Wick Street, Verulam, in 1905.
Wick Street, Verulam, in 1905.

Then and Now: Wick Street, Verulam

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Aug 22, 2020

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Durban - The picture of old Durban this week shows Wick Street, the main road in Verulam in 1905 and comes from the Facebook Page Durban Down Memory Lane. It shows an unpaved street lined with fig trees.

The town of Verulam is 170 years old and was founded by about 400 Methodist settlers from St Albans on March 13, 1850. It was named after the Earl of Verulam, a patron of the British settlers. By 1857, Verulam was the third-largest town in the old colony of Natal and in 1879 the Mount Edgecombe to Verulam railway line was opened.

The town has a long association with indentured labourers brought from India to work on KwaZulu-Natal’s sugar plantations, with the first settlers arriving in 1861.

Mahatma Gandhi also featured prominently in its history while he was working in South Africa. In 1907, Gandhi prepared the transfer papers for the Verulam Sunni Mosque, which can be seen in the modern picture. He also opened the Shri Gopal Lal Hindu Temple in May 1913. In 1914, he gave a farewell address to about 5000 people in the town, most of whom had been indentured labourers.

In 1964, Verulam was proclaimed an Indian area in terms of the apartheid government’s Group Areas policies. In 1967, the first Indian Town Board was appointed by the Administrator of Natal.

The modern picture, shot by photographer Shelley Kjonstad, shows only one of the original fig trees still standing. It also shows a much developed town.

The palm trees in front of the Sunni Mosque seen in the new picture are more than 80 years old and were planted by worshipper Sayed Akbar in the 1940s. He and his son Ismail ran the Akbar Trading Store in the town.

The Verulam Historical society also discovered two interesting early traders: John Umfan Musulu and John Dambuza sold utyala beer at No 69 Wick Street, today the Adams Centre: Musulu, for 13 years from 1883 and Dambuza in 1891.

The Independent on Saturday

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