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Urquhart House Museum
Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape

Date:1806 - 1821
Type:Homestead
Style:Cape Dutch
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
32°15'00.95" S 24°32'18.40" E Alt: 752m

The house situated on Market Square and was built built between 1806 and 1821.

In 1912 Herbert Urquhart, former mayor of Graaff-Reinet acquired the house and it is from this time that the house got its name. It is now part of the Graaff-Reinet Museum.

(Gerald Humphrey 2014)

In 1993 Peter WHITLOCK was awarded the Cape Times Centenary Medal for Conservation, for the restoration of Urquhart House.

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The large erf at the southern extremity of Market Square, on which Urquhart House stands today, was granted in freehold to Johan Hendrik Greyling on 1 January 1806, which places it amongst the earliest plots transferred into private ownership in Graaff-Reinet Greyling sold the property to Jar Cornelis in 1821 for 36 000 Gilden, which seems to suggest that the house had already been erected on the plot.

The house, by virtue of its prominent position in the town and its lofty thatched roof and impressive front gable, must have been one of the outstanding buildings of the town. The front gable, an excellent example of a Cape neo-classical pilaster gable, was embellished with fine plaster ornamentation including an anchor and numerous floral stars. The reason for the incorporation of an anchor in the gable is unknown, but an anecdote records that "...the worthy builder of the house was in some way descended from the great Admiral van Tromp...and he placed his anchor in front of the house in honour of his ancestors." Another noteworthy owner of the property was Charles James Spiller, an 1820 Settler and secretary of the local Midland Agency and Trust Company until his tragic murder in May 1866. After changing hands a number of times the house (with the erf) was purchased by a prominent businessman, David Sebastian Martin Casper Carel Schultz. It was during his period of ownership that the house accommodated Cleg's Midland Hotel. An advertisement in a newspaper of the day proudly states: "The table will always show a good spread, and everything done to a turn. The bar will contain liquors of the best brands. The smoke room will be cool and comfortable, where you can enjoy a glass, a cigar and read the news. Good stabling for 30 horses. Good groom. good beds. Politeness and civility in abundance. free of charge."

Schultz was probably instrumental in "modernizing" the house towards the end of the nineteenth century. The gables were clipped, the former thatched roof was removed and replaced by a corrugated iron roof and a timber verandah was added, all to comply with the fashion of the time. Schultz's deceased estate sub-divided the large erf in 1912, the portion with the house on it being bought by Herbert Urquhart M.B.E., a well-loved Graaff Reinet businessman, and longest serving mayor in the history of the town, holding office for 21 consecutive years from 1915 to 1936. The municipality purchased the property from the Urquhart Estate in 1964. Having been the residence of Mr. Urquhart for over 50 years, the property has become known among the townsfolk as the "Urquhart House".

Today Urquhart House is a Victorian period museum. The outbuildings also house a Merino sheep breeding exhibition and farm implements. Urquhart House boasts a peach pip floor and archival repository.

(Museum pamphlet. Submitted by Mary Lange)

These notes were last edited on 2021 09 13


Writings about this entry

Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pg 569 ill
Richardson, Deidré. 2001. Historic Sites of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. pg 22