JoburgPlaces is world-famous for its Johannesburg inner-city walking tours, curated foodie experiences such as storytelling dinners and the staging of exquisite events. JoburgPlaces is also the operator of the extraordinary, historic Thunder Walker venue in the heat of Old Joburg.
The Thunder Walker venue is located inside Somerset House, a historic bank building on the edge of Gandhi Square. The Thunder Walker comprises the following spaces:
Thunder Walker Arcade
Thunder Walker Banqueting Hall
Balcony Gardens Boutique Hotel (future space still to be renovated and activated).
THE THUNDER WALKER IS LOCATED AT:
110 Fox Street (between Rissik & Joubert Streets), Marshalltown, Johannesburg
TRADING HOURS DURING LEVEL 2 Covid-19 restrictions
Lunch, Tuesday – Sunday, 11am-3pm,
Dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings from 4-9pm.
Walk-ins are welcome for lunch but booking for dinner is essential.
The dinner schedule rotates between leisurely dinners (order off the menu) and JoburgPlaces Storytelling Dinners (pre-order and prepayment essential)
Thunder Walker Banqueting Hall is available for private bookings on demand.
– Tour (daily private walking tours and Saturday public tours)
– Dinner (JoburgPlaces Storytelling Dinners and leisurely dinners on Fridays and Saturdays)
– Lunch (Tuesday till Sunday in the Thunder Walker Arcade)
– Shop (browse for the best buys in our Town Treasures homeware, art, craft and deli shop)
– Books (read some of Gerald Garner’s captivating books about Johannesburg)
– Functions (arrange your own private party, conference, event, wedding or year-end function)
DIRECTIONS TO OUR VENUE, THE THUNDER WALKER ON GANDHI SQUARE:
All JoburgPlaces tours start at the Gandhi sculpture, behind the Thunder Walker on Gandhi Square
If you come to the Thunder Walker for lunch or shopping, then head to our entrance on Fox Street. We are located at 110 Fox street, between Rissik and Joubert Streets. The Thunder Walker is the old, white building between Metropolitan and Bayport.
If you come by metered taxi, Uber or Bolt simply head to 110 Fox Street.
If you come by car:
PLEASE FOLLOW THESE DIRECTIONS AND DO NOT JUST TYPE IN AN ADDRESS ON YOUR GPS as it may take you right through the middle of town where one-way streets, bus lanes blocking intersections etc can send you on a mad journey of driving in circles!
From the north, take the M1 South and then the M2 East.
Take the Rissik Street offramp.
Once in Rissik Street, cross 4 traffic lights (in close succession).
The fourth light is next to Gandhi Square. At the FIFTH light, turn RIGHT into Fox Street at the Home Choice store. The Thunder Walker is the 2nd building on your right (the old white building). Park along Fox Street. We have security in front of the building during all trading hours.
THE THUNDER WALKER’S FASCINATING HISTORY
Built in 1904 as the head office of the then United Building Society, Somerset House took pride of place in Fox Street among other financial and law offices in Marshalltown. On the southern side, the building overlooked Government Square where the actual court building was situated and where Mahatma Gandhi practised law among others.
Somerset House was built as a typical Edwardian building with some Victorian and Art Nouveau influences. It was one of the smaller arcade buildings in the city (but the only remaining one from that time). Visitors could walk through the glass-roofed arcade from the square to Fox Street. The banking hall was on the western side of the arcade with the bank offices upstairs and the vault downstairs.
The United Building Society occupied the building until 1930 and then moved to a bigger building further along Fox Street. It later became United Bank and much later amalgamated with Volkskas, Trust Bank and Allied Bank to become Absa (Amalgamated Banks of South Africa).
After United left Somerset House, the building became the home of Bowman’s – the law firm that was founded here. At the same time the vault was sold off into private ownership and became a private vault that still operated until 1978. The vault apparently closed down after the ‘great bank robbery’ which caused the businesses’ bankruptcy.
In later years the building became the home of a family-owned property empire and the caretakes of other buildings in this property stable lived in Somerset House while a few cafes, take-away shops and a greengrocer occupied the retail spaces, opening to Fox Street and the then Van der Bijl Square. Around 2015, the property was auctioned and sold to City Property and then immediately bought by Olitzki Property Holdings (OPH). Gerald Olitzki is known for having invested in the city since 1989 when everyone else abandoned their buildings in town. Today, OPH owns a whole gamut of buildings in the Gandhi Square Precinct and it just made sense that Somerset House became part of their stable. OPH successfully renovated the facades of the building while preserving its heritage value and attracted top tenants such as Sanlam and Hollard Insurance.
However, it was impossible to move a franchise retailer into the historic arcade and office spaces as this would not have suited the heritage characteristics of the building. For this reason, JoburgPlaces as an inner-city tour business got involved. It made perfect sense to use this historic building as a base for city tours and as a tourist attraction itself. What started out as a plan for a small café and tour hub, quickly grew in something much bigger.
Today, the building has become the base for JoburgPlaces with a series of different spaces already operating and more under development. Collectively, these spaces are known as the Thunder Walker. The venue is named after a mythical migrant woman who lived in Johannesburg, the Thunder Walker. Read the poem about the Thunder Walker, written by Gerald Garner below.
ORIGIN OF THE THUNDER WALKER NAME
Our building was previously known as Somerset House but has been renamed by JoburgPlaces to reflect the diverse, dynamic, energetic City of Migrants that Johannesburg has become. The new name, Thunder Walker, is based on a poem written by Gerald Garner that pays homage to the migrant woman of the city:
Myth of the Thunder Walker
The Thunder Walker came from far-far away,
from the remotest outposts in South Africa.
She arose from Ngcobo, Nkandla, Prieska, and Koekenaap.
She walked for days on end.
She traversed the Mpumalanga Escarpment and the uKahlamba Drakensberg.
She journeyed through the Great Karoo and the Kalahari.
She rested at Mapungubwe and atop the Soutpansberg.
The Thunder Walker was trekking to the City of Gold.
The Thunder Walker did not know the route.
She simply chased the rain.
For the City of Gold was situated atop the African plateau,
where lightning struck the quartzite hills.
Where the earth rumbled from deep inside its veins of gold.
Follow the thunder.
Chase the lighting.
It would lead you there.
Past a thousand lightning strikes she strode.
Leaving everything she knew behind.
Until high above the grasslands, towered the city skywards.
She arrived, settled, made friends and called the city her home.
She walked proudly and independently in town.
She marched ahead of protesting crowds, pick-axe in hand.
She ‘toyi-toyied’ to the City Hall.
She was jailed on the hill.
But she also danced the pata-pata in the streets.
Her voice echoed through Sophiatown.
She ambled along the sidewalks with regal beauty.
She marvelled at Jozi Maboneng.
The Thunder Walker became a city slicker.
She was revered by thousands.
Yet, she yearned for home,
for the tranquil hinterland where the hills knew her name.
When it rained in the city and lightning struck the quartzite hills,
the Thunder Walker stood outside,
breathing in the aroma of rain on dusty African soil.
But for all the longing, she could not leave to return home.
For her home was never rural.
Her destiny instead the origin of humankind.
The City of Gold – everyone’s abode
City of Migrants. Jozi. Joburg. Johannesburg.
Next time when it rains in Johannesburg,
look up and you will see her standing atop a building.
Just after the thunder had rumbled through the concrete muddle.
Revelling at the City of Migrants, she is the Thunder Walker.
– Written by Gerald Garner, with inspiration drawn from Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Die Kind’ and from a myth dreamed up on a city sidewalk years ago in conversation with a friend, the late Reuben Cresswell.
Best is to contact Gerald Garner via e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerald can also be contacted by whatsapp on + 27 (0)82 894 5216.