractive setting and we made up our mind to put up a fight for the continuation of both factory and village.  There were two factors which led to Umbogintwini being kept going.  The first was that Major (now Colonel) Barley in Nobel’s was studying the manufacturing possibilities of their South African factories and he realised that a good case could be made for the manufacture of agricultural chemicals in South African as these were being imported in increasing quantities.  At Umbogintwini we had come to the same conclusion.

I had been “spare time” farming in the midlands of Natal (what a glorious country and climate that was, comparable with the highlands of Kenya) and we had been running an agricultural experiment station (amateurish, no doubt) on some of our surplus acres at Umbogintwini, where we carried out, inter alia, some experiments on sugar cane, maize and ground-nut diseases for Dr Storey F.R.S., the Government Mycologist, who had a laboratory in Durban but no land on which to do field experiments.  Everything combined to convince me that Umbogintwini could survive and make a profit by manufacturing the chemicals needed by the farmers, viz. fertilizers, cattle and sheep dips, locust poison, fruit tree sprays.  We already had a small superphosphate plant, the output of which went to a fertilizer mixing firm, and we decided that we must make our own fertilizer mixtures to be sold in our own name; and also greatly increase our “super” plant.  (Today I believe Umbogintwini had the largest output of any superphosphate factory south of the equator – about (x) thousand tons annually).

Nobel’s acted gamely.  They said they would give us 18 months in which to convince them that we could make Umbogintwini eventually a profitable venture; and they sent out Major Barley to discuss our problems and difficulties and potentialities.  To cut a long story short, Nobels didn’t wait 18 months; they were convinced we could “make good”.  And in the meantime we had gone ahead with improvising plant and advertising our goods.  The small team of technical men, artisans and unskilled workers had through this difficult time been working most loyally to keep things going.  We had to start to make manufactured products quite new to us and to build the necessary plants from the equipment and machinery of the explosives section which closed down, e.g. nitro-cotton-washing tanks became tobacco fermentation tanks for the manufacture of nicotine products.  Plants to make lime-sulphur; sodium arsenite from Rhodesian “arsenic”; liquid HCN; and in all about 40 products were made in plants constructed largely from tanks, pipes and sheet lead from the disused sections.  This did not happen overnight – it took, I suppose, a couple of years or more.  But we did convert our chemical laboratory and our industrial chemists into agricultural chemists overnight; and they did some very good pioneering and research work, largely due to Geo Ingham.  We showed farms how easy it was to damage germinating crops under South African conditions if fertilizers were wrongly “placed”; how important nitrogen was in the wetter areas especially for sugar cane and for grass; how even the wattle (tree) plantations needed superphosphate after the first rotation.  Soil analysis taught us a lot, I recall – chiefly to keep our mouths shut.  We had thought it a good idea (a fairly new one in those days but soon adopted by charlatans) to advertise that we would tell farmers who sent us a soil sample what fertilizers to use; a very risky procedure in a “new” country.  I remember three farms from very distant parts of South African met at a cotton growers’ conference in Swaziland and decided to take a sample of local Swazi soil, mix it thoroughly, divide it into three parts and dispatch the three portions from their distant farms to Umbogintwini for analysis.  Fortunately for our good name they each received practically the same report.  We had a most interesting time, for South Africa in those days had done very little work on either fertilizers or soils and we found British text-books often misleading for our South African conditions.

We had to learn a lot about packing a range of materials to withstand rough handling.  One day a guard on a train in Rhodesia dropped on the platform more violently than usual a box of glass tubes containing liquid HCN (for fumigating citrus trees).  The absorbent packing was good for most occasions but not for this and some of the contents of the broken tubes was spilled on the platform just as the Governor was being met by a guard of honour.  A dog wandered up to the patch of liquid and promptly turned up its toes, and the Governor was nearly forgotten in the panic.  Our packing case was given the guard of honour.

We had to learn salesmanship, too, over what is a sub-continent; and in our spare time master the essential details of the chemistry of cattle-dipping-tank fluids; the conditions fatal or favourable for the good “condition” of fertilizers dispatched to very different climates and altitudes, and much more etc.  We made lots of blunders in work that was so new to us, some that might have been most serious, but we learned rapidly from our mistakes and we convinced the head of McDougall’s (the insecticide firm, now of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson) that we could make and pack their products.  Major Barley had travelled out to South Africa with Mr Isaac McDougall (who had been the first to use derris, the vegetable fish-poison, as an insecticide).  He came to Umbogintwini and we formed “Kynoch McDougall Limited”.  Umbogintwini was to manufacture a range of “Ky-Mac” products and we were to sell also McDougall’s imported lines.  This put us in a good position to compete with the leading importers, Cooper’s, but we were astonished when a year or two later we heard that McDougall’s in Great Britain had amalgamated with Coopers, which left us in a somewhat anomalous position.

There is no doubt that our rapid success was due to good luck as well as to good guidance, but I do want to pay my tribute to that loyal and imaginative little band of technical men and artisans who kept Umbogintwini on the map where it still us.  (I was there again in 1949 and could hardly recognise it).  The next step was the formation of AE&CI which later grew into African Explosives and Chemical Industries, AE&CI, and which has played such an important part in the modern industrial and agricultural development of South Africa.

Early Days in Umbogintwini – Part 2

by Mr Scorer September 1968

In early 1910 the only occupied houses were privately owned by Mr & Mrs Warner and family, Mr & Mrs Frank Cutler and the Station Master.  The firm had placed orders for cottages to be built by the firm of J Dougall & Sons and by the first week in February the first two houses were ready in Highbury Road.  The Scorer family arrived in South Africa on 10 February and immediately took over one and were followed two weeks later by Mr & Mrs Weller and family.  As each cottage was completed a family took possession and soon a community was established.  Building continued for many months and a second road behind Highbury Road was completed and all houses occupied.  In Highbury Road a boarding house was built for bachelors, about 20-25 young employees being accommodated.  There was no provision made for eating at this place and the residents had to go to the large hall about 100 yards from the Time Office at the entrance to the factory for meals.  About 1911 a staff house was erected and Messrs A Chamberlain and Cocking arrived for a visit to Umbogintwini and stayed there for the duration of their visit.

In May 1910, the first white child was born at Umbogintwini, to Mr & Mrs Cutler.

It became evident to the manager that religious and social amenities were needed for the folk of the village and services were organised for the large Catholic community and the Nonconformists and Church of England were ministered to on alternate Sundays by a minister from St Pauls and a Wesleyan parson from Durban.  Services were held at first in the large dining hall, but the smell of cooking dinners did not appeal, also the congregation had to sit on forms without back rests.  At the first Church service held in the dining hall the infant daughter of Mr & Mrs Cutler was baptised.  It soon became evident that a change of venue was required and the services were held for a time in the government school in one of the class rooms.  The Bishop of Natal conducted evensong on one occasion.  Before doing so the younger folk were groomed on the behaviour expected for such an exalted person.

A house in Highbury Road was set aside for a social club, this housing a reading room and a bar.  A wood and iron building was erected in the grounds and a full-size billiard table installed.  On a few occasions, chairs were put in the grounds for a concert provided by local talent who used the verandah as a stage.  This, in a short time became too small for the requirements of the growing community and a new social club was erected.  A very well equipped library was a popular feature and the large hall could seat about 150 people.  Many concerts were given for war funds and the best artists from Durban gave their services free of charge.  The local dramatic society gave some excellent shows and debates often took place on Sunday evenings.  On another occasion a very fine evening was provided by an elocutionist from Durban.

Another event which surprised many people was a fete and sale of work organised for church funds for both communities.  The women folk put on a great exhibition of needlework and cakes etc.  When the club was fully established, the old premises were converted back to a dwelling house and the old billiard room was dismantled and re-erected as a church building to be used by the Protestant community.

The manager Mr Udal met with a very unfortunate accident when the horse he was riding took fright and he was dragged for a considerable distance suffering damaged ribs and many bruises.

The factory during the war years of 1914-18 was engaged on munitions and many extra employees were engaged.  Several men were imported from Great Britain as lead burners and some of the work they did was exhibited at the Durban Shows and aroused much comment.  There were several explosions at the factory, two occurring within a month, both resulting in loss of life.

A very amusing event took place (except for one person) in those early days – it was fashionable for the men to wear very heavy moustaches.  One gent who was always smart had a very well cultivated moustache, well waxed and pointed.  Alas!  He celebrated too well on one occasion and awakened to find one half had been cut off.  All the men who had sported this appendage were completely clean shaven.  No one ever found out the guilty party , but the ‘Duke’ disappeared shortly afterwards.  In 1922 the explosives factory was closed down and many employees had to find other employment, but any who had spent years in the village left with happy memories.

Shortly after the war Mr Dave Norse who was employed at the factory was the guest of honour at a ‘smoker’ at the club to celebrate his feat of scoring 304 not out in a match against the Transvaal.  This was the highest score ever recorded in South Africa and the club made it a great occasion.  Dave duly responded, but he was a better cricketer than a speaker.

A sports field with a concrete cricket pitch was the venue of many sporting events. It had not a very good top surface as the grass would not grow and often the footballers found it hard going in soft sand ankle deep.  Several of the employees were regular players in Durban first class teams including one who gained Natal colours.

The cricket team usually had weekly fixtures either on Saturday afternoons or all day Sunday with selected Durban teams.  The Rifle Club had monthly meetings and ammunition was given free.  On one occasion a buck raced across the range but in spite of the shots fired at it, escaped unscathed.  On another occasion one of the Indian markers at the butts was hit by a ricochet and had to be attended to. An air rifle club held weekly shoots in the Club Hall, for every ten shottists a silver spoon was given, the competitions being on a handicap system.  Two tennis courts were situated near to the sports field and were in great demand.  No Irish community would be complete without its national game – hurling.  The local men had their team and for a long time were top dogs, but there came one day when a very strong Durban team challenged them.  The locals, in spite of brand new green jerseys and shorts, were no match for their Durban opponents.

A 9-hole golf course was laid out and became the popular venue at weekends, chiefly at the expense of the tennis enthusiasts.  In the hunting season large parties of men with native beaters combed the bush and undergrowth between the factory and the railway line to Amanzimtoti.  Quite a large number of buck were shot on these occasions.

Early Days of the Chemical Factory

by H H Dodds 11 August 1953

The phenomenal development and increase in the gold mining and other mining industries in South Africa after the end of the South African war in the early days of the present century (20th century), created an enormous demand for mining explosives.  In fact South Africa soon became the largest consumer of explosives in any country in the world.

There were two explosives factories already in existence in South Africa at this time.  These were firstly the old factory at Modderfontein near Johannesburg that had been taken over and modernised and expanded by Nobel’s Explosives Co. Limited, of Glasgow, and secondly the dynamite factory at Somerset West in the Western Cape Province that had been erected by the De Beer’s Company to supply them with explosives for their diamond mining.

However, these two factories were unable to cope with the increased demand for explosives in the country, and large quantities had to be imported from overseas.

One the of the largest exporters of explosives to South Africa during the decade immediately before Union was the well-known firm of Messrs Kynoch Limited of Birmingham, England, who were extensive producers of industrial, military and sporting explosives at their two explosives and chemical factories at Arklow, Co. Wicklow, Ireland and Kynochtown in Essex.  About this time the Arklow Factory was very fully occupied with the manufacture of explosives for South Africa.  Certain essential difficulties were experienced, mainly caused by the very variable weather conditions inseparable from the long sea journey from Britain to South Africa.  It was found difficult to guarantee that the explosives after passing through the tropics would on arrival in South Africa continue to comply with the extremely sensitive official “heat test” as it was called, that was rigidly enforced by the authorities to ensure that the explosives were perfectly stable and safe to handle if the necessary care were used.

Another difficulty, also attributable to high temperatures, was the fact that such explosives were liable to show the dangerous quality of exudation, that is that liquid nitro-glycerine might sweat out of its normally dry gelatinous physical combination with nitrocotton and other solid chemical compounds, and thereby make the material unsafe to handle.  Kynoch Limited therefore decided to build a factory in South Africa where nitro-glycerine could be manufactured and mixed with the other ingredients to form blasting gelatine dynamites and other commercial explosives on the spot.  This implied also the necessity of manufacturing the sulphuric and nitric acids required for converting glycerine into nitro-glycerine.

Alternative sites were considered in Natal, and near Port Elizabeth, and eventually the very favourable grant of land offered by the old Natal Government at Umbogintwini on the South Coast, 15 miles from Durban was accepted.  There was also a general concession in railway rates for all imported raw materials, which remained in force until 1951.

Before this was officially announced by the company, certain members of the staff of the Arklow factory, including the writer, were sounded by the management to learn whether they would accept employment at the new factory and soon afterwards extra staff, including Messrs W V Blewett and G Firth, were taken on at the Arklow factory in preparation for work at Umbogintwini.

In October 1908, although the factory was by no means yet completed, it was decided to send out the first batch of production staff from Arklow to South Africam in order for them to become acquainted with the conditions of life in the new country and accustomed to the design and layout of the new plant.

Accordingly in that month the RMS “Kildonan Castle” conveyed the following: Mr J Bower, Chief Chemist, W V Blewett, H H Dodds, G Firth and M A Troy, Factory Chemists, and the following all-Irish contingent of plant operators, R Knott, H White, P Murray, P Cunningham, P Kavanagh, D J Kavanagh and many others.

From Kynochtown and elsewhere came W Weller, C Scorer, A Bodeker and others.  Mr J P Udal, General Manager, C S Heaven, Chief Engineer, W Johnston, Foreman Rigger, T M Hoffe, Foreman, and several other mechanics and tradesmen required for building construction work were already here.

Somewhat later came Messrs W A Martin, Explosives Works Manager, A T Scurr, Factory Chemist, W I Taylor, Chemical Works Manger and others.  Members on the commercial side of the undertaking in the early days were Mr Gold, a director of the company, T J Greensill, Commercial Manager and C Allbutt, Chief Clerk.  These were later replaced by Messrs P J Gorman, Corton and F W Hinchley, also H V Franklin now of Natal Estates Limited.  S H Dark and F Hewitt were members of the office staff for many years.

First Impressions

One Sunday afternoon about the middle of November 1908, we arrived in Durban and were very pleased with its appearance.  I think it was a much more attractive place in those days than now.  It was, of course, much smaller and cleaner and far less crowded, and there were fortunately very few motor cars then.  The population of the 1911 census was slightly over 69 thousand and was probably about 65 thousand in 1908.

The Beach Hotel was the only building on what is now the Marine Parade.  Below the lower Marine Parade there was a shark-proof bathing enclosure protected by a semi-circular fishing pier.  Immediately facing this was Campbell’s Tearoom with wide verandah and balcony overlooking the bathing enclosure.  The only other building on the seafront was the municipal bandstand where there were frequent military band performances supplied by one of the British regiments that formed a garrison at Pietermaritzburg.  However, it was to be some little time before we saw all this.  We were met at the quay by Mr Udal who took us to Galloway House, a well-known boarding establishment that is still in existence on Musgrave Road where the company had booked accommodation for us temporarily.  We hoped to have a day to settle down and receive and unpack our luggage and see something of our new surroundings, but it was not to be.

Mr Udal instructed us to be sure to catch the 7.45 a.m. train to Umbogintwini the next morning; we discovered that the return train left Umbogintwini at 5.45 p.m., arriving in Durban at 6.40, so that we saw very little of the latter place until the following week-end.

Mr Udal was a very capable and highly respected manager, and was usually just in his treatment of his staff, but he was very strict.

Umbogintwini and the whole of the South Coast has changed enormously during the past 45 years.  In 1908 Umbogintwini was little more than a series of clearings containing partially constructed buildings in a large area of dense virgin bush.  There was a small railway station and sidings recently constructed to replace the former primitive ‘halt’ because of the factory building operations; the only dwelling house for miles around was the station master’s house.  This house has long since been demolished and replaced, but the second house to be built (in1909) for Mr Cutler, fitter, is still in existence.

The land occupied by the company consisted of 1400 acres of bush extending over the mile and a half width of land extending between the South Coast Road (which was diverted to circumscribe the site) and the Natal Government Railways South Coast line.  On the seaward side of the railway there was nothing but practically impenetrable bush.

When manufacturing production began not long after this, first at the acid factory and soon afterwards on the nitro-glycerine plant, both were operated as continuous processes which of course involved night duty, in which the chemical staff took turns in supervision.  This was a most eerie experience at that time.  After the last train down the coast passed through Umbogintwini station at 6.15 p.m. and until the arrival of the first train at 7.20 a.m. the following day, there was no communication with the outside world by rail or road, or even (at first) by telephone.

Besides the railway the only means of access to the factory was a rough steep foot track following the electric power line and water main connecting with the water supply pumps located on the Umbogintwini river close to the road drift, about two miles from the factory.


One prominent feature of the railway journey was the Umbogintwini bank, a steep incline between Isipingo and Umbogintwini, said to have a grade of 1 in 30, or about the maximum grade possible for a railway not provided with cog-wheels and ratchet rail.

It was very common for trains to be unable to ascend this slope, especially in the early mornings with heavy dew on the line.  After several abortive attempts to make the grade, the train, usually consisting of four small passenger coaches would be divided, the first two coaches being taken up to Umbogintwini station first, the engine then returning to collect the other two.

As soon as the passengers realised what was happening there was a rush from the two rear coaches to those in front, so as not to be marooned in the temporarily deserted coaches.  A few years later the same performance was still being carried out, but by this time some dwelling houses and a school had been built at Umbogintwini, and the train served to bring children from the neighbouring village of Isipingo to the school.  When the division of the train on the hill occurred, there was then a counter-current of school children rushing from the first two coaches to the last two, so that they might have a plausible excuse for postponing for half an hour or more the dreary hour when they were supposed to arrive at school.

Eventually a branch road was constructed from the Umbogintwini river drift to the factory so that it was possible to motor from Durban.  This branch road was at first of a strange dark purple colour, having been surfaced with what was known as “burnt ore”, being the residual iron oxide derived from the combustion in the factory of iron pyrites as a source of sulphur for the manufacture of sulphuric acid.  It usually had also a distinct odour of burnt sulphur due to a small residue of oxidisable sulphur.

The road from Durban, though rough, was passable for motor cars except after heavy rains, when there was a succession of flooded drifts.  The only road bridge on the Natal Coast roads at that time was the Connaught Bridge over the Umgeni river at the northern end of Durban.

Those were the early days of motoring, when tyre covers were not expected to last more than about 2000 miles, and a journey from Durban to Umbogintwini and back without a puncture was considered rather fortunate.

At all events, there was none of the congestion of motor vehicles that makes travel on the South Coast road near Durban so difficult today.  Of course, the excellent motor road known as Kingsway that passes between Umbogintwini and the sea today, presenting magnificent views of the coast line, did not exist in those days, and the South Coast road diverged several miles inland of Umbogintwini before re-approaching the coast at Amanzimtoti.

Incidentally several of the factory staff and employees lived at Amanzimtoti in those days, which is much nearer to the factory than Durban.

The chief disadvantage was the very inconvenient railway service with the only practicable alternative to railway travel being a three mile walk along the railway track.  Also, there were very few of the amenities of life that are so well provided at Amanzimtoti today.

On several occasions before the construction of substantial road and railway bridges along the coast, Umbogintwini was isolated by floods.  One occasion was in 1917 when practically every railway bridge on the Natal Coast was washed away and Umbogintwini was cut off for several days, both telephone and telegraph services, as well as road and railway communication being destroyed.

Supplies of bread and meat were held up and we subsisted largely on stocks of tinned foods and biscuits and poultry for several days.  The mailbags were heaved by a powerful nature across the gap in the railway bridge over the raging torrent of the Umbogintwini river.


At first the factory effluents were allowed to drain away into what appeared to be no-mans land at the southern and lower end of the factory area.  Eventually however, these acid waters found their way into the Amanzimtoti lagoon and began to destroy the fish and plant life there.  This resulted in an interdict against the company and a lawsuit that was adjudged in Pietermaritzburg.  The consequence was that Kynochs had to construct a drain leading out to sea to convey the factory waste.  This open drain ran parallel with the railway line for a considerable distance until it reached a spot towards Amanzimtoti where a channel could be cut through the sand dunes leading to the sea at minimum cost.

The drain alongside the railway line was at a slightly lower incline than the railway incline going down to Amanzimtoti, consequently a seen from the train it presented the curious optical illusion of water travelling uphill.  The writer recollects hearing two lady passengers comment on this saying that “Kynochs must be pumping the water up the drain somehow”.

The principal waste factory product for disposal besides the burnt ore already mentioned, was sodium bisulphate, a residue to nitric acid manufacture as usually practiced in those days.  Sodium bisulphate is a very hygroscopic and highly acid and corrosive sticky white lumpy substance, for which practically no use could be found in this country.  Evidently the explosives factory at Modderfontein had even greater difficulties in disposing of their sodium bisulphate, since about this time they went to the trouble and expense of railing the material to Natal to be dumped into the abovementioned drain.

Principal products of manufacture

For the first few years the factory was solely employed in the manufacture of mining explosives of various grades and for various purposes, ranging from blasting gelatine through different grades of gelatine dynamites to the powder dynamites.  Blasting gelatine, the most powerful explosive then known, consisted entirely of nitro-glycerine gelatinised with about 7% of nitrocotton and was used for the initial breaking of very hard rock.  Gelignite, the most powerful of the gelatine dynamites in common use contained from 60 to 65% of nitro-glycerine gelatinised as in blasting gelatine and mixed with 35 to 40% of wood pulp and sodium or potassium nitrate; this moderated the violence of the explosion and reduced the cost.  Gelignite became the most widely used of mining explosives.  There were other grades of gelatine dynamite of similar ingredients to the above, but mainly containing smaller quantities of nitro-glycerine, such as 50, 40, 30 or 20%.  These were correspondingly less powerful and cheaper, being used in lighter work in softer rocks.  There were also 15 and 10% nitro-glycerine products, but these did not required the expensive nitrocotton since the proportionately large quantity of woodmeal was sufficient to absorb the nitro-glycerine thoroughly and uniformly to make a dry powder known as a dynamite.  The original word dynamite was applied to the first mining explosives made with nitro-glycerine before the gelatinising absorbent, nitrocotton was discovered.  Kieselguhr, a highly porous and finely divided mineral was used, though not in itself combustible, and was capable of thoroughly absorbing up to three or four times its weight of nitro-glycerine.  However, with the discovery of nitrocotton and its properties, the greater values of gelatinous explosives, and of dynamites containing combustible mixtures for absorbents, such as various forms of cellulose with sources of oxygen such as nitrates were recognised.

Nitro-glycerine was and probably still is, the most important constituent of mining explosives though now partially replaced by other substances.  It is made by allowing pure glycerine to react with pure nitric acid in the absence of water.  But since water is formed as an essential product of the reaction, it must be removed as soon as formed.  For this purpose concentrated sulphuric acid with its intense affinity for water is used, though it takes no direct part in the formation of the nitro-glycerine.  Glycerine is, of course, a by-product of soap manufacture and must be highly refined for the preparation of nitro-glycerine; it must therefore pass very stringent tests for purity.

It is carefully and slowly run into a tank containing the requisite mixture of concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids, care being taken to stir thoroughly (usually be means of compressed air jets) and keep the temperature down by refrigerating coils, otherwise the nitro-glycerine may violently decompose or explode.

When the operation is complete the mixture is allowed to settle, when the nitro-glycerine is displaced by the residual acid mixture to form an upper layer of clear colourless or pale yellow liquid; this is made to overflow into another tank by gradually injecting more residual acid from an earlier operation into the lower part of the tank.  The nitro-glycerine so obtained is washed several times with dilute sodium carbonate solution and with water until neutral and until it has passed the very strict and sensitive stability tests.

It is then mixed with carefully dried and tested nitrocotton and afterwards with any other required ingredient.

A feature of a nitro-glycerine plant is that each separate operation must be performed in a special building for that purpose and no other.  It is located on a slope so that the nitro-glycerine and spent acids can flow by gravity along protected gutters from one building to the next until the process is completed.

Each separate building is built at what is indicated by experienced a safe distance against explosive shock from any of the other buildings, having regard to the maximum amount of explosives permitted in these buildings, and is also protected by a surrounding mound of earth from any direct horizontal hit by debris.

These are only some of the very elaborate safety devices and precautions to avoid explosions and to minimise their destructive effects if they occur.  A considerable area of land is thus needed for a nitro-glycerine factory or “hill” as it is commonly called.  Although accidental and very violent explosions do occur at times, they are usually at long intervals; they are isolated to one or two buildings and the number of casualties is small.  The mixing, cartridging, wrapping, packing and storing operations are also separated over a wide area, and subject to the same protective devices, but on level land, since the products are now solid and have to be transported from one section to the next by tramline.

The sulphuric acid was originally made by what is termed the chamber process, that is by allowing sulphur dioxide gas resulting from the burning of sulphur, or pyrites containing sulphur, to pass into large leaden chambers where it is oxidised and converted into sulphuric acid by reaction with nitric oxide and moisture.  The dilute sulphuric acid thus formed was concentrated by passing it in the form of a finely divided spray down a high tower packed with porous acid-resistant bricks and strongly heated by a coke furnace.  This was known as the Gaillard process.  Later even more concentrated sulphuric acid was obtained by oxidising some of the sulphur dioxide to trioxide with the use of a catalyst of ferric oxide followed by platinum and absorbing the sulphur trioxide by means of normal concentrated sulphuric acid from the Gaillard towers.  This process of making sulphur trioxide was known as the “contact” or “Mannheim” process.  Later vanadium was used as a catalyst for oxidising sulphur dioxide to the trioxide, from about 1912.

Nitric acid was made at Umbogintwini by the old process of distilling in large iron retorts a mixture of sulphuric acid and sodium nitrate, also known as “Chile Saltpetre”, so-called because of its occurrence in Chile in vast deposits on the dried-up and rainless site of a former sea.  Nitric acid distilled over and was condensed in large earthen-ware receivers.  The residue in the stills was the objectionable sodium bisulphate already mentioned.  This method of making nitric acid is seldom if ever used nowadays – it is usually made by oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen by converting it first into ammonia.  Part of the ammonia is oxidised to nitric acid, which is then neutralised by the remainder of the ammonia to make ammonium nitrate.

Effects of the First World War

The World War of 1914 to 1918 greatly affected the Umbogintwini factory.  Up till then the factory manufactured and sold exclusively mining explosives except occasionally relatively small quantities of sulphuric acid.  During the war, however, the factory undertook the manufacture on a large scale of guncotton for military purposes, eventually making as much as 140 tons per week.  Guncotton, which is a highly nitrated cellulose containing about 14% of nitrogen, was exported to Britain, mainly for the purpose of making cordite, but to some extent for naval mines.  Cordite is a form of smokeless military explosive made from guncotton and nitro-glycerine into a gelatinous product with the aid of petroleum jelly.  This guncotton was made without reducing the continued manufacture of 100 tons per week of mining explosives, so that the production of sulphuric and nitric acids had to be greatly increased also and the factory much extended for these purposes.  In the early part of the war there was a serious shortage of glycerine, largely owing to the stoppage of supplies from Continental Europe from whence a considerable proportion of the glycerine used had been obtained.  Shortly before the war a large consignment was received from Germany of what was exported as 98% glycerine, but on routine analysis was found to contain only about 10% of glycerine, the remainder consisting of water.

Kynochs created a subsidiary company in Natal in 1910 to manufacture glycerine from whale oil, but it was first found impossible to produce a pure glycerine free from propylene glycol.  A large scale explosion, fortunately not attended by loss of life, resulted in 1911 from the nitration of this product, but eventually a sufficiently pure glycerine was made from this source.  However, this source of supply was limited for many years.

Later during the war there was a very severe shortage of chemical fertilizers, especially superphosphate in this country, importation being greatly reduced, so that Kynochs were asked to undertake the manufacture of superphosphate at Umbogintwini since they were in a position to do so by supplying the necessary sulphuric acid to convert imported raw rock phosphate into superphosphate.  This led to the company becoming permanently an important producer of chemical fertilizers.  Other chemicals that were very short in supply because of the war were also produced, such as Epsom Salts, Glauber Salts, Aluminaferric (sulphates of Magnesium, Sodium and Aluminium respectively), hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, chemical pure mineral acids generally, also hydrocyanide acid for fumigation purposes, etc. etc.  In this way the wide range of chemical manufacture now made by the company was first established.

About the end of the war, Kynochs Limited merged their Umbogintwini factory into a new South African company, now known as African Explosives and Chemical Industries Limited, which included also the factories at Modderfontein and Somerset West.

The manufacture of mining explosives was later concentrated at the two last named factories, leaving the Umbogintwini factory free to develop further a number of chemical industries, besides building eventually the largest superphosphate plant in the southern hemisphere.  The cessation of explosives was however, a serious blow to the factory at the time, under the prevailing economic conditions.

During the general economic depression after the 1914-1918 war, the future of the Umbogintwini factory was regarded somewhat doubtfully, and the company even encouraged members of the technical staff and skilled workmen to seek work elsewhere if they desired, and provided generous bonuses for those doing so, an offer which the writer accepted and emigrated to America in 1921, returning to South African in 1924.  Mr W Helcke was general manager at the time (1921) having succeeded P Udal; after Mr Helcke’s return to Britain in 1922, he was succeeded by W V Blewett, and it was largely due to the efforts of the latter and those of the staff who elected to remain that even a temporary close-down was avoided.

However, subsequent events have shown that there was no need to fear prolonged recession.  The excellent factory site at Umbogintwini within easy reach of Durban as the premier port of the Union and a rapidly growing industrial city, and even nearer to the shortest route in the Union from the coast to the rand, will always provide excellent opportunity for enterprising ownership and skilled production to help meet the ever-growing industrial and agricultural chemical needs of the Union.

The writer has pleasure in acknowledging the help of Messrs W G Bates, G Firth, A T Scurr and Miss D Scorer in recalling and revising many of the matters to which reference has been made.

Early History of the Branch Factory

by Mr G Norton, 16 April 1948

During the autumn of 1907, Mr Arthur Chamberlain, (brother of the famous Joe), Chairman of the above company, visited South Africa with a view to obtaining contracts with the South African mining houses for the supply of explosives from the company’s existing High Explosives Factories at Kynochtown, England, and Arklow, Ireland.

He learned, however, that the two South African factories already producing explosives could manufacture and sell at a much lower price than he could possibly land explosives in South Africa.  Contracts were promised Kynoch Limited by certain South African mining interests, provided manufacture took place in South Africa and prices were competitive.

Mr Chamberlain decided that if manufacture took place near a port in South Africa, he would also be in a better position to supply India, Australia, etc. at a cheaper selling price than from his factories in the British Isles.  He ruled out Cape Town as a site for manufacture, owing to the long railway journey to the mines.  He also ruled out Port Elizabeth and East London, as neither place had good harbour facilities for landing the necessary raw materials, etc.

An attractive offer was made to him by the Natal Government of a site situate 14 miles from Durban, viz Umbogintwini.  The Natal Government offered Mr Chamberlain 1600 acres of land free of cost, provided the firm:

  1. cleared the bush at their own expense
  2. erected a factory and plant costing jointly not less than £100 000,                      and
  3. undertook to employ local white labour, apart from a small number of experts who would have to be transferred from England or Ireland.

In addition to the free offer of land, the Natal Government also agreed to carry building material, machinery and bulk raw materials imported into Natal, from Maydon Wharf, Durban to the factory site at a flat rate of one shilling per ton.

The Board of Directors in Birmingham cabled agreement to a maximum expenditure of £200 000 for a factory and plant capable of producing 90 tons of explosives per week and Mr Chamberlain thereupon:

(a)      accepted the offer and conditions of the Natal Government relating to the free gift of land.

(b)      arranged five years’ contracts with various mining houses (particularly the Albu Group) for a continued supply of explosives, commencing June 1909, at prices somewhat less than those of the other explosives firms.

It was decided by the Board not to form a separate company but to treat the South African business as a branch of the English firm.

To finance the expenditure Kynoch Limited raised £250 000 by way of 5% First Mortgate Debenture Stock, which was secured on the whole of the assets of Kynoch Limited, Birmingham.

The bush was cleared and building commenced early in 1908, while the majority of the plant was erected by the end of that year.  In addition, dwelling houses, together with a Staff House were erected for:

  1. the technical personnel due to arrive from England,
  2. the small number of highly experienced workmen transferred from the firm’s Irish factory.

Mr Cocking, one of the directors of the company, was made responsible for the efficient working of the factory and visited the factory yearly.

Manufacture started early in 1909 and by June of that year production was sufficient to meet deliveries promised to the mines by that date.  Production gradually increased during the year and the factory was working three shifts and meeting full demands by the end of December 1909.

Unfortunately, Mr Chamberlain, when fixing the selling prices of explosives to be supplied to the mines, had based them on the price of glycerine fluctuating between £45 per ton (the price when contracts were made) and a peak price of £50 per ton.

Immediately on his return to England early in 1908 Mr Chamberlain attempted to obtain long-term contracts for the supply of glycerine at £47,10 per ton, but was unable to do so, in fact:

(a)      the large soap manufacturing interests in England, who were antagonistic to Kynochs Limited because they also manufactured soap but sold at lower prices than the Soap Cartel, and

(b)      Nobel Explosives Company, Glasgow, who did not welcome Kynoch Limited’s competition in South Africa, owing to their financial interests in British South African Explosives Co. Limited, successfully combined together to “corner” glycerine, raising the price to Kynoch Limited to £72.  This was a serious blow to the Kynoch South African venture, as only very small supplies of glycerine could be obtained from the continent of Europe at approximately £55 per ton.

To solve the difficult position, the firm, on the advice of an expert, decided to erect a factory on the Indian Ocean side of the Bluff, near the Durban breakwater, for the purpose of extracting glycerine from whale oil.  The expert, a man by the name of Bearpark, was engaged to manage the factory and quantities of glycerine were produced by this means.  The residents of Durban, however, soon petitioned the Council for the removal of the factory owing to the objectionable odour wafted inland.

Soon after supplies of this particular glycerine had been used in the manufacture of explosives two serious explosions occurred at the Umbogintwini factory within a short time of one another, which the Inspector of Mines considered were traceable to the quality of the glycerine manufactured at the Bluff factory.  This verdict caused the glycerine plant to be immediately dismantled and sold, the buildings being sold some years later.  This particular adventure resulted in an additional loss of £65 000 and the interest on the first 5% Mortgage Debenture Stock had to be found by the Home factories instead of from the profits of the South African venture.

The glycerine situation eased considerably during 1911 and the price became normal in 1912, and remained so up to 1914.  Contracts with the mining houses were due to renewal early in 1914 and new contracts were signed for a period of three years at prices which enabled the company to make a reasonable profit.

Soon after the outbreak of war, supplies of glycerine became very scarce and the mining houses became anxious in regard to the possibility of explosives firms supplying the large quantity of explosives required.  The manager of the Umbogintwini factory, Mr J P Udal, together with the chemical staff (Mr G Firth in particular) experimented with and produced a substitute explosive called “Sengite”:

S = Substitute
E = Explosive
N = No
G = Glycerine

which contained no glycerine but collodion cotton and sodium nitrate.  This new explosive, while not nearly so effective as the usual explosives used, was reasonably successful and was taken in quite large quantities by the various mining houses.

When the contracts became due for renewal in 1917 the Chamber of Mines decided that selling prices should be fixed on audited cost of production (excluding packing and maintenance charges), plus a fixed rate of profit, a fixed price per case for pacing and 1/6d per case to cover maintenance of buildings and plant.

During the first World War, 80 ton and 30 ton factories were erected to enable nitro cotton to be produced and shipped to England for HM Government.  The Umbogintwini factory also developed, on a small scale, quite a number of new chemical productions which had previously been imported either from England or Australia.  The factory returned £60 000 profit from these new ventures.

At that time also the Minister of Railways approached us with a request that we produce red paint and stated that he was prepared to place contracts with the firm for the whole of the paint required for their rolling stock.  The case for the paint was the residue from burned pyrites, from which it was necessary to extract the small sulphur content remaining.  The Board in Birmingham, however, decided against the provision of the necessary capital for this venture and the deal fell through.

During the 1914-1918 war the firm also had in mind the expenditure of a large amount of capital in Africa for the production of nitrogen from the air by means of the “Arc” process.  An option was obtained on a colliery at Enyati and on the services of a Frenchman, by name Rouillard, and preparations went forward for the development of this business.  The new parent company formed in London in 1918 and styled Explosives Trades decided not to proceed with this venture.  During the same period negotiations took place with Safco Limited, Durban, with a view to a price agreement fro the sale of fertilizers, one of the new chemical products which the Umbogintwini factory had developed at that time.  These negotiations led to a proposal from Mr May of Safco Limited to merge the interests of the two fertilizer companies.  Later Mr May proposed the outright sale of his fertilizer business to Kynoch Limited.  Many meetings took place and a provisional price was decided upon, subject to the agreement of the Board of Kynoch Limited in Birmingham.  At this stage, however, negotiations were postponed pending the arrival of Mr Chamberlain in Africa.  When Mr Chamberlain arrived in Durban Mr Udal had unfortunately left for the United States and Mr May of Safco Limited at his first meeting with Mr Chamberlain desired to start negotiations on a different basis, which would give him a price 50% higher than previously demanded, and negotiations came to an end.  Mr May later approached Explosives Trades Limited, requiring a larger price than any previously suggested, but on investigation it was found that the price asked was not justified and negotiations finally ended.

The company was offered arsenic-free, gold-bearing pyrites from a property near Sabie.  After the necessary investigation the company signed a contract to take all the pyrites mined, so long as they complied with specifications laid down at £1 per ton, (2) to expend capital to extract the gold from the pyrites, (3) to share the proceeds fro the sale of the gold on a 30/70% basis (Kynoch share 30%).  (Pyrites were difficult to obtain at that time due to war conditions and shipments from abroad cost from £1.17.0 to £2.0.0 per ton f.o.b.)

A large tonnage was obtained from this property before the mine petered out sometime in 1922 but the firm made a profit on the gold extraction after writing off the cost of the special plant required.

The plant was subsequently used for the extraction of nicotine from tobacco.

The merging, early in 1918, of the Explosives, Cartridge, Fuse and Black Powder manufacturing firms in England, viz. Nobel Explosives Co Ltd., Glasgow; Kynoch Limited, Birmingham; Bickford & Co., Cornwall; Eley Bros., London; etc., etc., into one company styled “Explosives Trades Limited”, largely affected the Umbogintwini and Modderfontein factories.  Early in 1919 Mr Arthur Chamberlain (son of the Mr Chamberlain who originally negotiated the factory site) visited South Africa with a gentleman named General Milman, with the intention of purchasing the Cape Explosives Works and the merging of the three explosives works into one South African company, the share capital to be held entirely by Explosives Trades Limited.  These negotiations came to nought and, in turn, the De Beers interests sought to buy from Explosives Trades Limited the Modderfontein and Umbogintwini assets.  In June 1919 it appeared that this latter deal had been crowned with success, Explosives Trades Limited having cabled agreement to the terms of the main heads of agreement.  A few days after Mr Chamberlain had sailed for England, however, the deal was declared “off”, due to some misunderstanding between Sir George Albu and General Milman, who had been left by Mr Chamberlain in Africa to take charge of the two factories until such time as De Beers finally took over.

Immediately negotiations with De Beers ceased, all efforts were concentrated on the complete fusion of the Kynoch South African and the British South African Explosives interests.  A decision was soon made to:

  1. concentrate manufacture of explosives for the South African mining houses at Modderfontein;
  2. to manufacture explosives at Umbogintwini for export;
  3. to develop fertilizers and extend the manufacture of chemical by-products at Umbogintwini.

From 1920 to 1924 other attempts to bring about a fusion between the De Beers interests and Explosives Trades interests, known as Nobel Industries, Limited, were made but failed.  Meanwhile, the concentration of explosives at Modderfontein became an accomplished fact, while the Umbogintwini factory concentrated on the manufacture of fertilizers and chemical by-products.

Memories of Mr Warner

by his daughter, Helen Macfady 14 August 1968

I was asked to give some facts about my father and memories of our early days at Umbogintwini and here they are.  The memories of very small children I am afraid.

First I think I should tell about my father Thomas Arthur Warner – for the rest of the account I will call him TAW.  Born in Australia in 1876, died in South Africa in 1955.  His father was Canon T D Warner, a canon of Brisbane Cathedral and his mother Eugenie (nee McDowell).  He was educated at the Toowoomba Grammar School and afterwards qualified as a surveyor at Sydney University.  Archie McDowell, his uncle, was Surveyor General of Queensland and took TAW with a team of surveyors who surveyed the east coast of Queensland.  This entailed months of camping out in the “Blue”.  At university level he played rugby for Queensland.

In 1902 he left Australia for a holiday in South Africa.  He found South Africa interesting, full of opportunities and possibilities and decided to prolong his stay.  This was the boom time after the Boer War – it was followed by the 1905 slump.

TAW decided to work in Durban and joined J H E Wall who was one of the leading surveyors of that time.  He later met and married (1905) J H E Wall’s sister who, with her mother, had come out to South Africa to live with her brother.

In 1907 TAW bought land at what is now called Warner Beach and planted sugar cane  and built a house.  He led a deputation asking for a siding in that area and when the request was granted, the siding was called Warner’s Beach, after him.

In 1909 he met Mr Udal.  Mr Udal had been sent out by Kynochs of Arklow to find a suitable site to establish a dynamite factory.  He asked TAW to survey and lay out the factory site and village.  This TAW did first while still living at Warner’s Beach and then (1910) moved to Umbogintwini itself where the company had built him a house.

In our time at Umbogintwini there were two explosions.  When the first one happened we were living in Durban (1910?)  We, the Warners, had exchanged houses with the Udals so they were at Umbogintwini in our house, when it happened.  The Udals house was in Durban high on Ridge Road.  It is hard to recapture the reactions of so long ago.  Nell remembers the frightening sound of the explosion, she remembers too how TAW had to rush to catch a train at night to get to the factory to assist in and to organise rescue operations.  He told how they had had to approach the huts very cautiously, to see about removing the dead bodies, and how they had to calm the terrified natives, all the while fearing that some careless or rough movements might set off another blast.  There are probably company minutes that give all the details of these explosions.  We remember the sense of danger and the careful precautions taken by everyone always.  There were grass sand banks round each little hut.

There was a second explosion in 1912 when Nell was at school in the village school.  She remembers the appalling reverberations of the explosion and the terrified screams of a girl who knew that her father was working on that shift in the factory.  She remembers how all the children were sent home and that women were hurrying, looking frightened and anxious to the gates of the factory for news of their men.  (She also remembers that Mr Bates, the school master, was tilting back his chair and that he fell over backwards).

There were four children in our family, Nell, Helen and the twins, Sybil and Archie.  Archie died of diphtheria in 1912.  In 1913 we, all the family, went to England on six months’ leave.  We stayed with our grandparents at Shephall Rectory in Hertfordshire.  My grandfather had now returned to England from Australia on retirement.  We returned to South Africa just before the outbreak of war.

4 August 1914: men from Kynochs were not released for military service, a volunteer corps was formed.  According to a photo we have TAW looked smart and keen drilling with this company.

I think much hard work was done at the factory in the next four war years.

What we remember: the fumes from the factory were pungent, Nell’s tendency to asthma was aggravated and it became impossible for her to live at the coast.  This meant that at a very early age she, aged 8, then a year or two later Sybil and I, were sent to boarding school at Uplands and then St Annes.  Also, to avoid the coast, we spent our holidays up-country in the Dargle, Nottingham Road area.  So our memories of Umbogintwini belong to a very early age.  After we went to boarding school I do not remember going back.

House: our house was up a rise a little way out of the village.  We had an acre of ground and my mother, a natural gardener, at once set about making a garden.  The soil was red and sandy and poor.  She planted grass and Umkluhle trees, kaffir boom and syringas, also I remember lots of flowering shrubs which flourished – Barberton Bohenia, Plumbago, Lassiandra, Pride of India, Bougainvillea, the deep purple original one and a mauvy pink one.  A potato creeper protected a corner of the verandah from the sun.  There was a fernery with fuchsias.  The orchard was simple – a patch of pineapples, guavas, lemons and bananas.  At Christmas time we decorated the house with wild asparagus which grew wild.

The bush was all about us.  There were far away high trees above the bush where the monkeys used to swing and play.

There were Akaffir paths through the bush, single track paths, tramped out by Africans making their way to their kraals – a single tracks and perforce one walked single file.  We considered these walks “daring”, a little apprehensive of meeting monkeys – no doubt we caught the caution from those in charge of us who were on the look out for snakes.  I never remember fearing Africans.

Another walk was towards the sea, a wider track, along this way there were cleared patches, old mealie fields, which were burnt in spring and after rain we found wild flowers.  It seemed in those days a profusion.  I can remember the excitement of finding wild violets, daisies and gloriosa and everlastings and lilies all about us and the new grass coming away from the old clumps that had been burnt.

The sea itself was more difficult to reach.  We walked a long way along the sandy path through the bush to the top of the “cliff”, a steep drop down to the shore.  Down this a path had been made.  A soft sandy path that zig-zagged down the steep drop to the beach.

We loved the beach – rocks, pools, sand, picnics – bliss, until one had to climb back up that interminable hill – or so it seemed to us then.

The roads in the village and in the factory grounds were deep purple or red, lovely colours.  The pyrites they were made from came from the factory.

There was a road which had been cut out along the red hill leading up to Umbogintwini from Isipingo.  Hazardous in wet weather for there was a steep fall down one side and a high bank on the other, leaving not much room for manouevre on a rainy, slippery day.

At this time many of the indentured Indians were becoming independent.  House servants, gardeners, dhotis and cooks were often Indians.  The market gardeners were Indians too and used to carry round their vegetables in wire baskets attached to the two ends of a bamboo balanced on a shoulder.

The African women at that time left the location to work – the men, by and large, worked for six months and spent six months in the location.

The first car was, I think, an Overland.  After brief instructions Mr Udal and TAW decided to try it out by driving to Maritzburg.  This road was far removed from the double highway of today.  The Inchanga hill was a trial for any car and at one fork in the road TAW told us, they had to get out and examine the tracks to be sure of taking the “main” road.  They lunched and relaxed in Maritzburg and drank a very good “Beaunne”.  TAW never forgot this and tackled the journey back in the afternoon.  In the course of this adventurous trip they both learnt to drive the car with confidence.

There were lots of Irish names at Umbogintwini:  Roches, Lazenbys, O’Connors, and so on.

The Udals had brought out with them an Irish nurse for their children, Susan, who could dance an Irish jig and sing an Irish song with eclat.  Long, long afterwards she looked after my children and Susan Underwood could still sing and dance a jig and her pretty Irish brogue was still there.  She died in Nazareth House last year (1967) at the age of ninety – she claimed ninety anyway.

There were also lots of Irish terrier dogs with fighting Irish temperaments – we had one, Sandy.  The furious clashing sound of a dogfight still associates itself in my mind with Irish terriers and Umbogintwini.

TAW was among the enthusiasts who planned the golf course.  It ran along our boundary were the ‘monkey nut’ field had been.

In 1918 – 1919 TAW rejoined J H E Wall in a surveyor partnership and bought a sugar estate at Chakas Kraal on which he had been a manager.  It became obvious that Waldene needed an injection of TAW’s energy and enterprise and the family was moved to Chakas Kraal in 1920.  TAW worked tremendously hard establishing the farm.  He became Chairman of the Natal Planters Union and was one of the moving spirits in establishing the Sugar Experimental Station.

In 1925 he became a member, and very much interested in, the Natal Land Board.  Later he became Chairman of the Natal Land Board.  In this capacity he was appointed a member of the Central Land Board and in this position travelled widely and became most knowledgeable about many schemes for the use of South African land and rivers.

He was the Government Representative on the Board of the Umfolozi Co-operative Sugar Planters from its inception until he retired in 1955.

In 1934 he went to Mauritius interested in the growing and production of sugar on the island.

In 1946 he went on long leave to Australia and New Zealand and on this trip he investigated sugar growing and milling in Australia and wrote a report for the Sugar Association.

In 1946 he retired from the Central Land Board and built a home near the sea at Compensation Beach and lived there in his retirement, attending meetings of the Umfolozi Co-op until 1955.

In 1955 he died following an operation for a duodenal ulcer.

Royal Navy Depot

by Dr Scully

Early in the Second World War (1939-1945) when Royal Naval ships called in Durban for supplies and servicing, they were loaded with explosives which had to be removed from the ships as they were a danger to the safety of the graving dock, this was most inconvenient as they had no special place to store them.

The Admiralty approached the company, through Dr Scully, and at government level to obtain land at Kynochs.  This was duly done and the explosives were loaded onto trains and taken to Kynochs where they were guarded by personnel.  This proved unsatisfactory as there were no facilities for the men.  Offices and a billet were then built by the Admiralty and store houses for the explosives were built into bunkers.

Eight houses were then built in the village by the Admiralty under an agreement with the factory that they would take them over once the admiralty vacated the area.  This they duly did long after the war in about 1951.  The company then purchased these houses for approximately £1 000, truly an advantageous deal.

Durban, having the only port that could accommodate large ships, and a well-equipped graving dock, was the natural choice of the Royal Navy.

The security was such that no movement of transport was known to the residents of Umbogintwini.

The present Titan (Tioxide) offices were the Admiralty offices and the present transport section was the billet of the guards.


  1. This was such a surprise to have come across. I’m part of a much younger generation that lived in twini. I went to Umbogintwini Primary School and then Kingsway High. Which I then started nursing training at Kingsway Hospital. From 1991 until 2000 we lived in 23 Highbury Rd. I possibly had the best upbringing living in the village. Us kids would be out on the streets from the moment our eyes were open until midnight for most of the school holidays or wknds. We were known as the village kids but I would not trade that nickname for anything in the world. And the amazing thing is, all us kids then are still in contact. The club pool was a huge hit for us and I remember doing karate at the “Club hall”. The army camp was also a highlight for us on highbury Rd, as well as the park which we spent hours at. Challenging each other to see who could ride their skateboard or Rollerblade all the way from the top of John Coke road to the bottom without wiping out was always a fun time as well, hoping our back fences to get to friends houses. It is such a pity that such a beautiful village was destroyed. Thank you for bringing back this memory for all of us to relive again.

  2. Great read – well done – I have fond memories of living at 35 Highbury Road opposite the little church. Amazing changes have taken place since then !

    Gordon Blackwood – now living in Scotland

  3. I’m most impressed with the detail of my old stomping ground, having grown up in Athlone Park but so very often venturing across the main highway through the bush path and down the ash road to Twini Station to catch a train to Durban. It’s a remarkable piece of writing which brings back so many memories. Thanks a ton to the author who I recall in name as well as the other individuals mentioned. The mention of Durban City and Durban United were significant as I spent many years writing Soccer Through The Years 1862-2002. Well done to Ken for keeping the area’s rich history intact for generations to come.

  4. I sit here in Perth Australia but as I read this my mind is in Umbogintwini in the 1980’s. Thank you so much Ken for the wonderful trip down memory lane. My Dad (Errol Hulley) worked at AECI and we lived in Chamberlain Road before moving to Shepstone Road where I spent most of my childhood. Memories of riding around Twini on my bike getting up to all sorts of adventures have come flooding back. I have often tried to find old images of Umbogintwini without much success, so this has made my day!

  5. Ken, thank you for the many hours of work you have put in here, brings back so many memories. I’m so sad to hear about the loss of Jenny, we were both good friends but circumstance and time pulls people apart, she had good heart. We lived in 23 Chamberlain Rd, next to the Inngs’ home before the new FM’s house was built before moving to Windy Corner and Toti.

  6. Hi Ken,
    It was a delight for me reading your history of Umbogintwini. I wrote an account of our family’s time in the village from 1942 to 1947 as a nostalgic need, remembering happy times in my youth. I am re-writing it and making additions from what I have since remembered, triggered and inspired by your article. This so that my children and grandchildren may possess some history to reflect on in addition to other writings I have done on their forebears.
    I was younger than you were and not as aware, to the degree that you were, of many things in your story. I shall, of course stick to my memories and cannot, unfortunately, add anything of significance or any photographs to your story. I was very pleased to have, from your writings confirmation of what I remembered and a most interesting wider knowledge of the village, and geological and other history.

  7. Ken, thankyou for this blog-brought back many memories. Actually lived in Athlone Park then and did Std. 4&5 at Twini school in 68/69.I recall knowing Jenny when I went onto Kingsway High… not in same class but in same standard. Sorry to hear of her passing.
    Some names crop up in your blog.. Vim and Corine were our neighbours. I am again only now in contact with Wim again after all these years… thanks to fb!
    Allan Druce used to play at our methodist church in Athlone Park..great musician.
    Once i got my drivers licence, i used to shoot down daily to the twini station in our beetle to collect my dad arriving from working in durban.
    Thanks again

  8. Hi Ken and other twini-ites,
    Thanks for all the memories. Yes we had it good to say the least.
    Other memories were teacher Miss Tandie who was passionate about SA history especially the battles of Rourkes drift, Isandluwana etc. Miss Pascoe was my favorite.
    Glynn Crossley (Hawk) the scout master. Go cart races down John Coke hill. John had the best cart. Movies at Jubilee hall. Especially Game capture in Rhodesia when Kariba was filling. The “session’s” and Discos. Guy fawkes at the club and at “yokkies” house. Swimming at Mrs Andersons pool on Ocean way. Bicycles, skate boards, surfing, fishing, birding, camping on Sandy bank. Derek, Malcolm, Richard, Robin, Cederic, Jimmy, Niomi, Ken, Martin, Ann, John, Marlene, Karin. Mrs mac Naught Davis. Steven, Judy, and many others. I also served time at the Bottle store.
    Photos would be appreciated.
    Currently living in East London area.

  9. What a wonderful environment to be brought up in – no high walls, electric fences or security gates. Our only security was the patrol men with knob kerries which you mentioned – and the 10 o’clock curfew siren from the factory. Many of the names were after my time but the places brought back awesome memories of long ago. We stayed at No 20 McGowan Road and both my parents were very involved in the dramatic society which held amateur productions at the Jubilee hall from time to time. Great memories – thank you.

  10. In 1964 Pop Fearon persuaded me to try the High Jump event. From then on to Matric, Kenny Grubb, Robin and I competed. Kenny always first with me getting 3rd or 4th positions. Kenny’s best – was it 5 foot 11 and a half? Or his own height?

    Jumping scissors into a sawdust pit! Teaching Fosbury to my jumpers at school over the years somehow came easily. The first 15 or so years, I was able to impress my pupils by jumping scissors onto the mat, at heights some could not achieve.

    Lots of memories brought up here. Thanks Kenny! Memories in your back yard and the tamed wild birds under your care. That crow of yours!!
    Can’t remember who all was there when two Peters, Ian and ? were returning from nesting and exploring Isipingo Flats side, We had to cross the Twini river. The others were ahead of me when I sank past my knees in quicksand. Desperate screams brought my rescuers back. That was scary!

    Having taught in East London for 26 years, I missed all the hype about Twini Village being obliterated. St Johns, Jubilee Hall(remember the sessions there) Mrs Marisch’s Bottle store ( I also worked there. Remember having to enter every single purchase in the register, under spirits, fortified and unfort.ified wines! ) Theos and the village. All gone! I believe there is a lot of controversy over the condition / fate of the Catholic Church. This country of ours is so far behind the world in historical places. The systematic neglect and destruction of our”baby” history depresses me no end.

    I have been retired and living in Assagay/Hillcrest for the past 8 years. House is on the market and heading to join my daughter and granddaughter in England,

    Military training at 1SSB in Bloem and teacher training followed by 9 years teaching in Ixopo then East London for 26 years, separated me from friends and home. This I regret so much, and so reading your story brought back so many memories. Thanks for that.

    Reminder. I was Roderick Saunders up until about Std 8, when I chose to have my birth name. Cherryll Barry and Shirley my siblings. 8 Hudd Rd Then 21 Marshall Rd

  11. Thank you Ken for wonderful memories of a great place to grow up in. We lived in Blewett road then moved to Highbury Road opposite the Jubilee hall. Have wonderful memories of happy times and great friends from twini . Started school at twini in 1957. Before moving to Toti primary. Then Old Kingsway High. Got married at the Athlone Park Presbyterian church in 1970. Now living in Australia. In the same road as Tony van der Westuizen. We lived opposite in twini village. How’s that for coincidence. Thanks for the memories. Much appreciated

  12. Hi Ken
    Thank you for taking me on a journey about my childhood.
    I must have been in your class at Twini Primary and then in Std6 at Kingsway.

    We lived at 21 Oppenheimer Road. My dad Bill Bell was Instrument Engineer for many years,

  13. Wow, what great memories. I lived on a small holding in Old Main Rd Toti in my early years but went to Twini primary. Later we lived in Wave Crest Rd and then Dawn Place before getting married and moving to Warner Beach. moved to Australia in 1983.
    Had lots of friends in Twini Village so spent some special times there.
    Thanks so much for sharing these memories.
    Kind regards

  14. Thank you Ken for such an informative read on Twini. Although I was a Warners girl, we ended up at 616 Kingsway for my High school years and have very fond memories of the Twini that was. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article!

  15. A great read – which I plan to reread! Thank you for documenting our fortunate lives, growing up in Twini, Kenneth! Wonderful memories! I went to Twini school with you! My Dad, Allan Druce was the Assistant Chief Chemist at AECI all his working life – and was also very active in the music scene – teaching and playing the piano and organ -at most of the churches – and even for “Cocktail Hour” at the Twini Club! I now live in Qld, (near where I believe Mark is!)

    • Hi Karen
      It was so good to see your comment.
      I remember you and your Dad so well. He played at our wedding at the St John’s Anglican.
      I was very good friends with Lesley.

  16. Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories of Twini village,I worked at AE&CI for 23 yrs and lived at a few addresses in Twini Village.

  17. What a fantastic read, it brought back wonderful memories of my early years in the area. I lived in Prince Street and my sister Helen and I went to Twini School after arriving from England in 1967. Friends for life were made at Twini Primary, Kingsway Junior High and Kingsway Senior High. Thank you so much for writing this Ken.

  18. Thank you for this it brought back so many memories. My parents and myself when I got married lived in the Village. I remember the Kynoch Xmas parades and sports days as well as the Nativity plays.
    I will see if I have some photos from my parents

  19. Thank you for a very interesting read…
    My mom and Dad, Jimmy Acker and Pauline Acker lived at 16 Chamberlain then 18 Chamberlain Rd for many years. (1970 to 1983 ish) I recall ken Grubb? Or was it Ben…We had a wonderful child hood in Twini, from my sister doing Pottery at the Hall in the grounds around Jubilee Hall, to playing around the village…wonderful memories.

  20. Hi Ken, my name is Joy Herbst (nee Whiteley). It was wonderful to read all the history of our lives living in Twini. It really was a special place. Jean (76) , our eldest sister, lives in Auckland with her family; Jennifer (72), lives in Hillcrest & is about to remarry on Saturday 16th April after her beloved first husband passed away 3 years ago from cancer; Laura Jayne (62) who was born in the Kynoch Hospital & delivered by Dr McCleod when we lived in McGowan Road is living in ‘Toti and myself (74). I live in Knysna. My Dad Jimmy sadly died when he was 57 and had been boarded from Kynoch perspex division due to a bad heart. My mother Joan died at 84 years in ‘Toti in 2011. She never left the area.
    I have many wonderful memories of the milkman who parked his cart at the Jubilee Hall. The Frangipani tree outside our house at 19 Highbury Road where my sister Jean hung upside down most afternoons. Bert Burness bunking school brought back wonderful memories. Felicity Sangster was my best friend up the road Kevin & Cheryl Cole lived over the road. The many Variety Concerts at the Jubilee Hall which our family were a part of. And. And. Thanks for bringing it all back, some of which I had forgotten. Joy

  21. Loved reading all the details in your writing. I too have wonderful memories of our time in Athlone Park and going to the Beach and walking under the railway bridge onto the Red Sandune across the highway pre 1974.
    Running to the Beach when the plane crashed with My Brother Mark Daniels. He was friends with your Brother. The scout Hall where I attended Guides. Not to forget the weddings at Jubilee Hall and Tennis Lessons. The post Office Next to the Huge tree. Garage and Shops.
    Such Special times at the beach with our family.
    So many of the famous names you have mentioned also bring wonderful memories back too.

  22. Oh my word. Reading all this brings tears to my eyes. We were so happy there. Big yards to run around ,the houses were beautiful and huge inside. We stayed at 13 Udal right next to Kevin and Kerryn Wherle’s grandparents. We played in the streets until late at night roller blading and riding our bikes. My grandfather worked at AECI Mr. J. J. Kloppers and then my dad Louis.B. Kloppers thereafter dad went over to Polifin. I was about 16 when the plant shut down then we moved to 1 Linscott Road. I remember the graveyard as we always use to say it was haunted. Not far from the graveyard the Swanepoel’s and de Witt’s stayed which were family friends as well as the Viljoen’s on Oppenheimer road. I never wanted to move but had no choice as it was company properties. There use to be a playground to the top with slides and swings which we always went to. The swimming pool and golf course were close to the train station which everyone went to. Playing golf with dad was so much fun and playing tennis on the courts. The small library was one of my favourite places to go to had everything we needed and around the corner from there was our cafe and local butchery where Jessie worked and now it’s a McDonald’s and Shell garage. We had the best Christmases there and don’t forget the fireworks at AECI soccer grounds where the clinic was. Wow so many memories. My dad went to Umbogintwini Primary as grandpa stayed in the village as well later he went to Kuswag. I spent my 12 years in Kuswag and had great academics and sport experiences. We use to run around the block practicing for athletics, my sister and I.My dad would’ve loved to read this, but he has passed for 2 years now. Thank you for bringing back such inredible memories.

  23. Thank you so much for that, I really took a trip down memory lane. We lived in Chamberlain Road, I Went to Twini school, had a photo taken with Karen Muir, got married in the Presbyterian church and had my reception in the Jubilee Hall with Mrs Rice as the caterer.
    Jenny was one of my friends and I often used to go home with her after school. Your mom used to fill the bath with cold water on hot days and we would put on our bathing suits, hop in and she would bring us lunch to eat in the bath! True story 🤣

  24. Brilliant all round research. I did not know much of this. My parents bought below Kingsway on Windy Corner in 1964. Beautiful home and view to die for. I still go and look at the property and could easily live there today.

  25. Wonderful. I lived in your old house from 1988 to 2008, was the last person to leave the village. Loved the village and tried so hard to save it, to no avail. I did start a museum at the AECI offices but have now retired so don’t know if it is still going. Kept some old photos and memoirs if anyone is interested.

  26. Wow, what a great journey into the past ! One of the best things I remember is being able to take long walks from my home, all the way down Kingsway, into Linscott Rd, then Dick King, and back home without having to worry about safety. My Dad was Dr ‘Bonzo’ Brand, and delivered many an infant at the hospital. My Mother Audrey was also heavily involved in the Highland gatherings, especially on the fund raising side. My late older brother Frank went to Highbury and then to Kearsney, and my younger brother Mark also attended UGS and then Kearsney
    I attended UGS for grades I and II (’63/’64), I do believe I had Mrs Harvey and Norman if I remember correctly. If anyone remembers me, I was about as round as I was tall. Lovely to recognise all these names

  27. Ken Grubb thankyou so much for the magic memories – cannot believe you found that snip of my scouting days at 1st Umbogintwini Scouts – I was astounded at what you have found so long ago about our beloved little village Umbogintwini with us living in Dawn Place & previously Iphala Rd My very best regards Stewart Boyd

  28. Hi ….so enjoyed your writings here. I went to Umbogintwini school still have friends from that era.
    Lived in Linscott Rd and spent most of my time on Umbogintwini Beach. So many magical memories of a life style gone. I do have some pics to share if anyone is interested.
    Live in N Italy now with my husband who I met at Kingsway in my matric year. Many I am still in touch with.
    Thanks for the memories
    Denise nee Arthur

  29. Thanks for the memories.. ! .. although I grew up in Athlone Park I had many Twini friends so spent a lot of time in the village. It still pains me to drive past Galleria etc thinking of the beautiful golf course that I spent many an hour on as a youngster …. best regards ….. John … (son of Dixie D’Amant .. the Twini Club legend … 😅)

  30. We were married in Umbogintwini church in July 1971 and celebrated our Golden Anniversary last year on Dornoch Golf Course. Fond memories.

  31. Wow ! Thank you. I was born in the Umbogintwini hospital in 1954. Lived at no Beach road before the bridge was built. Moved to 16 McGowan road and then to no 4 Udal road. By I remember the Grubb’s Mr. Grubb’s love of his Hillman cars. Used to hang around with Clive ( camel) .We left the village in the 70’s and lived in school rod Athlone park
    My Grandfather worked at AE&I and retired in 1938 my father Lawrence worked there 42 years. We also kept horse’s at the old dairy.
    It was a very different world

  32. I so enjoyed reading the article. I lived in Chamberlain Road for a few years in the first semi detached house then we moved to Udal Road. My late father Arthur Grimes worked in the dip plant then went to Security where he started the Dog Unit. We had such a great time living in the village. Everyone was so proud of their gardens, even remembering the village having competitions for the best kept gardens. It was very sad when all the houses were demolished. I still get a lump in my throat when I drive passed.

  33. Brilliant recollections documented. I am currently writing a book on Kingsburgh and the early days. I know exactly how much research and effort went into writing this well done

  34. Thanks for writing and sharing this – we lived in Ocean View Road. Certainly brought back a lot of memories and there were so many things I did not know.

  35. I found it interesting to compare your experiences growing up in Twini to that of mine growing up in country Victoria. I have to admit you’re were involved in a lot more activities many of which were different to mine and some quite dangerous eg. your encounters with snakes. I agree that it is a great pity that the lifestyle for young boys today is so different. As I said before, Ken, you never cease to amaze me…congratulations on a great document.

  36. Thank you so much for the memories. I still have a picture or two of your folks, sitting on the back steps of your house, with all you children, my Mom and Dad in law and Uncle Fred and his wife. Sorry her name slips my mind.

  37. Your account of your Twini boyhood closely parallels Gerald Durrell’s life on Corfu in My Family and Other Animals. You only left out the local taxi driver – Peter McNaught-Davis.
    Another memory – the mule-pulled lawnmower doing our lawn in John Coke Road.

    • Michael we had that book at school on Corfu so many years ago – Regards boet Stewart Boyd

    • Hello Mike,
      Hope you’re fit – good to see your name.
      Yup, a few memories of a wonderful time in our lives although sad to witness the loss of our heritage.

  38. A very interesting read. It brought back memories of my childhood although I did not live on the coast.

  39. Thank you for this. I worked at Twini Primary for many years and lived in Highbury Rd for a few years in the 90’s.
    Some of the most beautiful houses were in the village.

  40. Thanks Ken for bringing back all of these memories – well written! Like you mention – Twini was a self-contained village – everything you needed – even great local dramatic productions. I was born in the hospital when we lived in Highbury Road – then moved to John Coke – used to see Mr Stander walking up the hill to UGS in the morning. At about age 6 we moved to 9 Reservoir Rise, Athlone Park (not Radar Crescent, but close). Worked for Mrs Marisch at the bottle store in the vac, like you. A distinctive sound was the steam train grinding up Twini Hill – Chuf-Chuf- ChChuChuChu! – I think with the wheels spinning when the tracks were wet. When I saw StPatricks being vandalised about 5 years ago I photo’d the tombstones also and gave the photos to Star-of-the-Sea church in Toti where the ashes were moved.

  41. How wonderful to be able to read this ! As current principal of Umbogintwini Primary ,I am saddened at the loss of our wonderful village and a history that is all but forgotten. It is my intention to share this with our current learners and staff, so that they too can appreciate the rich history that surrounds us.

  42. Thanks ken, what wonderful memories you shared, we were your neighbours in Highbury road, the Schwegmann’s, Carol, Colin, Linda and Sharron

  43. A truly brilliant read resurfacing many childhood memories a time sorely missed and never to be repeated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.