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Barville Park
Bathurst district, Eastern Cape

Date:c1835
Type:Fortified Farmhouse
Status:Extant

Towards the south-west of Bathurst, to the area of the first settler locations, lies one of the most elaborate of all the defended farmhouses is Barville Park, near the coast. From a distance the whole group seems to breast the crown of the hill as a fortress in the tradition of the great castles of Europe and the Middle East. The homestead at Barville Park is situated on the top of a gently sloping hill, and dominates the surrounding countryside from what is obviously the most strategic position in the area.

In this case it is not the farmhouse itself which is fortified. This is a double-storeyed building with a character so remarkably similar to the farmhouses of Cumberland and Northumberland in the United Kingdom that one is left in no doubt as to the origins of its builder, if not of its owner. But entirely surrounding the house, and always at some distance from it, was a defensive wall originally six to eight feet high, enclosing the farmyard, barns and outbuildings, and, it appears, a water storage tank or well of considerable size. The entrance to this enclosure was defended by a double-storeyed barn. Besides being loopholed on both floors, this barn had a projecting loading platform on the upper level which may have been intended to allow raking fire down the wall across the gate. The problem of fireproofing the original thatched roofs of the buildings was probably solved in the manner observed by a visitor in the Baviaans Valley where the roof was rendered fireproof with earthen sods.

Adjoining it on the ridge of the hill, but slightly below the farmyard, is the cattle kraal, in the same relationship to the first enclosure as the bailey bore to the motte in a Norman castle. The kraal was surrounded by higher and stronger walls than the farmyard - one appreciates the extreme difficulty of defending such a great periphery with only a few men. The walls were loopholed so as to provide a line of fire down the slope of the hill. To obtain flanking fire elaborate trapezoidal-shaped embrasures projected out in the centre of the long sides of the overall plan, from the wall separating the kraal from the farmyard; these embrasures could thus be used to defend both the cattle and the farmyard from attack.

Like most of the farmhouses extensively fortified at this time, Barville Park is largely built of stone, Bathurst limestone, also to be found in the tower of the present Grahamstown Cathedral. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1835 [Sixth Frontier War], there was a great call for stone, the Settler Goldswain's being the only stone quarry in that part of the country. Barville Park was built of this same stone, a vein of which extends along the coast and periodically outcrops on the coastal farms.

Extracted and expanded from LEWCOCK, Ronald. 1963. Early nineteenth century architecture in South Africa - a study of the interaction of two culture 1795 – 1837. Cape Town: Balkema. p.175-182.


Writings about this entry

Lewcock, Ronald. 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa : a study of the interaction of two cultures, 1795-1837. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 175-182
Lewcock, Ronald Barville Park: in Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1970. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 2 Bad-Cal: pp 187