Paarl Station in the 1950s and 1960s
Note: The area around Paarl Station has changed quite a bit since I wrote this article. The train no longer stops at Paarl Station, the old tobacco warehouse has been transformed into a large co-working space called Tabakhuis, Morris Goss’s shop has also closed, as well as the Paarl Station Hotel. The article was published in the Paarl Post, 11 October 2008.
Driving down Hartford Street into Station Street, it is difficult to believe that the Paarl Station area or Ons Dorp was once large enough to support an astonishing number of shops, general dealers, small businesses, a hotel and a number of bars. Village it was, with its own bank and post office in Concordia Street, railway police and a ‘lock up’.
Morris Goss is one of the area’s last shopkeepers, and remembers a time when the streets were filled with children playing, commuters and workers crossing the bridge to work at the Jones canning factory. Paarl Station, he recalls, was once at a strategic junction. ‘One of the main routes to the interior followed Main Street from the south, down Louwslaan into Station Street. From the station you crossed the line into Vlei Street, and crossed the Berg River at Cecelia’s Drift. In those days there was no bridge, just a slab cement, so if the river was in flood, you couldn’t pass through.’
On week days and weekends the ‘Franschhoekie’ – the train travelling between Franschhoek and Paarl – brought many more people to Paarl Station. All the ‘feet’ through the area, allowed businesses to prosper. Locals used to say that so many people passed through Paarl Station that not even the grass in front of the hotel had time to grow. Then there were at least five general dealers in southern Paarl: on the corner of Concordia and Station Streets there was Trope and Kahanowitz, and in Station Street, Goss, Peck, Moffsen and Devine & Co in Main Street. Note: Older residents still refer to southern Paarl (Main Street south of Market Street) as Suider Paarl, a variation of the Dutch, Zuider Paarl.
SHOPKEEPERS IN SOUTHERN PAARL
Morris Goss’ father, Charlie Goss, bought their shop opposite the hotel – on the corner of Station Street – in 1938 and he took over from his father in the 1960s. He recalls a friendly rivalry between all the shop owners, and a few unwritten ‘rules. Rule number one was never to display groceries in a shop window.
“It was not always about the money that crossed the counter, we were a community. Today I don’t have an assistant to help out in the shop. To think that in those years we had twelve people behind the counter. One person was just pumping paraffin, with three of us weighing and packing groceries, and others serving customers and making deliveries. From Monday to Friday we weighed and packed rice, sugar and flour into smaller paper bags. All week you worked for the weekend’s trade. In those days everything arrived in bulk. Our sugar came from Durban direct by boat. Our flour we got from Philadelphia. When you bought candles you brought a hundred boxes, not just a pack or two.
‘And when the Albanians and Rangers were due to play a rugby match at Die Kraal (a sports field near Huguenot Station, Lady Grey Street) over the weekend, my father used to sell rolls and rolls of green and white or green and yellow ribbon depending on who the people were supporting.’
Among the large general dealers, there were also the smaller shops, like Ballie Abraham’s fish and chips shop just around the corner from Trope’s. Fresh fish would be delivered by the bakkie load, and sold to hundreds of workers returning home from their shift at the Jones factory.
Paarl Station also had its fair share of characters, like Gawie Jonker, the shoemaker, on the corner of Hartford and Station Streets who bought his leather from ‘Goss. ‘Gawie used to run into our shop whenever he needed to fix a pair of shoes, and then place the pair of shoes on a sheet of leather and measure off the amount he needed. Then we would cut and weigh it.’
Then there was Shedrin or ‘Ogies’ who was one of the first people in Paarl to sell carbonated cooldrinks, and Cyril Back’s butchery, Izzy Moffsen’s shop and Robert Kaplan’s pharmacy. David Back also had an engineering works in the street, and all Paarl Station’s children bought ice cream from Sabodka.
Today there is change in the air and several of the shop are being renovated. Soon there will be little to evoke memories of Koortz and Cohen’s Blue House Bar, and who will recall that Koortz was called ‘Oubaas Pyp’ because of his habit of smoking a pipe. In no time memories of the Corner Bar and the America Café on the corner of Main and Station Streets, or Ladoes’ takeaway shop in Louws Avenue will fade. And Chrisjan Kok and his donkey cart, Johnny Goliath, Paarl Station’s famous singing postman and who will recall the story about Jimmy Lee’s dream to become a Springbok cyclist.
The ‘old timers’ still talk about Jan Slaapkop who worked for Trope, and Hekkie Bitterhout the bokser, and Lionel Wadley who drove trucks in the War and now weighed suger for Goss. They still joke about Opkyk and Wit Piet who celebrated their marriages at the station’s hotel, while their brides waited for them on the pavement outside the Hotel.
Paarl Station was a diverse mix of people, not unlike Ou Tuin in Breda Street. There were South Africans, British immigrants, Jewish refugees and Italian stone masons, all living side by side. ‘In those days there were enough Jews living in Klapmuts, Simondium and Paarl Station to build a synagogue. You can say I am the last of Suider Paarl’s Jews,’ says Morris Goss. Paarl Station was never White [during the Apartheid years]. It was a mixed neighbourhood. We were all just ordinary, hardworking and respectable people. Many of our clients worked at Jones and when the season ended, they worked at the tobacco company where they dried tobaco leaves for Rembrandt.’
Houses were often clustered around a particular industry. There were houses ‘agter die lyn’ [on the other side of the railway line] near the Jones canning factory, and houses in Kohler and Concordia Streets near Clift Granite Contractors. People also lived in Soutstraat [South Street] and Louws Avenue, and Donkerbosdorp, Die Eiland and ‘The Gate’. Paarl Station also had two schools – Zion in Hartford Street and Bethesda ‘agter die lyn’.
However, buy the late 1990s Paarl Station had lost its economic base. Factories closed, forced removals emptied the streets, schools were shut and without feet passing through their shops, the shopkeepers boarded up their windows or sold up and moved on. From time to time people still drop in at Morris Goss’ shop to chat about the old days, but for the most part business is quiet, and property owners dream of a time when people will return to Paarl Station.