early history of Houghton is not entirely clear from the sources quoted
below which do not accord with each other in all respects.
What appears below is an attempt to put the pieces of history
together. There may be some
errors in the history and the Lower Houghton Residents’ Association
would welcome input from readers. Comments,
corrections and additions should please be sent to Christopher Ussher at
The suburb of Houghton Estate lies in the Northern
suburbs of Johannesburg. It
borders several suburbs including Saxonwold, Melrose, Norwood and
Killarney. It is only a few kilometres from the Johannesburg city centre
and is very close to both the Rosebank and Killarney shopping centres.
It is unofficially divided into a northern section
known as Lower Houghton and a higher southern area called Upper Houghton.
The suburb was formerly part of the farm Klipfontein
which was owned by J J Grobbler. In
February 1888 he leased part of his farm to Samuel Fox who was acting on
behalf of Henry Roberts (Fox was one of the early Randlords and he had
bought and sold Orange Grove.) In
July of the same year Fox sublet a portion of the property to W S Barrett
and F S Mc Hattie at £110 a year. They planted a forest of 250 000 blue
gums on the land for timber for the mines.
Fox then ceded the lease to Joseph Nicholson who
subsequently ceded the rights to a syndicate of Pietermaritzburg
businessmen who hoped to find gold in the area.
The property leased to the syndicate was a strip of
land which ran along the northern foot of the Houghton ridge from Orange
Grove to a point west of where the Killarney Shopping Centre now stands.
A month after acquiring the lease the syndicate bought
The syndicate sank a shaft near where the shopping
centre now is and began mining operations.
Their engineers reported the presence of payable gold and they
floated the Houghton Estate and Gold Mining Company in 1889 with a capital
of £300 000.
The small amount of profitable gold soon petered out
and eventually the ground was deproclaimed.
In 1894 the syndicate decided to develop an exclusive
residential township on the land and the company’s name was changed to
Houghton Estate Company.
From 1896 stands were sold in the southern part which
became Upper Houghton. In that year Johannesburg Consolidated Investment
Company (JCI) acquired the land but only sold stands from 1901.
In January 1902 JCI purchased the northern part of the
land where Barrett had established his plantation and added the land,
which is now known as ‘Lower Houghton’, to the township.
Because JCI wanted to clear the land, Barrett stood to
lose his fine plantation. The dispute went to the Supreme Court in
Pretoria but was settled in 1904.
Initially demand for stands in Houghton Estate was
slow and by 1910 only 649 erven had been sold, many to the great mining
barons and other influential people of the time. Some of their lovely
homes dating back to the turn of the twentieth century remain.
Up to about 1920 Houghton could not match the
popularity of Parktown. But in the 1930s leading architects began building
houses on the large Houghton stands in the so-called International Style.
This helped to accelerate development of the area as a very upmarket
residential suburb with large beautiful houses, well-tended gardens and
The suburb retained its rural character because of the
enforcement of strict building controls. For example, roofs could not be
made of corrugated iron. Tiles, slate, thatch and shingles were allowed.
Concrete roofs were also permitted, apparently for the first and only time
The area has a diverse topography with low ridges and
broad valleys along which parks and golf courses have been laid.
Most of the stands are large, (approximately 4000m²) and are well
treed. The suburb is enhanced
by The Wilds – which was donated to the city by JCI in 1937 and
proclaimed as a National Monument on 20 February 1981.
The Wilds is on a ‘koppie’ which used to separate ‘Upper’
and ‘Lower’ Houghton until The Munro Drive was constructed in 1919.
Houghton has always been renowned for its schools. On
the ridge in Upper Houghton is St Johns College, with its superb Herbert
Baker buildings which were first occupied in 1907.
Not far from it is King Edwards VII Boys High School.
In Lower Houghton there is Houghton Primary School which was built
after World War I.
Many top businessmen, professionals, academics and
politicians – including our own former president, Nelson Mandela, - have
their homes in Houghton.