Monday, 6 February 2012

Beit Hall, then and now...

Prompted by a contact from a relative of Percy Light, secretary of the Agricultural Show Committee from its early days, I thought it was about time to post my pictures of the Beit Hall, which I visited in October 2011.

I had already done a stretch of gravestone photographing in great heat, thinking to myself about mad dogs and Englishmen, and next on my list was the Hall. I had seen photos of its opening in Hobson's book Showtime, and wanted to see what it looked like now, only having glimpsed it a couple of times from the road. (Kafue still feels relatively open and undeveloped as compared to Lusaka, though the land on either side of the road between the two is rapidly being developed.)

My memories of Kafue are mainly of going to buy hooks for 1 ngwee from one of the few shops, then going down to the river at the Makeni Centre Agricultural Settlement Village (started in the early 70s), where my cousin and I would hook sardine sized fish with our bit of fishing line tied to a bamboo pole, and our 1 ngwee hooks, and a little bread rolled into bait. Great days.

First here is the organising committee for the Agricultural Show in 1925, including the aforementioned Percy Light, who I am told never married, and died in 1941. His mother apparently also died in Northern Rhodesia in 1939.  He was a long-serving secretary who opposed the move of the show to Lusaka, but as we know this was to happen. It appears that he also served during WWI.

This photo from Showtime taken in 1925 includes (back row, left to right) Eddie Kirby, Percy Light, Hubert Kirby (behind Percy), Capt F. Goodson, unknown, M. King, Chester Dean, J Woodrow Cross, unknown, Harry Dunbar, unknown, Alan Girling, Harry D. Frost, (seated)  Capt John Brown, Mrs Mchellen and on the far right Mr and Mrs H W Cross.



Next we have the opening of the Beit Hall in 1931. 


The hall was designed by A.T. Flutter, the Beit Society's architect and cost the Beit Railway Trust £4,500, "a special donation obtained through the good services of Sir Drummond", who also opened the building. The building had a ballroom, entrance hall (seen in the middle below), bar, dining room, kitchen and three bedrooms. One can imagine the "wholly delightful dance... attended by more than 200 people" reported by the Bulawayo chronicle. 


Later Percy Light was to object to the moving of the show to Lusaka. "Development has now reached such a stage, and so much money has in various ways been spent on the property that the mere idea of letting things go even for one year is barely to be thought of...Members south of the river, who are already sufficiently upset over the dates of the show being the 31st of May and the 1st of June, when they will be busy with their reaping and therefore loth to leave their farms, would, it is feared, be definitely aggrieved and possibly completely alienated... Further, to hold a show at Lusaka would be the thin end of the wedge. An annual show at Lusaka would in all likelihood be clamoured for in future years... The Beit Trustees who made a special gift of the Beit Hall... will hardly be flattered... Sir Herbert Stanley could well be disappointed not to be given the opportunity of attending a show at Kafue, having known it in the old days...  In the holding of the show at Lusaka... a leap is being made into the dark... "

And here is the hall in 2011, not looking so different externally (but read on).


This is the area facing the hall, rather dusty and unattractive.


Elections had just been held and there was graffiti on the wall here.

This must be inside the ballroom where the opening was held. The ceiling was in some disrepair, the stage obscured. There was a church choir here practising, and singing beautifully I must say.


And then I went back in March 2016. We met the committee who have some responsibility for looking after this building, having a meeting outside. They remembered us from five years ago! How was it going, we asked. They were short of money, not suprisingly. We suggested they talk to the Beit Trust - why not... The building itself seems to be slowly deteriorating. Here are some more recent pictures.