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Then & Now: Caister Lodge holds memories, old and new

Caister House when it was the home of the Greenacre Family.

Caister House when it was the home of the Greenacre Family.

Published Nov 13, 2021

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The old pictures this week are of Caister Lodge at 264 Musgrave Road and were sent to us by reader Lynley Clarke who also took the modern pictures.

The two-storey brick building was the home of former Durban mayor Sir Benjamin Greenacre, founder of the famed Greenacres department store.

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The original building, in the Tudor Revival style popular in late Victorian times, was designed by the architects Street-Wilson for Joseph Chiazzari in 1896, with Greenacre purchasing the property soon afterwards. It was named Caister House after the town in Norfolk where Greenacre was born in 1834.

Caister Lodge today. Picture: Lynley Clarke

Sir Benjamin and Lady Mary enjoyed entertaining at their beautiful home. He died in 1911 and was buried in the West Street cemetery.

The current buildings were considerably expanded by his son Walter Greenacre in 1923.

In 1933, the home became the Caister Hotel and was owned by the Parkes family. It was famed for its ballroom and hosted some of the city’s top weddings and New Year’s Eve parties. In 1987 it became Caister Lodge, an exclusive retirement village, and in 1989 Caister Lodge was declared a National Monument.

Brian and Mary Clarke on their wedding day in the sunken garden at Caister Lodge in 1947. Mary Clarke retired to the lodge with a flat overlooking these gardens.

The old black-and-white photos are from the Greenacre family photo album at the Killie Campbell library.

Clarke sent the pictures because both her mother and mother-in-law had lived at Caister Lodge and had very happy memories of it.

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“My late mom, Mavis Warder-Griffin, was at the Caister very happily for 14 years before she died two years ago. She would have been 100 this year,” says Clarke.

Her mother-in-law, Mary Clarke, moved to the Caister from her Westville home after the death of her husband. She died in December last year.

The grand entrance to Caister House in the 1930s.
The grand entrance to Caister Lodge today. Picture Lynley Clarke

“She had a beautiful two-bedroom garden flat that overlooked the sunken gardens, the same gardens in which her wedding photos were taken,” says Clarke. “She and my father-in-law had their reception in 1947 in the Caister Ballroom which seated 600 people.”

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Mary's father was GC (Jack) Shave of Shaves Paint and Paper and Brian's father was Herbert Clarke of Cole and Clarke Shopfitters.

In addition Mary Clarke’s step-mother Ruby Shave was one of the first residents of the Caister when it opened as a retirement centre in the late ’80s.

“I was also at school with a girl called Fiona Parkes whose family owned the hotel,” says Clarke, reminiscing about her days at Durban Girls’ College, which she, her mother and her mother-in-law all attended.

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At the school there was a Greenacre House, because Sir Benjamin had been instrumental in establishing the school. “His daughters went to Durban Girls’ College and he donated the land on the Berea to build the school,” Clarke says.

She tells how her mom attended a 2017 matric reunion and was the only surviving member of the class of 1937.

In a Facebook post on the Durban Walking Tours page, Fiona Hafner, née Parkes, tells how the hotel belonged to her great aunt who ran it until it was sold in 1987.

“I loved the gardens and helping with the weddings on a Saturday afternoon.We had the largest sprung ballroom floor in the southern hemisphere. I used to bath in a marble bath which had been made for a visit of the Prince of Wales, but was never used by him. It was awfully cold.

“I think in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s there were dinner dances every Saturday night. Our biggest wedding there was for 750 people. We used both the dining room and the ballroom (which opened onto each other) for large weddings,” she writes from the UK.

Local historian Mark Levin writes that Benjamin Greenacre arrived in Durban in 1856 and married Mary Stott in 1863. In 1871 he became a town councillor keen to develop the harbour. He served as mayor from 1875 to 1876, 1889 to 1892 and again from 1897 to 1898.

He was knighted in 1901 and was a member of the Legislative Council for 20 years but refused a cabinet position. A Wesleyan Methodist, he was opposed to gambling and spoke passionately against the Sweepstake that it was abolished in Natal.

In his last year as mayor, he donated the mayoral chain and lived long enough to see his son, Walter, wear it.

His son Walter, too, was much involved in municipal matters and was a senator until 1924. He was a noted philanthropist, donating the organ to the Musgrave Methodist Church and supporting the establishment of the Community Chest. During World War I, he converted Caister House into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

For Clarke, one of the joys of the lodge today is the view from the verandah. “Tea and scones always was, and still is, quite a thing,” she says.

Caister Lodge today is still a sought-after residence for those who wish to retire in safe, secure and tranquil surroundings. Each apartment is individually owned.

For further information, contact the general manager, Patrick Robert, on 031 201 0212.

The Independent on Saturday

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