THE TEST OF TIME

This beautiful stone arch bridge supporting the railway line between Grahamstown and Alicedale was designed and built 125 years ago by the South African railway engineer, Guybon Damant Atherstone.

Of local interest is that he was born in Grahamstown on 20th June 1843 and schooled at St. Andrew’s College, which is down the hill from where I live. A real local lad, he was employed by the Cape Government Railways, during which time he completed this railway line in 1896. Having garnered a fine reputation for designing and building railways across the Eastern Cape, he died in Grahamstown on 15th February 1912.

This single arch bridge supports the railway where it crosses the road that wends its way through the Highlands area before reaching Alicedale. As with the photograph above, this view is from the Grahamstown side:

The branch line, which covered 56 km of difficult terrain, closed in 2009. There are now sections where farm gates or fences cross the line which has become overgrown by grass and shrubs here and there. The arch remains firm:

It is a joy to see the workmanship evident in the dressed stone:

The underneath of the arch appears to be clad with bricks – unless these are stones cut to that size and shape:

Here is the view of the bridge from the Alicedale side:

While the railway is no longer in use, the bridge has stood the test of time and still stands proud.

Note: Mr. Tootlepedal, this post was compiled with you in mind.

BROEKIE LACE

Several examples of the Victorian fashion of cast-iron (or carved wooden) lattice trellis work can be seen in Grahamstown.

This ornate ironwork is charmingly known as Broekie Lace because it resembles the lace edgings on women’s underwear (broekies = panties).  Introduced by the English settlers, these trims were applied to the eaves of corrugated iron veranda roofs, which were often supported on slender cast-iron columns and cast-iron brackets.

Cast-iron railings made an attractive addition to homes and gardens.

A BALCONY FOR NO-ONE

Mention a ‘balcony scene’ to someone and the first thing to pop into mind would probably be the one made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – even if the said someone had never read the play or knows what it is really about. It is the same with the oft-quoted O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? The words spoken by Juliet. I have taught that play more times than I care to count and each time Juliet comes to the window – and each illustration or film shows her leaning over the balustrades of a balcony. Balcony it is then in the minds of readers and those who ‘know about’ the play. You even get what are known as Juliet balconies in architecture:

‘Balcony’ is derived from the Latin ‘balcone’, meaning a scaffold. Juliet balconies have become popular in some of the many blocks of apartments that have sprung up in our town – far from generously proportioned, they barely provide enough room for a foot to step out on but have sliding doors behind them and so, presumably fulfil the function of allowing air into one’s abode as well as a ‘safety net’ of sorts. If I could drive around town I could provide you with a photograph as an example, yet I am sure you have seen these tiny cost-cutting protrusions.

There is more space on the Vatican’s famous Loggia delle Benedizioni on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, where over time Popes have stood to give the public their blessing at Easter and Christmas. There is room for him as well as a camera and camera-man at least.

During the medieval and Renaissance periods, balconies were supported by corbels made either from stonework, or large wooden brackets. Much more recently supports of cast iron, reinforced concrete, and other materials have become common. The roomy balcony shown below has two concrete corbels and a cast iron balustrade. One could comfortably seat at least two people on it, along with a small table and even a portable braai!

It has a major drawback though – this balcony has no entrance!

There is a delightful article about the history of balconies if you are interested: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20200409-the-history-of-balconies

 

RONDAVELS

A large rondavel built of local stone stood next to our farmhouse in the De Kaap Valley. My father used it as a storeroom for all sorts of equipment that is needed on farms. The interior was cool, even on the hottest of Lowveld summer days. I loved the musty smell of the thatched roof and the smoothness of the cement floor – as well as the moment required for my eyes to adjust to the dark interior. Our recent sojourn at Swell Eco Lodge not only provided an opportunity to stay in a spacious rondavel, but to observe the various structures of buildings that make up a rural homestead.

Traditionally, rondavels are built from locally available materials, which can include stones, sun-baked mud bricks, or a framework of sticks combined with a mixture of clay and dung mortar. I have already pointed out that modern rural rondavels are being constructed from either cement air-bricks or commercially produced bricks. Blue gum poles – or branches from other trees cut to length – are used to make the basic cone-shaped structure of the roof. Smaller branches are then woven through them to provide the framework for the thatching.

I wondered if my ‘bird man’ was bringing home this particularly long branch for such a purpose.

What rondavels have in common is a thatched roof. The roofing thatch consists of bundles of grass that are sewn onto the pole framework with plaited grass rope – as can be seen in this exposed section of a roof. Note the Cape Wagtail bracing itself against the wind!

Thatching starts at the widest part of the roof, the bottom, and gradually moves towards the narrow top. As each section is usually allowed to weather in order to create a waterproof layer, the process of completing a thatched roof can be a lengthy one. We also saw several examples of rondavels with corrugated iron roofs or have corrugated iron covering the traditional thatch for extra protection.

In either case, the roof extends over the sides of the circular walls to provide protection from the rain.

As you can imagine, being constructed from natural materials, rondavels require regular maintenance or they would gradually fall apart as this one is doing.

Once the thatching is complete, a clay or cement cap is placed on the apex of the roof to seal off the edges of the thatch and to prevent rain from seeping into the building. There happens to be a Redwinged Starling perched on top if this one.

If you would like to learn more, some interesting sites include:

https://www.openheritage.org.za/sites/default/files/docs/attacheddocs/2016/12/07/VernacularArchitecture_EasternCape_Doc_FINAL4.pdf

https://www.revolvy.com/page/Rondavel

DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN SWELLENDAM

One cannot pass through Swellendam without admiring the beautiful Dutch Reformed Church that elegantly presides over the town. Situated on the corner of Church and Voortrekker Streets, the eclectic fusion of its architectural styles is striking.

This church, also known as the Moederkerk (Mother Church), sports Cape Dutch gables and Gothic windows mixed with an Eastern dome, Renaissance entrances, and a Baroque spire, along with a replica of a Belgium wooden tower.

There is so much to take in. Look at this detail on one of the gables.

It has a fascinating history too: