Time travel

As you cross the Little Tugela river from the west on the R74, stop for coffee and a slice of lemon tart at the Pig & Plough in Winterton. It’s also a delicatessen. Their pork sausages and bacon are out of this world – perhaps, dare one say, because KwaZulu-Natal is fondly known as the ‘last outpost of the British empire’.

Winterton, incidently, was originally called Springfield. That’s where one turns south on the R600 towards Champagne Castle. Its name made us wonder about how that came about. As always, there seem to be several explanations, but Peter Raper’s dictionary of South African place names explains that two climbers attached to the Royal Engineers in 1860 got into an argument up in the mountain about which one had drunk most of their bottle of champagne.

Hikers enjoying the summer in the Champagne Valley of the central Drakensberg

Cathkin Peak in the central Drakensberg was named after Cathkin Braes, a hill near Glasgow in Scotland, by David Gray, one of the two intrepid climbers mentioned earlier. It is derived from the Gaelic words ‘cair’ meaning fort and ‘caenn’ – a head or end.

The Zulus call it Mdedelelo, for which several meanings are proferred, from ‘leave him in peace’ and ‘he cannot be overcome’ to ‘make room for him’ – probably as the peak seems to push the others to one side.

Heading towards Champagne Castle on the R600, turn left at the sign for Ardmore. About three kilometres on a gravel road, well before the Ardmore ceramic studio, is the ‘Negosie Museum’. Be prepared for time travel into the 1960s.

Negosie Museum and shop

My friend Sandra Lemmer acquired most of the stock of the deceased estate of J. Millar & Son, who were general dealers in Lesotho. There she also found three corrugated-iron sheds that she brought to the family farm in KwaZulu-Natal and repurposed into a shop and an old-style general store, or rather a museum for her collectables.

Sandra’s Negosie Museum is packed with household goods in their original packaging. Although she initially sold some items to defray her huge cost, museum experts advised her to rather keep it all intact for public display and heritage value.

Anything from tea and coffee to pocket knives, chewing tobacco, and home-made soap

The friendly guide David Motseki invites us in, saying shopping next door is free, but there’s an entrance fee of R20 to visit the museum. It’s worth it. Sandra designed it around her childhood experiences of buying sweets at the Indian country store up in the valley.

She knew the idea was sound when an old lady of 90 entered the museum and exclaimed: “Oh my, I’m back in the days of my youth!”

A jaw-dropping display of collectables in the Negosie Museum

In one corner, are bolts of dress material, sewing needles, pins, colourful J&P Coates yarn, buttons, measuring tape, and advertising posters for sewing machines. There are glass jars filled with boiled sweets and wooden crates with cooldrink bottles. Along another shelf, are home remedies and medicines: Jones’ Nerve painkiller, Balsam Copaiva, Little Darling gripe water, GR gall or bile pills, earache drops, ammoniated quinine, and castor oil!

Stacked between clay pots and enamel jugs, boot laces and pocket knives, are rolls of chewing tobacco, Minora shaving blades, and homemade soap. Suspended from the rafters are paraffin lamps and bicycle wheels.

On the shelves among the brand names we still recognise like Frisco, Royal jelly, and Nestlé, there are others vaguely familiar: Fray Bentos corned beef, tinned Hugo’s vegetables, Fab soap powder, Robin starch. And check out the Shu-Shine, Zebo polish and Tomango squash.

Household goods from the 1960s

Equally fascinating are the enamel advertisements boards for cigarettes, washing powder and coffee – collected all around the country.

Entrance to the Negosie Museum in the Champagne Valley

This display certainly brought back nostalgic memories of my own childhood years of the 1960s.

Thanks to Andrea Abbott for taking time to offer suggestions and editing tips.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


6 Responses

  1. I’m taking the liberty of placing a FB friend of mine’s comment here, which she put at the bottom of my post. :
    The Time Travel piece took this nearly 70-year-old back to her childhood! Ours was called Morrisons. I can almost smell it! Dry, dusty, an amalgam of odours, with whiffs of rubber (gumboots), pipe tobacco and starchy cotton. At one end there were shelves with colourful bolts of cloth, and sewing “notions” like thread, buttons, broderie anglais, etc. I bought the fabric & trimmings for every school needlework project I did in high school there. Bulk dry goods like rice and sugar came in huge hessian sacks, and were measured out into paper bags on old-fashioned scales. And those glass-fronted sweet cabinets! Makes my mouth water. You’d spend ages deciding on what combo you wanted, leaning against the glass and being yelled at by the proprieter for leaving stickly little handprints all over it. Your careful selection was also put into a paper bag. And when you finished your sweeties, you folded it up carefully and took it home to your mother, who would use it for your school sarmies (first wrapped in wax paper) — no plastic back then, and almost no litter. You could buy an impressive number of sweets for a penny. Some were 4 for a quarter penny, larger ones were 2 for a quarter penny. Gobstoppers, “apricot” bonbons, marshmallow fish, liquorice boot laces or straps, packets of sherbet, toffees, different flavours of boiled sweets, the black sucking sweets that changed colour as you sucked them and had a name that is totally un-PC today, but which we thought of as “nickerballs”. And the cool drink cooler on the stoep, filled with water and large chunks of ice, in which the glass bottles floated, and in which you had to fish around (while freezing your fingers) for the flavour you wanted, long-gone brands like Hubbly Bubbly that were so carbonated the bubbles got up your nose. Bottles were returned to the store for the deposit, which supplemented your pocket money — you’d beg neighbours without children for their empties. Sjoe. That was a real trip down memory lane! (Maureen Brady)

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