Western Cape

One of the obvious features of Hermanus history is the large number of famous and well-known people who visited the town during the 20th century. Some came only once, for instance the internationally known English woman pilot, Amy Johnson, who rested for a few days at the Marine after her record-breaking solo flight from London in the 1930s.

Saldanha Bay, with its perfect setting for a harbour, was always constrained by the lack of fresh water. With the Khoekhoe's transhumant existence, the Vredenburg Peninsula formed part of seasonal grazing, which was dictated by the seasons, with summer providing little rainfall and winter being the opportunity to graze cattle and sheep. The early seafarers and explorers who entered the safe haven found that the lack of a permanent fresh water source restricted any concept of settlement.

At five o clock in the afternoon of Saturday 19 December 1925, a wisp of smoke was seen to rise lazily from the thatched roof near the kitchen of the Groot Constantia Manor House. Moments later the huge thatch roof caught fire creating an uncontrollable inferno. With no brandsolder to contain the flames, the blaze crashed through to the boarded ceilings of the rooms below and through that to the main floor.

The Adelphi Cinema was built by the Allen family in 1916 and was owned and managed by Simon Allen, one of the sons of David Allen and a grandson of the original Allengensky. The first member of this family to come to South Africa was Adel Allengensky, who arrived in Hermanus from Latvia, via Cape Town and Greyton early in the 1890s.

Does anyone remember Pyott Biscuits? They were the makers of Salticrax, Romany Creams, Iced Zoo and many other SA favourites. Today they’re all branded under the Bakers label and the Pyott name has largely been forgotten.

A public meeting held at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday 16 March, which, attended by residents and members of SAHRA to discuss the heritage declaration of the Bo-Kaap, was stimulating and productive.

 

Cape Town in the early 1950s was a place where we grew up, and spent weekends rambling and scrambling over Table Mountain. My brother Adrian, a friend and I soon got to learn of the existence of quite a few caves in the Wynberg area, and decided to explore. The first time we entered Wynberg cave was a bit scary, mainly because we had no torches, and we were not properly equipped at all. Later that afternoon round the campfire, we discussed the possibilities of continuing with this – the answer was a definite YES.

It is fortunate for posterity that Group Captain Rupert Taylor, a Johannesburg businessman in 1964 became interested in the old Simon’s Town Seaforth Cemetery or the ‘Old Burying Ground’, as it is called. Like his war-time contemporary ‘Sailor’ Malan he began his service career in the Navy before switching to the Airforce during the Second World War. While in the Navy he used to occasionally sit under a plaque to Midshipman Hammill in this cemetery admiring the sea view.

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.

Sometimes an interesting question is asked. ‘Which Cemetery is the most venerable in South Africa?’ Not so easy to answer as one may think. There are some strong contenders but the Tana Baru in the Bo-Kaap, the oldest Muslim Cemetery in Cape Town, can certainly stake a very credible claim. This is the only historical cemetery in South Africa of which an informative book has been written, The History of the Tana Baru, by Achmat Davids.

I first met Lady Anne Barnard (1750- 1825) when she was in her mid forties. It was a brief encounter, in fact only a passage in the text of “The Table Mountain Book” by Jose Burman, that master storyteller of early South African travel. Lady Anne was reported to be the first European woman to climb to the top of Table Mountain (in July 1797) and I was resolved to find out more about her life and why a high born lady was living in Cape Town (Kaapsche Stad) at the end of the eighteenth century, during what became the first British Occupation (1795-1802).

A soldier who would one day retire in Hermanus surprised himself by earning the highest British military award. He is William Henry Hewitt who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 and who lived in Natal, South Africa between 1905 and 1915 and in Hermanus in the 1950s. He returned to the UK only when he was terminally ill early in the 1960s, but left instructions that his body should be cremated and the ashes cast into the sea at his favourite resting place along the Hermanus Cliff Path.

 

Markhams Building, located on the corner of Eloff and Pritchard Streets in Johannesburg, is a landmark of the city. It is striking because it has survived. Built in 1897, it is nearly as old as the city itself.

 

The Balcony Building (numbers 58-62 Main Road) is today mainly associated with The Factory Shop, which was opened in this building in 1983 and has expanded over the years to occupy most of the building. It was owned by a Swiss national, Jörg Friedrich, who managed it until 2013. The present owner, Fransien Koegelenberg took over at that time and has expanded the business further.  Fransien was kind enough to show me the interior of the building.

 

In the article below, James Walton tells the story of the soap houses of the Karoo and their importance to the local economy for many years. The article was first published in the 1983 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

It was wonderful to stumble across this article on one of the first surveys carried out by a non-professional group in South Africa. The piece was published in the 1980 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

In the wonderful article below, James Walton traces the journey of Johannes Cornelius Poortermans through the Piquetberg. The piece first appeared in the October 1982 edition of Restorica, the journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa). Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish).

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