Thursday, 24 January 2019

Henley man who was at ‘home’ in South Africa

RESIDENTS of Henley may be intrigued to know that the town has a doppelgänger in a quiet corner of South Africa.

Henley on Klip is located in Midvaal municipality, about 25 miles south of the capital city of Johannesburg, and lies mostly on the western bank of the River Klip which has a single iron bridge.

It was founded in 1904 by Advocate Horace Kent, who was born and raised in Henley in 1855 and emigrated at the age of 43.

The land where the town is now situated reminded him of rural Oxfordshire so he purchased it for £5,000, about £585,000 in today’s money, in partnership with a smallholding company.

It was divided into plots and the initial settlers were farmers who built it up to its modern condition, with a total area of about 4.3 square miles and a population of almost 6,000.

As with our own Henley, it has a series of weirs on the Klip both upstream and downstream from the town centre as well as a Rotary Club, a Lions Club and a scout troop. It also has a series of markets throughout each month and an annual Henley Festival celebrating wine, art and music.

Its nearest equivalent to Mill and Marsh Meadows is The Oval, a green space which is planted with coppices of trees and is popular for picnics and walking.

It also has celebrity connections as American broadcaster and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey opened a school for disadvantaged girls there in 2007 and spends several weeks of every year in the town. The opening was attended by the late Nelson Mandela, formerly the country’s president.

Henley on Klip’s street names include Shiplake Road, Wargrave Road, Regatta Road, St Andrew’s Road, Marlowe (sic) Road, Ewelme Road, Sonning Road, Cleeve Road, Goring Road, Chalgrove Road, Streatley Road, Caversham Road, Cleeve Road and Shillingford Road.

These are in stark contrast to the streets immediately outside the town, whose names have a decidedly more South African flavour, such as Witkoppie Road, Springbok Road and Keurboom Road. Photographs show strong similarities with the original Henley as many of its streets have immaculate verges and long avenues of uniformly planted trees in the style of those along Fair Mile.

However, a five-bedroom property in Henley on Klip typically costs about three million rand, or just over £155,000, while a small bungalow in Henley will likely cost at least double that.

The town’s ethnic make-up is considerably more diverse, with just over 44 per cent of citizens being of black African, Asian or Middle Eastern descent compared with Henley’s white British population of about 95 per cent.

According to the town’s museum, it used to have a rowing club but this closed many years ago although canoeing and kayaking on the Klip remain popular activities.

Despite these minor differences, the similarities are striking and still reflect Advocate Kent’s love of his home town more than a century later.

You have to wonder why he left in the first place!

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