Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Heritage Month: Old Court House, Durban

This building, the Old Court House, was Durban's Post Office from 1866 until the first Town Hall (now the main Post Office) was opened in 1885. When Natal was proclaimed a British Colony during the 1840s no postal services existed. In 1851 an Ordinance was passed fixing postage rates in Natal. Mr Francis Spring was appointed first postmaster in the Colony in the same year. It wasn't until 1859 that the first printed Natal stamps were issued (before that embossed dies were used to stamp letters).

The Local History Museum, housed in the Old Court House since 1965, includes among its valuable items of postal history a set of the earliest Natal stamps as well as the Hurst Collection of Stamps and the Stephen B Rich Collection of Zululand stamps.

All mail came to Natal by ship and was sent by messenger from the Customs House at the Point to the town of D'Urban, the very first post office being the home of Mr Schonneberg at the beach end of Gardiner Street.

The Court House circa 1870,
before addition of north and south wings
The Old Court House was the first public building in Durban, opened on 24 May 1866. It was designed by  P Patterson, Colonial Engineer, and consisted of what is now the central portion of the structure. The court proceedings were held in the large central hall. A north wing was added in 1891 and a south wing in 1897.

In 1879, the Court House was loopholed (providing gaps for defensive action). In 1910 the building was taken over for municipal purposes - the Estates Department was housed there until 1961. There was a danger that the building might be demolished but fortunately it was saved from this fate. Renovation took place in 1965 and the following year (100 years after the original opening) the Old Court House became the home of the Local History Museum under the inspired and knowledgeable curatorship of Mrs Daphne Strutt.

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