The Rhodes Park Spring Recollection

I was born and grew up in a house in King Edward Street, Kensington. This meant that Rhodes Park, that most beautiful of all Johannesburg parks, was only a short walk away and I visited it frequently during and after my school years at Jeppe. I grew to love its huge old trees, great sloping lawns, the wonderful lake (wherein my early youth there was a small boathouse where you could hire ancient rowing boats of dubious ‘seaworthiness’), and a delightfully cool, thatched, wooden-walled kiosk where chocolate, sweets and wonderful ice creams were available. After the Second World War came to the beautiful lending library which I visited regularly and spent many happy hours browsing. However, the Park Keeper, always known by us as ‘The Parkie’, was a fierce, unbending upholder of municipal bye-laws relating to public parks and was treated with awe.

However, for me by far and away the most wonderful feature of the whole park was the perennial spring located on the west side of the lilypond. Here water emerged from under a rock a few metres from, but slightly higher than, the edge of the lilypond, thereafter flowing silently down into the pond in an endless, cool, crystal-clear stream – perhaps the shortest river in all Johannesburg! (I had no means of measuring the rate of flow but guess that it was c. 5-10 l/min.)

Years later, when as an engineering student at WITS I read in E T Mellor’s 1907 Geology of the Witwatersrand that “The whole of the Witwatersrand area has a very fair natural water supply; springs and small streams are abundant.”, I recalled the Rhodes Park spring and wondered how many others were still flowing after all those years? In 1961 I measured the temperature of the spring and found it to be 19˚ C. The pH was 5.8 (i.e. very weakly acidic). I could not detect any chlorides or sulphates in the water, which was some indication of its purity. It would be interesting to repeat these measurements today and see if anything has changed.

On a lighter note, I also recall that as children we were repeatedly warned by our parents that the lilypond was absolutely bottomless and that if we fell in we would sink down forever and never be seen again. This terror tactic may have been morally reprehensible but it worked well and we always treated the pond with great respect. Many years later I saw a workman in the pond clearing weeds and I have to admit that I felt a twinge of disappointment that the water only came up to his armpits. So it wasn’t bottomless after all. What a disappointment -we had been duped!

P E Spargo

Rondebosch, Cape.