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Cockney Liz - Gold Rush Movie for Barberton? Print E-mail

6 June 2006 


Cockney LizJock of the Bushveld country could soon have a new film star. Negotiations are due to start on shooting a multi-million rand movie in the historic gold mining town of Barberton in Mpumalanga province, based on the story of gold rush entertainer and entrepreneur "Cockney Liz".


According to Mpumalanga economic development and planning MEC Sipho Lubisi, filming could start once negotiations between the production company and his department have been finalised.

"Negotiations will be opening within the next two weeks between our province and an international film production company to shoot a high-budget film in Barberton," Lubisi said in Nelspruit on Monday while presenting his department's budget for 2006/07.

Fa├žade of the first Stock Exchange in Africa

Barberton, situated 70 kilometres from the Kruger National Park, had the first stock exchange in Africa and is home to the world's oldest functioning gold mine - and some of the oldest uncovered rocks on the planet.

The height of the gold rush was 1886, when Barberton was a rough and ready frontier town and Cockney Liz the miners' favourite entertainer.

Cockney Liz arrived in Barberton by mail-coach in 1887, apparently in search of her fiancé. She did not find him, but local hotel owner Stafford Parker took her under his wing when he discovered that her beauty, combined with her singing and dancing, assured him of a full house.

The film deal negotiations follow Mpumalanga's participation at the locations expo of the Association of Film Commissions International in Los Angeles in April.

Lubisi said the province would establish a film commission by the end of the financial year to "manage the industry's provincial strategy for growth, and coordinate all logistical arrangements for film shoots."

One of the criticisms levelled against international movie makers who filmed in the province was that they failed to acknowledge the region in the movie credits. Such movies include The Ghost and the Darkness, which starred Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer.

"In the credits, they said the movie was shot in Johannesburg, instead of Mpumalanga, which was totally wrong," said Samuel Mpatlanyane, spokesperson for the department of culture, sports and recreation.

Last week Hollywood superstar Leonardo Di Caprio was in Malelane, on the doorstep of the Kruger National Park, shooting his latest movie, Blood Diamonds.

Lubisi said the economic spin-offs of a movie being shot in the province were countless. "People can make costumes, do the catering, provide transport or just simply star as extras," he said.


The Legend - Another Unsolved Mystery of the Mpumalanga Lowveld


In 1886 there were only two barmaids in Barberton, but a year later nearly every bar in town could boast at least one barmaid. The best-known barmaids were Cockney Liz, Florrie, Trixie (who arrived in the same coach as Cockney Liz) and The Golden Dane. Trixie became one of the most popular barmaids in town, simply because she had a wheelbarrow in which she transported her customers home if they became too incapacitated.


The legendary Cockney Liz arrived in one of the Gibson coaches to marry her fiancé. It is thought that she came from the diamond fields of Kimberley, having arrived there from London. Upon her arrival she received the sad news that her fiancé had died. She stayed in Barberton and took a position with Emily Fernandez in the Red Light Canteen as a singer and assisted with serving clients.


Her photograph shows a woman of refinement, intelligence, coupled with extreme good looks. She was a real lady and excellent musician. Her name was Liz, from Elizabeth, and as she often sang with a cockney accent, she became known as Cockney Liz.


According to legend she used to provide the highlight of the day for many a digger. It was her custom to leap on to the Bar, billiard table or other high spot at the end of the evening, and have herself auctioned to the highest bidder, but no word was ever mentioned about her morals. If available, the local auctioneer, Stafford Parker, apparently would come in to auction and do the selling in his usual high speed efficient manner.


On one occasion an unfortunate digger tendered 98 Kimberley Imperial shares, then worth £850, and as nobody topped his bid won the big prize - Liz for the rest of the night. Overcome with his good fortune he celebrated rather too well and spent the rest of the night on the floor of the bar, alone! His handful of shares were not returned.


Cockney Liz later bought the Red Light Canteen and then having made a small fortune, had a more luxurious saloon built – the Royal Albert Hall – into which she moved on July 17, 1887. This wood-framed, corrugated iron covered building measuring 60’x40’, was fronted by an imposing facade, and contained ‘all the usual accessories of a Music Hall’. For a while Liz was the queen of the town. The bar talk all over town was about Liz.


Later Liz left town and nobody has ever been able to trace her true identity or say for sure what happened to her, but according to an article in the Gold Field News of 10 February 1888 it appears that she married Alfred Percival Scribbens of Bristol England. She was married at the Landdrost Court.


Capt Carl von Brandis had the honour of joining the fascinating Elizabeth to Alfred Scribbens in the bonds of holy wedlock. Stories abound, but nobody really knows the real story, and so Cockney Liz remains as one of the unsolved mysteries of the Lowveld, of which there are many.

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