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Then & Now: Spicing up Durban for decades

The Robertsons Spice Company factory on the corner of Pickering and Creek streets on the Point.

The Robertsons Spice Company factory on the corner of Pickering and Creek streets on the Point.

Published Dec 4, 2021


The old picture this week was posted by historian Arthur Gammage on the website Facts about Durban and is taken from a book celebrating Durban’s Silver Jubilee in 1960, which marked 25 years of city status. It features the humble beginnings of two of the city’s great commercial success stories.

The art deco building in the foreground was the factory of Robertsons Spice Company at the corner of Pickering and Creek streets on the Point. Founded in 1924, today, Robertsons is one of the country’s best-loved brands, bringing the flavours of the world to our spice racks.

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Regarding the advertising on the curved company wall, Pyagra was an insecticide, and Jeyes is a disinfectant. We all know Rose’s lime juice and marmalade.

The first herbs, spices and curry powders were then produced under the Robertsons name in 1928. Today, the company is in La Lucia Ridge.

Another highly successful Durban company was housed in the large brick building in the background.

The old Robertsons factory on the corner of Creek and Pickering streets. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

This was McCarthy Rodway, distributors of Morris, Wolseley, MG, Dodge, Valiant, and Simca cars and Dennis, Magirus, Leyland Albion trucks. It was located at 150 Smith Street.

Today, Bidvest McCarthy Motor Group, its origins can be traced back to 1910, when Gilbert Rodway opened a bicycle shop ‒ the Coventry & Birmingham Motor & Cycle Company. Soon after World War I, Rodway merged his business with Fisher & Simmons, subsequently acquiring the Auburn car franchise. The company changed its name to Fisher, Simmons & Rodway and in 1923, it acquired the popular Dodge brand.

A young man called Justin McCarthy joined the company as an accounts clerk in 1921, acquiring shares in the business. It was so successful that, in 1936, McCarthy Rodway was listed on the London Stock Exchange and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 1937.

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Today, the group boasts an annual trading profit of more than R600 million, with 26 brands of vehicles sold out of a network of 83 dealerships.

The modern picture shot by photographer Shelley Kjonstad, shows both buildings still in place. In fact, little has changed since the 1920s except the height of the buildings on Durban’s beachfront. The building today houses a number of small businesses in the automotive industry including a valet service, auto electrician, panel beater and a courier and freight logistics company.

The Independent on Saturday

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