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Westminster Estate Buildings: The Big House
Tweespruit district, Free State

BAKER, MASEY and SLOPER: Architect

Style:Arts and Crafts : Baker School

At the end of the South African War, Lord Milner sponsored a settlement scheme in that part of the Orange Free State which stretched roughly from Thaba Nchu to Wepener. This area was known as 'The Conquered Territory' because it was the scene of the wars between the Free State Burghers and the Basuto people. The settlers were mainly ex-servicemen and they were given a piece of land, two artillery horses, a wagon and a plough and were expected to fend for themselves.

Lord Milner suggested to the young Duke of Westminster that he should start a similar scheme on a smaller scale and bring out settlers for it from his estates in the United Kingdom. The Duke bought nearly ten thousand morgen of fine grassland stretching eastward from the present Agricultural Farm near Twee-spruit to some four miles beyond Westminster Station. This cost about eight pounds a morgen. On the north side of this area he established his home and built the Big House, outbuildings, stables and a house for an agent. The rest of the land was divided into farms of about four hundred morgen and a house and a stable were built on each. Water was found for each farm, a windmill erected and, when this was accomplished, the Westminster estate was settled with both local men and men from England. Except for Ormonde, which was named after a famous horse belonging to the Duke, the farms were named after various Westminster estates in Britain. The names are Belgrave, Eaton, Grosvenor, Madersfield, Broxton, Aldford, Newlands, Malpas, Beauchamp, Lumley, Eccleston, Halkyn, Shaftsbury, Wyndham, Crichton, Chesam and Ormonde. A schoolhouse was built on the top of a rising near Westminster station.

(Greig 1970:142)

2015 02 14: An article in Die Burger states that the buildings and gardens are being well managed by Helen and Rupert Fitzmaurice. Helen's grandfather Charles Thatch­er was the manager of the estate. His son, ­Michael (Mike) Thatcher, took over and now it is in the charge of Helen en Rupert.

Some personal recollections sent to us by Lauretta Bloemhoff.

"I grew up on the farm Halkyn which belonged to the then owner, Captain George Webster. My father managed the farm for him. My parents were Jakobus and Joyce van Staden : Dad was fondly called 'Van' by the mostly English speaking community of Westminster. The farm of our home friends, Jack and Ruth Armour, Ormonde, was adjacent to Halkyn and we often used to travel by horse and cart to visit each other. I do remember as a little and young girl how we were invited every year, when Lady Mary Grosvenor came to South Africa to stay at her estate, to attend her very special High Tea event : for all of us this was the event of the year – what wonderful times with all guests dressed up smartly and everything presented so grand and tasteful in true English style. Lady Mary was so humble and did not look down on anyone – wonderful times, wish I could turn the clock back."

Writings about this entry

Baker, Herbert. 1944. Architecture & personalities. London: Country Life. pg 55-56
Greig, Doreen. 1970. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: PURNELL. pg 143-145
Keath, Michael. 1992. Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism 1892 - 1913: The South African Years. Gibraltar: Ashanti Pub. Ltd.. pg 102-103 ill, 105, 107
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1977. Victorian Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 377
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pg 128-129 ill
Viney, Graham with Proust, Alain (Photography). 1987. Colonial houses of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik-Winchester. pg 207-219