Stoepstorie 8: Stuart Street Harrismith

Stuart Street Harrismith as Autumn sets in

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We are part of the street as much as we are part of the town.

Our house address is 17A Stuart Street.

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De Oude Huize Yard was built in 1860! You will find it in the little block right on the right hand side.
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First Title Deed of De Oude Huize Yard

The name Stuart relates to two possibilities.
*Major Warden named all his children after the Royal house of Stuart. Rumors were that he was an unofficial grandson of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
* Stuart Jacobus, 1803 – 1878, author, diplomatic agent and advocate of emigration, took part in the Sand River Convention in 1852.

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Stuart Street in 1904 with a Rickshaw left wide sidewalk right and a railway line. Horses pulled the wagons (or coco-pans “coco pans”).

After the Boer War in 1904, the British had a huge camp on Kings Hill. Here they broke many stones, cut and trimmed it to be used for building purposes. To get these stones in the town a track was laid from Kings Hill to the town. Some of these stones were used when the Town hall was built. This information probably also explains the existence of many houses and buildings in Stuart St, which were built of stone. There were also traces of the track in Vowe and Bester streets.

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The first public building in Harrismith was the Court house, serving the community as a venue for the school, public meetings, bazaars and entertainments. All church services were held in the Court house until 1879 when the first church, the Dutch Reformed Church, was built on the site of the present Moederkerk. (Hawkins 1982)
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Stuart street on a peaceful Sunday morning. The trafic light is situated on the corner of Stuart and Piet Retief Streets.

The early magistrates were Bester, Chauvin, Theron, D Cloete, J De Kock, Bramley, (that was accused of high treason), Canisius, J N Boshoff, J Z de Villiers, F W van der Riet, Charles Warden. (Steytler 1932)

Mr. Joseph De Kock resides at De Oude Huize Yard from 23 July 1861 till 23 April 1903 almost 42 years.

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The corner of Stuart and Retief streets. The Court House on the Left. The trees planted in a square at the foot of Platberg were planted by the “konsentrasiekampkinders” and the indication where the Concentration camp was. The people of the Camp were then transferred to “Tin Town” in Ladysmith
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Corner of Stuart and Piet Retief streets today. The Court House made room for the new Post Office. The trees has grown and where the Concentration Camp use to be is now the town goal.

An almost mad Kitchener was tormented by the Concentration Camp women and children when they did not show respect when the funeral procession of Dr Godfrey Reid pass them. Instead a hissing sound was made. Reid was killed during the Groenkop battle on Christmas day. The women and children were then moved to “Tin Town” close to Ladysmith. Some were transported in open train carriages and the luck ones in proper passenger car.

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This picture was taken on the morning of 8 August 1900. A very interesting photo with significant history. On this morning more than 200 burgers of the Harrismith Commando came into town by horse, by “kapkar” and even Spaaiders. They were ready to hand in their weapons and take the consequences. In front of the Court House the Boer’s were ready to sign neutralizing document. The horses were tied to the railings. The name hendsoppers was given to the Commando members. Some came to town in their best Sunday outfits and hard hats while some came in worn out cloths. One of them was the Member of Parlement – Commandant Piet Maree.
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The guns that was handed in was demolished and was loaded onto a “bokwa”. There it was transported to the courtyard of the Court House. Here the 5th Coy Royal Engineers destroyed the weapons with a 16 pond-hammer on a anvil and hit to pieces.
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The house on the left was the home of the Sieberts-family on the corner of Stuart and Mauritz streets. The building on the right was a private school.
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Further down Stuart street is the Harrismith Club. This is still standing but been looted.
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Sandstone curbs in Stuart Street
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Stuart street with 42nd Hill in the back

Thank you to Leon Strachan, Nico Moolman en Biebie de Vos for their contribution

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 7: Wesley Hall and Anne James alias Mrs Tom James

Our next story comes with a twist as we noticed that the cornerstone of the Wesley Hall was laid by Mrs. Tom James. It left a question mark.

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Who was Mrs. Tom James?

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The Chevy is doing a trip and parked in front of the Wesley Hall next to the Methodist Church.

The Wesley Hall was built in 1906 and the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Tom James on 17 January 1906. She was the eldest daughter of James Putterill. Her husband was a true supporter of the church and was for many years the Sheriff and Mayor of the town.

Wesley Hall 2

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The old Methodist Church was demolished in 1967 – 1968 and the Record Stone of the previous stone was laid by James Putterill on 14 June 1882.

From the time Harrismith was established most of its inhabitants were English-speaking. The British settlers who emigrated to Natal during 1849-50 found the country in the Byrne Valley not suitable for traditional farming practices. Many went to settle in urban areas, while some returned to Britain. Encouraged by Mr Warden, about 1 500 settlers came to Harrismith.

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The story of Anne as shared by Leon Strachan.

Mrs Tom James was Anne Putterill and has a truly sad but remarkable story.
Her father James Putterill was a Byrne settler with a big personality who owned land in Verulam before moving his family up to Harrismith in 1863. His eldest daughter, a tiny but stubborn 25-year-old woman refused bluntly to get married, even though women were in great demand in the Free State (in 1863 the Free State Republic had been in existence for only 9 years and was extremely sparsely populated).
Unfortunately her disinterest did not prevent a man to fall in love with her. Anne didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When Anne’s strong-willed father (a grandchild referred to him as domineering) got wind of this he stepped in to salvage the situation. He instructed the man, a Welshman called Thomas James, to build a suitable house and furnish it. He, on the other hand, bought trousseau and a wedding dress for Anne, and fixed a wedding date.
When Tom James completed his ‘solid cut stone house,’ James Putterill instructed his daughter to prepare for her wedding. Anne refused, she said she didn’t love Mr. James and that was that.
The Putterill’s were a prominent family thanks to the very forceful James Putterill, who was an excellent business man and played a leading role in the Wesleyan (Methodist) church, as he did in town affairs. Whilst guests filled the church in Warden street on Anne’s wedding day, he instructed his womenfolk to dress up the unwilling bride. He then continued to drive her to the chapel in his carriage, where he walked a very unhappy daughter up the isle. He maneuvered the obstructive girl into position next to the groom, while he flanked her on the other side ‒ urging a flabbergasted minister to get started.Don’t think James Putterill had won the battle of wills yet. Anne was unfazed, she declined bluntly to take the marriage vows in front of all the astonished wedding guests. She stood her ground, not unnerved at all. Putterill didn’t despair either, neither did he give up. It would be a battle of wills to the inevitable end.
Every time it was expected of the bride to answer the parson, James pushed his silent daughter’s head slightly down as if she nodded whilst signalling impatiently to an ever more uncomfortable parson to get on with it. The ceremony was thus unceremoniously consummated, and the unlikely couple settled shakily into the solid stone house.
They were childless (3 stillborn). Tom James turned out to be a stalwart who became sheriff and mayor of Harrismith. Both he and his wife loved fishing, they were often seen fishing together whenever an opportunity occurred. The 66-year old Tom died in 1894, after which Anne took in a Miss Dixon to keep her company. According to Beryl Osborn (Anne’s niece who penned the family history) they lived happily together until the British garrison arrived on Kings Hill in 1903, when disaster struck.
A striking and very charming young soldier, conveniently named private James, befriended the two elderly ladies. Young James told them he was an orphan with no home and no family, all alone in the world.
Besotted with him, Anne bought him out of the army and formally adopted him. The young man then gratefully proceeded to squander his adopted mother’s savings. Even when Anne had lost everything she owned, never an unkind word was uttered or anything damaging believed of the young man. He bolted unceremoniously out of the country when there was nothing left to spend.
The Putterill family had to club together to provide the necessary means for Anne and Miss Dixon, and their parrot, to live on. Anne rewarded them by living into her nineties.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Stoepstorie 4: The abundance of pears

There is a pear tree in our neighbor’s garden but we are fortunate that a couple of branches arched into our driveway. On a windy day the pears would end-up on our driveway and were to bruised to eat or use. Every year we would safe some but end up with a bottle or two chutney or perhaps a starter of blushing poached pears.

This year there was a good crop of little Hood pears hanging over our driveway.

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A little research and we were ready for our harvest. Pears ripen from the inside out. Left to ripen on the tree, they may become mushy. They ripen quite nicely once harvested. The old trick of storing the pears in a cool, dry place and the add of bananas did the trick. I put the bananas on top of the pears—and the more bananas, the faster the pears ripen.

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Yesterday was Mulled Pear day.

We peeled and core the pears and let is sit in a bowl with salt water to prevent the pears to turn brown.

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First the oven needs to be preheat to 150oC.

Then it was time to make the Mulled syrup. I used crab apples to give the syrup a nice pink color. Once there was a nice pink color in the water. The crab apples were removed.

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Then cinnamon, star Aniseeds, gloves and allspice were added to the crab apple water.

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The water was put to a rapid boil and then sugar was added. The sugar was then added and once the sugar dissolved a good bottle of red wine was added. A Merlot is a fruity wine that add to the flavor. The smells from the big pot was divine. It reminded we of my Mom and the many bottles that she filled during the summer months. Her specialty was canned whole peaches. We called it cling peaches because the pip was left inside and when eating the whole peach you really have to cling on to it or it would flew over the dinning table.

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The syrup was then strained through a muslin cloth and I must say the color was looking just right.

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The pears pack into warm, sterilized jars. Pears are very bottom-heavy and I find that you have to fill the bottles with more pears than originally though. Heat the syrup to boil and pour into the jars.

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Cover the jars with lids, but do not tighten it properly. Place the jars about 5cm apart in the oven for about 2 hours. This will also depend on the size of the jars.

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Remove from the oven and seal properly and place on a wooden surface. Leave undisturbed until completely cool and check the seal the following day.

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It will last for about 12 months on the shelf of your canning cupboard.

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Proof is always in the tasting. For an early evening we had mulled pears, with Parma Ham and Goat’s Cheese Salad

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 3: Scotty the English teacher

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Stuart Street – this quaint and superbly kept cottage once belonged to Miss Helen Scott “Scotty”. Miss Scotty was the English teacher to many scholars. She was a wonderful teacher and friend to so many people in Harrismith who all loved her

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The letter dated 13/10/1958 which Josie Cronje received from Miss Helen M. Scott her English teacher in 1958 when she was in Std 8. This little part of our history is priceles.

She also wrote a testomonial for Mary Bland, in 1945, when Mary was finishing off Matric.

Scottie testomonial to Mary Bland in 1945

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Van Reenen’s Railway Pass

Next time when you travel between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 and follow the Van Reenens pass – just pause a moment and notice the beauty around you. DSC_0001

This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer. Thanks to Mountain Passes South Africa for the information

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The landscapes around the Van Reenen Pass are stunning and the railway service roads and tunnels top off the adventure. The route is a superb gravel pass but easy going and we duck off the N3 just just after Van Reenen. We traveled on the downhill mode. The scenery is stunning. This is the service road of the railway line and we traveled pass sidings, tunnels and farms. It include a 200m tunnel built in 1925, with a curve.

Watch the video that will take you with us Van Reenen Railroad pass

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Bookmark this pass for a sunny day and get lost in time and space and escape the frenetic traffic off the N3.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

31 December 2017

The year came to an end

We celebrate live and awaits the blessings of 2018.

The Joy of the Season

During our 52 week challenge we have shared with you the following

  • Town hall in Harrismith
  • The old station building in Harrismith
  • The fossilized tree next to the Town Hall
  • A road trip pass Swinburne to Geluksburg
  • The history of Warden Street
  • The Great War Memorial
  • The old Goal on the sport grounds of Harrismith
  • A road trip to Geluksburg
  • The history of Stuart Street
  • The Westley Hall
  • The Toll bridge at Swinburne
  • The Block house or as we call it the Castles of the veld.
  • Odell’s
  • The Club house
  • The steel bridge at Abberfeldy
  • The house of Mary Bland (Granny Bland nee Caskie)
  • Caithness in Stuart Street
  • Freemasonry Southern Cross 1778
  • St John’s sandstone church
  • A road trip to Sandspruit
  • De Oude Huize Yard
  • Cloete and Neveling building in Southey street
  • Bergburgers written by Leon Strachan
  • Train bridge at Swinburne
  • Kaalvoet vrou
  • Royal family visit to Harrismith
  • Debora Retief park
  • Rear-Admiral Maxmimilian John Ludwick Weston
  • Burger Monument
  • The boy with a very long name
  • Farm school on the banks of the Meul river
  • Hamilton bridge in Harrismith
  • Military Insignia around Harrismith
  • The Hills and Mountains around Harrismith
  • The old hotels of Harrismith
  • Annie Baine
  • Road trip to Golden Gate
  • Mountain passes around Harrismith
  • Stain glass windows of the Town Hall in Harrismith
  • Road trip to Verkykerskop
  • A farm museum visit
  • The sustainability of De Oude Huize Yard
  • Platberg
  • M.O.T.H’S
  • Route R74
  • Rensburgkop
  • Free State Harlem
  • Mont Pelaan
  • Plums and Christmas

We hope that you have enjoyed the challenge as much as we did.

Lots of blessings for 2018

Hennie & Sandra

 

Christmas and Plums

There is some connection with Christmas and Plums
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads”
Even the sugar plum fairy from The Nutcracker didn’t give a clue as to what to expect from plums.

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The cherry plums in the gardens of our establishment

The plums are looking good.
So what is it with plums
Sweet and juicy, a delicious ingredient to cook with and to bring a wonderful, rich flavour to your food.
And they are healthy too.

What will we do with the abundance of plums that are ripening in our garden.  We are thinking about a plum and almond ricotta cake. plum-almond-ricotta-cake

While writing this page the plum relish is gently boiling on the stove.
I have used 7 cups of plums, halved and the stones removed.  But then it seems as if the halves looked a bit big so I quartered it.
2 cups of water
2 cups of vinegar (preferably white to keep the color)
2 cups of treacle sugar (brown sugar will also do)
About 3 tablespoons of preserved ginger, chopped and then add some of the sugary syrup.
3 tablespoons of last year’s plum liqueur.
Bring very thing to a bubbly boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Add plums and boil gently till liquid is reduced by halve.
Bottle as usual.

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Regarding the Plum pudding.  It is a steamed or boiled pudding served at holiday times. Plum pudding has never contained plums. The name Christmas pudding is first recorded in 1858 in a novel by Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novel Doctor Thorne.

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A please the crowd plum pudding

Our Christmas was a Christmas tree and Christmas cracker affair. We prefer to celebrate the Season of Joy. Joy for the forgiveness and release from our Sin, Joy for the chance of a life without war and generally Joy for being able to live a relatively carefree life.

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Grandma Hester Fincham and also fondly remembered as Mrs Vic.

If the celebration was held at Granny Fincham, the table would be laid with a damask cloth and silver and we would have venison and wild bird.  She would use her beautiful crockery and you can see more on this post of the Grindley dinner set  There would always be baked potatoes – a la Fincham. Dessert was thick custard – the original home made custard, definitely not box custard. This would be served with bottled peaches which would be given a quick turn on the griddle pan and accompanied by a cognac sauce which as children we were allowed only a little of. In my grandmother’s home a Plum alias Christmas Pudding was also known as a ticky pudding.  (Named after the ticky coin that was steamed with the pudding)

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So why is a Plum Pudding called Plum Pudding when there are no plums in it?

In the 17th century, plums referred to raisins or other fruits. Plumb is another spelling of plum. Prune is actually derived from the same word as plum – the Latin word was pruna, which changed in the Germanic languages into pluma. But the terms were quite confused in the 16th and 17th centuries and people talked about growing prunes in their garden.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

 

 

 

A blue grayish lamp post in our garden

There were oil lamps in the streets and candles in the churches and it was reported that the ladies complained of the candle grease “falling on their wearing apparel”.

The Council embarked on a scheme for electric lighting, at an estimated cost of 19000 Pounds. The work was carried out by Messrs Morley and Dawbarn of London and Johannesburg. Mrs Caskie, wife of the Mayor of the day, turned on the lights at a banquet in November, 1904. Six beautiful street lamps were donated to the town.

The according to word-of-mouth it was donated by the British Monarchy. These stunning street lamps took poll position in front of the Town Hall.

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A couple of years ago we were driving through town and saw four guys rolling this base of a lamp. After some negotiation we were able to rescue this piece of the lamp post.

In the same year the then museum had to be moved. This was a main . . . main job. There was an old ox-wagon that needs to be removed. Under the ox-wagon a lot of broken pieces of a street lamp, was hidden. The then committee entrusted the broken bits and pieces to us. We learn that it was destroyed by a truck. We managed to get a photo of the original street lamp.

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Original lamp pole on the corner of Warden and Bester streets
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The lamp post clearly visible on the photo

In the words of Mother Teresa

If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out.

To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

Then the restoration process started. Hennie painstakingly started to put the pieces together.

He had to make new pieces where pieces were missing.
Painfully he managed to restore it

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The centre pole standing in the garden
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It was time to once again switch on the street lamp.

The details of the street lamp

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After many years the street lamp and Platberg forms part of the Harrismith scene once again. The gardens of De Oude Huize Yard can only be thankful

Till next time

Hennie and Sandra

Kersfees op Mont Pelaan

Die skrywe van Die Ware Boom het jare gelede in die Tuishuis verskyn. Die skrywe vorm deel van ons gaste-inligtingsleêr. Vandag deel ons dit met die toestemming van Johann met almal.

Kersfees op Mont Pelaan deur Johann Lodewyk Marais.

Op Mont Pelaan, die plekkie tussen Harrismith en Memel waar ek my eerste ses skooljare deurgebring het, is daar elke Desember ‘n “Kersboom” in die Boerevereniging se saal langs die vendusiekrale aangebied. Dit was vir ons, die kinders, die hoogtepunt van die jaar. Meester Olivier se handjie vol plaasskoolleerlinge het dan ook weke voor die groot aand reeds hulle stukke begin oefen vir die Kerskonsert wat plaasgevind het ná die geskenke vroegaand deur Kersvader uitgedeel is.

Vir ons het die groot dag uiteindelik begin aanbreek wanneer ‘n boom die middag voor die “Kersboom” op Meester se plaas Sunnyside, in die rigting van Memel, gehaal moes word. Gewoonlik was die wêreld daardie tyd van die jaar, teen vroeg-Desember, grasgroen en die Drakensberge sagte, blou kurwes in die verte, met haelwit wolke wat oor die aarde uitblom. Dan het al die seuns agterop die bakkie saamgery en om die verlate ou opstal help soek na ‘n geskikte dennetak om af te saag. Hierdie tak – volgens Marthinus Versfeld een “op die toppie waarvan die Bethlehemster van blinkpapier mooi sal vertoon, met genoeg takkies om presente vas te maak” – is dan by die saal afgelaai waar die vrouens dit die volgende dag tot ‘n behoorlike Kersboom versier het.

Ja, die Kersboom moes ‘n denneboom wees, soos dit in talle lande van die wêreld, veral in Europa, ook gebruiklik is. Ofskoon die sielkundige Carl G. Jung beweer dat talle mense hierdie tradisie navolg sonder dat hulle die ware betekenis van die Kersboom ken, het die Kersboom klaarblyklik sy oorsprong in sekere gebruike deur die Egiptenare, Chinese en Hebreërs gehad. Dit het die ewige lewe versimboliseer. In later jare het die ou volke van Europa op 25 Desember, wanneer die son op sy flouste is, groot vure aangesteek en hulle huise met immergroen plante versier. Hulle het geglo dat die sterwende son deur die vuur tot nuwe lewe opgewek word en die lewe van die verborge saad deur die ritueel van groen takke verseker is.

Die eietydse Kersboomtradisie kan veral na Duitsland teruggevoer word, waar dit teen die begin van die negentiende eeu reeds ‘n instelling was.

Daar is seker min mense wat nie met nostalgie aan die “Kersbome” uit hulle kinderjare terugdink nie. Maar hoe leef hierdie tradisie vandag voort? Ons samelewing het al hoe meer materialisties geword, en die sakewêreld huiwer nie om ook Kersfees ter wille van finansiële gewin uit te buit nie: dink maar aan die skaamteloos soetsappige klokkies en klingels wat reeds van voor einde Oktober jaarliks aan ons opgedring word. Hierdie uitbuiting word deesdae tog toenemend raakgesien en mense begin hulle hierteen uitspreek.

Meester Olivier het waarskynlik ook nie presies geweet wat die “ware betekenis” van die Kersboom is nie, want hy het ons nooit daarvan vertel nie, ook nie wanneer hy jaarliks die Kersverhaal voorgelees het voordat die geskenke uitgedeel is nie. Deurdat hy ons saamgeneem het om ‘n tak te gaan uitsoek en te help afsaag, het hy ons egter die geleentheid gegee om ‘n egte ervaring mee te maak, wat waarskynlik op ons ‘n veel groter en blywender indruk gemaak het as wat ‘n duisend woorde sou.

Miskien sal ons en ons gesinne Kersfees ook veel intenser beleef indien ons dit met egte dinge uit die omgewing soos ‘n ware Kersboom, kan vier.

Tot volgende keer

Hennie & Sandra

A Free State Harem

It is always an honor to share a writing of Leon Strachan. This  was taken from Blinkoog (2002). Thanks Andrew Barlow for translation, Mia Prinsloo – the granddaughter of Jurie who introduced us to the ruin on the hill,  Niek Swart who show us around and Biebie de Vos for sharing some of the photo’s

“Look at that, that is crazy Jurie’s harem…no there….. on top of that hillock directly behind Reennenhoop’s homestead. He imported French girls, indeed from the Moulins Rouge.” In the puritanical reformed Free State rural area? A harem? Naughty French girls?

The sandstone ruin on Reenenshoop created a phantasy which held its fascination for many generations thereafter. Perhaps it is something still derived from ages ago herd instincts which have not died out fully yet. So that the very idea would still raise mens’ blood pressure.

The satisfaction of a bull with a whole herd of heifers, or something like that.

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The house was to be in a T shape, with the living area in the long leg, and the reception area in the top of the T. The walls were more than four metres high of solid sandstone with no mortar, no shortcuts were taken  – which is why it still remains almost intact. Top Italian artisans who were part of the  1200 workers who had completed work on the Union Buildings, and who were clearly highly competent did the stone masonry.

There was an unusual amount of building shortly before the First World War. “Juri costruisce castle”  remarked an Italian stone mason in his broken English-Italian in the bar of the Central Hotel.

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“Yes the Hall of Mirrors is much longer than the whole of the Central, and the walls are this high” said Retief  as he pointed to a spot halfway to the top of the second storey” as the men were gossipping in the Central Hotel. Niek and the Hall of Mirrors

“I hear that it is harem?” Si…il harem” replied the Italian. The harem story spread like a wild-fire. When the unusual door and window frames arrived there from England  a few weeks later the wild fire became a raging fire

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Leon and Mia in a “window”. Mia shared a little information that her grandfather would stand here would tell them about many lights and water” Suzie would put blame old age to it.
“My husband, do you have fever?”  she asked him because it was still many decades before the Sterkfontein dam and the Tshiame township would arise there..

“The harem story is then really true” remarked one of the men on the truck. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and wiped his forehead. He hooked his thumbs into his suspenders and kicked against one of the crates. “Look. this what a harem’s windows should look like!

“How would you know Thys?” The others burst out laughing. Later some of the clerks from the station  walked over to the goods shed to see what all the noise was about. Two ox wagons were loaded with the crates in which the unusual door frames were packed – wide and high. Solid frames with sky lights , all of Oregon and made on special order in England. Some of the window frames were higher even than the doors, extraordinary pieces. “Yes Jurie will have massive mirrors against the walls of the reception room and seven French girls have already arrived in Cape Town.”

“Never”.

“That cannot be true”.

“It is so, Chris Cloete had to have them fetched from Cape Town”

“Nonsense, Chris is a man of the church. He would not do it. In any event where are they now?”

“He merely paid them and put them on a ship back to France.”

Oh no!  Why the devil would the man have done a thing like that?”. said cross-eyed Thys, “if Jurie does not want them, I will take them.

“Yes you old loud mouth, you cannot even keep Zina satisfied!” The men roared with laughter but had to dodge quickly  – cross-eyed Thys throws anything he can get hold of, even empty cream cans.

The story starts much earlier, at the time 1840 – the stretches of land belonged to the Uys family in 1840 including Reenenshoop. Dina Uys married Louwrens Wessels.Three children were born Jurie Johannes in 1883. He passed matric at Harrismith in 1899 – this was unusual. Boer children at the time did not have much schooling  – Boer Matric was the norm –  catechism, writing, reading and arithmetic. Jurie was the first person in this predominantly English-speaking town to have achieved this distinction in spite of the fact the English speaking people had a completely different attitude about learning.He achieved this in the first class. Jurie, perhaps had little choice other than to farm.

By 1906 the economy had improved slightly and Jurie was able to go to the Cape Colony to buy sheep. The handsome 23 year old red-head  had a head for business. Faan Bekker of Rietvlei in the Aliwal North district had sheep for sale. He stayed with the family for a couple of days. At first Jurie was only vaguely aware of her, until he caught her eye – the ‘bywoners’ girl with a ‘kopdoek’ and soulful eyes which haunted him so much that on his return to the Free State, he wrote to her. He wrote in English but halfway through the letter he switched into Afrikaans. It is in this language that she replied, explaining her life as a ‘bywoner’s’ daughter. In his reply, in his neat handwriting, he declared his love for her.

They were married within a year.Without the headdress Suzie was beautiful woman – he  had quite an eye for beauty. With increasing self-confidence Suzie made her mark on Reenenshoop. The neat sandstone house became a home with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  The spontaneous girl from the Colony made friends easily and liked to entertain.

The fairy tale transformation of the servant girl to a popular hostess married to an anti social man. He did not visit people and didn’t go to church and had not even been confirmed. Suzie only much later persuaded him to be confirmed and even for this she had to get the parson to come to the farm.’

Suzie had entered a world of riches but it was not easy at all. Her intelligent and well read husband was forbiddingly strict he didn’t tolerate any opposition, his “no” was “no”. This she could respect but his unreasonable obstinacy later became a thorn in her flesh.

Jurie was an enigma; as strict, miserly and relentless as he was, he could spend money lavishly on something which he regarded as worthwhile. He overwhelmed his beautiful wife with valuable jewelry and started to build a dream hose for her. On completion it would probably have been the most imposing house in all of the Free State, Suzie’s complex husband, in his own way cared very much for her.

Jurie’s favorite spot on the farm was the high ridge to the north of the house which dominated the surroundings. From there he could survey the whole farm and see to the farthest horizons. He could sit there and dream and plan  – and even see visions. In a moment of inspiration he decided to build a palace for Suzie, her a castle. On the eastern point he measured out the foundation. He planned a large home with a wide passage, four large bedrooms, a big kitchen and a large reception area for his Suzie.

It was the gigantic reception room with its very large windows that set the tongues wagging. This room was 80 feet long by 24 feet wide, with a surface area of 175m2 which in 1912 was bigger than the average house. Imposing, overpowering it was comparable with the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles which it probably inspired.

The fact that French girls were involved furnishes the clue. Jurie was well read and had an excellent general knowledge and had traveled too – certainly, he had visited Versailles. He knew how Marie Antoinette’s room of mirrors had entranced, impressed and even intimidated and he wanted his Suzie to come to her own in this hall. The outside wall of that room had six very large high windows as well as two similar ones at each end. With mirrors at regular intervals in the spaces between the windows and mirrors along the opposite inner wall, the effct of light, reflection, unspoilt nature and phenomenal view it would have been astounding. Like Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors.

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Hammer blows on metal chisels were heard daily from sunrise till late at night, in between shouting, threats, cajoling and encouragement of drivers  of drivers and guides of teams of oxen drawing sleds full of fashioned stone from the quarry to the building site.

Jurie kept his plans to himself. Even his neighbors could get no information from him.”Why are the rooms so large, – heavens you could turn a span of oxen in them.” Jurie had no patience with fools. “Well, I see that you are not gong to talk. But tell me one thing – how are you going to get water to that hillock ?” That was a body blow – it is a dry hillock . There are limits to reasonable man’s patience. “Hey man! A harem does not need water. That long room is for the French girls that I am going to import. Do you understand?”

When the walls were roof high the imported doors and windows arrived at the Harrismith station. They were transported from the station with ox wagons. The last heavy lintels were raised and mortared in position  when the Great War broke out in 1914.  Jurie rebelled and joined the commando of Wessel Wessels. The building stopped and the ‘bywoners’ had to look after the farm. It was during this time that Jurie heard that some of his cattle were missing. He arrive at Reenenshoop late on a Friday night. Suzie had measles, and he heard that a neighbor had stolen his cattle. To crown everything his fine black piano had also been taken. That was not the end of his troubles; one of his workers had betrayed him. On the Saturday morning the police came to arrest him. He saw them in time and fled to the cliff from where he fired at them. He informed them but he would surrender voluntarily on Monday morning if they would give him enough time to recover his cattle.

On Monday morning with Suzie well wrapped in blankets he and she went to town. She convinced the magistrate that she had written to him at the request of the government.  Suzie managed to have him released but he did not recover his stolen cattle. This was the beginning of three important events in his life –

  • a feud with his neighbor which would last for more than a generation
  • his conflict with the law
  • the ‘bywoner’s treachery

This would torment him for the rest of his life.

In spite of all his eccentricities he cared very well for Suzie and the children – Jurie was happiest when his children and later his grandchildren entertained him with music, and need only to have listened.  Irene who was born nine months after the marriage had two brothers – Laurence, who they called Laurie nine years later and  Hugo who was named after the in-laws as they had also moved to the farm to assist with the farming. Suzie accepted the fact that he  was a miser. With farming with laying hens and making butter she had an own income to finance her social activities.

Drama with the law did not remain absent for long at Reenenshoop.

  • Jurie bought a Spanish donkey stallion in order to improve his donkey stud and he was convinced that it was a mule, he refused to pay  and had to go to jail for a few days and the seller had to pay for his board in jail.
  • During the East Coast Fever epidemic the movement of cattle was prohibited. The border guards caught him and was fined fifty pounds. He went to jail again. Suzie had to face her prominent friends while Jurie could not be bothered about it at all.  She paid the fine. Jurie was enraged. “You are wasting money, I was happy in the jail, nobody bothered me.”
  • Jurie, Suzie and their last child Hugo were on holiday in Durban. Jurie was fined by a traffic policeman and again refused to pay. He was in the cells in Durban and commanded Suzie not to pay the fine. She took a tomato crate put a few cushions on it, Hugo could hardly see over he dashboard but Hugo took the Studebaker and Suzie back to the Free State. Days later Jurie telephoned, he is out and “I am enjoying the holiday and will return by train.”

Suddenly Jurie dressed with care when he had to go to town, this was every second day. Suzie wondered what was going on. He whistled happily when he thought that she could not hear him – she became suspicious. Suzie in a roundabout way found out about the English speaking very grand woman. Suzie wrote a scathing letter in Afrikaans and her daughter Irene translate it. She then re wrote the letter and had it delivered by hand. She had insulted the temptress in her own language. A day or two later Jurie came home, very annoyed. “And then you pretend that you cannot read or write English!”

Jurie paid no attention to social norms. This with his eccentricity, his self centredness and strangeness which was due to his bi-polarity made him known as Crazy Jurie. A severe condition of suspicion gave rise to an anecdote of Crazy Jurie without which Jurie’s history would be incomplete. Jurie wanted his son, Hugo, to become a surveyor because he was convinced that he had been cheated out of land by those who had sold farms to him. He wanted his son to measure his farms accurately. Jurie did go to university but came nowhere near the department of trigonometry but enrolled for medical tuition with the assistance of his mother without the knowledge of his father.

Suzie has by this time accepted her fate and did not doubt that Jurie would refuse to pay for Hugo’s studies if he had enrolled for anything else except to become a surveyor. A white lie was the only recourse to get Hugo started. Hugo did extremely well in his first year and Jurie expected that he would in the December holiday survey the farm properly. This was naturally and Jurie was told the truth. He was angry but still proud of his son and thereafter supported and encouraged him.

The infamous rondavel was not only a refuge from the sheriff, it was also the place where he isolated himself when he became depressed and could last for weeks. Laurie and the ‘bywoners’ had to see to the farming. The rondavel revealed much about him – sandstone, thatched roof and white scrubbed wood floor. At one end there was a copper bedstead and a shelf with many books. Across from this was a Queen stove which in winter was fired with corn cobs and a comfortable sofa draped with a karos. Next to this he had his desk on which were heaps of books, magazines and a radio. Jurie did not miss the morning news and listened to classical music while he did his accounting, opened the post and attended to correspondence in his neat handwriting. This was where he read the newspaper, he had subscribed to “Die Burger”  and received a bundle weekly by rail from Cape Town.

The cartoons from Die Burger and Die Landbouweekblad were collected religiously – Kaspaas, Häger and Waldemar were collected and pasted and kept in  large books. The pleasure which he obtained from the cartoons indicate a healthy sense of humor which gives rise to the suspicion that he may have laughed at his own escapades.

Suzie was an excellent hostess and smothered her guests with charm and hospitality and entranced them with beautiful jewelry. Besides rings with large diamonds, a heavy slave braclet, a gypsy charm, a gold lucky bean bracelet with rubies and amethysts but the Star of David necklace was her favorite. This necklace was a large white diamond surrounded by blue sapphires and a host of small diamonds.

Dressed in this finery she on a certain Sunday invited several guests. Her back then had become slightly stiff, and on this day the guests included the local member of parliament, the bank manager, doctor, school principal and naturally the parson. However, Jurie was again in isolation.

Her assistant had arrived there earlier that morning with a basket suspended on each end of a pole, each basket filled with fruit from the orchard. Leg of mutton had been cooked to perfection, the turkey was filled and gammon spliced with bacon. Beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes and vegetables were on the stove and the aroma from the kitchen was delicious.

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The table had been laid with fine delicate porcelain on a white damask table cloth with a large vase of red roses in the middle. With the start of the meal the guests were in a jovial mood after a few rounds of drinks. While wine was poured in crystal glasses Suzie lifted the lids of the dishes one after the other. She looked up questioningly.

“Johnny where is the turkey?”

“The trukey is gone.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“How is it gone?”

‘It was stolen”

“Who stole it?” She was dumbfounded, angry, livid.

“The master.”

Jurie was a teetotaler but he enjoyed eating. He and a young man who worked for him had gone to the river with the turkey. Under a large willow tree they sat and ate the turkey, calmly, without affectation and without any worries.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra