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Blockhouses, small temporary forts, were initially constructed by the British ROYAL ENGINEERS during the South African War as part of the defences for the railways and were later used as an instrument in the containment strategy.

Wood Pattern Blockhouse

The design was developed by the army's chief engineer in South Africa, General Sir Elliot Wood, who based it upon a similar pattern he had used in the Sudan during the 1880s. Although Wood's design was excellent and did good service in guarding the railway links, it was too substantial and hence too expensive and time-consuming to build. The first of the blockhouses were constructed by A Troop for the defence of the railway bridges in Natal during the advance for the relief of Ladysmith. Blockhouses were also built along the railway on Roberts' advance on Bloemfontien and then into the Transvaal.

In July 1901, blockhouses, as an instrument in the containment strategy, were erected across open country so that the theatre of war was covered by a network of defensible posts. They were usually sited at a distance 0.8km to 1,2km apart. In the intervals between them were placed wire entanglements and other obstacles such as spring guns and other forms of alarms.

Blockhouse construction

The the body of the structure, 2-3 storeys in height, was built of whatever material was locally readily to hand - stone, masonry or concrete - within which was incorporated all the prefabricated steel defensive elements such as the machicoulis galleries and loopholes.

Rice Pattern Blockhouse

In 1901 Major SR RICE, ROYAL ENGINEERS, using the simpler method of construction to meet demand, invented an octagonal blockhouse, thereafter a circular one which could be prefabricated. It was made of upright wooden posts with a double sheathing of corrugated iron, the cavity between the two sheaths was filled with sand, rock, stone or shingle to render the building bullet proof.


By the end of the war about 8 000 blockhouses had been erected across southern Africa, dispersed over a total length of about 6 000km. While it was terms of the Treaty of Vereeniging that all structures of war be demolished, this was not feasible for the majority of the Wood Type structures, many of which are now Provincial Heritage Resources, and all of which are covered by the National Heritage Resources Act (25 of 1999). The Rice Pattern blockhouses were more readily dismantled and did service for those Boers who returned to their farmsteads devastated by the scorched-earth practices as materials for temporary shelter or housing of domesticated stock. However some survive as ruins or reconstructions.

[FRESCURA, Blockhouses of the South African War. Posted on the Heritage Portal, Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 18:35; Royal Engineers Museum, Corps History - Part 9]

Laingsburg district

Stormberg district