If you can’t spell a street name, blame the Kents

Kents in the Circle of Life in Fraser Park

Recently I received an e-mail from England, from Richard Kent, the great, great grandson of Horace Kent who founded Henley on Klip in 1904. He has been following up the family history and has  compiled a detailed account, Triumph and Disaster – The True Story of Horace Kent.

He asked me to check for Kents in the Circle of Life in Fraser Park. I did so, and was impressed to find the plaques, misspelt and defaced on my last visit, had been replaced, no doubt thanks to our indefatigable Henley@Heart. Kent, of course, was right at the centre of the spiral of trees and two gardeners were at work tidying the beds.

The Old Kent House is now the Off the Rails pub on The Avenue, which was originally envisioned by Horace Kent as a tree-lined avenue to bring visitors from the railway halt to the lake created from the Klip River by the Kidson Weir. Horace dreamed of international rowing regattas, so it had to be the same length as the famous course at Henley on Thames, which Horace claimed as his hometown.  The regattas never came, but they gave a name to Regatta Road.

I sent Richard some pictures of Off the Rails and he was impressed that it was still standing as it was originally an ex-army prefabricated hut which Horace bought cheap after the war – the Anglo Boer War, that is, 1899 to 1901. They named it The Estancia.

Two more portable buildings became the Henley on Klip Hotel and the Manor Hotel, which was supposed to be a clubhouse for the golf course, which never materialised. Neither did the school, based on Rugby School in England, which was to be built around The Close, now The Oval.

Horace was one of 10 children. A successful advocate, he had itchy feet and followed his older brothers to South Africa in 1898, only to retreat when war broke out. He returned to Johannesburg in 1902 with his family and founded Henley on Klip two years later.

They were used to rural living at the old mill Horace converted into a mansion at Cholsey in the Thames valley. Why there is no street in Henley called Cholsey is a mystery only the Kents could explain. Horace used the names of almost every town or village on the Thames between Oxford and London, Richard tells me.

If you have an old apple, peach or pear tree in your Henley garden it’s probably due to Horace Kent who planted hundreds of trees on unsold plots in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, 50% of the varieties he chose were unsuitable for the climate, others were wrongly planted or on unsuitable ground; there wasn’t enough money to care for them and theft and codling moth took care of the rest. By 1934 the orchard phase was over and Horace bankrupt.

Horace died in Henley on Klip in 1945 when he was almost 90. He, his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Dolly, aged 22, are buried in St Paul’s churchyard.

If you would like to correspond with Richard Kent or get a copy of Triumph and Disaster – The True Story of Horace Kent, he can be contacted at randjkent@gmail.com

– Jennifer de Klerk