Opera manager and theatre worker in South Africa by Mary Ashdown

“I came to live in Forres with my daughter, when I was 70-year-old. My father was from Yorkshire and moved to South Africa and to work as a gold/diamond and tin miner. I was born in Vendersdorp, Western Transvaal in 1934. Our Headteacher started a theatre in the school and I was very involved in it. I went to Tech. College and did typing too. I got a call to offer me the job in the theatre. I met my partner while working in the theatre. It was a very busy working life at the theatre with concerts every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon. Afternoon concerts in the park so very little free time as we worked 9 a.m-5 p.m. everyday. If I did get some free time to relax I would stay home and read.

I was also helping children who had been thrown out and we had a little cottage in our garden where 10 children stayed until homes were found for them. I met Nelson and Winnie Mandela while I was doing this work. A friend who had a hotel gave us food for the children. Margot Fonteyn was one of the performers while I worked at the theatre. I stayed for 40 years and still helped out when I retired. I was the first white lady to put a black child in school at seven years of age. She did well and matriculated and went on to work. The Theatre is called Natal Performing Arts Council in Durban.”

Mary Ashdown was interviewed in Forres by Jo Sweeney, WRVS volunteer

Additional Information

Natal Playhouse website About Us pageMore information on Natal Performing Arts Council in Durban.

The Natal Playhouse is the NAPAC’s official home for the various departments.

A large number of people travelled from the UK to South Africa in search of work. There are a large number of studies of the emigration from the UK duirng the 1930s (the depression) to Canada, Australia, the US and South Africa (like Mary’s Father). Here is a graph showing the number of people who left UK shores 1890s-1960s.


One thought on “Opera manager and theatre worker in South Africa by Mary Ashdown

  1. My dear friend Judy Thompson is looking for her friend Mary Ashdown who moved to Scotland with her daughter Revelle about 8/9 years ago. If you have a contact number or email address for Mary Ashdown, I would be very grateful.
    Many thanks for your help!

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