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Reinet House - Old Pastorie - Museum
Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape

Date:1812
Type:Parsonage
Style:Cape Dutch
Status:Extant
Street:Murray Street

 


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Coordinates:
32°15'04.20" S 24°32'19.33" E

When the traveller Burchell stayed with the Rev Kicherer in 1812, he told of the building of the new Pastorie, a magnificent gabled house designed in the Cape Dutch manner, though with overtones of classicism. Built by the Cape Government, the design of the Pastorie is of bold simplicity, and suggests the hand of Thibault, who at that time was the Government Architect and Inspector of Buildings, though this can only be assumed and is not mentioned in Burchell's journals. Burchell does, however, mention details of the building operations carried out by slaves under the supervision of a master builder from Cape Town. Members of the congregation supplied the building materials and the yellowwood and thatch were brought by ox wagon from Bosberg and Baviaans River, and the stoep paving stones from the Gats River.

The large H-plan house stands high, the broad stoep raised above arcaded basements, and approached by sweeping steps. The elegantly simple main gable is pedimented, whereas the end-gables are more elaborate. The pilasters running up the facade are topped by urns, and the front door is set within a classical architrave. At the rear of the house curved steps lead down to the garden where the huge vine planted in 1870 by the Rev Charles Murray sprawls over a considerable area. There are too a number of outhouses, although the basement of the house supplied storage and slave quarters, as well as a coach house, wine cellars and accommodation for visitors. The rooms of the piano nobile are high and spacious, sumptuous with yellow-wood floors and ceiling beams; there are the usual voorkamer and agterkamer, with doors leading off to the other main rooms and to the kitchen. The many-paned windows are large, giving a feeling of airiness to the interior. The double front door is unusual, and although English-Georgian in concept, it curves in a baroque manner beneath the fanlight.

The Rev Kicherer was the first incumbent to use the fine new parsonage, to be succeeded in 1818 by the Rev Abraham Faure. From 1822 Andrew Murray Snr. lived at the Pastorie until his death in 1866, when his son Charles became the pastor. Not long after this it became necessary to replace the roof of the Pastorie. As thatching was scarce and also because it was regarded as a fire hazard, it was replaced with corrugated iron with guttering and the pitch of the roofs was altered, necessitating the removal of the gables. At the same time, the original doors and windows were replaced by stock-pattern woodwork. In 1904, 82 years after his father had first come to the Pastorie, Charles died, and his sister Ellen stayed on, renaming it Reinet House, and running a hostel for young ladies.

Eventually the old building became derelict and was threatened with demolition; however, by 1956 sufficient funds had been made available for the Pastorie to be restored as a museum this was done under the direction of Norman EATON. In 1981 a disastrous fire partially destroyed the fabric of the house, so once again it was restored, though in a more authentic manner, remaining one of the country's most important museums.

Undoubtedly one of the finest buildings in Graaff-Reinet, the Parsonage faces down Pastorie Street towards the Drostdy, whilst on the left is the Residency. These imposing buildings, together with a number of smaller Karoo-Georgian houses, form one of the most splendid historical conservation areas in the land.

(Picton-Seymour 1989: 90-91)

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1966 restoration document by Norman EATON

Reinet House/ Old Dutch Reformed church Parsonage (Restored)

Restoration architect: Eaton, Norman

[1966]

Restoration of Buildings [In Conservation of our heritage. Part 1. Preservation of old buildings and historic relics. 1966. Cape Town: Caltex. Sp.]

NORMAN EATON, A.R.I.B.A., M.I.A., Herbert Baker Rome Scholar (1930), S.A. Akademie Medal of Honour, Hon. Architect Reinet House Restoration (1952-1956).

The reason for preserving the best of our historic buildings, or groups of buildings, is not only that they are objects of interest and pride concerning the life and achievement of our forbears but that they are, and should remain in the future, reliable references regarding everything that contributed to this achievement.

Where such buildings have "become" damaged by neglect or inappropriate alteration it becomes necessary to restore them. If, thereafter, they are to retain their proper character and their full value as references, it is imperative that such restoration shall be historically accurate and be kept in the right context from both the structural and the aesthetic points of view.

To ensure as great an historical accuracy and trueness of character as possible a careful restoration procedure has to be followed. Let us look briefly at the main operations, in chronological order, and relate them, for clarity's sake, to a particular historic building the restoration of which was carried out under my direction.

This was the early eighteenth century Dutch Reformed Church Parsonage in Graaff-Reinet, today known as Reinet House.

The headings under which these main operations take place are:
Investigation in Loco, or "getting to know the remains".
Research, or "getting to know the history of the place".
Preparation of Restoration Documents, or "detailed instructions to builder".
Building Work, or "getting back to the original".
Furnishing or "appropriately re-clothing the original".
The more important detailed work to be carried out under these main headings is as follows:

Investigation in Loco

Carefully "measuring up" and recording in the form of architectural drawing (and with photographs wherever possible) everything that exists — old and new.

It is most important that nothing is disturbed, removed or changed before this record is completed. So much about the building has to be discovered and understood before all evidence of what originally existed and what was later added is properly collated. Mistakes can easily be made in the initial stages which would be difficult to rectify without reference to such a record. It may be noted that in cases where it has proved impossible to save an interesting historic building from demolition this first operation can still be carried out and forms an invaluable record of it for the future.

Two historic houses of Transvaal Republican days recently demolished in Pretoria — those of General Piet Joubert and of Braspeda de Perreira — have been recorded by me in this way. Carefully locating and then removing all obviously later additions of no historic value (or which detract from the homogeneity of the architectural ensemble if this was originally of high order) so as to leave the original spaces clear.

In the case of Reinet House these were mainly flimsy internal wooden partitions and ladder-like stairways connecting ground floor rooms to those under them in the basement.

Searching for all original built-up door, window, cupboard and other openings by the removal of plaster, first in horizontal bands at strategic levels and then in greater areas as these openings become pinpointed.

In Reinet House this operation revealed, among other things, "toothing" recesses in the gable wall of the north-east room, confirming that a central chimney breast and fireplace of the width indicated had originally existed here. This was further verified by a large foundation projection in the basement, a patched-up opening in the "solder" floor and a large unaccountable crack down the middle of the gable which, it then became clear, had resulted from the weakening effect which the removal of this internal chimney-stack had had, and which its replacement has remedied.

Excavating at strategic points to find evidence of buried pavements or old foundation walls, and also to study the depth and nature of the main foundations themselves.

In this way, at Reinet House, a wide area of unknown and unexpected original cobble-stone pavement buried under some eighteen inches of soil came to light as well as the footings of a long enclosing courtyard wall—the obvious twin of one already existing on the opposite side. Studying all the original materials temporarily laid bare; and, as far as possible, measuring and describing and photographing them for future reference before they were covered up again.

Research

Researching into building practice at the time of the original building, and studying contemporary buildings of the same place and period which have remained intact and unaltered.

This knowledge is imperative in cases where there is absolutely no evidence about the shape and character of missing features and where appropriate details have to be applied. Instances of this in the Reinet House restoration were the "Garden" Gable, of which no record could be found, and the Kitchen Hearth of which two beam brackets and a mysterious bakoond opening in an unusual place were all that remained. In the case of the Gable, it was decided to adopt and adapt a most interesting contemporary one which had once been part of an adjoining house. This gable had been removed many years ago but I had obtained an excellent photograph of it. Arranging for its reconstruction in this way seemed to me to provide not only an appropriate feature for our own building but to record for all time one of the same period that had been lost elsewhere in the town. Being a "blood relation", as it were, it was expected to fit satisfactorily into the picture; and I am happy to say that on completion it fulfilled this promise.

The Kitchen Hearth, and also all upper chimney spaces, had disappeared with the gable and had to be reconstructed from the bottom up. The depth and height of the hearth opening were fixed by the shaped wood corbel brackets of the original hearth beam found in their original positions on opposite walls of the room. With this apparently slender but quite good commencing evidence — if one knows the Cape work — I reconstructed here a typical Cape hearth-over-chimney arrangement of the period such as is still seen today at, for instance, the old Drostdy at Swellendam, with the oven door opening onto the raised hearth.

There was found behind the plaster an old arched oven opening in original brickwork, with typical splayed reveals to facilitate manipulation of the bread ladles, but placed in the main wall separating the hearth space from an adjoining internal room with a suspended wood floor. Had this been the only opening to the oven the arrangement would have been unpractical and even dangerous, since the live coals and smoke discharged in normal use onto the kitchen hearth and into its chimney would have entered this relatively un-ventilated and inflammable room. It seemed to me possible that this might have been a second opening into the oven through which, after all the dirty work had been done on the other side, the housewife did her special baking in the privacy and cleanliness of her own workroom. It was an interesting thought; but because I could find no precedent for it at the Cape I did not fully reconstruct it this way but left the old arch exposed against the solid back-end of the normal oven as a "blind" opening for others to inspect and decide about in the future.

Searching for documentary evidence by way of Family Correspondence, Church Minutes, Travellers Books, Official Documents, Old Title Deeds, Early Town Plans and such like.

Tracking down these possible sources of information and searching among them is a slow process, and, like panning for gold, can prove very un-rewarding most of the time. But here and there a detail emerges; and it is sometimes remarkable how something seemingly insignificant enlarges itself when seen against the background of the general picture.

Searching for any old sketches or photographs which might indicate the original appearance of different parts of the building.

Photography — which only really came into limited use for the first time about 1850 — may seem an unreliable form of record for an early 19th century building; but it was, in fact, an excellent 1866 photograph by a local photographer, Rowe (of equal calibre, in my opinion, to his famous contemporary Arthur ELLIOT of Cape Town), coupled with a bold if somewhat amateurish sketch of 1813 (said to have been done by the missionary Campbell), which clearly defined beyond all reasonable doubt the Parsonage's original main front which had disappeared.

Questioning old citizens of the locality and descendants of those that occupied the building who might possess documentary evidence, re-tell tales and legends or remember features of the place and the life formerly lived in it.

It was from these sources that I heard the date of the first arrival of corrugated iron in Graaff-Reinet and uncovered the complicated set of circumstances that probably accounted for the removal of the original thatch roof, gables, doors and windows of the Parsonage causing the terrible mutilation seen in the 1952 photograph taken just before restoration work began.

There was also revealed the interesting and unusual fact that the kitchen floor, although it appeared, at first, to be a normal suspended board floor as used in the rest of the house, was known, in 1880 and thereabouts, to have been regularly smeared with mis (dung) once a week in the manner customary in early country houses. This means that it must originally have carried a brak or clay covering like the brandsolder to take this finish. Subsequent checking showed that the boarded surface of this floor had been dropped about 3 inches below the other floors adjoining it. This seemed to clinch the matter. While the Trustees would not agree, for practical reasons, to the restoration of the mis, the brick covering is there to take it should this become possible in the future.

Preparation of Restoration Documents

Collating and preparing all the above evidence in the form of plans, details and written instructions in readiness for the beginning of the actual work of restoration.

While these documents must be carefully prepared and fully detailed, it must be stressed that they can, even then, not be regarded as final. Everyone must be kept on the look-out all the time for new evidence of what originally existed in all parts of the structure down to the smallest detail; with alterations and changes made to the instructions when and wherever necessary.

Where frequent, continuous, personal supervision on the part of the restoring architect cannot be undertaken, these documents, and the written instructions accompanying them, have to be even more clear and ample than usual.

Building Work

Provision for flexibility and continuous on-the-spot decisions in all arrangements for rebuilding and repair.

Because of the need for flexibility and on-the-spot decisions from time to time, normal contracting and tendering conditions are as impractical economically as they are undesirable from a control point of view. In the case of Reinet House it was decided to employ workmen under the guidance of a "Clerk of Works" on a cost-plus-salary basis.

Fortunately a well-known and sympathetic builder with a lifetime of experience in local conditions was willing to act; and Coloured workmen (probably the descendants of the slaves who originally built the building) were employed to carry out the work slowly, bit by bit, "on approval" as it were, until it was clear that the right results were being obtained.

This may sound rather haphazard in terms of modern building methods, and certainly trebles supervision, but I am convinced that it is the only satisfactory way to carry out unfamiliar and interpretative work of this kind. Furthermore, the ultimate cost in this case was very considerably less than it would have been in a normal contract in, say, Cape Town or Pretoria — had such a contract been feasible.

Searching for authentic building materials and built-in fittings.

As the slow process of reconstruction went on at Reinet House, so did the search for materials to replace those lost in the former changes to the house. Old Yellow-wood Beams and Floor Boards (complete with worm-holes!) from current local demolitions were patiently collected and stored, not only for replacements of these particular items but to be cut up for use in replicas of such as the original windows, doors, shutters and cupboard fronts. The replicas were constructed by the local craftsmen of a small joinery firm to careful detailed drawings accompanied by much personal discussion and demonstration.

Two ornamental Wall Cupboards removed from the achterhuis were tracked down to their then owners (one as far away as Florida in the Transvaal) who were persuaded to donate them back; and, after careful restoration, they were returned to their original recesses in this room.

Flagstones and Cobbles were brought from what is believed to have been their original sources on the Gatsrivier; and Dekriet for the roof from the coastal dunes as would originally have been necessary.

Hinges (both the butt and strap varieties) Bracketted Pivots, Bolts, Fasteners, Hearth Irons, Dowels, Stays, all Fixing Nails and finally even the 18th century Lock Replicas were beaten out of iron, by craftsmen skilled in traditional methods, to match actual originals where these were available or to careful details based on contemporary examples where they were not.

In fact, in every possible detail visible or invisible the utmost effort was made to achieve authenticity. A hundred-and-one other problems concerning finishes, fire protection, lighting, water supply and the like — where the temptation to use modern methods was strong — had to be dealt with. But in all cases the attempt was to provide for the practical needs in such a way as to remain as close as possible to the techniques used at the time the building was originally built.

All this took time. It involved a great deal of patience, and constant disappointment, frustration and renewed effort — often requiring a firm faith in the ultimate value of this approach to remain constant to it. But in the end I am still convinced that it is the only certain way to obtain the right results.

Maintaining the authentic surface finishes employed by the craftsmen of the time.

Working, as we have to do, with present-day operatives, one of the great difficulties is to get them to give that handmade quality to such things as plaster and wood surfaces which the free use of the craftsman's hand and eye — to say nothing of his heart — gave to the old buildings and contributed so great a part of their charm. The present-day workman has largely lost his individuality and, relying too much on his tools and mechanical aids, can no longer "do what comes naturally" without becoming slovenly. In the case of Reinet House one of the results was that, notwithstanding careful written and verbal instructions on the point, the mouldings, arrises and plaster work generally were, in my absence, sharply and smoothly run; and it will take many years and succeeding coats of whitewash to produce some semblance of those humanized shapes and surfaces which I had hoped to recapture.

Allowable variations from the original.

Only where circumstances, or a lack of information, prevents the replacement of an original arrangement or feature should a variation be considered permissible.

In the case of Reinet House, the only variation from what was originally known to exist — apart from two of the outer enclosing walls to its site which had been greatly reduced and the main "garden" gable previously mentioned — was the extensive new pillared trellis for the great historic vine. Its original scope having been so much curtailed by property subdivisions since the time when its main stem was said to have travelled some 400 feet (122 meters) into the old garden, I felt that this generous if concentrated area was a fitting final resting place for it. The full beauty of its vigorous spread could here be more easily shown and appreciated.

The vine trellis is mentioned as an instance where a decision had to be made to add a feature clearly not belonging to the original building. The reason for such an act must be good if it is to succeed. And the methods used must be such as to keep it strictly attuned to the character of the whole, leaving one inwardly satisfied that, in similar circumstances during the early history of the building, a similar act could easily have occurred.

Completion of building work.

In the case of Reinet House it took four years for the seemingly endless process to come to fruition. But, in the light of all available evidence and all probability, the house returned once more, inside and out, to the form which it must originally have possessed in, say, 1850 or thereabouts. That length of time underlines the patience required.

Furnishing

Acquiring and displaying appropriate contemporary furniture and other building equipment and embellishment in keeping with the customs and activities of the period.

With the completion of building work it might be thought that the process of restoration had ended. But a most important question remained before the whole operation was truly fulfilled, namely how to equip and run the place. My report on Reinet House on this point at the time recommended "that it be done with selected and appropriate pieces of the best local furniture, household equipment, pictures, carpets and other adornments of this period in such a way as to recapture the atmosphere of an 18th century home and garden in all its aspects". On moving through it, one should everywhere have a sense of its being "lived in" by its original occupants — even to the extent, every now and then, of having a steaming copper kettle hanging over a fire on the kitchen hearth; the smell of baking bread escaping from the bakoond; onions, potatoes and ripening fruit on the "solder"; "pot-pouri" and strong scented flowers in the "parlour"; and all other things which are somehow inseparable from what might be described as the olfactory character of the old Cape homesteads.

This, I realized, would take time. But I felt that any delay would be better than allowing the old home to degenerate permanently into a cluttered museum.

Contributions from local families, which included pieces originally in the house, have already been received but so also have all sorts of other completely inappropriate oddities — such, for instance, as a large glass case containing a model bungalow built of porcupine quills! — additions which for various local reasons could not be refused and which, sad to relate, are for many people still too great an attraction in themselves to seem incongruous.

The disturbing presence of other glass cases will be unavoidable until an adjoining outbuilding, provided for in future plans, removes from the house the museum atmosphere which these things inevitably create.

Conclusion

It will be seen that the procedure described is somewhat akin to that used by archaeologists in piecing together their finds. It is with the same open-minded submission to the facts — coupled as it must be with an informed knowledge and sensibly regarding the aesthetics of a past era — that the architect for this very special sort of work must approach it if the prime purpose of restoration is to be achieved.


Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 119
Hartdegen, Paddy. 1988. Our building heritage : an illustrated history. South Africa: Ryll's Pub. Co. on behalf of the National Development Fund for the Building Industry. pg 52
Immelman, René Ferdinand Malan & Quinn, Gerald Dennis. 1968. The Preservation and restoration of historic buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 41-48
Eaton, Norman Aims and procedures in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings: in Immelman, René Ferdinand Malan and Quinn, Gerald Dennis (Eds). 1968. The Preservation and restoration of historic buildings in South Africa: pp 41-48