Fire and romance in the story of the Pretoria Train Station

Powerful friends

In 1892 a 30-year-old British architect arrived in South Africa to start a career which had a profound effect on architecture in South Africa, due almost as much to the powerful friends he made here as to his art.

Herbert Baker was born in Kent in 1862 and was much influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. He came to South Africa to visit his brother. Here he met Cecil John Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, who commissioned him (Baker) to re-model Grootte Schuur, the house donated by Rhodes as the official residence of the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and later, the Union of South Africa.

Another powerful friend Baker made in South Africa was the then British High Commissioner, Lord Alfred Milner. Couldn't have been bad for his career to have such powerful pals!

Baker moved to the then Transvaal Colony in 1902, after the end of the South African (Boer) War. He set up an architectural practice in the flourishing gold mining town of Johannesburg.

The origin of the building

In 1910 the Transvaal Colony, about to become a part of the Union of South Africa, had surplus funds in its Treasury which the colonial government did not want to surrender to the Union. The government decided to build a new railway station building in Pretoria with the funds and appointed Baker's firm to design it.

The foundation stone was laid by the Honourable H.C. Hull, Colonial Treasurer and Chairman of the Railway Board, on 21 May 1910, just days before the Union of South Africa came into being on 31 May 1910.

Baker had by this time also secured the contract to design the headquarters of the new South African Government to be erected in Pretoria and used the station design as almost a practice run for the much bigger project which would result in the Union Buildings which were put up on Meintjieskop.

The Pretoria Station building looks down Paul Kruger Street towards the central business district of the city.

In the apartheid era, in the spirit of the total separation of the races, the station was declared to be for white use only and a second station to the west of the Pretoria Station was built in Bosman Street.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Fire and romance

When democracy was achieved in 1994 the station was again opened to all races.

The upsurge of economic activity in South Africa during the late 1990s and early 2000s led to a dramatic increase in the number of commuters using the trains, which in turn caused many delays and a certain amount of chaos on the trains.

On the evening of 19 February 2001 the anger of commuters boiled over and a small group of them set fire to the station building, causing damage of some R50 million to it.

Government and Transnet,.the company running the railways, set about restoring the building, which was re-opened on 24 June 2002 by the then Minister of Transport, Dr Dullah Omar..

The restoration was beautifully done and I visited the building on South African Heritage Day, 24 September 2010, when the building was 100 years old, and took the accompanying photos.

An interesting item that was discovered during the restoration work was a swastika in the recess above the clock in the central tower. This discovery has led to much debate as to its origin and the reason for its existence. The most colourful reason (and the one I accept as true, on the basis of absolutely no evidence at all!) suggested is that Baker had a secret passion for a Hindu woman and that he had the swastika placed there in tribute to her. The swastika is an ancient Hindu religious symbol.

When I took the photos I did not know about the swastika so didn't take a photo of it. I will return soon to try to get a shot of it.

The famous swastika can be seen just above the XII of the clock (if you look hard!). Photo by Tony McGregor
The famous swastika can be seen just above the XII of the clock (if you look hard!). Photo by Tony McGregor

Update 28 October 2010 - photo of the swastika added

Today I went back to the station building and took the photo at right which shows the famous swastika above the XII of the clock. My equipment is not that great for taking such a small detail far away - but I did my best!

Map showing location of Pretoria Train Station

A markerPretoria Station -
Pretoria Station, Pretoria 0002, South Africa
[get directions]

Pretoria Station is at the southern end of Paul Kruger Street and looks down towards the City Hall and the Central Business District of the city

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 30 comments

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

I have never really read much about South Africa beyond news articles, so it was nice to hear the history behind some of your famous buildings.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Tony, ek dink jy het vir jouself ’n perd opgesaal hier. Wat van nog ’n paar hubs oor imposante geboue in ons land? Guess what, I did not know Rhodes donated Grootte Schuur to them Prime Ministers. Oh well, there are more things I don’t know as things I do know. Thanks to you, I now know something quite important to remember. Great hub, voted UP!


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Oh, I am such a fan of truth which is based on absolutely no evidence at all! :-))

AND

because you are too lazy to read my responses to your comments, I am quoting one here for you

QUOTE

With respect, an important aside for you: I have wanted to phone you over the last few days in order to see if you are alright and whether you have disappeared for a good reason, but I was afraid that your wife would answer the phone.

In other words, after sixty, if we do not show any signs of life, it is very likely that there isn’t any. So please: Next time you want to disappear, do let us know, as we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where we have to console the widow over the phone. Besides overseas calls are soooo expensive :-)))))

UNQUOTE

... I thought that funny would you believe? ..........:-))))))


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Another beauty Master! Thank you Brother Tony! Thorough and beautiful!


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 5 years ago from Canada

tony-- my hats off to you, I'll admit my cousin came back with some awesome photos of said building, but (bad rebecca! bad bad bad! ha ha) I didn't know all this wonderful hisotry about this until reading your hub! many many thanks!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Sweetie Pie - glad to have filled you in a bit more about this great country! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie - baie dankie vir jou besoek. Ek beplan nog 'n paar Hubs oor geboue in Pretoria en ons gaan Desember maand Kaap toe waar ek nog geboue wil afneem en Hubs oor skryf.

Thanks again for your visit and comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Brother Dimitris - of course I love the romantic story, and romance needs no evidence, and in any case, whylet facts get in the way of a good one!

I am really touched (probably in more ways than one!) by your concern about my relative absence. The reason for my not getting back to see your responses to my comments. This was not caused by laziness, I assure you!

Nor has it been caused by churlishness or a lack of gratitude for the many friends, of whom you are among the the most cherished, here on Hub Pages. I am simply nursing my laptop which is starting to show alarming signs of aging, in particular, it has taken to shutting itself down at random moment, caused, I believe, by overheating. Since I can't afford a new one I am nursing this one very carefully to keep it operational until such time as I can find the funds to get another! This nursing means that I have to turn the darn thing off every hour or two and let it rest for awhile, which, as I think you can imagine, is cutting seriously into my time on-line.

So I tend to do what I really have to do and then shut down the machine, and so on. Tiresome, I know, and it means that I am missing a lot here, espeically my dear friends.

I hope this explanation will set your mind at rest. I am not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil yet awhile, and thanks again for your concern, which only confirms my already high opinion of you generosity!

Love and peace

Tony

PS - I think my wife would have loved to chat to you - too bad she won't get the opportunity now!

PPS - I also think your comment is funny!


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

That's a relief :-))

This is an idea about beating age. I requested it myself, but I don't think that it will do for your computer. Might be good for old codgers like us, though :-)))

Running Into Retirement: Staying Active While You Age

http://hubpages.com/health/Running-Into-Retirement


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

haha. I'm reminded of my favorite comic strip, Peanuts, in which Snoopy, the dog, wise philosopher and observer of the flow of life that he is, states in so many doggie words that he is partial to subjects which are mostly matters of opinion.

Reading along, fascinated by the historical account, I was snared by the swastika and the explanation you favor as to its reason for being there possibly for his love of a Hindu lady. I wondered: Which direction to the ends of the "cross" swirl? (it is a cross in the middle, you know.) I read somewhere that the Native American swastikas which they wove and still weave into their beautiful rugs have the ends swirling the opposite direction of the Nazi swastika. I can't recall which is which, but will check it out. Possibly the Hindu swastika is also contrariwise in the direction of the ends. It always looks to me as if if it were stretched out rather than crammed into a small space, the ends wouldn't even bend and swirl at all! LOL

I've been struggling with similar computer glitches too, Tony, and also can't afford to replace the laptop - but I did so anyway, with a MacBook Pro - 13 inch. There was a provision for a 12-month, no interest financial arrangement, which I think I can manage - though wouldn't you know the next day, I found I must have a bridge in some of my jaw-teeth. Ack!

Anyway - the Mac is taking some getting used to, but what a superior, well-engineered machine! I'd told myself that if I ever had to get another computer it would be a Mac. It seemed like the time had arrived. The Dell tech who helped me get the Dell 13 inch XPS 3-year old laptop limping advised it woudn't be prudent to put a new Windows 7 OS in it to replace the obstinate Vista one and I might as well invest in a new PC instead. I was still vascillatiing when I cinched it and spilled a quarter of a bottle of water onto my lap, the couch and the Dell when I dozed off a second. Everything was so wet and demanded equal attention that I failed to turn the laptop upside down after unplugging it, so that any moisture that had gotten inside would quickly drain out and evaporate with the heat buildup. Instead I just wiped off the top of the keyboard which didn't seem all that wet and ran and changed my clothes which WERE soaked and then ran back to finish drying the couch. That's when I tripped and fell on my right shoulder, which still functioned but is only gradually restoring itself after 5 days. It delayed my clean up of spilled water too.

By the time I turned the PC upside down then, moisture had surely gotten down inside & the HD has been unable to get up and going since. It gives a little try, but I can hear the hard drive whirr & then give out. Left it just plugged in a day after letting it drain and dry with the ceiling fan going on it, hoping it might have life left. Sigh. Only 3 years old and out of commission, while my 78 year old shoulder is recovering nicely without any tech help whatsoever!

But I'd already decided to get a Mac and had it in the works, fortunately. So . .

I can totally empathize with you & the sluggish computer. That sounds like mine had acted even after the tech reformatted it completely. Hope yours behaves better than mine - and don't do water damage to it, OK?

We NEED your excellent hubs to keep us informed and delighted, Tony!!


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

Tony,

This is a very interesting hub. I love a romantic story. you are such a gifter writer. Iv,e learned so much about other cultures due to your hubs. Thank you.

Cheers


Raymond Tremain 5 years ago

Tony it is great to see that there are those who still want to restore old places instead of pulling them down as most do.

Good photos you have here.

Cheers


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Brother Micky - I thank you, sir!

Love and peace

Tony


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

Tony, this is my introduction into your work, I found it a large finger pointing at my lack of knowledge of your area of the world. I'll have to take time to study the history in your past articles and some general history of Africa as I was just hit upside the head to a place that I have, zero, nada bit of education about. I voted it up as it has kick started my mind to learn something new, thanks for that, 50


reddog1027 profile image

reddog1027 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Another excellent history lesson. I always learn something new from your hubs and I try to learn something new everyday. I may not remember it tomorrow but at least for today it is new. Come to think of it, it will be new tomorrow as well.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Rebecca - thanks for the interesting comment. Would have loved to have seen your cousin's photos!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dimitris - yes, I can't see my (in tech terms) aged laptop going for a run! Its gout is considerably worse than mine, which is saying something!

Not sure about running as being any good for this old codger either, I have to admit! Will just stay in the saddle of my recently-acquired bike - which is a story of grace and wonder in itself - watch out for a Hub coming up on this!

Thanks again, dear friend, for your concern, which truly lifts my spirits when my laptop tries to pull them down!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Nellieanna - thanks so much for your great comment. I had written all sorts of witty and entertaining stuff in reponse a couple of hours ago when the laptop did its thing again!

The "swirl" of the swastika is clockwise. I found that even some Roman legions had swastikas on their shields. Interesting, yes?

My dream is also to have a Mac, but I think I'll have to settle for a desktop which will cost about half of what a laptop with similar power would cost. I need a laptop for when I go facilitating as I did last week so will have to keep this one, just strip most of the programmes and non-essential stuff off it and hope for the best! I won't pour water (or any other liquid, for that matter) over it!

Thanks again for the visit and the comment, dear lady!

Love and peace

Tony


JSAlison profile image

JSAlison 5 years ago

They certainly knew how to make railway stations back then. It is wonderful that anyone of any race can use it now.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - thanks for the visit and the comment and yes, I guess I'm a romantic at heart also!

Love and peace

Tony


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

Have you considered an iPad, Tony? It's amazing what they can do. But I understand about the desktop value for its money! I'm so dependent on laptops, though. I began my computer use with laptops and they were all I used from that first one in 1989 till I finally got my first desktop too in 1998, a couple of years after I got on the internet. Each has value, but all those early years, we were back and forth to the ranch and I did all the business stuff on the computer both places, so a laptop was essential.

Now my main excuse is that I love to sit downstairs with my laptop nearby or on my lap, way off from the desktop where the internet source is located upstairs. It started when George was still with me & he liked to sit down here during the daytime. I was always near him so I got accustomed to it too. He had his laptop here too, though he began to be more frustrated than joyous about using it as his memory deteriorated, poor lamb. He had been so proficient too.

I confess to being an electronics junkie. Where i used to love buying clothes and other things, now I'm always tempted by electronic gadgets, though I'm tapering off. LOL.

Hope your laptop holds up for your purposes and I know you'd enjoy a new desktop. Those iMacs look verrrrrry nice!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Raymond - iut is great, isn't it? Old buildings tend to keep our cityscapes human and interesting.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

50 - you are most welcome and it is a pleasure to get such a nice comment from you, sir!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Carol - thanks for stopping by. Every day is new tomorrow and that's part of what makes life interesting!

Glad you enjoyed your read.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

JSA - thanks for the comment. Yes, it is a great building and I'm glad that it is no longer "racially exclusive"!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Nellieanna - I haven't looked at the iPad yet because here they are still very new and very expensive. While I know laptops are very handy I just think I will have to look at price more than anything when I have to get a new machine.

Want to keep this one going as long as possible!

Thanks for dropping by again. I appreciate it very much.

Love and peace

Tony


equealla profile image

equealla 5 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Tony, thank for keeping us up to date. Very interesting about the flag. If it was not for the fire, who knows if would ever have been discovered. I must say, it was an very expensive disvovery!

For the laptop, see if you can get an "ergotilt". I bought one at computer Corporation, and they are very cheap. It is made of recycled plastic and lifts the laptop from the work-suface to help the cooling down. Because the laptop is on an approimate 25 degree angle, it also help the carpal area to be in a more natural position when you type, and your hands do not get as tired. A good investment.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Francis - thanks for stopping by. I was getting a little worried not having seen you in a while! I have just gotten a cooling pad for the laptop which is defnitely helping and that's why I am able to be on the web for longer now! Thanks for the tip. I don't use the laptop keyboard as I have a separate keyboard - I hate using the laptop keyboard precisely because of the carpal tunnel syndrome!

Love and peace

Tony


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

You really are a mine of information and always leave me wanting to pack my bags and head for your beautiful country. Thank you for another great article.

love and peace


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dim - all I can say, apart from a hearfelt thanks for stopping by and leaving such a kind comment, is "Come on over!" You would be most welcome indeed! And it certainly is a wonderful country to visit, especially at this time of year.

Love and peace

Tony

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