MANY FESTIVITIES ON THE CARDS
Cradock is the place to be. This town celebrates its bicentennial this year and it intends to do so in style. First on the cards will be the Food Festival on March 21 and 22. Cradock came into being in 1814 as the last of as line of forts built along the lower Fish River by the then governor, Sir John Cradock. His aim was to try to contain the Xhosa people east of the river, eliminate unrest and establish harmony in the area. Although intended as a fort, Cradock never saw conflict and in 1820 Lord Charles Somerset (Sir John’s successor) invited British immigrants to settle there. Their coming ensured a rich, romantic history for this region. So, at some stage during the year, come and share it. The KKNK (Klein Karoo Kunstefees) also takes place in March – from the 29th to April 5 – in Oudtshoorn. Next on the cards is the Prince Albert Olive Festival, which organisers say is going to be “quite fabulous”. Organised in collaboration with the Swartberg Hotel, The Showroom and Lah-Di-Dah, this festival is scheduled to take place from April 25 to 27. Then it’s back to Cradock for the Schreiner Karoo Writers’ Festival – scheduled for July 25 and 26.
TRACKING EARLY BUSINESSES
Daan Toerien, a research associate at the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State, is looking for old telephone directories. “We recently launched a major project to study enterprise development in South African towns. Part of my research includes information about early businesses listed in telephone books. If any of your readers have an old directory or two that they would be willing to donate/sell to our research project I would love to hear from them. Some time ago, when she was still at the Kemper Museum in Colesberg, Belinda Gordon gave us a 1946 Cape Province directory. It was an absolute gold mine of information. It has enabled us to make comparisons and to track change and development in several towns.” Deon has also published a number of scientific research papers and research material on the Karoo.
A TALK FOR ALL CRICKET FANS
James Douglas Logan’s pivotal role in the establishment of cricket in South Africa will be discussed by Dr. Dean Allen, author of Empire, War and Cricket in South Africa: Logan of Matjiesfontein, at a meeting of the Cape Town branch of the S A Military History Society on March 13. SAMHS chairman, Johan van den Berg says: “Cecil John Rhodes claimed South Africa had only two creators – himself and Logan. Without doubt Logan was a man ahead of his time as Dr Allen will show. His talk, based on his just published book, will explore how Logan arrived in South Africa and how he made his fortune here in the late 19th century through business, politics and a high-profile association with cricket, the Empire’s favourite sport. He will explain how Logan was instrumental in developing cricket in this country. He will also examine S A’s little-known, controversial 1901 cricket tour to England – a venture that was privately funded by Logan.” Dr Allen, who hails from Somerset in England, lectures in Sport Management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. He has taught at universities in South African, Australia, Northern Ireland and England. He is widely published in sports history and sociology. He first visited Matjiesfontein while doing research for his Master’s Degree, which focused on sport during the Anglo-Boer War.
LESSONS FOR A MASTER
Ann’s Villa, (mentioned in the December Round-up) has a fascinating history. No less person than Walter Whall Battiss, South Africa’s foremost abstract painter and creator of Fook Island, received his first art lessons at this spot. Born into a “hymn-singing Methodist family” in Somerset East, Walter began painting at the age of 8. By the time he turned 11 he had made 17 water colours for his mother, Louise. She kept them in a small album and proudly told friends his talent came from her side of the family because her father, Thomas Price, had been a costume designer for the Follies Bergére, in Paris. Walter’s first art teacher, Phoebe Jackson (nee Hall), was a descendant of old John Webster, the Scotsman who created Ann’s Villa. She liked young Walter and felt he had a “talent worth nurturing”. He was also fond of her and stayed in touch with her throughout her lifetime. Walter’s first painting now hangs in the old family home, now the Battiss Museum, in Paulet Street, Somerset East. This Georgian-style building, initially a Military Mess dating back to 1818, was bought during the Anglo-Boer War, by Farmer Satwell, as a home for his wife and daughters. He ordered the Victorian style decorations and enclosed balcony, with fine iron railings, from Manchester. The Battiss family ran this as a private hotel from 1914 to 1917, then, the recession that followed WWI, forced them to move to Koffiefontein.
ONE OF THE OLDEST COACHING INNS
Ann’s Villa, a mid-19th century “service area” on the old wagon route across the Zuurberg Mountains, is one of the oldest coaching inns in South Africa. Historic researcher, Debby Webster, says this intriguing double storey house was built by John Webster, (no relation), a baker by trade. John was born in Glasgow on April 12, 1817. He moved to London where he met a local lass, Ann Elizabeth Whall, (born November 24, 1819). The two started “walking out”, fell in love and married in 1839. They moved to a little house Whapping Wall Street, in Shadwell on the East Side of London, and north bank of the Thames. As the economy in Europe worsened and Ann’s asthma worsened, they decided to seek pastures greener in Africa. With their five small children they sailed aboard the Scindean on March 25, 1849, for Algoa Bay. Shortly after arrival on July 25, John opened a bakery in Victoria Street, Port Elizabeth, where the family lived happily for five years.
A VILLA FOR HIS LOVE
Sadly, Ann’s asthma worsened and “began to turn into TB”. Concerned for her health John decided to move inland and chose a spot at the foot of the Zuurberg Mountains. In 1856, he purchased Kleinplaas farm from W. Grobler and started baking bread for road builders at the Stebbings Convict Station, 10 km away and for workers on the Zuurberg Pass, that officially opened in 1858. During this time the Websters lived in an old cottage, known as Bergview Terrace, (later Verbena Cottage), near the toll gate, where travellers paid a penny per animal passing. The family, (by then there were 14 children), moved to Bassonskloof, when John started work on an imposing double-storey house at a spot about a mile away. He finished. Ann’s Villa, an inn designed to accommodate eight in 1864.
HEALTH FARM FOR CHEST SUFFERERS
John advertised Ann’s Villa as a “health farm”. He stated it was “1950 ft above sea level and protected by the grand Zuurberg Mountains that rose 2900 ft above the plain”. He aimed to encourage chest sufferers from Europe to come South Africa to enjoy the benefits of “clean fresh country air”. His plan worked. Visitors disembarked at Port Elizabeth, caught the train to Addo, (later, Coerney), where John met them. Reverend T A Challe wrote: “Ann’s Villa is most salubrious with moderate rates. My family and I benefitted greatly from a month spent there.” John’s success led to the opening of the Zuurberg Inn, (Zuurberg Sanatorium), which survived until the early 1940’s. In 1867, when diamonds were discovered near Kimberley, the villa boomed. Sadly, his beloved Ann died at the age of 46, in 1865. John married Mary Ann Jenkins in 1866. They had one child in 1867, but it died at the age of two.
BUSINESS FLOURISHES AROUND ANN’S VILLA
Business mushroomed. John built a mill on a nearby farm, which he named Shadwell, in memory of their first home. Farmers, along the foot of the mountains and in Bean River Valley (today Krom River) found it a godsend. No longer did they need to haul grain down to Algoa Bay and John’s bakery was a ready market for their flour. A shop, smithy and wheelwright sprang up, so did a canteen and harness repair shop. A post office opened in 1896, followed by a school and cottage for a teacher. The Villa was a great gathering place, so a corrugated iron shed with sprung floor was ordered (in kit form) from England. It served as a shearing shed and dance hall. An active tennis club sprang up. A rifle range, which developed into the oldest shooting club in the Eastern Cape, was started so that men could prove their prowess with Martini Henry rifles. “They fired, at distances of up to 600 yards, at a large round steel plate which gave a resounding clang when hit.”
SERVICE ON THE WAGON ROUTE
A large iron circle, with central hole still stands at the old smithy, now a museum. Iron wagon “tyres” were fitted here. The process was complicated. Each iron band was carefully measured for a close fit, heated until red hot and slipped over the wheel. The ends were hammered together before it was shrunk to fit by dousing with cold water. At times, as many as 23 wagons stood outspanned waiting for “service” at Ann’s Villa. The coming of the rail ended the boom. In an effort to capture the end of the fast dwindling days of wagon transport, John opened a smithy at Middleton, but, in time, the railway killed that as well. The store was raided by commandoes during the Anglo Boer War and wounded soldiers were nursed at Ann’s Villa. Commandant Jan Smuts was in the area in November, 1901. He led his men on a foray into the Zuurberg Mountains about 5km west of Ann’s Villa. His stay was prolonged when he became seriously ill after eating the fruit of a cycad. As British forces approached from the north, the Albany Defence Force from east and Somerset East Defence Force from the northwest, the Alexandria Defence Force cut off his route to the pass. During a skirmish at Viewlands, a man of Jewish descent was killed. He is buried at in Ann’s Villa cemetery near John, his beloved Ann, some of their descendants and their third child Samuel Henry, who was married three times to three sisters. When his first wife, Millicent Mary Watson died he married her sister Grace Esther, when she died, he married the other sister, Bertha Suzanna, the widow of John van Gend. A feature of the cemetery is the spelling errors on the grave stones.
THIEVES IN THE NIGHT
When the road became less travelled Ann’s Villa closed and became a storage shed. The teacher left, the school closed and so did the shop which, according to adverts, sold His Master’s voice records, Bisto, Camp Coffee at 6d a bottle, Dr Viktor Veidt’s magical, medicinal moth wing powder, Hudson’s toilet soap, with a pictures of the British king and queen on the wrapper, and a Chinese poison, claimed to be “rough on rats, mice, bed bugs, flies and roaches”, at 15 cents a box. The smithy’s anvil was silent, only ghosts of memories remained at this once vibrant spot. Here and there a telephones tinkled, as the tiny Post Office loyally maintained its service. Yet, old John’s entrepreneurial spirit was not dead. Life sparked when a new tar road snaked over Olifant’s Kop bringing with it a “last gasp” petrol pump. However, its contribution was meagre. No one was allowed more than four gallons (18 litres) at a time. Ann’s Villa faded into history. This proud house, once filled with love and laughter, slumbered silently, locked, abandoned, guarding memories and a treasure trove of furniture spanning long lifetimes. The peace was shattered one dark, moonless night when trucks drew up and thieves emptied the old inn of its historic contents. Left standing in the middle of the old store was a forelorn wooden pillar with 1867 burnt into it. No one ever found the culprits. Years later Ann’s Villa was refurbished as a self-catering tourist stop, near Addo Elephant Park, Shamwari, Kwantu and Kwandwe private game reserves and the Walking with Elephant venues. Visitors say the roads are not for the faint hearted, nevertheless, Ann’s descendants braved them back in 2005 when 100 Websters gathered at the villa for a family reunion.
REQUEST FOR HELP BRINGS BACK HAPPY MEMORIES
Stanley Manong’s request for help with his memoirs, (Round-up, January 2014) sent some down memory lane. Among them were Dr Nathan “Natie” Finkelstein and Willem “Boetie” Kempen. “Victoria West pharmacist, Charles Taylor was quite a character’,” said Natie. “His golfing prowess was legendary. He married a Jewish girl and they had a daughter, Gaynor. Prof. Cyril Karabus’s father, Isaac, ran Karoo Trading Co, the Beaufort West Ford agency. His brother, Charlie, ran the Victoria West agency, where another brother, Joe, worked. Joe had two sons, Ruby and Morris. I vividly remember Ruby playing on the wing for the “Beaufort West Dorp” rugby team. Morris studied pharmacy, married and later moved to Johannesburg. Ruby has since died. Charlie Karabus also had a son called Morris. He married Erica, who worked at his father’s garage, He later moved to Beaufort West to manage Karoo Trading Co. He was a keen bowler, president of the Lions Club and very involved in the social side of ‘village life’. Morris and Erica later moved to Cape Town, where he died. Milton’s surname was Rink (not Ring). He worked for Charlie Karabus and married Ethel, one of Charlie’s daughters. Milton and Ethel had a daughter, Cynthia.” Boetie Kempen recalled the Le Roux Brothers – Eugene, who became a doctor and William (Bill), estates manager at Kempen and Kempen, who married Magda Ras. They had two sons Edmund (Bollie) and Martin, a Pro Golfer, who died of diabetic complications at the age of 36.
EVER ENTREPRENEURIAL ABE
Several old Beaufort Westers recalled the Ansteys, who farmed at the Nelspoort. The first member this family to come to South Africa was Abraham (Abe) Antesorsky, who was born in Krakes, Lithuania, on March 18, 1897. Family records show he spent eight months at Hopeville School learning English, then went to Taung for six months to work in a shop run by a Mr Beyers. Abe worked 16 hours a day for £4 a month including board and lodging. He later found a better job near Cape Town at the Weinstein Family Bakery. He acquired a horse and cart to handle deliveries and collections. This job paid £25 a month but was not viable because he had to feed the horse. In1915, Abe moved to Merridale to work for a Mr Werbilov. His sister, Pauline, became engaged to Harold Bernitz that year. Harold, also a Lithuanian Jew, learned English in Wynberg then moved to Beaufort West. Abe attended their wedding and took a great liking to Harold. He moved to Beaufort West to join Cooper and Bernitz as a wool buyer. When he had saved £250, he and Harold bought “Biesjespoort” from a Mr Milwitzky and began trading as “Bernitz and Antesorsky”. Sadly, WWI brought a dramatic drop in wool prices and exports to Japan and the partnership was dissolved.
ON THE ROAD TO NEW BUSINESS
The ever-entrepreneurial Abe married Lily Lange from Worcester, shortened his name and founded A Anstey and Co. One of his sons, Brian, a well-known architect in Israel, England and New York, played tennis at Wimbeldon and in the South African Maccabiah Games. Abe invited his cousin Isaac (Ikey) to join in the shop at Biesjespoort. Ikey did and later moved to Harold’s farm, Nelsmerwe, near Calvinia. Droughts forced him to move to the Free State, but 1928 he returned to Biesjespoort. He and Abe bought Phisantfontein and expanded their operations. Ikey, was an astute business man, an icon at auctions, his son Michael was widely known and liked in Beaufort West.
COMMEMORATES WOMEN’S MEMORIAL CENTENARY
A commemorative history of the Women’s Memorial Monument in Bloemfontein is now available. Edited by Marthinus van Bart, Die Nasionale Vrouemonument: Honderdjarige Herdenking – Verlede – Hede – Toekoms, is available from the FAK. The book costs R250. Several top cultural historians, such as Jaap Steyn, Herman Giliomee, Wium van Zyl, E S van Bart, Leopold Scholtz, V E d’Assonville, H C Viljoen and C Reynolds contributed to this book.
Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door – Coco Chanel