Franco Frescura


The mining camp, which was subsequently to receive the name of Johannesburg, was proclaimed n the farm Randjeslaagte in the ZAR Government Gazettes of 8th and 15th September 1886 respectively (Cartwright, 1968). Within a matter of weeks a combination of factors including the highveld's wide diurnal temperature range, primitive living conditions, infections, mining accidents and drunken brawls made the provision of some basic health facility imperative. Rudimentary services were initially housed in the jailhouse in Commissioner Street and later in a small building purchased by Von Brandis for this purpose. However, as these soon proved inadequate, the demand for more permanent facilities steadily increased. The ZAR Government responded by donating land immediately to the north of the mining camp in an area which has since become known as Hospital Hill. The foundation stone for the first structure was laid on 29 March 1889 by NJ Smit, Vice-President of the Republic, and the first permanent hospital buildings were opened a year later by JMA Wolmarans, Executive Committee Member of the ZAR (Leyds, 1964). The facilities which, for the next ninety-odd years were known as the Johannesburg General Hospital, were first staffed by the Holy Family Sisters who remained in its service until 1915 (Neame, Undated a).


When research into this building was initiated in 1974, little archival material could be found and it appeared that, with the exception of a few surviving documents, all other files had been destroyed. It has however been possible to determine that its construction was funded by a gift made to the Johannesburg Hospital Board by the Barnato Brothers through their firm, Johannesburg Consolidated Investments (JCI, 1965). A measure of uncertainty appears to surround the exact amount of this bequest. The London Jewish Chronicle of 5 November 1897 reported that "Messrs Barnato Brothers have paid £1,500 the last instalment of the donation of £6,000 to the Barney Barnato Ward of the Johannesburg Hospital". (1897a: 26)

However, a bare three weeks later, the same journal carried an interview with Barnato's biographer, Harry Raymond, who "mentions incidentally his (Barnato's) benefaction … of £10,000 or more for a hospital for Johannesburg". (London Jewish Chronicle, 1897b: 24)

This second figure was confirmed in later years in JCI's official history which, presumably, was based upon the firm's archival records (Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, 1965).

The Ward's opening is recorded to have taken place some time in 1897 (Neame, Undated a), possibly in November. Tenders were only called for on 26 April 1897 when the architects Toogood and Goode placed the following notice in the Standard and Diggers' News:

Tenders are invited for the Erection of the "Barnato Wards" for the Johannesburg Hospital Board. Plans and specifications may be collected and Bills of Quantities obtained on and after MONDAY, APRIL 26 at the Office of the Architects, 52, Barnato Buildings. Tenders to be sent in on Monday, 3rd of May, before noon. The lowest or any Tender not necessarily accepted" (1897: 1).

The time required to complete such a project would therefore appear to coincide with the November reports in the London Jewish Chronicle quoted previously. In view of the fact that Barney Barnato was drowned at sea on the night of 17 June 1897 when he fell from the deck of the RMS Scott during its voyage to England, it is safe to assume that Barnato himself initiated the project and that it was only dedicated in his honour subsequent to his death.

It is also interesting to note that the timing of this project seems to coincide with two major events in Johannesburg's history: the abortive Jameson Raid of January 1896 and the Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion which took place on 19 February of that same year. The latter highlighted the town's shortage of hospital facilities which, upon this occasion, forced the authorities to convert parts of the old Wanderers Club, located immediately south of the hospital, into emergency wards to accommodate the injured (Neame, Undated a). Although both events pre-date the construction of the Barnato Ward by over a year, the political issues surrounding the raid were not fully resolved until 11 June 1896 when the four leaders of the Johannesburg Reform Committee were released by the government of the ZAR. Barnato is known to have played an influential role in persuading Kruger to commute the severe sentences handed out to its leaders to a series of fines (Rhoodie, 1967). Therefore it is not inconceivable that the endowment of the Ward was a gesture of personal good will on the part of Barnato to the President.

The Barnato Ward was located to the north-east of the first Administration block. Sited along an approximate east-west axis it faced upon what is now Klein Street in Hillbrow (illustration 1). What little is known of the building in its original form has been derived from an undated drawing in the archives of the Architectural Branch of the Transvaal Provincial Administration in Pretoria (Johannesburg Hospital No 9: Barnato Ward). It was planned as a two storey extended rectangular structure raised upon a low stone plinth and was sided by open verandahs running most of its length along both north and south facades. The north verandah was framed on either side by short wings whose roofs were terminated on the building's northern and eastern facades by a series of pedimented gables with large inset ventilation occuli and topped by ball finials (illustration 2). These gables are important for they not only gave a measure of interest to an otherwise mundane structure but they also represented a stylistic link to the Johannesburg Hospital's earliest administration block, a building long since lost to the demolisher's hammer (illustration 3). Like the original Administration Block, the Ward's corners were also expressed as rusticated quoins rendered in plaster. The roof silhouette was punctuated by a series of chimney stacks and ventilators whose size made them an important feature of the building.

Entrances were not well articulated. A set of double doors giving direct access to the wards on both floors were set in the structure's northern aspect and central to its facade. These were celebrated, in a somewhat disconnected manner, at roof level by a scrolled and pedimented gable in a partial Cape Dutch style. A pedestrian connection to the larger hospital complex was made through its western gable which however, was of a somewhat unprepossessing appearance.

The body of the building consisted of three open wards: the largest, located on the ground floor, was given over to male patients whilst two smaller wards, for women and children respectively, were housed separately at a first floor level. Internal circulation was achieved through two staircases, one at either end of the wards. An external steel stair also led from the north verandah to the ground floor. The eastern part of the block was given over to such services as washrooms, storage and heating (illustrations 4 and 5).

Although the building as a whole was relatively modest, it was possessed of some well-defined architectural features such as timber sliding sash windows, fine timber stair details, a handsome set of entrance doors, well-molded chimney stacks, timber verandah posts and Victorian roof ventilators, all of them apparently original to the structure (illustration 6). Floor finishes were in good wood parquet whilst ceilings were done in tongue and grooved boarding, also known as American boarding. On the other hand the verandahs lacked any of the cast-iron or fretted timber finishes typical of so many other buildings of contemporary vintage (illustration 6c), the fenestration was not well articulated and the entrances were not particularly imposing. It could be hypothesised that the death of its benefactor seriously curtailed the funds for its construction and that therefore the building never reached the level of Victorian magnificence for which it may well have been intended. It is equally possible that the design was never anything other than utilitarian and that the standard of finishes recorded was therefore exactly what was specified for it originally. In light of the fact that Barnardo was renowned for his flair and aesthetic good taste, the latter case is not easy to believe. Ironically, in the last years of its existence, it was the eastern elevation which, despite its grouping of services, presented the most interesting and best articulated facade of the Ward, presumably because it was also the only elevation which remained relatively uncluttered by encroaching structures about it (illustration 7).


The question of who designed the original Johannesburg hospital buildings has only been resolved in more recent times. Although neither the drawings of the original administration block nor its foundation stone have ever been uncovered, recent archival research has shown that its architect was Arthur Henry Reid (Johanna Walker, pers comm). Similarly little evidence exists as to the identity of the designer of the Barnato Ward. Whilst it is true that the notice inserted by the architectural firm of Toogood and Goode in the Standard and Diggers News on 26 April 1897 might be seen to link them conclusively to the building, further research seems to indicate that this design did not originate from their office.

Reid was born in Plymouth, England, in 1856. Architecture appears to have run deep in the Reid family, for both his father, William Henry, and his younger brother, Walter, were members of this profession. Upon the completion of his education in England, he travelled with his family to Cape Town in 1877 where he enrolled in the public service, rising rapidly to the rank of City Engineer in Grahamstown in 1879. In 1882 he retired from this post and entered private practice in Port Elizabeth where he remained for the next five years (South African Who’s Who, 1908-1922). During this time he is known to have been responsible for the design of the municipal buildings for Grahamstown and Pietermaritzburg as well as a number of Dutch Reformed Churches in the eastern Cape. He is also reported to have won a competition in 1885 for the design of a new Dutch Reformed Church at Bethulie in the Orange River Colony (Rose Norwich, pers comm).

In 1887 he moved his activities to Johannesburg and became one of the first known architects to open an office on the Witwatersrand goldfields. His earliest commissions from this time included the design and erection of premises for the Rand Club (Neame, Undated b: 25), as well as the first Wanderers Club, of which he was a founder member (Gutsche, 1966: 27-28). Owing to ill-health he was joined in partnership by his brother Walter who, in 1897, took over management of the Johannesburg practice whilst he returned to their Cape Town office where activities were claimed to be less strenuous. Their firm became known as Arthur & Walter Reid and was reported to have "carried out many large works" (South African Who’s Who, 1908-1922).

James Toogood, on the other hand, does not appear to have been as well qualified or connected as Reid. Born near Southampton, England, in 1833, he emigrated to South Africa in the early 1870s where he is recorded to have worked in the Cape for the Public Works Department, one of his projects being the Lovedale Institution at Alice in the eastern Cape (Johanna Walker, Pers Comm). It is probable that Toogood and Reid became acquainted during this time and, when Toogood joined Reid's office in Johannesburg in 1895, that the two men were drawn together by a bond of common experience and possibly friendship. Toogood left Reid's office in 1897 and immediately entered into partnership with Goode (Johanna Walker, pers comm), probably as the result of Reid leaving the Witwatersrand and returning to the Cape that same year. Therefore the Barnato Ward must have been one of Toogood and Goode's first major commissions.

At this point one should question whether the Barnato Ward was, in fact, the product of Toogood's practice or whether it was not initiated in Reid's office where the building could have been designed and then handed over to Toogood and Goode for implementation and supervision. The chronology of the project seems to suggest that this was indeed the case. Reid, whose reputation as a hospital architect was well established by 1889, was joined by Toogood in 1895 who assisted in supervising the construction of the Johannesburg General Hospital (Johanna Walker, pers comm). When the Barnato Ward was commissioned, probably late in 1896, the design of the building was either executed by Reid, or by Toogood under Reid's supervision. Thus, when Arthur Reid left Johannesburg for the Cape early in 1897, it can be hypothesised that Toogood found little reason to remain in Reid's office which had now come under the management of Walter Reid. When he entered into partnership with Goode he either brought the project over with him or, as is more likely, did so with the consent of Arthur Reid, who wished to see an old friend established in private practice.

Although this sequence of events is largely hypothetical, there is some architectural evidence to support this supposition.

Arthur Reid seems to have had a marked preference for certain classical stylistic features such as richly moulded pediments with inset occuli, crowning ball finials and rusticated plaster corners to the body of a structure. These are elements which were present on the Dutch Reformed Church tower at Bethulie (1885), the second Rand Club (1889) (illustration 8) as well as the original main administration buildings of the Johannesburg Hospital (1889). They were also found on the Barney Barnato Ward and may be observed to the present day on the west facade of the Stroyan Ward of the Johannesburg Hospital.

James Toogood, on the other hand, was more robust in his design, preferring his gables to be of more vertical, and almost Dutch proportions, his fenestration more functional and his textures more rusticated. All of these features were embodied in Toogood and Goode's design for Marshall Square, a building erected in 1898 which conforms more to a style which has since become synonymous with the official architecture of the ZAR. For these reasons then, it should be concluded that credit for the design of the Barnato Ward belongs to Arthur Reid although there appears little doubt that it was erected under the guidance and supervision of Toogood and Goode.

Although the original drawings of the Barnato Ward have not been discovered to date, there is strong evidence to show that the blueprint in the holding of the Architectural Branch of the Transvaal Provincial Administration is, in fact, part of the original documentation. Signed by WB Shand, District Engineer for the Public Works Department, Johannesburg, the drawing shows the ground and first floor plans for the Ward. It is true that the building's north verandah and balcony are in a more recessed position from where they were subsequently built and also that the first floor verandah is linked to the ground floor via a pair of external steel stairs, neither of which was ever realised. However the hypothesis that this may represent the original set of plans is supported by the fact that, on this same print, an external staircase linking the first floor verandah to the ground floor is sketched in red pencil in the precise position which it ultimately occupied.

This drawing gives rise to a number of questions.

The first one relates to the inauguration date of the Ward which other historians have previously given as 1897 (Neame, Undated a). If we are to accept the undated blueprint to be part of the original documentation, then this date of opening must be open to some debate. The plan's signatory, "W B Shand", was William Birse Shand, a Scottish engineer who came to South Africa in 1897 and entered into the Cape Civil Service. He was stationed in Kimberley during the siege of that city by Boer forces between 1899 and 1900 and, after the cessation of hostilities, on 1 September 1902 joined the Department of the Colonial Secretary in Pretoria as an Assistant District Engineer. In July 1904 he was appointed Inspector of Works and by 1907 he had risen to the post of District Engineer (Johanna Walker, pers comm). As such he was subsequently entrusted with the foundation work for the Union Buildings in Pretoria (Cape Times, 6 December 1965). The date of Shand's first appointment in the Transvaal means that the Barnato Ward could not have been fully completed before 1902 and possibly as late as 1907, although it may well have been partly operational from 1897 onwards.

The second relates to the puzzling absence of an architect`s name, whether it be Reid`s or Toogood and Goode`s, from the blueprint. An answer may be that, at the onset of the Anglo-Boer conflict, construction upon the still incomplete structure would have come to a halt. Control of the building would then have passed over to the ZAR government for the duration of hostilities during which time little if any work would have been possible. A similar state of affairs would have prevailed during the British Military occupation of Johannesburg, following the town's surrender on 31 May 1900, and until the establishment of municipal government in November 1903. During this time both practices would, in all likelihood, have closed down as a result of which all architectural documentation may well have been handed over to or seized by the local ZAR authorities. After the resumption of civil government, the inheritors of this project are unlikely to have gone to the added cost of recalling the original designers to the task but would probably have seen to its completion under their own supervision and expertise.

Assuming this to have been the case, then it becomes possible to suggest a sequence of events in the construction of this building. The Ward was conceived and motivated for by Barney Barnato, probably as the result of a shortage of hospital accommodation which became evident following the Great Dynamite Explosion of 1896. A sum of £10000 was set aside by the JCI for this purpose. Payment was not made as one donation but was transferred in smaller units as construction progressed. The original design was done by Arthur Reid but when he left for the Cape in 1897, supervision of the project was given to Toogood and Goode. The building was handed over for occupation in a partial state of completion some time after Barnato's death in mid-1897, possibly in November of that year. Up to that stage construction had cost £6000 and although it is probable that a further £4000 had indeed been set aside for its completion, it is not known whether this money was ever paid to the ZAR or, if it was, whether it was used as intended. Whatever the case, the Anglo-Boer conflict brought construction of the Ward to an end and it is unlikely that any further funds would have subsequently been made available by the JCI for its completion. Thus, when the Transvaal returned to civilian government in 1903, the project was concluded with a minimum of frills and finishes. This would account for the removal from the original design of the two somewhat grand external flights of stairs linking the ground and first floor verandahs and their replacement with a clearly functional set of steps overlaid insensitively above the building's northern facade. The roughness of this work may be attributed to the fact that it was executed under the aegis of the District Engineer who, in the rush of post-war reconstruction, would have been more concerned with functionality and cost than with aesthetic detail.


During the next 77 years of its existence the Barney Barnato Ward was to undergo a number of minor functional alterations and additions, most of them unsympathetic to the character of the building. A linen original dated 19 March 1923, also in the keeping of the Architectural Branch of the Provincial Administration, shows the addition of a two storey annex to the south-east corner of the structure. At some later stage, probably after 1930, both north and south verandahs underwent infill at a ground floor level whilst in more recent times the wards were subdivided internally into a series of smaller spaces. During the last few years of its life the Ward served to house a number of medical therapy units.  In or about 17 April 1975 the building fell before the demolisher's hammers and a prefabricated structure was erected in its place.

Although the Ward cannot in itself be considered to have been a building of outstanding architectural merit, its real value to Johannesburg must be considered to have lain in the context of education and the development of clinical medical teaching in the city.

After the Hospital was finally established and suitably staffed, the Witwatersrand Branch of the Medical Association decided in April 1916 that a Medical School should be established to provide more medical doctors for the rapidly growing town of Johannesburg. Following protracted negotiations with the government a Medical School was finally established and medical education commenced in the Transvaal in 1919 when the first 22 medical students were enrolled. The foundation stone of the medical school was laid in 1920 by the then Governor-General, Viscount Buxton. In 1922 the first students entered the hospital wards for clinical teaching and in 1924 the first four graduates, doctors Kuny, Thompson, Slade and Klein, qualified.

Little is known of the function of the Barnato Ward up to the early 1920s. Originally it was designated as Wards 12, 22 and 23 but, by 1929 this block had already become known as Wards 21 and 22, each with its own verandah, accommodating male patients on the ground floor and females on the upper floor. No portion of either ward was set aside for the treatment of children as indicated in the original plans of 1897 (Johannesburg Hospital No 9: Barnato Ward).

With the growth of the hospital, the medical teaching staff of the wards came to be appointed almost entirely on an honorary basis by a joint university and hospital committee. This allowed the incumbents of the staff, both junior and senior, to be allowed to carry on private practice after dispensing with their clinical teaching duties.

In time the main academic subjects of Medicine and Surgery were staffed by what became known as a Firm. Eventually four such Firms were developed for these two disciplines, each having its own ward. The most senior Firm was regarded as the Professorial Unit. It was headed by the Professors of Medicine or Surgery respectively and consisted of the Head of the Firm, an assistant, a registrar and various clinical tutors. This staff was then allocated duties in teaching the various aspects of their respective subjects.

In 1933 Dr Arthur Bloom was the Head of the Medical Firm located to Wards 21 and 22. According to the hospital records, he was originally appointed to the Hospital's Honorary Staff on 12 December 1922 as a Registrar. A few years later he rose to the position of Head of this Firm, the exact date of which is not available from the hospital archives.

Dr Bloom retired from this appointment in 1939 to become an Honorary Consultant Physician until 1955 - probably in an emeritus capacity (Bill Joubert, Archival Department, Johannesburg, Hospital, pers comm. to Dr Oscar Norwich).

The nursing staff of each ward consisted of a sister in charge, staff nurses and probationers in nursing training in addition to domestic male and female staff for the more menial work.

The two floors of the Barney Barnato Ward were of equal size, both being long and somewhat narrow. They housed two rows of beds against each side wall allowing a passageway for stretcher movement and sufficient space between each bed to permit teaching and nursing attention. There were no built- in moveable curtains to provide privacy during ablutions or doctor's examinations. At first moveable screens were carried to each bed as required but later these were fitted with castors for easier movement.

A lift for stretcher traffic was located in the entrance foyer of the building and, once the lower ward was entered, its Duty Room was located in a large room to the left, housing the sister in charge or, when she was off duty, her deputy. It was also used on the mornings of full ward rounds to provide tea to the Heads of the Firm and any Housemen given the honour of being allowed to attend. A sluice room, cupboards and storage space were sited on the far eastern end of each ward.

A similar pattern was followed in the upper ward except for an additional room to house acutely ill or terminal patients requiring extra supervision and treatment.

Dr Arthur Bloom was well known for his treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis with the use of pneumothorax, the introduction of air into the pleural cavity, the space between the lining of the lung and thoracic cage, to facilitate normal respiration. The air in this cavity thus limited the movement of the diseased portion of this lung allowing it to heal with rest and time.

Many of the people who worked in the Barnato Ward during this time have stated it to have been a happy, co-operative and productive period when clinical medical problems were diagnosed by utilising one's special senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell and the tactile palpation of the body. Dr Bloom was well known for having instilled these qualities into many of the Housemen who worked in his Firm.

There are no records available of who followed Dr Bloom in this Ward but it is known that it later became the Professorial Unit under Professor Guy Elliot. Sometime later it was converted into a Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Department. This continued until 1975 when these functions were transferred to other hospital buildings prior to the Ward's demolition (Matron Lorna Schreiber, pers comm. to Dr Oscar Norwich).


The demolition of the Barney Barnato Ward in April 1975 removed what was probably the last of Johannesburg's remaining architectural and historical links to one of its most colourful pioneering personalities. The building itself was not of such quality as to be architecturally important but its presence as a fragment of the original development on this site gave the Hospital a measure of historical context and continuity. The fact that its demolition was neither well considered nor researched was demonstrated once the builders removed its old roof ventilators and these were found them pock-marked with bullet-holes dating back to the 1922 miners' rebellion, a fact hitherto unrecorded. It is hoped that the Stroyan Ward, the last remaining historical structure left on this site, will receive a more sympathetic treatment by the hospital planners concerned than was the fate of its companion.


This research was initiated in 1974 when I was an undergraduate student of architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. At that stage it was already known that the Barnato Ward was scheduled for early demolition but this had attracted little media attention for its history was still obscure and its architectural value little understood. Although the concept of architectural conservation was yet to make an impact on public affairs, the idea of preserving our historical environment was already strong in architectural education and I made this building one of my projects for that year. From the onset it became clear that historical documentation would be a problem as negative responses were received from almost all the archival sources available to me at that time. Over the years however, and with the assistance of a number of colleagues, the data has slowly accumulated. It is presented here, not only for the sake of historical record and in order to clarify the identity of its designer but also in the hope that its publication will ensure the conservation of the Stroyan Ward, probably the last surviving remnant of Johannesburg's original hospital buildings.

I would like to make special mention of the unselfish assistance given by Dr Oscar I Norwich and his wife Rose, who provided most of the social and medical history of the Barnato Ward presented here. The kind contributions of the following persons and institutions is also hereby acknowledged: Prof Dennis Radford, Johannesburg; Joanna Walker, Pietermaritzburg; Albrecht Herholdt, Margaret Harradine, Tim Bodill and Lesley- Anne Morton, all of Port Elizabeth; Dr Leon Roodt, Bloemfontein; the staff of the Africana Library, University of the Witwatersrand and the Africana Library, Port Elizabeth.

This article was originally published in 1989 under the title of The Barney Barnato Ward. SA JOURNAL OF ART HISTORY, 4(1 & 2), 20-28. (June 1989).


CAPE TIMES. 1965. Cape Town, 6 December 1965.
CARTWRIGHT, A.P. 1968. Golden Age. Cape Town: Purnell & Sons.
FRIEND, THE. 1965. Bloemfontein, 7 December 1965.
GUTSCHE, Thelma. 1966. Old Gold - the History of the Wanderers Club. Cape Town: Howard Timmins: 27-28
JOHANNESBURG CONSOLIDATED INVESTMENTS. 1965. The Story of Johnnies: 1889-1964. Johannesburg: JCI.
JOHANNESBURG HOSPITAL No 9: BARNATO WARD. Undated blueprint signed by WB Shand, District Engineer, PWD Johannesburg, in the Drawing Archives of the Transvaal Provincial Administration, Pretoria.
LEYDS, G.A. 1964. A History of Johannesburg: The Early Years. Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandel.
LONDON JEWISH CHRONICLE. 1897a. Johannesburg: Barnato Brothers Donation to Hospital. 5 November 1897: 26.
1897b. Barney Barnato. 26 November 1897: 24.
NEAME, L.E. Undated a. City Built on Gold. Johannesburg: CNA.
Undated b. The Rand Club : 1887-1957. Johannesburg: Rand Club: 25
RHOODIE, Denys. 1967. Conspirators in Conflict. Cape Town: Tafelberg-Uitgewers.
SOUTH AFRICAN WHO'S WHO. Durban: South African Who's Who Publishing Company, Volumes for the years 1908-1922.
STANDARD AND DIGGERS' NEWS. 1897. To Builders and Contractors. 26 April 1897: 1.
SYMONDS, F Addington. 1953. The Johannesburg Story. London: F Muller.

  1. Site plan, Johannesburg General Hospital, before 1923.
  2. Reconstruction of the Barney Barnato Ward, c1907.
  3. Detail of south facade, Administration block west wing,
  4. Johannesburg General Hospital. Architects: Reid and McCowat, 1889.
  5. Reconstruction of the ground floor plan, Barnato Ward, c1907.
  6. Reconstruction of the first floor plan, Barnato Ward, c1907.
  7. Barney Barnato Ward construction details.
    1. Timber stair detail.
    2. Chimney detail.
    3. Ground floor timber verandah post. Detail at head.
    4. Timber sliding sash window.
    5. Front door detail.
  8. East facade of the Barney Barnato Ward, 1974.
  9. Detail of Commissioner street facade, Rand Club, Johannesburg. Architects: Reid and McCowat, 1889.
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