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Dock workers in the Point of the past

Docklands Row Houses were restored from the original house where dock workers lived in the Point area in the early 1900s. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Docklands Row Houses were restored from the original house where dock workers lived in the Point area in the early 1900s. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 8, 2022


In the early 1900s, Durban was known as South Africa’s premier port, with the Point area playing a central role and a hive of activity.

Steeped in history, the Point area underwent a massive regeneration project, creating the upmarket Point precinct ahead of the 2010 Football World Cup. Today, it boasts many beautifully renovated heritage buildings.

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The Docklands Row Houses in Timeball Boulevard were originally built between 1895 to 1907 and were home to dock workers. They were revamped in 2006.

Before the renovation of the terraced houses built in the early 1900s, this photograph was taken in 1991 for the Sunday Tribune. Picture: Independent Media Archives

Further towards the beach and built in 1907 was Somerhill, a more luxurious home which was used by the port captain or secretary of the Natal Harbour Department.

It would have had an exceptional seaviews and was the only single-storey house built for harbour staff.

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This week, Durban Walking Tours’ Lynne Schwan said the Docklands Row Houses reconstruction in 2006 was the largest project of its kind undertaken in South Africa, with Emmett Architects receiving a merit award from the KZN Institute of Architects for the work.

The Institute’s citation said: “This ensemble of back to back verandahed row-houses and picturesque chimneys and double-storey outbuildings, was built for dockworkers during the period 1896 to 1907, but long discarded and vandalised.

“Within the context of the redevelopment of the Point, the dividing street, Patterson Street, was recreated as an arm to the canal system.”

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Dockpoint Row has heritage status and is a sought-after address after the houses were renovated to include a canal along the dividing Patterson Street. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

The gradual decay of the area happened over many years. The district, bustling with sailors, ladies of the night and raucous nightlife, became the infamous Point red light district.

Smuggler’s Inn at the Alexandra Hotel, locally known as “Smuggies”, was a popular meeting place, hosting many a colourful character and late night brawls.

A pictureof the terraced houses taken in 1990. Picture: Independent Media Archives

The dock workers houses fell into disrepair and the description in the citation of the restoration of the listed buildings, reads: “The corrugated roof sheeting was replaced with aluminium, sliding sashes and joinery were replicated and missing cast iron elements substituted with aluminium.

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“This unique cluster of Victorian row-houses had long been neglected. Within a vision of history as a continuous, changing process, the architects repaired the units and made them sound, reinstated lost details and acknowledged their interventions by leaving ‘footprints’ of the former spaces.

“While viability involved the removal of the outbuildings and the incorporation of a parking basement, the ensemble was given new life in a way which celebrates the past.”

The parking basement was created within the backyard space while the outbuildings were reconstituted as garden and entertainment facilities.

Timeball Boulevard is named after the Timeball Tower which, in the early 1900s, advised ships of the time as they entered port.

To go on the Point Walk for more history on the area, contact [email protected]

The Independent on Saturday

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