House Battiss - Giotto's Hill
Johann Carl SMITH: Architect Alterations and additions
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Built for Walter Battiss. Giotto was a young apprentice to the Florentine Master Cimabue who among others was commissioned to decorate the church at Assisi. In these frescoes the young Giotto proved himself “a daring naturalist in defiance of tradition, idealism and formalism". Not only was Giotto an artist, he was an Architect too. The Battiss house was inspired by a small white house perched on a hillside, featured in one of Giotto's frescoes. The house built in war time conditions, where materials were difficult to get, reflects the simple buildings that adorn Giotto's frescoes. The house was capably built by Mr. Brikkels, a coloured (sic) building contractor.
Accommodation at that stage would have been the garage, later the dining room, a sitting room, bathroom, a narrow kitchen (which had a combustion stove in it to heat water) and a bedroom at the end of the passage. Upstairs was Walter's studio and a second bedroom with a wash hand basin. Outside was a servant's room, shower and toilet. Also attached was an outside toilet for the house owners. Toilets were then Earth Closets (E.C.) with buckets serviced by the Pretoria Municipality. The house was located on a half erf, one away from the corner of 20th and Mackenzie streets.
In the early 1960's 'uncle Bob' arranged and paid to have a semi-detached single-storey flat constructed on the west side of the house for him to live in. 'Uncle Bob' was Grace's brother, Robert Knight Anderson, then in charge of the jail in Boksburg. The undated alteration drawing was prepared by J C Smith. Surviving correspondence in the Battiss family records - between Grace and 'uncle Bob' - refer to payment to Smith in 1960 and the flat was presumably constructed around this time.
When Giles Battiss returned to Pretoria in in September 1963, after three years in London, 'uncle Bob' was no longer living in the flat and Giles occupied it until he married in 1967.
Later the corner half erf and the full erf behind the house in 20th street were bought to increase the area of the garden. Grace Battiss passed away in 1975. Walter Battiss continued to live at Giotto's Hill until his passing in August 1982.
[Giles Battiss, son of Walter and Grace Battiss: May 2010; revised and extended January 2022]
The archive photos of the house under construction were sent to us by William MARTINSON and reproduced with kind permission of Grace Battiss, grandaughter of Walter and Grace Battiss.
For a history of Walter Battiss you can visit Wikipedia.
The property has now been turned into a Townhouse development called "Fook Island".