History and Founding of Henley on Klip
The blockhouse is visible from the R59 highway, close to the Engen Garage. Now declared an official national monument it broods over a vast landscape steeped in history.
When the Anglo War broke out in 1899, Johannesburg itself saw no fighting, but there were some skirmishes along the Klipriver. During the war, the railroad from the north, Johannesburg to the Cape, belonged to a British company that had blockhouses built its length to protect the trains and passengers from the marauding Boer commandos.
A story told of how the Boers derailed a bullion train one night and that the gold had never been found. The then owner of the house used by the British troops apparently awakened to find large holes dug in his front lawn. This is the Paymaster’s cottage in Eweleme Road, which was also a cider factory run by a nursing sister at one stage.
Another colourful character from this period of Henley-On-Klip’s past was Fenning Kidson, after whom the Kidson weir is named. The grandson of an 1820 settler, Fenning was educated in England, but returned to South Africa as a young man and became a transport rider, a contemporary of Sir Percy Fitzpartrik. Soon after the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, news came to Kidson that a commando was on his way to his farm to arrest him. Under the noses of the Boers he escaped, riding side-saddle, his burly frame crammed into his wife’s riding habbit. He finally made his way to Natal but returned to the Transvaal after the war, settling in Henley-On-Klip with his wife, Edith. The family home was named Tilham, which is the manor house on the river at the corner of Regatta and Shillingford Roads.
Another family from the period was the Pretorius family who owned the Slagfontein Farm. The only street on Henley-On-Klip, with an Afrikaans name, is named after them. The graveyard at St Paul Anglican Church bears a silent testimony to this period, with its neglected tombstones revealing the names of woman and children who died in the concentration camps during the Anglo Boer War.
This is also the burial ground of the Pretorius family. It was speculated that the pulpit in St Paul’s is the original donated by advocate Horace Kent. The larger-than-life figure of Kent dominates what can be termed the “modern” history of Henley-On-Klip. He was both a daydreamer and a man of action and lived before his time. Born 1855 in Henley-on-Thames in England, he came to South Africa in 1898 at the age of 43, practising at the Johannesburg Bar.
Professional colleagues described him as a humorist and a pendant with a wonderful command of the English language. He was also said to be “not very busy” at the bar and was assisted in his work by Ephraim Gluckman, with whom he got into debt, on account of the township of Henley-On-Klip. It is clear that Kent immediately fell in love with the area that eventually became the Village. It reminded him of his hometown in England, Thames, and he determined to recreate its particular charm in dry and dusty South Africa.
He had a vision of wide carriageways, apple orchards, huge oaks, regattas, and trolley business from the station to the weir. In conjunction with the Small Farms Company (SFC), Kent proceeded to by up the land that ultimately comprised Henley-On-Klip. SFC was established to assist Lord Milner, British High Commissioner and the first administrator of the Transvaal, in his work of land settlement. About 400 morgen was bought from Mr. van der Westhuizen for the pricely sum of £5000.00, comprising part of the farm Slangfontein on the east side of the Klip River and known as Bloembok.
Auret Pritchard, the government surveyor, was instructed to survey the land into small holdings from 1 acre to 80 acres. In 1905, a general plan of Henley-On-Klip was presented by the surveying firm Bell and Orpen, almost identical to today’s plan.
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