A history of the environment of Fairland, Johannesburg

A history of Fairland

A Google Maps satellite image shows the Union Jack layout of ‘Union Park’


Seventy-year old Juliet Louw has not forgotten the Fairland of yesteryear. The Northcliff resident remembers the area when it was mostly farm land. She spoke on little-known facts about Fairland for Heritage Day.

According to Louw, it was after the second Anglo-Boer war that parents of the Weltevreden area decided to build a school.

“The first school began in 1903 with twenty pupils and clumsy, homemade desks below Madge Avenue. It soon burned down and they moved to a bigger house. The schooling was all in Hollands- in fact, Fairland School was the first school in the Transvaal where the teaching was done entirely in Hollands, not yet Afrikaans.”

The Weltevreden School became the Fairland Government School in 1907. Today it is Laerskool Fairland.

With infrastructural advances Fairland is now only a stone’s throw away from Johannesburg’s centre, but as Mrs Louw explained, it was not always so.

“When I was a child Fairland was incredibly remote from Johannesburg. In fact, I lived in Parkview and never heard of such a place until I was married. On passing out of Primary School, children had to attend high school as boarders and were taken by horse and cart to catch the train at Maraisburg station to Monument High in Krugersdorp.”

“The entire population of Fairland always spent New Year’s Day in the kloof at the top of Willson Street. It was the most entrancingly beautiful spot before the fences went up. There was a white cliff, one of which gave the Witwatersrand its name, and the ground was covered with green grass like a lawn, we who are now old know it so well. Even before the building of Northcliff began, people were carting these stones to Johannesburg and selling them to builders.”

Another interesting bit of history gained from Mrs. Louw is about the park bordered by Kessel, Maria, Johannes and Cecilia Streets. Robert Willson, a well-known land surveyor at the time, laid the park. The trees were planted in diagonal rows to mimic the design of the British flag. Today, the layout can be seen from Google Maps Satellite view, though some of the trees are no longer in place.

“The koppies are a catchment area and it is sad to think how indiscriminate building has affected this important ecological factor in a land where there is never enough water. But as is the case with any community anywhere in the world, Fairland has grown out of the joys, sorrows, hopes and schemes of men and women, for that is the stuff of history!”

4 responses to “A history of the environment of Fairland, Johannesburg”

  1. Dear Mrs. Louw,
    Thank you for this gem. So enjoyed reading about my heritage It’s a long way back. The Wilsons of Willson Street,Fairland were your neighbours for many years.

    Dyed in the red mud of Fairland I received my primary school education at ‘Fairlandse Laerskool’. Your sons Leon and Murray were friends, as was the lovely Rosemary.

    My dear sister Kate still lives next to the park on Kessel Street. For my part I adventured from the Zambesi to Cape Town and with my family have settled in Ottawa,Canada.

    (My late father Thomas Wilson and his first family were as much part of Fairland’s history as the original settlers, having taken up residence there immediately following the 2nd Boer War. )

    Best Wishes for 2021. Good Health and Happiness. Stay safe.
    Yours sincerely,

    David Wilson.

    1. David van der Merwe avatar
      David van der Merwe

      Hi David,
      My parents were one of the first residents to purchase a plot after the area was sub-divided.

      There were in particular 2 families that had contact with that I believe we also part of the farm steads – the van Niekerk’s and Lombaard’s. Do you have any info on the early development of the area?
      We grew up in Berario before we built in Johannes street. Later we attended Fairland laerskool.

  2. Hi David

    I think we are related
    My great granddad , who came to South Africa as a soldier settled in Fairlands , and the street was named after him (but spelt Willson) as the first settler there
    I met him in the late 60’s when visiting him with my dad , Thomas Frank Wilson
    I did not know my granddad , also Thomas , who died the year I was born in 1948

    I remember that my great granddad , who was then in his nineties , had an old hearse as a vehicle

    He had been married twice
    Both times he sired 7 children

    If these facts jell with you , please reply , so that I can learn more of my family

    Kind regards

    Ron Wilson

  3. I remember we use to live in the plot owned by the pedras, my grandfather worked as a farmer and my mother worked as a domestic worker. Will go to hyperam now called checkers by the bridge in constatia

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