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.