Port Elizabeth of Yore: Restoration of Verandah of No 7

Per se, the restoration of the verandah of No. 7 Castle Hill should not be a major issue. Yet on several levels it encapsulates the problem. The one stance that I have taken in accordance with best practice with regard to restoration is to maintain not only the integrity of the structure but its look, feel and texture. Secondly in the case of national monuments, who will ensure that maintenance is performed timeously but also in keeping with the character of the structure.  This requires personnel with competence, interest and integrity.

This blog underscores the efforts of the erstwhile curator of this museum to ensure the faithful restoration of this priceless settler artifact and is largely drawn from an article in 1985 by Mrs. Rosemary Trehaeven.

Main picture: Portion of WA Harriers’ drawing showing Castle Hill

According to Rosemary, “for some time, the surface of the stoep at the Historical Museum, No. 7 Castle Hill had been giving cause for concern. The concrete surface had developed large cracks through which water percolated whenever it rained. This problem was aggravated by the variations in the fall of the stoep surface. The fall was such that water did not drain away through all the weepholes provided but tended to collect in a basin-like area near the front door from whence it drained down into the fill of the stoep.

Although the concrete of the stoep surface was obviously of a later date than the materials used in building the house itself, there were no clues as to the paving which might have been used had the stoep formed part of the original building. After much investigation as to the building materials which are both available today and could have been used in Port Elizabeth c 1828 1830, it was decided to use red 9 x 9 inch (230mm) square quarry* tiles to re-surface the stoep.

No. 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth Published by the Port Elizabeth Museum Board, 1975

It seems certain that there were quarry tiles available in the Eastern Cape when No 7 Castle Hill was built. The fireplaces in the parlour and one of the bedrooms have 9 x 9 inch red quarry tiles and where the dining room fireplace was there are 11 x 11 inch (300mm) square quarry tiles of a beige colour still in place.

The Settler potter, James Hancock, who lived in Port Elizabeth from 1827 to 1836, is known to have made roofing and quarry tiles as well as bricks. Bricks of the hard-burnt kiln type were made in Port Elizabeth in 1822. In March of that year, Captain Evatt sent samples to Cape Town which he described as “being equally hard as English.” Knobel’s survey, as shown in the map of Port Elizabeth 1820 by James Swann, give erven 3033 as belonging to Philip Frost. He was the founder of a brickmaking firm which manufactured bricks in Port Elizabeth and later in Uitenhage throughout the 19th Century. It is likely that where bricks were being made quarry tiles would have been produced too. Red quarry tiles may be seen used as flooring in the ruins of Cradock Place while in Grahamstown paving of beige coloured quarry tiles both 9 x 9 and 11 x 11 inches is to be found in some of the oldest houses.

The tiles which have now been used at No. 7 Castle Hill were donated by Corobrik. They are 9 x 9 inches. (230 mm) square, a size and type long since out of production. As there is considerable variation in the size of the individual tiles, sometimes as much as 10 millimetres, it has made laying difficult. These irregularities are nevertheless a welcome feature because they are in keeping with the old building. For the same reason, the quarry tiles have been laid upside down to take advantage of the rougher finish and occasional blemish to be found on the under surface.

During the work of restoring the stoep a discovery was made which caused much excitement and speculation. Immediately to the right of the front door (as one enters the house) a door at basement level was uncovered. This door would have provided entrance into the well of the staircase which leads from the ground floor down to the basement. It was flanked by a transverse wall of random stonework which ran from the right-hand side of the front door towards the wall which retains the fill of the present stoep. The door opening had been roughly filled in with exceptionally large boulders and subsequently covered by the stoep as it exists at present.

This discovery of a previously unsuspected opening has given rise to numerous queries as to why it was there, when and why it was filled in and built over and what the house looked like when the door was in use.

In conclusion

As one is made aware in this article by Mrs Trehaeven, the underlying philosophy of the restorer should be to return the structure faithfully back to its prior state. Imagine in this case that the tiles selected were of modern design and with dimensions .8mx.8m, it would have been on a slippery slope to eviscerate the house. That is what has occurred with the houses in Donkin Street. Many people have complemented the restorers yet in fact what the restorers have sadly accomplished is to convert the Regency style houses into faux Regency type dwellings. Regrettably the heavy-handed manner of the restoration displayed little sympathy for one of Port Elizabeth’s primary historical landmarks.


Restoration of the Stoep at No. 7 Castle Hill by Rosemary Trehaeven [Looking Back, July 1985]

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