Phyllis Salt the wife of the late Cecil Salt related to me this tale of the Salts of Sedgefield....
The Young Phyllis Gray
In the year Phyllis Gray arrived in South Africa, the Salts took ownership of their house in Neddicky Street, Sedgefield.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Phyllis Gray was 12 years old when she arrived in Cape Town, South Africa off the Winchester Castle on 12 July 1948. Her father had already been there a year when his wife and young daughter joined him.
There were 8 years difference between Phyllis and her older brother, Jack. He was already in the British Air Force so did not join the rest of his family in their translocation to Africa. After spending a short time in an expensive residential hotel, the Grays moved into a house in Plumstead.
Phyllis was crazy about horse riding and loved all animals. Once out of school she found a job that suited her perfectly when she became a veterinary nurse at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals.
Her future husband was a motor mechanic apprentice when she met him. This came about because he was staying in Cape Town with his sister Muriel, who lived 3 doors away from where Phyllis lived with her parents. She wasn’t that interested in him when the shy young man came to introduce himself and have a chat with her. She dismounted from her horse and left him holding the reins at the gate while she went inside the house to get herself a cold drink.
It wasn’t long however before she sold her horse for faster transport! In 1958 she was described as a woman daredevil when she won the stock-car racing women’s event at Goodwood. Her boyfriend, Cecil Salt was her motor mechanic! They married in March 1960.
Cecil was the youngest of the 8 children of Christine (nee Stander) and dyed-in-the-wool Englishman, Hedley Gossard Salt. The Salts began their married life in Sea Point, Cape Town.
Hedley ran a Haberdashery and Drapery Shop in Observatory.
Chrissy’s sister Lonie and her husband, Guy Tulleken lived at Rondevlei so it happened quite naturally, that Christine went off on a holiday with her three children, Maskew, Greeba and Doreen to visit them.
Her possessive husband joined the family there for a short visit and fell in love with area deciding to move the family there permanently.
Hedley found his young family a house up for rent near the Rondevlei Lake (some time in the second half of the 1920’s) not far from the Tullekens. The 4th child of the Salts, a son, Harold, was born there.
However, by the time the Salts 5th child, a daughter, Muriel, was born they had moved to a house overlooking Swartvlei Beach. (early 1930’s).
During the depression years, the family went through hard times and they moved briefly into Margate on Kingfisher Drive in the small village of Sedgefield.
Because the house was in a low-lying area, it was flooded by lagoon water during a period of heavy rain. It was necessary for the Salts to move and nearby was a farm house on higher ground, now known as Neddicky Street.
At that time however it was a dirt track and the house stood alone with nothing but scrub vegetation around it. Children 6,7, and 8, Olive, Edith and Cecil were born there.
Where the residential complex, Landfall is now, there used to be a caravan park and before that it was unoccupied ground where Hedley would grow English produce like asparagus and strawberries. Just behind Margate, it was also subject to flooding. Their daughter, Edith, remembers that she rowed a boat out to pick vegetables to save them from spoiling.
Cecil attended the local primary school. There were 10 pupils in all taught by Miss Hart. Later, another teacher Keyser, who loved fishing, would allow Cecil to go home on the pretence of a headache and then find him on the beach later after the lad had time to collect bait and fishing rods so all was ready for the two to enjoy an afternoon fishing!
Cows and donkeys grazed around the house. Chickens scratched in the dirt. They provided the family with milk, eggs and meat. Cecil’s friends were almost exclusively coloured boys and they spent their holidays catching fish, living off the sea’s bounty only going home when they absolutely had to. 5-6 coloured families lived down the dirt track from the Salts in a grove of fir trees where The Goose Self-catering/ B&B is now situated.
Cecil told Phyllis that in those days, the river mouth would close and open on its own. However, it opened with tremendous force and the flow quickly became strong and wide across the river mouth. The noise of the breakthrough to the sea could be heard at the school and the event scheduled the end of school immediately and a holiday for everyone!
Cecil became a high school boarder at a technical high school in Oudtshoorn. By then the rest of the Salts had left home and his mother, Chrissy was working as a housekeeper at a George Hotel. Sometimes Cecil would cycle to George if his mother was on weekend duty there.
Otherwise Chrissy would catch the train to Sedgefield for her weekends off. Hedley spent a lot of time home alone but cycled up to Elandskraal during the week to work on a farm there. He found life a constant struggle. Consequently he was not a very social person.
In 1948 when Charlie Thesen sold the dormant township of Sedgefield to the Watneys, he advised Hedley to buy the property he had been renting from him, which he duly did. In those days there was no electricity, no running water - rainwater was collected in storage tanks for household purposes and used sparingly. A long drop in the back yard was a toilet. It was some years after Hedley’s death that Chrissy had a pump installed on a spike to draw water from underground. The hand operated pump was hard work recalls Phyllis!
When Blanco Watney died in 1952, his wife, Elaine sold off the Island to Ferdie Van Niekerk a Rhodesian Entrepreneur, who at one time was married to Greeba, Cecil’s sister. They later divorced. Ferdie’s house on the Island is in the vicinity of the Mosaic (middle) Market and the house is essentially the same as it was then.
Ferdie was firstly a farmer and he brought with him, from Rhodesia, a black labourer, Kafumba Makombe. In the open space behind the house and reaching into where Island Village is now, they grew vegetables and were particularly successful at growing potatoes.
Ma Lya (photo & story per kind permission from The Edge Community Newspaper)
Kafumba married Lydia, a coloured lady. They had 11 children and 4 foster children that they educated on a gardener’s and domestic worker’s wages.
Later after moving to Oestervanger Street, Smutsville, Lydia learned first aid and home nursing. With these skills she willingly helped those needed her. Resulting from this, the S. Cape Regional Services Council appointed her as a Community Health Assistant. She also served on the Peace Committee for a time and was Deputy Mayor of Sedgefield from 1995-96.
Ma Lya as she was fondly known, launched a Sedgefield School feeding scheme and set up a soup kitchen in Smutsville. She also administered grants for the elderly. At age 77, she passed away peacefully in her son’s home in George on 2 September 2012.
The only one of the Salt children who showed any interest in the Sedgefield house, was Cecil.
His mother would phone him from time to time when there was maintenance that couldn’t be put off and Cecil, Phyllis and family would arrange to travel up from Cape Town spending a week or so getting things at the house, fixed. The younger generation of the Salts all loved Sedgefield.
After Hedley’s death (1956), Chrissy was happy to stay on in her house alone. Every day she would still make boerekos – meat, rice, potatoes and vegetables in her coal stove and a sponge pudding or melktert.
Some days when coloured people walked passed her house to go fishing Chrissy would ask them to bring her a fish and in exchange she would give them a big plate of her food to take back to their family. This would provide a welcome change from their regular diet of fish.
Chrissy passed away at 95 (1985) and is buried with her husband in a double grave in Knysna. She verbally left her house to Cecil and Harold. As Harold already had a house in Sedgefield, a local Estate Agent gave them a price and Cecil bought out Harold’s share.
In 1982 after some much needed maintenance and upgrading of the Sedgefield house had been completed, the second and third generations of the Salts, Cecil, Phyllis and their 3 daughters, Moira, Sandy and Diane moved into “Yellowwood Cottage”. Some of the internal doors are still the original yellowwood and the original exterior front door now fits the entrance to the main bedroom.
In Sedgefield, Phyllis again enjoyed her love for horses, joined by Sandy and Diane and her granddaughter, Melissa. At one stage the Salts somehow accumulated 6 horses, given to them by people, who for one reason or another, didn’t want a horse anymore.
Cecil had opened a branch in George of the company he had
worked for in Cape Town, Clutch and Brake Supplies. He was manager and a
shareholder there for a number of years.
When he retired from CBS, he ran his own second-hand Land Rover business, fixing and restoring these vehicles for a while. He retired for good to indulge in his life-long passion for fishing in 1992.
He passed away in 2007. His life is commemorated on the wooden bench along the lagoon at the boat launching spot on Kingfisher Drive, where it says “In loving memory of Cecil Salt – gone fishing!”
For Phyllis, life goes on....
In 2010 she walked 6 days of the Camino de Santiago, which is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes that add up to 780 kms in total. There are a number of different starting points but they all finish at Santiago in Spain.
Phyllis did the trail with family members, her daughter, Diane and nieces, Lucy and Helen. Four other people from the USA made it a party of eight. During each day they carried a small backpack while their tour operator, Fresco Tours transported their luggage to their overnight destination.
A picnic lunch was provided at an appropriate place along the way. Each person walked the route at his own pace. They didn’t have to stay together.
Phyllis said it was one of the most amazing experiences of her life and she would love to do it again.
Her brother did the whole route 5 consecutive years in a row when he was in his 70’s. His love of the pilgrimage encouraged her to do it and she wasn’t disappointed.
In 2013 Yellowwood Cottage was sold (shortly after connecting with Phyllis and writing this page). Phyllis had already made the decision that it was time for her to downsize. New owners, Rory and Judy Forbes are delighted to be getting a home that is a genuine piece of Sedgefield history.
It is the oldest dwelling in Sedgefield, originally a farmhouse that was owned by the Thesens of Knysna. It has been well loved and looked after, the wooden elements reflecting that fine patina of old age. It is central to the village and close to the lagoon, an ideal position.
Addendum: After spending some happy years in Sedgemeer Park Retirement Home, sadly, because it was unexpected, Phyllis past away on 17 November 2017 while in Mossel Bay Hospital.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English as The Way of St James, are walking and cycling pilgrimage paths. Many different routes eventually meld into one that leads the pilgrim to Santiago. Everyone who's done it agrees it is a very special journey.