a B&B life...
Our garden is graced by big trees - most were here when we bought the property 20 years ago, some were lost in storms over the years and some were planted by Desmond from small cuttings and now stand proudly and tall. Desmond's father was a forester and their 6 Benkenstein boys grew up on Forestry stations and learning about trees and forests from their dad.
Desmond's brother Leon remembers life at the Jonkersberg plantation: "It was in the late fifties. Our nearest town was George, about 30 km away. Apart from life at the farm school we children had a fulfilling and busy life. Because of the remote location of the forestry station we were reliant on ourselves for entertainment. Television, computers and mobile phones only made their appearance more than 20 years later.
We had to help with chopping wood for the wood burning stove. The vegetable garden, in size more a large field, needed never ending upkeep in the form of weeding, planting and harvesting. Then we had to milk and care for Annie, our Jersey cow. And only then could the games begin. Our playing grounds covered the whole of the forestry station, the surrounding veld, pine plantations, indigenous forest, the river and the mountain. (Jonkersberg lies at the foot of the Outeniqua mountains)
In such an idyllic setting the sense of time disappeared and only dusk and hunger reminded you that it was time to go home."
At the local George Museum an exhibition in the Timber Museum is entitled 'The forests, our green heritage' and well worth a visit.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of Robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
- a poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
he grounds on which Fairview stands was first registered in 1864 in the names of Messrs. Swemmer and Meyer, directors of the first bank in George. When these two gentlemen found themselves in financial difficulty in 1894, they sold the farm to Koos and Miems Stander.
The Standers had sold their farm at Victoria Heights and bought Fairview so that their 8 children could go to school from home. In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George.
Two sons became attorneys, one son qualified in Scotland as a dentist and all 5 daughters qualified as teachers. To get to Wellington Teachers College the girls traveled by horse-drawn cart to Mossel Bay, from there by ship to Cape Town and then by train to Wellington! Koos Stander was Mayor of George from 1926 to 1932 and the house stayed in the Stander family from 1894 to 1974.
In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George; today it is centrally situated in the suburb of Bergsig and the grounds measure 3800m².
In 1994 we moved back to South Africa after a 13 year stay in Namibia. We bought Fairview and took up the challenge to restore this historic George landmark – always bearing in mind that the challenge in restoring and maintaining any old building remains staying true to the authenticity of the structure. We therefore removed a garage that altered the square Georgian shape of the original building. Eight windows had to be replaced and were meticulously duplicated using the old frames as templates. The time consuming restoration was contracted out to a specialist team and took nine months to complete. Waterproofing of the clay walls proved to be a major challenge, as was the stripping of the many layers of paint to expose the lovely wood again. All the plumbing and electric wiring had to be redone, the 4 chimneys and fireplaces needed radical repairs, and most of the light fittings were removed and had to be replaced with antique ones again.
Below are two very old photo's showing that the house originally had a pitch roof on the front section. There is no record of when the facade was changed to that of the typical flat-roofed Cape Georgian style. As not even the 82 year old Stander granddaughter could remember this pitched roof, it was decided not to replace during the 1996 restoration.
In 2013 we embarked on yet another phase, this time renovation more than restoration. New garages were built for private use at the Smith Street entrance, a spiral staircase was added to the inner courtyard to give access to two upstairs guest rooms, the little storeroom below the swimming pool was restored and turned into a small guest room and 4 of the bedrooms were renovated and re-decorated.
The house is now fully restored to its long lost splendor and elegance and is listed with the National Monument’s Council as well as the local George Heritage Trust.
Desmond is passionate about his garden - work on the garden is an ongoing labor of love. The front garden is more formal in structure - in keeping with the formal Cape Georgian style of the house. The flowerbeds on the Eastern side of the house is more informal. At the back of the house we have fruit trees, a herb garden, vegetable garden and a small orchard. We also keep our own chickens to keep the kitchen in supply of fresh eggs.
South African Garden And Home, October 1998. Romancing an era - a long neglected historic George House gets a make-over...
(Text and photographs by Alex Cremer)
Because it was partly hidden behind high boundary walls, the true beauty of Fairview only became obvious once I drove through the new gates. Then the regal proportions and straight-lined design of the double storey dwelling, built around 1865, could be properly viewed.
To me, the old place had a rather Georgian flavour that was further enhanced by the symmetry of the quite formal front garden, or perhaps I simply sought a scenario where traditional European elegance blended with the typical colonial style of the Victorian era.
When they bought the house in 1994, Philda and her husband,Desmond, a medical doctor, were astounded to see how little respect previous owners had for the historic value of the old place. Some areas were modernized and altered in a rather indiscriminate way, with haphazard repairs to damaged antique doors and windows, while sections added to the side were out of character with the original architectural design.
"Obviously we tried to get it all as close to the original as possible, but we had to play off the practical side of a family home against true authenticity," says Desmond. "The purist may frown on some work done, or why we left certain modern aspects intact, but we wanted true comfort that reflected a sense of gracious Victorian living and not a stuffy museum."
Even so, it was hard to get everything neat and tidy. The local architect firm of Smuts and De Kock Incoporated were called in to help, mainly with a new bathroom for the guest rooms, and the replanning needed to eliminate problems with the pitch of the flat roof sections and parapet walls. The kitchen was also completely remoddled according to their plans that incorporated the original hearth, now fitted with a wood-burning stove to capture that homely character enjoyed before the dawn of electricity.
One of the biggest tasks was the stripping of multi-layers of white paint that covered the huge Oregon pine support beams for the timber floors upstairs. This time-consuming job was expertly executed by Jannie Malherbe and his team of workers from the firm Futro.
"Some 30 years ago, local pine was used to replace the original floorboards in the main lounge downstairs, but luckily the rest of the old Oregon floor boards were in a good condition," says Philda. "All we had to do was call in flooring expert Syd Ter Morshuizen to sand and retreat all the boards."
To expose the beauty of the timber floors upstairs the wall-to-wall carpets in the main bedroom and twin rooms for the Benkenstein boys, Eckart and Alex, were removed. Their daughter's room and the family room across the passage received coir matting and a double layer of underfelt to dampen any sound transmitted through the floorboards to the two guest suites below.
Six of the old top storey sash windows were in a very bad state, and craftsman Jack Fourie was asked to make new units by copying the original design. All the old windows downstairs were in a superb condition, even down to the hand-floated glass panes and the Oregon pine shutters installed by the builders more than a century ago.
The chimneys of the four fireplaces in the old house needed radical repairs before the units could again radiate any heat into the vast interior. The original unit in the main lounge was replaced with a similar antique model supplied by Peter Long of Cape Town.
"We had to hunt for appropriate good light fittings to replace the modern ones that were in the house. A major purchase was an old European copper candelabra that had been electrified for the lounge," says Philda, but she also relates the story of the blackened lamp found among rubbish in an outside room. "We liked the design, and after cleaning it, were amazed to find it was made from good antique silver. It found a place of honour on the top landing."
In deciding on an interior colour scheme Philda went mainly for bright yellow and a darker hue somewhere between salmon and terracotta. It was fairly easy to complement these two specially mixed Plascon colours with accents of white.
Although the Benkensteins brought some pieces from their previous home in Namibia, these had rather small proportions and had to be supplemented with bigger items like armoires and ornate dressers, pretty tables big enough for family gatherings and lovely cast-iron double beds for the guest suites. The search for these items ranged from Port Alfred to Cape Town, and was later extended to vast sections of the Great Karoo. And they were lucky to find antique metal door locks complete with genuine old-fashioned brass and porcelain knobs.
Although still in developing stages, the couple's aim to create a true English country garden around the main dwelling is beginning to take shape. Already the formal front section with it's roses and classical water feature is flourishing, as well as the herb and vegetable garden at the back.
It took a great deal of effort to once again capture Fairview's long lost splendour and elegance. full marks to Desmond and Philda for seeing this potential, and taking up the challenge to rescue this historic George landmark.
In March 2008 we had as guest the granddaughter of one of the Stander daughters. She sent me a poem written by her grand-mother. On weekends the daughters would stroll down to the Kat River and obviously, the young Maria met a young man from the other side of the river whom her parents did not approve of.
Twixt bracken banks and shady woods
The streamlet ripples gently west
Where oft in childhood’s happy days
I watched the wood-finch build it’s nest;
Where oft in happier days we wove
The golden threads of love’s young dream
To warbles sweet and twillering tones –
Sweet music from the rippling stream!But when in after days those banks
Recorded sorrow’s doleful theme,
I heeded not the linnet’s song,
Not heard the rippling of the stream!
When skies are blue and fields are green,
And all the world seems bright and fair,
All veiled to us the distant scene
With what it harbours over there!
Too soon we learned life’s sad refrain:
“Sunshine and sorrow ever meet!”
Had we but met to part again,
Our hopes be shattered by defeat!
For him his queen was never to wear
A bridal blossom in her hair,
For him, no bridal veil to hide
The crimson of his blushing bride!
How oft I dreamt that at his side,
In all the world the happiest bride,
Entranced I stood in ecstasy –
My dark-eyed prince, a king to me!
Alas that love is but a dream
And mournful we awake to find
As we retrace our steps again,
Our loved ones’ foot-prints left behind!
Those foot-prints on the sands of time
Are treasures thine, oh memory,
To cherish in the starless night
When sorrow bids us fly to thee!
Remembrance, aye, this God’s great gift
Which through this dismal vale of ours,
Recalls in accents soft and sweet,
Sweet memories of bygone years!
Of Studebakers and old cars ...
As the once proud owner of a 1958 Volkswagen and belonging to the local Old Car Club, I am forever encouraging guests to visit the local Railway Museum just up the road, where private vintage car owners can display/store their vehicles amongst the Railway exhibitions. I chanced upon the following passage in the delightful book by Victor Smith called 'Open Cockpit over Africa' in which he tells of his adventures flying more than 13 000 miles from George to London and back. Arriving back in George he was welcomed back as a hero by the locals. (Fairview is, of course, the Mayoral home mentioned...
Uncle Jack Smith (JK), who had once claimed expenses from the tax-man for 'lubrication of the best machine in the factory' (brandy for himself), arrived in great style in his new six-cylinder Studebaker. But, despite his weakness, never let it be said that uncle Jack was not a man of his word. I think the reader will agree when he or she reads the story which I will now have to tell.
Oom (Uncle) Koos Stander, Mayor of George, paid me the honor of a handshake with hands the size of boxing gloves. Oom Koos, with JK Smith, had been two of the most enthusiastic supporters of the bar in the old Victoria Hotel at the top of York Street - now the George Museum.
Said my uncle, after his fourth brandy, to the ex-mayor who was holding a cigar in his left hand and a brandy in his right: "Koos ou swaer (old brother-in-law) I think you are becoming a bit of an alcoholic!"
"Nonsense, I can give it up anytime I want to. I'll bet you five pounds I can go without a drink longer than you can."
"Taken", says JK. " I'll bet you the brand-new Studebaker I can abstain for longer than you can; we start from tomorrow."
Six weeks, or it may have been six days later, Uncle Jack decided that one small brandy would be very nice, and no one would notice. After looking around the bar he walked in and ordered a double. Great minds think alike, and before JK started to settle down to business, Oom Koos with the same idea in mind peeped around the door and walked in.
Uncle Jack paid up - but the ex-mayor never learned to drive. It was always to be next week. The brand new Studebaker could be seen for many years corroding away beside the ex-mayoral home."
Stander House/Fairview up for auction in 1978; 2 years after Mr Swallows bought the historic home from the estate of Blanche and Ethel Stander
In The Oudtshoorn Courant and Het Suid-Western on Wednesday, September 27, 1978, Brenda Hartdegen reported:
GEORGE: A magnificent leather-bound 260-year-old Bible was sold for R535 after brisk bidding at an auction of mostly antique furniture. The Bible was bought by a Cape Town dealer, Mr. H A Lammers, who flew to George especially to attend the sale. And he is confident that he will sell it immediately to one of several Dutch dealers who are out in South Africa from Holland to buy up all the Dutch antiques they can find.
Antiques in Holland have become very scarce and the dealers have now turned their attention to South Arica which is still regarded as a rich field for many Dutch antiques.
Mr. Lammers flew to George mainly to buy paintings that were to be sold at the auction. "But I found the painting very disappointing and not of a high quality and then I saw the Bible and I knew my trip to George had not been wasted. The only thing that worried me was that the auction was going so slow to start with that they'd never get around to putting the Bible up before I had to catch my plane."
The Bible, a Staten Bijbel, was printed in Dordrecht Amsterdam in 1719. It is printed in scroll print on hand-made paper. It is bound in leather with brass hasps and corner supports.
"What makes this particular Bible highly negotiable to an overseas dealer is that it is not a family Bible with limited South African connotations," Mr. Lammers said. "By that I mean the record of the family who owned it is not written in it."
But slipped inside the front of the Bible is a handprinted and painted certificate in Dutch stating that Sophia Anna van Straatenwas born on 5 December 1811, and baptised in the Cape Colony on 1 January 1812.
Bidding against Mr. Lammers Towards the end was Mr. Harold Groombridge of Knysna, owner of the famous genuine gypsy caravan that used to be parked alongside the national road at the Garden Of Eden.
Mr. Lammers said that he would have been prepared to bid up to R600 for the Bible. "I must be able to recover the cost of my trip to George and make a small profit when I sell it," he said.
The Bible belonged to Mr. E Swallow. Most of the goods on the auction sale were owned by him and were bought from the estate of the Stander twins, Blanche and Ethel. In 1976 Mr. Swallow also bought their historic home in Stander Street, built before 1890, for R33 000. He bought most of the furniture in the house at a later auction sale.
The house was also up for sale at the auction The highest bid was R25 000 but it is not known whether this bid was accepted.
Hundreds of people attended the auction which started at 9 am and lasted for most of the rest of the day. Another high bid was R850 for a beautiful old piano
We are situated opposite Van Kervel School- a double medium school that caters for learners with special educational needs, but also offer normal academic subjects. To quote their school website:
'These learners benefit more from concrete learning programs where they learn by doing. In most cases they will eventually find employment in practically orientated professions; therefore more emphasis is placed on the skills or vocational learning programs in our school where learners can acquire skills such as panel beating, spray painting, motor vehicle repairing, woodworking, welding, building and maintenance, hospitality studies, educare, office administration and hairdressing. '
Our beautiful screens and arches that transform our rose garden into the spectacular, bears testimony to Mr. Myburgh and his metal work learners. Because we are situated close to the school, Mr. Myburgh could walk across with his pupils and they could take ownership of the project - from taking the initial measurements to the final product.
We are as proud as they are of their craftsmanship.
About the blog
This is the story of our house, lovingly restored and shared with guests and family since 1995.