Then & Now: Parker Wood Building
Parker Wood & Co Limited at 208-210 West Street was once a well-known business in Durban. Founded in 1860 by David Peebles Wood and Archibald Parker, it was incorporated as a Limited Liability Company in 1890. The capital was £800 000.
Parker Wood grew into general merchants on a grand scale with branches in Johannesburg, Harrismith, Pietermaritzburg and some surprising towns like Vrede, Frankfort, Lake Chrissie, Barberton, Carolina and Breyten. They were stockists of everything from building and fencing materials to ironmongery, wagon covers, agricultural machinery and carpets.
The first undated photo shows their new premises (on the left) in West Street taken from Aliwal Street. The photo is probably from the 1880s.
The second photo, taken in 1924, shows the greatly enlarged premises. The original West Street frontage has been lengthened, with the addition of a new Aliwal Street frontage. They also had Rough Goods Store at Maydon Wharf. Their Durban staff numbered about 100.
The company name disappeared in Durban in the early 1930s, possibly as a result of a merger or a victim of the Great Depression. By 1935, their premises had been altered for a car dealership, auctioneers and Henwoods Showrooms.
During World War II, the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute had one of their branches in part of the building.
Today, the “BP Building” occupies not only Parker Wood’s site but also the neighbouring buildings through to Pine Street, as seen in the December 2020 photograph.
Over the years, Parker Wood had some well-known directors, including members of the Campbell family. In 1906, Archibald Mitchell Campbell was not only the managing director but also a member of the Legislative Council of the Natal Parliament.
After Hugh Parker retired from Parker Wood in 1889, he became a director of various companies, including the Salisbury Gold Mining Co, a foundation committee member of Girls’ Collegiate School and a Pietermaritzburg city councillor. He also found time to act as president of the YMCA in the early 1900s.
The Independent on Saturday