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White River, Mpumalanga

Piercy James (Patrick) EAGLE: Architect

Client:Mr Webster
Style:Arts and Crafts


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25°17'44.01" S 31°00'23.25" E Alt: 939m

Attributed to PJ EAGLE, the house is very similar in style to Bell House (1920) by SOLOMON & MARSHALL and Crestlands (1921) by AJ MARSHALL. The style idiom is certainly in the Arts and Crafts tradition and specifically its Baker School variant with Italianate and Cape Dutch Revival influences.

The house was built for William A Webster, a wealthy immigrant from Britain. Mrs C M Webster (of the Nettlefold nut and bolt family) laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1923 and the Websters spared little expense when building their Uplands homestead. The staircase, windows, cupboards and even lavatory seats were crafted from high quality imported Burmese teak. When completed it housed a virtual treasure trove of art and antiques, despite the fact that the Websters spent at least six months of every summer at their Cape Town home. Webster had asthma and lived in White River in the winter and in the Cape during the summer.

It was owing to Exley Millar (1882-1963) and Billy Barnard, directors of White River Estates, that Webster came to South Africa. On one occasion he and Capt Billy Barnard were returning to London by train from a weekend in the country, when by chance they shared a compartment with William Webster, who subsequently got to know them well. Webster became interested in their story of the White River Estates and eventually came out to White River, bringing his fortune of £900 000 with him. Some of this he invested in the White River area. When Webster took over the White River Estates, Exley Millar became Webster's engineer on the Estates and later his alternative on the Board of White River Traders.

At the time of the construction of Uplands, White River was still surrounded by hills covered in grassland and sparse bush. William Webster at that stage considered White River to be the heart of the 'California of Africa' and envisioned that soon the surrounding hills would be covered with orange groves.

To fulfill his dream, apart from White River Estates, he also bought other farms which stretched beyond the present site of the Karula Hotel in the east, to the river just below Longemere dam in the north, and then went to Brondal - all in all 30 000 acres (12 500 ha). In those days before the eucalyptus plantation, when one stood on Uplands' first floor balcony, one was afforded an uninterrupted view of the village of White River.

The house, now called Webster House, is the administrative offices for the Uplands Preparatory School. Upstairs is a dormitory for girl borders and a wing for their matron. The dormitory is the later extension on the first floor balcony.

Uplands Preparatory School started in the homestead of Miss Matilda Fuller who founded the school in 1928. With her pending retirement in 1943 and after the steady growth of her school, a company was formed by parents associated with the school to ensure its continuation and so new premises were sought. Miss Jean Ogilvie was appointed headmistress and in 1945 the company purchased Uplands, Mr W A Webster's twenty-one acre (8,498 Ha) property. A marketing brochure described the:

"Magnificent Residence, Superbly Fitted with every Modern Comfort, together with the Costly Furniture and Furnishings therein. Over 6000 Citrus Trees. Extensive Irrigable Land under the Canal. Abundant Water, also Cattle, Implements etc. 'Lock, Stock and Barrel' as a Going Concern. The Finest Country Estate & Farm in the Transvaal. Ideal Climate, Perfect Surroundings."

Fundraising efforts by parents and the school committee enabled them to clinch the deal on 11 September 1945 for the purchase of the property (Bornman, 2006 gives a price of £21 000 and Mackintosh, 2004 gives it as £6 788).

(extracted and edited from Bornman, 2006 and Mackintosh, 2004)

Uplands becomes the first building to receive a Blue Plaque from the newly formed Mpumalanga Heritage.

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

Bornman, Hans. 2006. Pioneers of the Lowveld. Barberton: SA Country Life. pg 72-73
Mackintosh, Liz. 2004. The tale of a school : Uplands Preparatory School 1928-2003. White River: Uplands Preparatory School. pg