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Drostdy Museum Complex - Trades Yard : Ambagswerf
Swellendam, Western Cape

Client:Drostdy museum Trust
Style:Neo-Cape Dutch
Street:Swellengrebel Street


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34°01'05.52" S 20°27'10.98" E Alt: 144m

[What follows is extracted from the researches of Kathy Dumbrell (2019) from the various contemporary reports of the Drostdy Museum and published as 'Drostdy Museum Conservation Management Plan Phase Two: Identification and Assessment.']

The Ambagswerf was originally conceptualised as an open-air, country crafts museum, modeled on the Bokrijk open-air museum in Belgium. It is located on a portion of land behind the Old Gaol sold to the Trustees of the Drostdy Museum for a nominal sum.

History of the Ambagswerf
The history of each component building is outlined below, in chronological order of development.

Charcoal oven (1969)
The first exhibit built on the Ambagswerf was the charcoal oven in 1969 as an exact replica of the Charcoal Kiln on Voorhuis Farm, which was probably built by Hermanus Steyn d’Oude before the middle of the C18th.
In 1971 the charcoal oven partially collapsed due to heavy rains. Mr George Roode, who had built it originally, was commissioned for the rebuild.

Suurbraak smithy and wagon-maker’s workshop (1969)
[Buildings 3 and 4 on key]
The second exhibit to be built was the exact copy of the Suurbraak smithy, with a wagon-maker’s workshop adjoining it.
Mr Marthinus Wessels of Suurbraak had been a third-generation blacksmith in Suurbraak and was over seventy when he died. The complete workshop was bought from his widow. The building was measured up and photographs taken of the interior so that a replica of the building could be built with the contents of the original smithy correctly located.

Harness-maker’s, coppersmith’s, shoemaker’s and cobbler’s workshops (1971)
[Buildings 9 and 12 on key]
As all known local copperwork was made using the overlapped, rather than soldered, joint method, it was decided to reproduce a workshop of Van As who did copper-smithing in the country style. In 1972 the coppersmith’s tools as well as the lasts and other shoemaker’s tools were moved into the respective workshops. After a donation of an almost-complete set of cooper’s tools in 1971, it was decided in 1974 that the building originally intended as a harness-maker’s workshop should instead be set up as a cooperage exhibiting the various stages in the making of a cask.

Horse-mill and the water-mill (1971)
[Buildings 10 and 8 on key]
Late in 1970 a small, almost entire, pine horse-mill was donated by Mr Kleynhans of Rietfontein in the Sandveld. The horse-mill and re-building of the original Drostdy mill were the next projects to be undertaken in 1971. The location of the original water-mill had been found on the site with its foundation stones still in situ. From these and various records its size was determined and it was deduced that the miller lived at the mill building. The plan form was decided upon and the building was designed with steps between the living/ kitchen room and the bedroom and the bedroom and mill. The living rooms were (1972) given clay floors and the mill room slate flagstones, execept for where the machinery and platform was to be located. A sparretjie ceiling was installed over round beams in the living rooms and no ceiling in the mill room. The machinery was donated by Mr and Mrs Smit of Middelpunt, Klaasvoogdsrivier and rebuilt by Mr Johannes Loubser of Goree, Robertson, who volunteered his help in response to an article on the mill in Die Burger. Advice was sought from James WALTON (see 1974: 46-47) on the undershot water mill. Only three were known to have existed in the Cape – one of them the one at the Drostdy - but by 1971, none of these survived.
Originally, the water mill was supplied with water from a dam at the top of the hill, delivered by a leiwater furrow that was part of the town system, no longer considered a viable option due to water wastage. A pipe system, linking the vats at the tannery to the mill dam on the hill, with a pump was therefore installed. The Forestry Research Department in Pretoria assisted by specifying which local timbers to use to build the mill, and helped the museum source the wood from their Department, also assisting by making the 3m by 3m by 3m long axle for the mill out of black ironwood laminated from 25mm sections, using both waterproof glue and the traditional iron straps, and they also turned and inserted the iron axle in their workshop.
James WALTON assisted in the research into the exact shape of the old wheel of the Drostdy undershot water-mill by providing an enlarged drawing of the 'inside aspect of the rim of the Vergelegen mill' which 'very clearly showed the grooves into which the paddles had once fitted and also gave some idea of the width of the rim. Mr Loubser of Robertson used this information to make scale drawings for the construction of the Drostdy mill machinery.
The horse-mill building was based on the plan of the mill building in Aurora (where the complete donkey mill had come from) but made 900mm wider from back to front. In the end, the Aurora mill and parts of an incomplete mill donated some years before by Dr Hey were combined to build the composite mill now on display in the building.
By 1972 the horse-mill was almost in working order. A driving belt had been made of twisted ox-hide. Mill stones were brought from near Ceres and the old mill dam’s wall was rebuilt. The original outlet was found, a new furrow cut down the hill and lined with stones and, when all tested, it was found that exactly the right amount of water was delivered to turn the wheel, which turned smoothly and so the first wheat could be ground. The mill was officially set to work at the 1974 AGM.
The mill-wheel was replaced in 1982 with one made of teak in the museum workshop. At the same time, adjustments were made to the machinery to make the grinding more efficient. The flour being ground was increasingly sought after. [See also Staples, 2006]

The stables (1971-2)
[Building 7 on key]
The stable building was built to house the two horses that it was hoped would turn the mill. A drain connected to the town sewerage system was installed at the insistence of the Municipality. It could also accommodate the two cows that browsed the property, keeping grass short as part of the museum’s 'defense against fire'. The fronts for the mangers and a rooihartbees horn to build into the wall as a hook were donated from a ruined stable on Leeuwfontein.

Norse Mill (1972)
Dr COOK reported in 1972 that the pit for the Scandinavian mill from the Gamkaskloof had been dug and floored with slate. The walls of the mill house had been built up to roof-level, with provision for both the incoming and outgoing stream. Work did not progress on the Norse mill between 1972 and 1976. It was noted in 1976 that it was hoped work would re-commence during 1977. However, no further mention was made of the Norse mill.

The tannery building (1974)
[Building 9 on key]
The tannery building was designed in 1971, based on a study of the remains of the Van Noordwyk Tannery is Swellendam. The contents of this tannery had been donated to the museum and were destined to become the tannery exhibit. A visit to the working Nothnagel Tannery in Napier completed the research. In the same year, the Napier tannery closed and its equipment was bought and donated to the museum. Together with the equipment donated by Mr Van Noordwyk, a very well- equipped tannery exhibit could be created.

These notes were last edited on 2022 06 13

Writings about this entry

Staples, Chester O. 2006. Mills of Southern Africa : water, wind and horse. Pretoria: Umdaus. pg 13 ill; 17 ill, 18 ill, 32-34
Walton, James. 1974. Water-mills windmills and horse-mills of South Africa. Cape Town and Johannesburg: C Struik Publishers. pg 46-47