Everton’s unique character retains a sense of times gone by – a valuable green lung and a peaceful escape for residents, near and far
Story and Pictures Andrea Abbott
The peaceful “backwater” character that once defined the Upper Highway is a lingering memory, but in one or two suburbs, the sense of yesteryear persists. One such place is Everton, where large plots, low density living, narrow lanes and indigenous forests create a uniquely pastoral charm. Nevertheless, Everton has changed too.
“Everton was originally a country retreat, an escape from the heat and bustle of Durban,” says long-time resident and chairman of Everton Conservancy, Anthony Kee. “People travelled up by train and would have taken a donkey cart from the station to their houses.” Some of those original houses were hunting lodges, among them the castle-like Crowhurst in Everton Road, built by the Hulett family. Today, happily, hunting parties no longer set out from the lodge and it serves instead as a luxury B&B.
Another noteworthy country house is Long Shadows that the Grice family built of local stone in 1936. This gracious home gives a bird’s eye view of the Molweni Gorge, where trails meander through fabulous riparian forests. When the Grice family moved in, though, they gazed upon a different scene. “The land below their home was grassland,” says Anthony. “Back then, the gorge was almost denuded of trees because of the demand for wood as fuel and timber in the Durban area.”
Agriculture was also a feature of that time, but sub-divisions, houses, fences and walls have left little trace of the farms. However, the echo of one farm, Eskotene – meaning long grass – is heard in the eponymously named Eskotene Avenue. A protected patch of grassland along that road is a rare reminder of the natural veld that existed in the wider area before sugar cane, eucalyptus plantations and gardens took over.
The well-known Acutts family owned Eskotene Farm, hence the name of the road that cuts through Everton. Originally the driveway to the farm, it was carved out of the cliffs by Italian prisoners of war. Sadly, that historic road is under immense pressure. Constructed as a private road and traversing a sensitive nature reserve, it was never designed to carry the heavy volume of traffic that uses it now.
As the population grew, more driveways and roads were constructed. Some of these occupied private land, and, technically, still do. “Not that long ago, a particular resident in Everton would, once a year, stop cars that were passing his house and advise the drivers they were on private land,” Anthony recalls. “This was to maintain his legal right to the road area.”
If you’ve explored Everton’s forests, you might have encountered weirs and ram pumps in the streams. These once supplied water to houses. “Initially, there were no services, so residents had to provide their own water and power,” explains Anthony. This is the reason almost all title deeds in Everton give riparian rights to home owners. The deeds also often stipulate the number of cows, horses and other livestock permitted on properties. A horse was deemed to need 8 000m2 and this became the minimum lot size, a rule that still applies and is guarded by most Everton homeowners, despite horses being few nowadays.
“As times changed, residents realised that Everton was a special place and that we needed to conserve the rich biodiversity here,” Anthony says. And so, in 1991 the suburb was declared a conservancy, the first urban conservancy in the country. It was not before time too, for by the end of that decade, a wave of development began that saw landscapes rapidly transformed, open spaces a primary target. At stake were the green lungs that open spaces are and the free ecological goods and services, such as clean air and water, those spaces provide to citizens.
After Everton was absorbed into eThekwini Municipality, it was proposed that the minimum lot size be reduced to 4 000m2. At a public meeting, the majority of residents voted to maintain the status quo with a possible reduction to 6 000m2 on land considered not environmentally sensitive. The Municipality honoured the residents’ wishes, taking into account too the importance of open spaces, parks and trails for the wellbeing of all.
As Anthony reminds us, “Good husbandry of the environment benefits everyone. Everton Conservancy strives to preserve our environmental heritage. There are few places where you can still take your children on walks through indigenous forests alongside streams of unpolluted water.”
Note: The Conservancy periodically requests the Municipality to test Everton’s rivers as a way of monitoring impacts on water quality from new developments upstream. The cleanest river is the Molweni which, even after heavy rains, soon becomes clear. The Mpithi River shows a slight rise in coliforms from time to time because of the many septic tanks near the river banks in more populated areas upstream.
Everton Conservancy arranges trail runs and walks along the forest trails from time to time.