Free State

Even with Covid-19 still raging, Sandstone Estates was able to host a spring event from 19-22 November 2020, attended by hundreds of rail and transport enthusiasts, all wearing facemasks and practicing social distancing. This was a smaller event than the Stars of Sandstone event held in 2019, and which attracted visitors and specialists from all over the world.

Kloosterskool (cloister school) is not the proper name, it is more a nickname given to the building by some people in Kroonstad. It refers to the convent school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. I will come to the details on how, why and when in this article.

To the east of Kroonstad, just outside of town in an area called Jordania is a school complex. This is a school operated by the Sisters of Notre Dames de Namur, short SND.

One does not normally associate Bloemfontein with Royalty, but Bloemfontein, located in the centre of the country (and despite its Boer republican history), was always on the itinerary for that cluster of 20th century British Royal tours. It was included in the series of Royal perambulation around South Africa in 1925 (the Prince of Wales), 1934 (Prince George, later Duke of Kent) and 1947 (King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their family).

A recent invitation to spend a weekend in the Western Free State provided an opportunity to visit the cemetery at the small town of Bultfontein. Situated approximately 90 kilometres north of Bloemfontein, I had passed through this town at least fifteen years ago, when I cursorily traipsed the cemetery. This time I undertook to explore it in more detail.

The title refers to the road coming through Witsieshoek, now Phuthaditjhaba, in the Free State, going up to the Sentinel car park. It is a strange road. Was it constructed just to give us hikers better access to the top of the Tugela Falls and Mount-Aux-Sources? Very unlikely.

 

Very few people have heard of the first borehole sunk in an effort to prove that there were payable deposits of gold in the Free State. This is its story.

Soon after the major discoveries of the Witwatersrand and its expansion east and west the search went further out into the Free State in the hope of finding the continuation of the reefs. Already in the 1890s there was speculative buying of farms to the south of Klerksdorp over the Vaal.

Wolwehoek is a railway station on the Vereeniging-Bloemfontein line to the south of Sasolburg (see photo above). The railway between Wolwehoek and Heilbron was part of a longer line which connects further down to Petrus Steyn, Lindley and joining the mainline between Bethlehem and Bloemfontein at Arlington. This article is about the section between Wolwehoek and Heilbron, a distance of about 50km. On the map below, dating from the time of the Anglo Boer War, it is the line marked in blue.

An article on The Heritage Portal about disused rail lines in South Africa (click here to view) prompted me to put this article together, taking stock of what is still around and how it used to work. It is about the unused line from the Dover Station through Parys ending in Vredefort. 

 

What do names such as ‘Astoria, Regal, Plaza, Victory, Pigalle, Empire, Roxy, Odeon, Vaudette, Regent, Apollo, Ritz, and Bijou’, mean to you?

Generation Z will probably think they are apps and Millennials that they are computer games. Generation X will think of them as names of men’s suits, restaurants or maybe small-town hotels. Only the Baby Boomers will recognise the evocative names of long closed and largely forgotten bioscopes.

Most Gauteng holiday makers break their journey to the KZN Coast at one of the Ultra City or Star Stop facilities at Harrismith or Van Reenen’s Pass. Once fortified with fuel, fast food and soft drinks, they continue on their way, aware they are halfway to Durban.

This is a pity as they miss the opportunity to visit one of the more interesting and historical cemeteries in South Africa. This is the old Harrismith Municipal Cemetery, situated north-east of the corner of Laksman and Greyling Streets.

On the road from Reitz to Bethlehem (R26) in the Free State one crosses over the railway line about 10km out of Bethlehem. Inspecting the area under the bridge one finds a grave next to the rails a few meters from the bridge. It is marked by some upright railway sleepers, totally overgrown and with a largely illegible gravestone. I could just make out... ‘Nov 1931’. 

Who is buried here? And why next to the rails, not in a cemetery?

A few years ago, I needed to write my memoir to understand myself but as my mother had had a great effect on my childhood and the person I became, I realised that that was where I should start. However, it soon became apparent that her childhood was the reason for who she became. So perhaps I needed to start with my grandmother, who died when my mother was eleven years old. But I didn't even know my grandmother’s name!

On the 21 January 1960 a major calamity befell the coal mine at Coalbrook, situated in the Northern Free State 21km south west of Vereeniging. 437 miners were buried alive 180 meters below the surface when an estimated 900 pillars collapsed. A major rescue effort was undertaken, unfortunately without any positive results.

This article covers the history of the coal mine, the events leading up to the disaster, the causes, the aftermath and what we find there today. 

 

The Vaal river, a formidable obstacle at times, had to be crossed by the early settlers to open the way to the North. One of the crossing points in the days just after the Voortrekkers arrived was Viljoen's Drift. Josua Jacobus Viljoen had occupied the farm, Oshel, to the south of the river opposite what is now Vereeniging. The name Oshel (translated ox hell) came from the sandy ground which made life difficult for the oxen pulling a wagon.

On the shores of the Vaal Dam, on the Free State side opposite Vaal Marina, is a small graveyard containing a few graves but only a single gravestone. This marks the grave of Hermanus Lombard.

The inscription on the gravestone in the image below has been enhanced to make it more readable. Translated into English it reads:

Hermanus Stephanus

Lombard died at Erfbloem 9 May 1930

Driving on the gravel road from Edenville to Heuningspruit in the Free State one will notice a strange looking tower sticking out from between the trees. What is/was that?

The answer is that it was a lime kiln, that is a technical term to describe an oven or furnace used to heat limestone to convert it to burned lime for use on the gold mines (as a neutralising agent and as building material). It was owned by the New Honingspruit Lime Works.

 

Out in the middle of the Northern Free State farm land is a little church. Not a very special building, not very large, not very beautiful but it has history and this is the reason I have decided to write about it.

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