Article Author: Kathy Munro
Saturday, February 6, 2016 – 19:33
The Munro Drive, or the Munro as it is sometimes called, is a short pass that connects Lower Houghton or Houghton Estate with Upper Houghton and Yeoville. It is a scenic circuitous road, and leads from Houghton Drive in Lower Houghton to Elm St in Upper Houghton. Imagine here a “U” on its side. It is a very steep route of about 900 metres and one of the very few passes in South Africa of less than one km. There is just one hairpin curved bend. The cutting through the quartz rock was an essential part of the property development enterprises of Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company. JCI owned the land of Houghton Estate. The name honoured John Munro, a director of JCI (source: L E Neame, City Built on Gold and Story of Johnnies 1889-1964, p 43). John Munro was a Scottish immigrant born in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland who came to South Africa on account of his health and arrived in Johannesburg in 1892 with the Barnato Brothers (Barney and Henry). Munro was President of the Chamber of Mines in 1913, a difficult year for the mining industry as it was the strike year.
An old postcard of Munro Drive
Munro Drive was completed in 1918 and one takes the road from Houghton Drive leading up the hill to the right at an incline of perhaps 30 degrees, with a steep gradient. There are houses on either side of the road and the higher one goes the more impressive the view site. As one reaches the turn to the next level, one encounters a remarkable crafted dressed stone wall cut from the local quartz. As one turns the bend and heads back up to the next level, almost bending back on the road, take a close look at the rock formations to the right – here there is an excellent view of the geology of the ridge. At the top of Munro drive there is a parking area to enable one to take in the view over all of Lower Houghton, Killarney flatland and Saxonwold. It’s a magical Johannesburg sight in October when the jacarandas are out. Better still, at midnight it is a romantic spot looking out at the city lights of the north.
Heading North down Munro Drive (A city publicity brochure from 1936)
There is a twist in this tale as on 1st February 1938 the retaining wall collapsed and the road was rebuilt. It is definitely a desirable address for someone named Munro and I have always coveted a house on Munro Drive as our family starts with the advantage of the name Munro (in fact John Munro was the half brother of my husband’s grandfather, a much less distinguished and successful Munro).
Collapse of masonry retaining wall (Watershed Town)