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Drostdy Museum Complex - Gaol
Swellendam, Western Cape

George WALLIS: Architect

Date:late 1700s onwards


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34°01'06.25" S 20°27'09.35" E Alt: 146m

(Langham-Carter MS:23)

Part of the Drostdy Museum Complex.

Transcript of Blue plaque honouring Mary Cook:


1902 - 1981

In recognition of her pioneer work
in identifying and conserving the old
buildings of the Cape and especially
those in Swellendam where she
lived for a number of years


Statement of significance

Declared a National Monument in 1951 (now a Provincial Heritage Resource).

The primary significance of the building is in its contribution and relationship to the historic streetscape, its significance within the social history of Swellendam, firstly as a place of residence for Company (VoC) officials, as a place of punishment and incarceration and later as rental accommodation for poorer inhabitants of the town.
Despite the numerous interventions in its fabric over the decades, the Gaol building is highly significant. While much of the fabric (notably joinery) has been replaced over the years, the quality of replicas used has not irreparably eroded the accuracy of the built fabric exhibited. As the intangible significances of the building are higher than the intrinsic, the replicas in the fabric do not reduce the significance of the building. The symbolic and socio-historical significance of the rear courtyard and cells is high, as they illustrate an early C18-C19 space of punishment and incarceration that had evolved from a VoC institution into the period of British colonialism. It must be noted that the C18th cells no longer exist, but the official and or social structures of the VoC period seem to have remained, with officials living in houses in front of the gaol. This demonstrates a continuity between the British and Dutch periods that is of interest and significance and thus the residential components of the building are also of high significance.

It has association with the local and national personage and authoress MER (ME Rothmann) and particularly as home to the Maternity Clinic of the movement, the Afrikaanse Christelike Vroue Vereeniging (ACVV) of which she served as first secretary.
The building has significance as both home to the early conservationist Dr Mary Cook and serves as an example of a thorough restoration by Dr Mary Cook undertaken from 1967 until 1974.
The building (and in particular the courtyard) has high symbolic significance to descendants of first peoples and slaves for its role in the C18 and C19 colonial enterprise as a place of punishment with its associated unfair and discriminatory laws and practices.

Architectural character,

(see Fransen 2006:455-456)

Despite the name only a portion of this building served as a gaol. The front wings always served as living accommodation for officials attached to the Drostdy.
The north-west wing is considered as old as the Drostdy, called the Secretary’s House - although he was housed elsewhere until c1813 – hence representative of the VoC period of Cape rule. The north-west wing was built probably before 1804 – but certainly before 1808 – hence in the period of Batavian rule at the Cape. It mirrors the opposite wing except for the absence of some features such as wall-cupboards and a stoep wall, as befits the lower status of the under-sheriff. In about 1804 two T-wings housing cells were attached replacing the lean-to gaol, creating a T-T plan-form. The Hopley plan of 1827 shows each wing having a small gable – not, as yet, reinstated in any restoration. While much of the woodwork has been replaced throughout various phases of restoration, there remain novel features, some unique to this building, and it, as an assemblage, serves as a good architectural representation of the evolution of the Cape vernacular in civic service through the centuries after colonialism, and even as a concrete reflection of attitudes to its conservation in the C20 and C21.

(What follows is transliterated after Brundell 2019: ‘Drostdy Museum Conservation Management Plan Phase Two: Identification and Assessment’)

Historical background

The Gaol building was originally one, barn-shaped building (longhouse), with two short back wings, facing what is now Swellengrebel Street as recorded on a map by Josephus Jones dated 1790 (Thomas 1995). Lady Anne Barnard again depicted this form in 1798. By 1808 and again in 1815, it is shown with the back wings extended with flat roofs. I the 1827 Hopley plan, these wings are depicted as having thatched, pitched roofs and gables. By 1844 a large lean-to building and a wall down the centre of the courtyard are shown in the Hopley plan. The lean-to building is reputed by Dr Mary Cook to have housed two cells, which were in use until at least 1862, when the new town gaol was built.
From 1874, when the building was sold by the State ownership, the building was used, first as flats. It was bought early in the C20th by the Steyn family. In 1946, the building was bought for £2 500 [R 5 000] from Miss Nita Steyn and Mrs Nina Barry (of Mayville), with the condition that the caretaker should receive free accommodation in the Gaol building and that the other three portions of the building be rented out to pay for all repairs and maintenance. In 1950 an attempt was made to build a new jail on the property, but this was thwarted by the residents of Swellendam and the building was declared a National Monument in 1951.
The result of this arrangement was that the Caretaker lived in the Secretary’s house.

History of the Gaol building as part of the museum complex

As Curator of the museum, Dr Mary Cook lived in the Under-Sheriff’s house from 1964 to 1974.
From 1965, the building was incrementally restored to its c1828 form – a gaol with two residential components in the front wing. The residential components were restored first, to house the Caretaker and Curator of the museum. Until 1971 (when it was given a thatched roof), the Gaol building had whitewashed walls and a corrugated iron roof painted black (Museum Annual Report 1960; Museum Annual Report 1971: 21).
The cells were opened to the public in c1973 and, from 1977, access for visitors to the Ambagswerf was through the central doorway of the Gaol and into the old Constable’s Office (used as Dr Cook’s study during her tenure as Curator), which was fitted out as a Museum Shop where tickets to the Ambagswerf exhibits, as well as other products and publications, were sold (Museum Annual Report 1977: 3).
In 1980, much of the Gaol, including cells (despite their earthen floors, which exuded damp), was still being used for storage and Colin Cochrane (then curator) described the building as ‘under-utilised’ (Museum Annual Report 1980: 8).
On 28 November 1984, the building was transferred from the State to the Board of Trustees (Museum Annual Report 1984/5: 7).

Interventions in the building fabric since 1946

Interventions during the Curatorship of LL Tomlinson In 1958, the middle portion of the Gaol building was cleared and inhabited again. The buildings were described as being in ‘neat and in good condition’ (Museum Annual Report 1958.
In the heavy rains of 1962, the north-east rear gable ‘gave trouble’ and was reinforced with anchors. It held well through the 1963 rains (Museum Annual Report 1963).

First interventions under Dr Cook’s leadership, 1964-5

In the 1964 Annual Report, Dr Cook outlined the work proposed to be undertaken during 1965 by PWD. The Old Gaol was to be provided with waterborne sewerage, water laid on inside the building and kitchen sinks, bathrooms and proper drainage installed. A block of four lavatories was to be built for visitors. All this arose out of the need for improved sanitation and for repairs and ‘elementary amenities’ in the part of the building earmarked to house the Curator. In 1964, Dr Hey (head of the Department of Nature Conservation, which ran Provincial Museums at the time) visited the Museum to assess the requests being made for work on the Old Gaol. He was ‘impressed by the possibilities of the Old Gaol’ and grasped, Dr Cook reported, that the Drostdy was part of a ‘larger administrative unit’ which included the official dwellings, the gardens, the grazing land, the wagon-houses and buildings, the gallows-hill and the huge gaol oven. As a result of his visit, he motivated that the PWD undertake the necessary work. The Curator then measured up the building and researched its earlier condition and form. Dr Cook was of the opinion that what survived gave ‘an almost complete and very detailed picture of what the building was like in the early 19th century” (Museum Annual Report 9164:3). She acknowledged that some, small ‘adaptations’ were going to be unavoidable. ‘Clay floors, for instance, would affect the type of person willing to live in the Old Gaol. (Museum Annual Report 1964:3).
The proposed restoration was to bring the building ‘as far as is possible, to the state it was in the 1820s when the thatch roofs on the two prison wings were new’. The front part of the building had 6 inch (150mm wide) pine-plank floors that had replaced its old clay floors in the late C19th and were, in Dr Cook’s assessment, ‘now at the end of their life’ and therefore new floors were to be installed.
Boekenhout ceilings were discovered in at least one room and so they wished to install boekenhout floors. Mr Hennie van Zyl of Malta donated enough boekenhout trees to make the floors. Most of the original ceilings were still in place above the matchboard ‘under-ceilings’, but in need of repair or replacement. An interesting detail noted was that, other than the main rooms, where the ceilings were of wide yellow-wood planks, the ceilings were of staves (sparretjies), which is a construction ‘unknown in the Western Cape and Boland’ and so should be preserved (Museum Annual Report 1964:6).
Dr Cook noted that the building displayed a number of variations in detailing compared with Boland buildings of the same age and that these were to be ‘preserved and maintained’ (Museum Annual Report 1965:3). The building originally had yellow wood beams, used sparingly and no yellow wood planks, either for floors or ceilings. The floors were clay (misvloere). Doors, both interior and exterior, were of the board and batten type and the inside doors appeared to have had no locks but rather only wrought-iron snecks.
There were no floor tiles and limited brassware in the building originally. In the restoration, it was proposed to use boekenhout floors in the rooms with boekenhout ceilings and to use slate in ‘certain other rooms’ (Museum Annual Report 1965:4).
In 1965, after PWD notified the museum that there would only be funding to lay on the waterborne sewerage to the residential components of the Gaol, intense lobbying of officials and politicians at all levels was undertaken, resulting in a special grant of R7 000 being allocated and “a gratifying amount of choice and responsibility in using it” being accorded to the museum (Museum Annual Report 1965:2). A further grant was made in 1966, making it possible to complete the Curator’s house and restore the Caretaker’s house (Museum Annual Report 1966:21).

The Under-sheriff’s house, 1966

In 1963, the last tenant (Mr PJ Langenhoven) in the largest flat (on the southern corner of the building) was given notice in order for this flat to be converted into the new Curator’s dwelling.
During 1965, several doors in the Curator’s flat were ‘put back in their proper positions’, as was one double casement window (Museum Annual Report 1965:3). The bricked-up original places of two more windows and one more door in the east wing of the building were discovered and windows and a door were found for these. The opening of the 10 foot long gaol oven was found in 1964 and, in 1965, an old oven door that fitted it exactly was made by the blacksmith in Suurbraak. The Gaol oven was reconstructed in 1965, using the Hopley plan (1827) for its dimensions and research by Dr Cook in the Langkloof and elsewhere into existing old oven vaults (MR 1965:11). In addition, unnecessary and recent partitions were removed in the Curator’s house.
In 1966, work continued on the Curator’s house. The kitchen yard had a lean-to bathroom in one corner and the bucket-lavatory building filled the space of the old gateway. These were both removed. The Hopley (1827) plan showed that a doorway once linked the yard with the Under Sheriff’s office. When this was investigated, the original sides of the opening, with their lime-wash intact, were found. The ‘fill’ was removed and the door re-instated. The broken and irregular cement surface of the yard was removed and the ground dug out a foot (300mm) deeper (Museum Annual Report 1966:12). A concrete apron with slate paving laid over it was built and a drainage ditch laid along the edge of the apron. The yard was also given a concrete slab with slate paving over it (Museum Annual Report 1966:13).
The kitchen of the Curator’s flat revealed yellow wood beams and about two-thirds of the old sparretjies solder above matchboard ceilings, which were removed and the sparretjies sprayed white. Sparrejies from another ceiling, too damaged to repair, were used to complete the kitchen ceiling. The walls were painted ‘flat white’ as they had been painted before and so lime-wash would not have found purchase. The outer door was replaced with a new frame and fanlight and set one step lower than before. The floor was given a 3?4” screed to bring it level with the other floors and a light coloured vinyl tile laid (Museum Annual Report 1966:14).
An electric water heater was installed in the roof above the bathroom in order to have the shortest pipe-run to both kitchen and bathroom. The room had inadequate fenestration, but by using reflected light from the courtyard and light colours in the room, this was mitigated (Museum Annual Report 1966:15). A door with coloured glass in the upper half had replaced the original window in the bedroom in c1900 and so the window was re-instated with a modern replica. The window in the back wall was a prison window the bars of which had been removed and so was removed. An old window of the right sort was sourced in the town and was built into its place. (Museum Annual Report 1966:15-16) The voorkamer had a concrete floor, which was removed and slate tile laid in its place. The front door was replaced with an obviously old outer door found in a ‘place to which it should never have been moved’ in the building (Museum Annual Report 1966:16). The ceiling had yellow wood beams, but only one bay between beams still had yellow wood ceilings. The pine was removed and yellow wood boards (bought from elsewhere) used to complete the ceiling (Museum Annual Report 1966:16).
The sitting room had the same matchboard ceiling as the kitchen, again with yellow wood beams and sparretjies underneath. But these sparretjies were broken and very worm-eaten and thus a new ceiling of keurboom sparretjies, cut and seasoned by the Forestry Department in Knysna, was installed. There was a door like that in the bedroom leading to the front stoep, which had been replaced in 1965 with an old window found elsewhere in the building and which Dr Cook believed to be ‘most certainly one of the original front windows (Museum Annual Report 1966:16). She reported that it was felt that the floor of the sitting room should be timber, but, because it appeared that, for whatever reason, much less yellow wood had been used in the residential portion of the old Gaol than ‘usual’, it was decided to use a hard wood rather than yellow wood. Hard pear was chosen and floor planks cut and seasoned. It was to be laid on a concrete slab with sheet-plastic damp-proof membrane (Museum Annual Report 1966:17).
The Constable’s room was to be Dr Cook’s study. The ceiling of this room was boekenhout above the matchboard and so Mr van Zyl’s donation of boekenhout for the floor was laid on plastic damp-proof membrane on a concrete slab. There was a small Victorian sash window on the wall to the rear courtyard. When it was removed, an old doorway was revealed. The Hopley plan shows no front window in the Constable’s room and therefore the existing window, while old, is clearly a later insertion of a window brought from elsewhere. Dr Cook considered it a good but not exact match (Museum Annual Report 1966:17). The conclusion was that the original door to the courtyard must have had glass in its upper half. While this is at face value a rare door type, Dr Cook argued that there were in fact several such doors in and near Swellendam, ‘none quite as old as that in the Ou Tronk, but one of them only a trifle later in date’ (Museum Annual Report 1966:18). A bo-en-onder-deur was thus designed with small panes in the upper half as near in size to those in the window as was possible. During this part of the work, Michiel Erasmus retired due to ill health and J Swart of SWD Skrynwerkers took over the work (Museum Annual Report 1966:18).
Dr Cook noted that, to prevent dust falling through the ceilings, the brandsolders were lifted but not taken out of the attic and strong brown paper soaked in PCP was laid over the ceiling in the attic. A sheet of plastic was laid over that and then the brandsolder was pulverised, wet again by a hosepipe in the roof space with the workers, worked up to the right consistency and immediately relaid where it had come from (Museum Annual Report 1966:19).
The Overberg, Dr Cook pointed out, is noted for the extensive use of iron for those items that, in the Boland, are often made of brass. Throughout the building, remnants of old wrought-iron door, window and shutter fitments were found – often hidden under the paint (Museum Annual Report 1966:19). These remnants were all used to repair and remake new ironmongery.
In 1969, the stoep outside the Curator’s flat was given a replacement concrete slab with slate paving to match the stoep of the Secretary’s house. The alteration was reported to have solved the damp problem in the stoep walls (Museum Annual Report 1969:11).
Stinkwood replicas of the oldest internal door latches of the Under-Sherriff and Secretary’s houses were made in 1973. These are also referred to as ‘peg latches and were considered unique as, by 1973, few - if any - survived in Cape houses (Museum Annual Report 1973: 2).
In 1978, the Technical Officer moved out of the Deputy-Sheriff’s house (previously occupied by Dr Cook) and it was used as storage for ‘that section of the collection not on display’ (Museum Annual Report 1978: 4).

Water and sanitation, 1966

Early in 1966, Michiel Erasmus was appointed as the contractor to undertake the provision of lavatories for visitors, the improvement of the Caretaker’s house and the re-conditioning of the Curator’s house. The lavatories – still in use - were constructed in a 6 foot (1.8m) portion of a stable constructed (according to Dr Cook) in the 1920s (Museum Annual Report 1966:10). They and the current garage were stables and the room between them and the Gaol courtyard was built between 1827 and 1844. It appears from other sources to have originally been cells. No evidence remains of how the space was subdivided.
In 1966, a bathroom and separate lavatory was built for the Caretaker (Museum Annual Report 1966:11), who lived in the Secretary’s house. Water was heated with a wood-burning geyser and the room had a door to the outside and to the bedroom of the flat. The room was sited in the angle between the kitchen and the bedroom.
A stainless steel sink with cupboards below was installed in the kitchen, with proper drainage (Museum Annual Report 1966:11-12).
In 2000, this bathroom was converted to toilets and wash basins only to serve the restaurant then occupying the Secretary’s house (BOT minutes 2000:67). A second bathroom was fitted into the Gaol building. This was into a small room built in c1900 in the angle between the Curator’s kitchen and living room The sewerage pipes were laid in trenches dug across the ‘back garden’ and linked both the Curator and the Caretaker’s bathrooms to the sewerage pipe laid by the PWD for the visitors’ toilets. The pipe ran from there along the outside of the NW side of the building and down to Swellengrebel Street. Dr Cook notes that, in laying the pipe in the gaol courtyard (which she refers to as the back garden), no trees or shrubs were sacrificed (Museum Annual Report 1966:14). It is thus clear that the courtyard was gardened until at least 1966.

The Secretary’s House, 1967

In 1966, the floor of the Caretaker’s sitting room was removed and replaced, ‘resting on the usual slab of concrete with a layer of sheet plastic over it’, as it was in a dangerous state of decay. (Museum Annual Report 1966:12). Further restoration was undertaken in 1967.
The Shumacher drawing (1776) shows the Gaol building shorter than it is today, but with a chimney at each end. The chimney on the south-east (Secretary’s House) end was still extant in 1967 and the position of the other one was found during the 1967 restoration, as was the original outer door of the kitchen it served. A window (which had replaced the door) was kept as the room then still had to serve as a kitchen (Museum Annual Report 1967:22).
In 1967, the Secretary’s House was restored. This entailed removing matchboard ceilings to reveal yellow-wood beams; three sparretjie ceilings in good condition; and a fourth (worm-eaten) in need of replacement, that done part with Spanish reed. Keurboom spars painted white were used and the sparretjies ceilings were re-painted white. (Museum Annual Report 1967:21). A number of walls and openings were changed as openings were found in the walls. Original lintols were found still in place in the walls and used for the new doors (Museum Annual Report 1967:21-24). The front of a wall-cupboard facing the front door was found to have been used as a window where the second chimney had been removed (in c1828 to 1840). This was returned to its original position and a replacement window obtained for where it had been moved.
When the Secretary’s house was re-configured, a new prisoners’ kitchen was made in the third of the three cells for white prisoners (Museum Annual Report 1967:23). The doorway opened for this purpose still exists in the restaurant kitchen today. In the 1967 restoration, it was noted that the house was built of green brick, with ordinary-height ceilings that were easy to ‘breach’, while the prison cell walls were built of stone and its ceilings (higher than could be reached by one man standing on the shoulders of another) were made of very Large section yellow-wood beams and thick boards – ‘much higher and heavier than those in the Drostdy itself’. The windows were barred, with those on the men’s side heavier. The doors were all of double-thickness timber. Escapes must have been difficult, if not impossible (Museum Annual Report 1967: 23).
In the 1967 restoration, the Secretary’s house received a new wooden floor on the bedroom to the right of the voorkamer, a slate floor on the voorkamer itself, a concrete floor in the kitchen (to be covered with vinyl sheeting) and sparretjie ceilings in one bedroom and the former prisoners’ kitchen. A replica door was made for the kitchen, new doors and a window were hung. An electric geyser was installed above the ceiling to supply the kitchen and bathroom and the house was re-wired (Museum Annual Report 1967:24).
The outward lean of both end-gables of the front wing was cause for concern. A visit and specification for metal anchors and tie-rods was obtained from Mr Gawie Fagan after he visited the site to advise. This was to be installed as soon as possible (Museum Annual Report 1967: 24).
In 2000 (BOT minutes 2000:68), changes were made to the Secretary’s house to accommodate a new restaurant in the space. A clay floor was replaced with clay tiles, a door was added and the electrical distribution board moved, and the bathroom converted to toilets for the restaurant. A pergola between ‘two added bathrooms’ was approved by the BOT. It is not certain where this was, as it is no longer extant. In the end, the clay tiles were not used, but rather slate (BOT minutes 2000:78). In July 2002 (Minutes: 165) a request to erect a pergola was refused. It is unclear whether this is the same proposal, which had not yet been actioned.

The cells, 1969

In 1969, Mrs Swart, the last of the tenants in the Old Gaol, died and so restoration of what had been her flat could commence (Museum Annual Report 1969:10). Copies of the original cell doors had already been made and so could be installed once all the original lintols had been found where doorways had been bricked up. The old openings were opened up again and windows and doors put into their original positions. The windows had all be found in other parts of the building and could be put back. Flights of slate stairs were built as shown on the Hopley plan and new ant-heap floors laid and the walls white-washed. The hearth and chimney in Mrs Swart’s kitchen were removed and the beam cut to install the hearth in about 1875 replaced with a yellow wood beam in the museum ‘stock’ (Museum Annual Report 1969:11).
In 1970, while re-opening original openings previously found while conducting plaster cut tests in the walls of Mrs Swart’s flat (the NW prison cell wing), it was found that the openings had been filled with ‘enormous stones ... without doubt taken from the foundations of the adjacent, flat-roofed, and long-since demolished civil prison cells’ (Museum Annual Report 1970: 6).
The bars of the women’s prison cell windows were a criss-cross pattern of hoop-iron bars, while those of the male prisoners’ cell windows were 7/8 or 1 inch (21 or 25mm) vertical metal bars. A second ventilation hole, about 6 inches (150mm) in diameter and with built-in iron crossbars, was found high in the wall of the end cell and re-opened. Mrs Swart’s bedroom was originally th Donker Gat and so its Victorian window was removed and the opening built closed. Ant-heap floors were laid and slate steps were built in the position shown on the 1827 Hopley plan (Museum Annual Report 1970: 6). While the 1828 Hopley plan refers to ‘necessary irons’ with which the ‘prison for 16 blacks, all under criminal arrest’ were fitted, there is no further detail available. Dr Cook reported that, in her visits to historic gaols both in South Africa and overseas, she had not seen anything that might fit the description on the drawing and therefore did not feel enough evidence existed to recreate that feature of the cells accurately (Museum Annual Report 1974: 6).
During cleaning out of the cells prior to them being opened to the public in 1973, evidence was found that an attempt had been made at some point to tunnel from the central cell under the dividing wall and into the last cell. Another, filled-in hole, was found from the last cell into the Bailiff’s store-room (Museum Annual Report 1973: 4) The floors had been clay while the Gaol was in operation.
Also in 1973, the thresholds of both the new cell doors and the lower part of the frames of the corresponding windows were found to have been infected with fungus (Museum Annual Report 1973: 4-5). They were replaced with fungus-proofed timber replicas during 1974 (Museum Annual Report 1974: 6).
A cell door and frame for the Black Hole was made to replace a rotted original in 1979 for which Laminated timber was used (Museum Annual Report 1979:24).

Effects of the Tulbagh earthquake, 1969

The earthquake of 29 September 1969 caused damage to both the Drostdy and Gaol buildings. On both, the worst damage was on those parts of the buildings on the highest plinths. The damage was repaired by December. (Museum Annual Report 1969: 12)

Converting the front roofs to thatch, 1971

The residential component (that is the front roof) of the Gaol was thatched at the end of 1971 by the Elim thatching team that had just finished the roofs of the Ambagswerf buildings built that year (Museum Annual Report 1971:20). The two back wings had been done in June and a lot of restoration and repair had been done to the timbering, especially in the north wing (Museum Annual Report 1971: 21). This replaced the corrugated iron, which had been on the building since it was bought from the Steyn sisters, but could well have dated to the 1920s, Dr Cook thought. The roof had been entirely painted with Laykold by Mr Tomlinson prior to 1963 in order to prolong its life, but it was in 1971 overdue for replacement. The roof timbers had been altered when the corrugated iron roofs were put on, meaning that in some places there was insufficient structure to support thatch. Extra roof timbers had been added while working on the back wings and it was expected the same would be required on the front section of roof. When the roof sheets were removed, it was discovered that the end gables were more unstable than had been thought when Mr Fagan’s advice had been sought the previous year (Museum Annual Report 1971: 21).
The system of plates, rods and bottle-bolts specified by Mr Fagan were not yet made, as the Agricultural Co-operative Society which had volunteered to do this was kept very busy with a bumper crop from its members that year and had not had time to do the work for the Museum. An interim measure of plates sunk into the plaster and secured by short rods to the nearest truss was put in place immediately so that there would be no disaster before the work could be done by the Co-op. The state of the NW end gable was due to the earthquake of 1969, rather than neglect or age. (Museum Annual Report 1971: 22). The remedial actions specified by Mr Fagan were installed in the end-gables in 1972 and an 18 inch (450mm) wide ‘run off’ of slate was built along the buildings facing the courtyard, in order to direct ran away from the walls (Museum Annual Report 1972:7).

The ‘waggon-house’ (1971) and the c1920s stable (1970)

In 1971, Dr Cook described the ‘waggon-house’ as having originally housed the two last cells to be built at the Gaol, although the exact date was not known (Museum Annual Report 1971:19). By comparing the Hopley plans of 1828 and 1844, it is clear that this space, attached to the rear wall of the gaol and with barred windows facing into the courtyard, was built between 1828 and 1944. At some much later date (probably after 1874) waggon house doors had been installed on the south-east end wall. Dr Cook asserted that the dividing wall between the two cells was removed in c1920 (Museum Annual Report 19871: 20). The ventilation holes on the north-east wall that Dr Cook describes now face into the garage behind but would have originally provided air flow through the cells under a flat roof (Museum Annual Report 1971:20). The flat roof had been replaced with corrugated iron in c1920 (Dr Cook estimated) and to do so, the yellow wood beams had been raised about 18 inches (450mm) on the south-west end of the building to create a fall for the roof sheets, which were then simply placed on the yellow wood beams. In 1971, this roof was replaced. The 1971 replacement of the ‘waggon-house’ (originally two cells) roof used an innovative detail to reconstruct the reed ceiling and yellow wood beam aesthetic of the original flat roof. (Museum Annual Report 1971:20). The beams were left as they were but a reed ceiling (made from the reed obtained the previous year) was put over them, with a clay brand-solder over the reed and, finally, the new corrugated iron over the whole construction. (Museum Annual Report 1971:20).
An ‘overhead swing door’ was installed into the ‘stable at the back of the Old Gaol’ in 1970 in order to provide a garage for the tenants of the Secretary’s House. It would appear this created the space adjacent the visitors’ toilets now referred to as the garage. (Museum Annual Report 1970:17).

Other interventions over the years

In 1968, a storm-water drain was dug and a six-inch glazed earthenware pipe laid along the lower, NW wall of the Old Gaol property in order to carry off the large volumes of run-off water from the roof of the NW wing of the building, solving a problem that had been an issue for some years (Museum Annual Report 1968:14).
When telephone lines were installed to the Curator’s house and the house adjoining it in 1970, they were brought in underground, in order to avoid negative visual impact on the building (Museum Annual Report 1970: 17). In February and March 1982, all the buildings in the museum complex except for the Drostdy were given a dressing of their thatch roofs by Elim thatchers (Museum Annual Report 1982/3: 9).
In 1983, the old toll-gate wall on the southern corner of the building was reconstructed (Museum Annual Report 1983/4: 7). In 2003, the wooden gate between the courtyard and the Ambagswerf was replaced with a steel one, as a result of a number of break ins at the coffee shop where entry had been obtained to the courtyard by forcing the wooden gate (BOT Minutes 2003).

Available maintenance records 1940 to present

Descriptions of maintenance undertaken each year (recorded in the Annual Reports) do not specifically note the Gaol building until 1958.
However, the Annual Reports make it clear that walls all over the Museum complex were white-washed annually, and woodwork painted green almost as regularly. The first mention of such work is in the 1952 Annual Report. That Report is clear also that a hand fire extinguisher was bought for the Gaol, bringing the number of extinguishers in the building to two. From this it is clear that the Gaol had been included in the routine maintenance work done on the property since before 1952.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

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 455-456
Swellendam Heritage Association. 2018. Treasures of Swellendam. Swellendam: Swellendam Heritage Association. pg 17