Port Elizabeth of Yore: Architecture of the Parsonage at No 7 Castle Hill

This is a reprint of an article written by a former Port Elizabeth Museum Historian, Edith M. Neethling, in 1973

Main picture: Portion of WA Harries’ drawing showing Castle Hill with No.7 right at the top

FLOORPLAN: The Cape Dutch U plan is followed, the frontage being the main part of the house with two wings added. The first addition to the original front elevation was apparently the left-hand single-storeyed wing containing the servants’ room and the room now furnished as a study. The second addition was the  double-storeyed wing consisting of an upstairs fourth bedroom and an extra room on the ground floor.

Floor Plan of No. 7 Castle Hill – By courtesy of Messrs. Owen Eaton, Roux & Wolmarans

EXTERIOR: The simple character of the house resembles the rural cottages of the British Isles, dating from the pre-Regency period, the proportions and spacing of the doors and windows, in particular, being characteristic . The present stoep with its solid wall is Cape Dutch inspired. It is, therefore, debatable if a wrought-iron rail was originally there, although this could well be the case, as iron rails were extensively used in British Regency homes for balconies and bay-windows.

INTERIOR: The general style is in the British tradition, the ceiling beams with white.­ washed planks between being typical. Local material was used for these beams, namely yellowwood. The slightly arched sashed windows are in the British Neo-Classical style. The interior shutters were added later for security reasons.

Sterley Cottages in Castle Hill Road – diagonally opposite number 7

Although the house is of the late Georgian-cum-Regency architecture, it does not have the characteristic dado of the period in the parlour and dining room. The wall cupboards show the Cape Dutch influence, a style with which the Rev. McCleland may have become familiar during his five years as minister at Clanwilliam before his appointment to Port Elizabeth. The entrance hall has the proportions of an English town-house, with no indication of a screen of the Cape Dutch kind.

The very steep staircase has a beautiful well-proportioned handrail of straight lines in the Regency style, which blends well with the staircase itself.

Originally the home of Mr Searle. a shipping agent. No 14 Castle Street, ‘The Summit’ was also known as the ‘Anchorage’ and was built 1880. Demolished in 2019

The yellowwood mantlepiece in the sitting room is of the Neo-Classical fluted style. The wrought-iron grate is a later Victorian addition. The fireplace in the dining-room has been entirely removed. The basement kitchen originally featured an open-hearth fireplace as can be seen by the still-existing arch. The interior ” bakoond” (baking oven) is Cape Dutch, such as can be seen in town houses of the period. This oven was built right into the rock of the hillside as was the pantry, to ensure coolness in the summer. The original floor of the kitchen was probably a mixture of mud and dung. The brick floor is a later addition. The yellowwood lintels above the windows and door of the kitchen are in the British and Continental tradition. Here again local material was used.

No 7 Castle Hill. A good example of the Late Georgian Style building

The walls of the basement and first floor are very thick as they have to support the weight of the upper floor. The first-floor walls of the outside are of the same thickness as those downstairs, but the interior dividing walls are less heavy, extensive use having been made of wattle and mud instead of the solid stones of the exterior walls. The two front bedrooms both had fireplaces, but only one is still in existence. This features the same well-proportioned fluted mantelpiece noted in the  sitting room but  has been  painted white. The  room  now furnished as a nursery must originally have  been  a linen-room, as the existing closet indicates.

The kitchen

The fourth bedroom (the present office of the Historical Society) also had a fireplace. This room originally had an outside staircase leading to the courtyard.

On the ground floor, the present office of the curator was an extra dining room. The fireplace  is still  in  existence.  The  present upstairs  tea-kitchen  and the downstairs cloakroom were later divisions of the original rooms and served as bathrooms.

The present dining-room I envisage as the minister’s study, because of its easy access from the entrance hall and its privacy from  the  rest of  the house. Usually in  parsonages, the study led off from the entrance hall on the left-hand side. An example of this can be seen in the Heritage Museum in Adelaide, which was the parsonage of Ds. Stegman. The dividing wall between the hall and the present dining room was removed at some stage and moved towards the hall, thus enlarging the dining room. On the ceiling of the dining room one can still detect indications of a fireplace which must have been situated in the entrance hall.

The room off the dining room which is now fitted out as a study was probably a storeroom as there is no window and the door leads directly from the courtyard. The inside doors of the house are of the Regency style with six panels.

The servants’ room in the courtyard also has a fireplace but without any decoration. The two small windows and the door have yellowwood lintels. The servants’ toilet must have been the original lavatory of the house. The “well” in the courtyard is just a tank for storing the rainwater from the roof, the only means of water-supply for this dwelling. The stand for the pump and the mouth of the well must have been made of wood instead of cement as at present.

The well at No7 Castle Hill

A small proportion of the original cobblestones has survived but the rest has been restored in keeping with the original. The stone benches in the courtyard are made from stone steps taken from the old North End Gaol when it was demolished. Benches of this kind were common in Cape Dutch homes and these blend well with the character of the house. The slate roof is not the original one, but  a  restoration made from  the same  kind of slate.

The garden features a grapevine and a fig tree. The closed arch of stonework originally led to the adjoining coach house and stable.


Some Points of information on the Architecture of No. 7 Castle Hill  by Edith M. Neethling (March 1973, Looking Back, Vol X111, No 1)

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