Apart from homes, hotels and the cathedral, William Street-Wilson’s drawings are included in an architectural treasure trove in the form of the UKZN Howard College collection.
Apart from homes, hotels and the cathedral, William Street-Wilson’s drawings are included in an architectural treasure trove in the form of the UKZN Howard College collection.
Emmanuel Cathedral photographed from Madressa Arcade
Emmanuel Cathedral photographed from Madressa Arcade
Durban - Born in England in 1856, William Street-Wilson was articled to an architect at the age of 16. He absorbed the trends of his period and appears to have shown considerable promise.

In 1887 he settled in Durban, where he remained until his death in 1928. That promise was evident early on when he (with his partner Percy Barr) won the competition for the design of the first Pietermaritzburg City Hall.

Thereafter, his practice blossomed. Together with other partners, particularly William Paton, who himself joined the firm as a 16-year-old, Street-Wilson designed a steady stream of memorable and important buildings.

Many survive, but sadly many others have been demolished, their only record being the drawings reproduced in this book.

The authors have selected the best and most representative examples of Street-Wilson's work - there were more than 1 000 drawings to choose from - but as the authors comment, no reproduction can real- ly do justice to the originals.

Looking at some of them, which date back to the 1890s, one can only admire the scale and detail lavished on each design. The quality is such that framed prints would enhance the walls of a period home.

Street-Wilson was as meticulous in his design of a small house for a platelayer on the Natal Government Railways as he was for a grand home for a prominent family. Blacksmith or department store owner, both could be certain of the same attention to detail.

Some of his surviving houses include the Meyrick Bennett House (Chelmsford Road) and Monaltrie (Musgrave Road). Many churches, such as St Thomas’s Anglican Church and the much grander Emmanuel Cathedral, stand as testament to a great talent.

While admiring examples of that talent, Rodney Harber dropped by. Like Brian Kearney, he is a retired professor from the University’s School of Architecture.

The two men have known each other since they began school together in 1944, when one of their teachers was a Mrs Strachan, the mother of Harold Strachan.

Last year, these two eminent professors joined forces with Michele Jacobs to produce A Measure of the Past, which is a selection of some of the remarkable drawings produced by second-year architecture students from 1960 to 1995.

The quality of their work is extraordinary: not surprisingly, many of these students have created successful careers for themselves.

Their drawings are also housed in the university’s library, where Jacobs has been the librarian since 1985. Before that, she had been the librarian at Argus Newspapers.

We are indeed fortunate that these enterprising authors continue to research and document our fast disappearing architectural heritage, because without their dedication - and passion - we would be a lot poorer.

The Street Wilson Drawing Collection by Michele Jacobs and Brian Kearney and A Measure of the Past: Measured drawings of Natal buildings by students of the Natal School of Architecture by Michele Jacobs, Rodney Harber and Brian Kearney were produced for the Durban Heritage Trust. Print editions were limited to 200 copies of the former and 250 of the latter.

Both are available from either Brian Kearney at 0312011471 or [email protected] or Michele Jacobs at 0312601207 or [email protected]

Sunday Tribune