Cape Vernacular Architecture
Thirty six years after the Dutch established a refreshment station for passing ships at the Cape, the Huguenots settled here. Conditions, especially in the interior were of the pioneering type, and farmhouses erected in the late 17th and early 18th century were smaller, simpler and more primitive than those in the Table Valley, providing only the basic necessities of life.
The Stone House
As the Huguenots became more settled and their farms prospered their homes were built of a more enduring material i.e. stone, in place of the wood or clay used previously.
The ground plan was rectangular, usually of 2 or 3 rooms and frequently had a wine-cellar and stables added on. As families grew and prospered, rooms were added and the rectangular house became T or L-shaped.
A shallow foundation was dug and filled with river stones. The clay floor was regularly strewn with sand and later covered with a firm layer of well-mixed cow manure and water. This, being sticky, gave the floor a tough skin as it dried and prevented the surface from wearing away and becoming dusty.
The sandstone used for the walls was quarried in Drakenstein, then broken up and dressed or polished on one side. Large stones were placed on an even surface and the gaps filled in with smaller ones. After a certain height the walls were finished off with clay bricks. Clay was also used for masonry and plastering.
At the front and back of the house, stable-doors were hung, with the lower section often smaller than the upper and made of indigenous yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) and Burmese teak (Tectona grandis). They were broad in size and had large iron hinges.
The ground in front of the house was cobbled to prevent the formation of mud during the wet winter months. The windows were small, so the walls sloped inwards to let in more light. The casement windows were built in flush with the wall and where shutters were present, opened inwards, while the shutters opened outwards.
The hearth was the most important feature of the kitchen. The chimney extended along the width of the kitchen wall. Its front wall was built of stone or clay bricks, or of clay on a base of stone. The whole hearth was plastered and whitewashed. The chimney-beam usually ran the whole width of the kitchen. It supported the chimney-breast, which was the expanded lower and front part of the chimney.
The roof was relatively low with tapered ends or was hipped. It rested on a framework of poles and the principal roof trusses consisted of rounded poles. The top beam or purloin which joined the two poles of a truss together was fixed with wooden pegs or thongs. A number of trusses placed alongside each other were secured by a ridge-beam overhead. Below the trusses a wall-beam was positioned on top of the wall. The battens were laid across the trusses and were covered with thatch. At the ridge-pole it was either weatherproofed with extra reeds or smeared with clay which was then whitened with lime.
Although ceilings were not common in late 17th early 18th century houses, where present they were either built of spars or reeds. The spars were laid across the beams and tied to them with "matjiesgoed" string or narrow thongs while the reeds were laid similarly but had their ends secured with nails hammered into the beams and then bent back over the reeds. (Nails hammered through the reeds resulted in them splitting).
A layer of "matjiesgoed" or Cyperus textilis was laid over the spars or reeds to prevent dust filtering through, and over this a thick layer of well-kneaded clay was laid as fire-proofing. (Should the thatched roof catch fire, the contents of the house were in less danger). This was known as a "brand-solder" or fire proof ceiling. Its purpose was to protect the contents of the house and to regulate the internal temperature. Lofts were also used as storage-space.
Building materials in the form of steel, iron, nails, windows and exotic types of wood which were not locally available were supplied by the Company at cost price. Wooden beams and planks were sent from the Netherlands to the Cape for use by the Company and the free burghers.
Farm yard-Berg River: RJ Gordon, 1790