PILGRIM’S Rest is full of interesting people and places. Two of the best-known characters in the village were Claude Cogill and Michael Owen.
The manager of the Graskop branch, Mac McDonald, took Barclay’s News reporters to meet them at “The Diggings” where Claude entertains visitors with tales of Pilgrim’s Rest and demonstrations of panning.
Claude was born in Pilgrim’s Rest 70 years ago and has lived in the village for much of his life. He was an assayer for the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates which finally closed down in 1971. Rand Mines, the holding company, still retains all mineral rights although they sold the village to the Province. “The mining companies were never interested in alluvial gold,” says Claude, “you see, alluvial gold mining is a game of chance, reef mining is a game of skill.”
His job was to assay the bullion before it was sent to the Rand Refinery, where the silver was extracted. Against the assay certificates he issued, Barclay’s Bank at Pilgrim’s Rest was allowed to payout the value in money.
He has many stories to tell about the mining town in its heyday: “The town can never be exactly the same as it was then; lots of things today are no longer relevant to Pilgrims Rest because this was essentially a mining town. ”
Claude recalls a famous character from the past, Bert Longstaff from the Jubilee Mine who used to ride through the town on his horse, whistling as he rode. He clearly remembers Mine “big boss” of TGME, Mr R. A. Barry, who was the mine manager who lived and ruled from the big house at the end of the town.
Some years ago Claude bought the Mali Dyke Mine from Rand Mines which he continued to operate it in a small way. His only son Professor Charles Cogill is an industrial psychologist at Natal University. “He collects university degrees – I collect gold,” quips the highly articulate Claude.
Michael Owen, his great friend, does not look anywhere near his 82 years. A Welshman from Caernarvon (Wales); Michael has lived in Pilgrim’s Rest for 64 years. His was one of the 21 Welsh families that settled in the town. He also began his mining career with TGME and stayed with them all his working life. Today he is the last Welshman left in Pilgrim’s Rest. He recalls: “There was a lot of singing here once upon a time although not everyone in the choir was Welsh – we had a few Germans”. He has even learned to speak Afrikaans, “with a Welsh accent”, he chuckles.
Claude and Michael have seen Barclay’s Bank change from a full-time bank, “the only bank here” to being a thrice-weekly agency of the Graskop branch.
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