150 years of village life

2010-12-24 00:00

CROSSWAYS Country Pub in Hilton is a well-known local landmark. Did you know that in the early 1900s cars travelling up the dusty road from Pietermaritzburg used to stop at that location at a water station to cool down their overheated vehicles?

The Story of Hilton is a 93-page self-published book which describes the development of Hilton into the village it is today. It is a labour of love and the result of much time spent in the Pietermaritzburg deeds office, poring over borrowed diaries, as well as discussions with long-time residents of the village on the hill above Pietermaritzburg.

Hilton residents Chris and Margaret Lake have long been interested in the history of the area and in the eighties they drew up a record of early British settler families from the Sweetwaters and Winterskloof areas, known as Mount Michael. The Story of Hilton then evolved in 1995 after Jenny Hoepfl, also a Hilton resident, collected some interesting memorabilia about the famous early railway engineer David Hendrie. Knowing that the Lakes had produced a booklet on Mount Michael, she approached them about doing a similar project on Hilton.

Margaret Lake spent the time in the deeds office establishing when Hilton properties were built and who had owned them. Family names led the authors to local residents who had personal stories to tell and in some cases diaries from previous generations were shared. From this a rich tapestry of life in Hilton over the past 150 years emerged.

The diaries of Margareta Pope-Ellis are drawn on, giving a very colourful picture of the day-to-day happenings between 1896 and 1903. Her husband, John Allen Pope-Ellis, was the manager of the Town Hill Wattle Company which consisted of 700 hectares of what is now known as Hilton Gardens. Events from the Boer War are recounted, as well as a description of the draping of the little Hilton church in black material upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

A welcome inclusion in The Story of Hilton is the story of the Maharaj family who lived in Hilton until the 1950 Group Areas Act. They owned property in Hilton in the twenties and Dhara Maharaj, who lives in Howick today, remembers riding her bicycle from her home on the ridge near Dennis Shepstone Drive, to the tobacconist shop on the site of the current Homenet office in Hilton. She would leave her bicycle with Mr Egan, the shop owner, and catch the train to school each day. Her father, Rugubeer Maharaj, from the Poona district of India, had smuggled himself onto a ship to South Africa when he was 16.

There are memories recorded from the thirties and forties, from Shirley Forsythe, who as a young girl used to ride her horse to the Hilton train station before school to collect the newspaper. Her sister Anna rode her pony to Miss Ladd’s school at the old public hall. Today the school is Laddsworth Primary School located in Winstead Road. Chris Lake spoke to retired postman Alpheus Ngcobo, as he had served the Hilton community for 39 years and was able to share the story of his career in Hilton between 1952 and 1991.

Desiree and Arthur Hickinbotham are also Hilton residents, and they launched hiltonvillage.co.za in September this year, giving local businesses, services and schools, as well as artists and crafters a website to share their news and market their businesses online.

Desiree Hickinbotham said: “We have lived in Hilton with our two children for going on five years. We enjoy the small-community benefits of little traffic and familiar faces at the shops, while still having so much available at our fingertips. Our dream is that, whatever developments the future brings, Hilton will retain its historically rooted village atmosphere and embrace this characteristic as it grows. To this end, we encouraged Chris Lake to revisit The Story of Hilton as a way to record and share the valuable history of Hilton,” she said.

The Hickinbothams worked with the Lakes to create an e-book version of The Story of Hilton and it is available at www.hiltonvillage.co.za

As co-author Jenny Hoepfl explained, she and the Lakes spoke to many people during the nineties who are no longer alive today. The telling of history and the recording of it is such an important task, and contributions such as this by people passionate about their community can help to save the stories that otherwise get lost when people die. Perhaps making it available via an online medium will assist to create a new generation of historians that will listen to and record the stories of their parents and grandparents.

The telling of history and the recording of it is such an important task, and contributions such as this by people passionate about their community can help to save the stories that otherwise get lost when people die.

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