Below is a short write-up on the architectural style of our house

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Old Jewish Synagogue in Pretoria

The Old Jewish Synagogue after its completion


The Old Jewish Synagogue is situated in the CBD of Pretoria. The synagogue plays a part in the history of Pretoria. It is the first Synagogue that was erected in Pretoria but its function as a synagogue changed with the country’s political changes. It was converted to the High Court where numerous high profile hearings and court cases, involving amongst others Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko, took place.


In the late 1840’s, Adolf Coqui was the first Jewish settler in Pretoria. From here on, the Jewish community started to grow in Pretoria. As time went on, the need for a space to be available to perform services was needed. Prior to this, private homes, hotels, and halls were used to hold services which were performed by a layman. The Caledonian hall opened its doors to the Jewish community to hold their services in 1891-1892. But the hall was also used for private banquets ad other balls and functions. The Jewish community felt that it was not appropriate to hold religious services at this venue.
The Jewish community formed a congregation and it was decided that there was a need for their own synagogue in Pretoria. On the 11th December 1895, Simon Eeinbergand and Herman Manneschwitz bought Erf 103 from Thomas Patterson for the local Jewish community for £1500.

Architect's drawing

Floor plan
On the 1st October 1897, architects, Ilber and Beardwood were commissioned to design the synagogue in a Byzantine manner. The building’s budget was not to exceed £5000. But as any project, the budget escalated and was slightly less than £6000 even though Samuel Marks donated electrical lighting fixtures for £300 as well as the bricks for the project. We can also note that the Jewish congregation ran into more financial difficulties because the street facade is the only facade that has the Byzantine theme. The other elevations do not carry on the same theme. Face brick and sandstone detailing was omitted due to the cost and a cheaper alternative was to use cheap bricks and plaster on the facades of the building, but even through the financial difficulties the Synagogue opened its doors to the public on the 20th August 1898.

This was not the end to the congregation’s financial difficulties. They had to raise a further £850 by the end of 1898 to pay the contractor and builder. But thankfully to the generous help of Sammy Marks, he donated the amount to the Jewish congregation. But this did not help in future months to come. The congregation could only renew the minister’s contract on a monthly basis because funds were scarce. Sammy Marks
Sammy Marks
again came to the Jewish community’s aid in 1901 when money was needed to repair and maintain the building, but it was not the end. In 1906 on the 9th September the congregation had to apply for an overdraft of £1500 and could only do so if the synagogue was mortgaged. Sammy Marks attorneys advised him to buy the property from the congregation and donate it back to them, subject to registration of certain conditions. 21st October 1906 must have been the most important day in the Jewish community’s history. A general meeting was held where trustees of the Jewish congregation authorised the sale to the astute Mr Sammy Marks (Samuel Marks) for the mortgage bond amount of £4000. The transfer would be given immediately over to the Jewish congregation with the certain binding limitations. These limitations were:
  • The property may not be sold, ceded or assigned to anyone, but is to be used exclusively for Synagogue purposes in perpetuity;
  • That no mortgages, charges or other encumbrances be put on , applied to or laid upon the property under any circumstances;
  • That the house on the property be used solely as the residence of the Minister of the Congregation or alternatively by some official of the Synagogue.

Inside the synagogue
On Sunday 7th August 1907, Sammy Marks formally handed over the title deeds of the synagogue together with three fire insurance policies to the Pretoria Jewish congregation.
In 1922 the congregation decided that the synagogue was to small and that additions and alterations. They sent in a request to overturn the conditions that were set by Sammy Marks to register the property to apply for a mortgage. The Supreme Court declined this request because the donation was only made a few years previously.

The old synagogue becomes the new Pretoria Supreme Court

During the Apartheid era, the black resistance against the government was building. The black resistance was mostly verbal and non-violent. Black leadership became more visible and outspoken and there was an increase in strikes and passive resistance. In view of the deteriorating situation, the government decided that there was a need for a special supreme court. The government needed a building that allowed for relatively large numbers for people to observe, interested parties and defendants. Also they needed a building that would have to be located in an area which was manageable in terms of security and effective crowd dispersal. The old synagogue was identified to be the new Pretoria Supreme Court.

The changes that were made to the building to make it an effective court were:
The synagogue with its cream paint finish and
window above the front door removed
  • Painting the facades and brick work in cream colour.
  • The removal and bricking up of the stained glass.
  • The removal and replacement of all the timber top hung window on both the northern and southern facades.
  • The alteration of the altar stage into judge benches.
  • The addition of judge chambers, toilet and ante rooms on the eastern side of the synagogue.
  • The keying and plastering of the original sandstone plinth which was deteriorated.
  • Application of acoustic board to a large percentage of the internal walls.
  • The addition of separate structures outside the main synagogue.

Nelson Mandela, Aziz Pahadand Winnie Mandela
outside the Old Synagogue
The main trials that were seen at the Supreme Court. The treason trial was one of the longest trials in South African history. All the accused were either members of the ANC or Black Consciousness movements. Nelson Mandela was one of the accused members. The Steve Biko inquest was heard at the Supreme Court. The Sharpville and Langa Incidents were both heard in the court. Nelson Mandela was tried in 1962 and was initially sentenced to 5 years hard labour. During the Rivoina Trial he was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour.

Reproduced from The Universiy of Ptretoria's 'Ablewiki' and various various other sources

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Maraimman Temple in Marabastad

The first Asians came to Pretoria from 1881 onwards and they settled just west of Church Square in Marabastad, or as it was known, the Siatic Bazaar. The Tamil League was formed in 1905 and applied itself to the advancement of the culture, religion and education of Tamils.
The first Hindu temple, dedicated to the goddess Mariammn, was built of wood and iron. During 1928 the Tamils decided to build a more suitable temple and a small sanctuary called a cella replaced the old temple
According to the religion of Hinduism, Mariamman is the Goddess of disease and rain. Some other notable temples named after Mariamman include the Sri Mariamman temple in Singapore, as well as in Indonesia, Germany and Fiji.
The Maraimman Temple lies at the entrance of Marabastad in 6th Street, close to the business district of Pretoria. It signifies the importance of the Indian community which became integrated into areas of Marabastad, and is a popular tourist attraction among local and international tourists.
It was declared a national monument in 1982 and beautifully restored in 1991.

The Paul Kruger Statue Saga

Church Square as it looks today, with Oom Paul facing the Palace of Justice building

"The heart of Pretoria, then as now, was Church Square, or market square as it was then called. It was the site of the town’s first church (a mud-walled edifice rebuilt after a fire in 1882) and its first bar, Brodrick’s Hole-in-the-Wall. Market days, auctions ‘under the oaks’ and regular nagmaal gatherings transformed the wide square into a sea of ox wagons. But this was the late 19th century Pretoria, a Boer Capital named after Andries Pretorius, a hero of Blood River. It was also the Pretoria of Oom Paul Kruger, the irascible Boer president.

The story of Church Square sums up the changes in Pretoria as it grew from a remote ivory clearing-house to the capital of the Boer republic rolling in gold, and finally to the administrative capital of South Africa. Even in President Kruger’s time the new wealth made itself felt: an imposing Palace of Justice rose on the square, dwarfing the nagmaal wagons. The Palace was ready by 1898, but its first use was destined to be as a hospital for the British when they occupied the town in 1900.
One of Kruger’s trusted friends was Samuel Marks, the Lithuanian Jew who had risen from hawker (smous) to millionaire industrialist. In 1895, grateful that he had been allowed to build Pretoria’s first synagogue two blocks from Church Square, Sammy Marks commissioned a young Anton van Wouw (his fee was £10 000) to sculpt a statue of President Kruger. Kruger returned the compliment by allowing Marks to strike souvenir gold ‘tickeys’ in the Mint.

The statue, cast in bronze in Rome, was completed in 1899, and arrived at Delagoa Bay (known as Lorenco Marques. Maputho today) just as the Anglo-Boer War began. The pedestal already waiting on Church Square was to stand vacant for many years. Deneys Reitz tells in his Anglo-Boer War book, Commando, of the time Mrs Kruger showed him a picture of the forthcoming statue: ‘The President was shown dressed like an elder of the Church in a top hat, and the old lady suggested that the hat should be hollowed out and filled with water, to serve as a drinking fountain for birds. My father and I laughed heartily on our way home at her simplicity, but we agreed that it was decent of her to have thought of such a thing.’ The laugh may have been on Reitz after all, because after the war, when the British Authorities refused to erect Kruger’s statue, Sammy Marks gave the city an elaborate fountain instead. The fountain, which had been a feature of the Glasgow Exhibition, was put up in the middle of Church Square in 1905.

The fountain on church square

The fountain with the Raadsaal in the background

The fountain as it looks today at Pretoria Zoo 
In 1910 the square, now denuded of the church owing to its unsafe tower, was totally redesigned. Sammy Mark’s fountain was banished to the Zoo and neglected until its restoration in 1970. Kruger’s statue, still lying in store, was ignored (as were the pleas for the flowers and fountains). Instead, Church Square became a terminus for the new electric trams. Kruger’s ill-fated statue was finally allowed out of store and onto a plinth – but only in Prince’s Park, where it was unveiled by General Schalk Burger in May 1913. The four figures of burghers designed to surround the plinth were missing. Two were found later on Lord Kitchener’s estate in England; the other two had been incorporated into the war memorial at Chatham’s Military College.

The burghers took their rightful place at Kruger’s feet on 10 October 1925, when the much-travelled statue was moved to the front of the station on the centenary of the President’s birth. But public opinion continued to press for the statue to be erected in its proper place – the middle of Church Square. It was at last unveiled in this spot by Dr D.F. Malan on 10 October 1954.”

Oom Paul's statue being moved from Pretoria station
Oom Paul on Church Square

Source: South Africa's Yesterdays published by Reader's Digest in 1981

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Birth of the Union Buildings

Political Background

The Anglo-Boer (1900-1902) Vereeniging Peace Agreement document ending the war between the Boers and the British was signed at Pretoria’s gracious Melrose House on 31 May 1902 and formally announced on 2 June 1902 in front of the Raadzaal, Pretoria.
This again put the whole country under the British rule. Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of Transvaal and Orange River Colony was responsible for the design and execution of the policy of South Africa until 1905.
After a long process the Transvaal (December 1906) and Orange River Colony (June 1907) were awarded responsible government. Jan Smuts had negotiated the deal in Britain in December 1905. But there was a greater goal in the minds of Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts: unification of the whole country. “I have the fullest faith that I shall be able …. to make those two great races of South Africa one solid, united and strong race,” Botha said at the 1907 Colonial Conference in London. Between October 1908 and May 1909 the National Convention was charged with the unification of the four provinces. (There was no Black, Coloured and Indian representation). Three years later Louis Botha became South Africa’s first Prime Minister and Herbert Gladstone the Governor General.
On the 31st May 1910 South Africa was united and the Union of South Africa was born.

Handwritten Note by Gen. L Botha
To keep most people happy, Cape Town became the Seat of Parliament, Pretoria the Administrative Capital and Bloemfontein the Judicial Capital. By that time, due to the opening up of the gold fields on the Rand, Pretoria already had a number of prominent government department buildings e.g. the Raadzaal, the Palace of Justice, the Central Government Offices and the Post Office on Church Square. Other buildings of that time were the Artillery Barracks, the old Museum as well as many commercial buildings.

Cecil John Rhodes and Herbert Baker

In 1890 Cecil John Rhodes became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and in 1891 Herbert Baker became Associate Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

Cecil John Rhodes

Sir Herbert Baker
Baker came to South Africa in 1892 and the following year was commissioned by Rhodes to restore and remodel Groote Schuur, Rhodes' house on the slopes of Table Mountain. This was the start of a deep friendship that lasted until Rhodes’ death in 1902 aged 49, and resulted in Baker getting significant appointments from him.. Rhodes sponsored Baker's further education in Greece, Italy and Egypt, after which he returned to South Africa and stayed the next 20 years.
Baker also had the patronage of Lord Milner, and was invited to the Transvaal to design and build residences for the British colonials.
Sir Herbert Baker’s Commissions in Pretoria
At Bryntirion (1902-3) Baker was commissioned to design houses for Judges and Ministers of State, culminating in the appointment for the design in 1905 of Government House.
In 1909 Baker received his first large commission for a secular public building in the Transvaal, being the Railway Station in Pretoria.
Choosing the Site for the Union Buildings
Also during 1909 Herbert Baker was commissioned by the Transvaal Government to design the Government Building of the Union of South Africa. In choosing the site, Baker recounts in an article in the Pretoria News of 7 November 1941: “I was given a free hand in suggesting sites in and around the city. I was shown the blocks the Government had bought on Market (Paul Kruger) Street leading from Church Square to the new station” (which he was then building). “But with the high ideals we all had at the time, I thought this site unworthy of the capital buildings of the now united South Africa. So I explored the surrounding kopjes, and selected two sites overlooking the city”. “(The) One on the kopje to the south had the advantage of flat land on the top for the building and for extensions and gardens; and also of sunlit front (northern) facades. The other was opposite to it on the northern Meintjes Kop, which rises on the east of the city like an acropolis, and terminates in Government House at the other end. (Bryntirion). The only possible site on it near the city was a narrow platform halfway up, so that without the expense of colossal retaining walls it had to be a narrow building with its front fa├žade almost always in shadow. But there was in the rock platform a depression such as the Greeks might have chosen for an amphitheatre”…… “So the vision came to me of two great blocks built around an amphitheatre“. When visiting the sites with Lady Selbourne, “she stressed the importance of nearness to Government House (in Bryntirion)as well as the heart of Pretoria”. ”These factors, and the charm of the site, determined my recommendation. Making some rough sketches and visiting the site with General Smuts” ….. “he with his quick insight and imagination, at once visualised the idea with the power to give dignity and beauty to the instrument and symbol of the Union”.

There was some criticism of the site. The Earl of Selborne had no sympathy with the critics and said “that people who chose this site have chosen one of the finest sites in the world “ “people will come from all over the world to wonder at the beauty of the site, and to admire the forethought and courage of the men who selected it.”
The Scheme
Baker made exquisite use of the chosen site. In considering the site he realised the design by placing the two blocks on the natural terraces on either side of a depression or gorge down to the valley, which he chose to place the colonnaded semi-circular amphitheatre block with two tall domed towers, standing as sentinels and joining the flanking blocks and framing the central amphitheatre.
The two blocks each have, at either end, strong columned porticos and a central entrance porch leading into a finely colonnaded courtyard of pink sandstone.

Early sketch of the Union Buildings with the Temples on the top of Meintjes Kopje

When the plans were made public the chief criticism was concentrated around the Amphitheatre - “what was the use of such a thing”? The value however was proven by many political gatherings held there and is still used today for important occasions. (Botha’s triumphant return from the conquest of South West Africa, Smuts’ victorious return from the East African Campaign, Verwoerd’s Funeral, and now the presidential inaugurations of our Presidents).
The Building
General Jan Smuts gave the go-ahead for the planning. The Meintjies Kopje was surveyed; Baker further developed plans and estimates and submitted them for approval to the Minister of Public Works and the Cabinet. After a speedy approval General Louis Botha expressed the urgency for the work to proceed.
Two firms of contractors were appointed on the Building. Meischke, a Hollander to build the two blocks, and Messrs Prentice and Mackie for the central Amphitheatre Block. On the 26th November 1910 the cornerstone of the Union Building was laid by the Duke of Connaught.

Note the primitive cranes being used

Hoisting the atlas statue on to the tower

The Building and the Gardens circa 1920

According to communication from the Department of Works to the City Treasurer the building was completed in October 1913. Nearly three years from start to finish. This makes the building 100 years old! HAPPY CENTENARY 2013

The Significance of the Union Buildings

Statement of Significance as formulated in the CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT PLAN by UBAC.
“The Union Buildings as a place or site of significance enriches people’s lives, providing a deep and inspirational sense of connection to community and city landscape, to the past (history) and memories. It is a tangible expression of a proudly South African identity and experience.
As a place of significance it reflects the diversity of the South African society, telling us who we are, the past that has formed us as well as the South African landscape. The site is therefore irreplaceable, precious and indeed of national importance; hence it must be conserved for present and future generations”.
Text reproduced from The Heritage Portal as well as from the Arcadia Residents and Ratepayers Association. The author Claus Schutte.
(Information as gathered for the Conservation Management Plan by UBAC Consortium 2007)

Monday, 25 November 2013

New specifications for the 2014 Formula One season

The 2014 Formula One season will bring with it some of the biggest changes to Formula One racing’s technical regulations for quite some time. Not only is the sport adopting new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines, there are also tweaks to the rules concerning aerodynamics and a far greater emphasis on energy recovery systems. Here is a summary of the main changes:

Engine - it’s out with 2.4-litre normally-aspirated V8 engines and in with 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, revving to a maximum of 15,000rpm. The current engines produce more than 750bhp, whilst the 2014 units will produce around 600bhp with additional power coming from Energy Recovery Systems (see below).
The Ferrari 2.4-litre normally-aspirated V8 engine
The new Renault  1.6-litre V6 turbo engine

Gearbox - gearboxes are to have eight forward ratios - rather than the current seven - which each team must nominate ahead of the season.

Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) - in 2014, a larger proportion of each car’s power will come from ERS which, together with the engine, make up the powertrain or power unit. As well as generating energy under braking, ERS units will also generate power using waste heat from the engine’s turbocharger. Unlike the current KERS - which give drivers an extra 80bhp for six seconds per lap - the 2014 ERS will give drivers around 160bhp for 33 seconds per lap. To compensate for the extra power being generated under braking by ERS, teams will be allowed to use an electronic rear brake control system.

Fuel - to promote fuel efficiency, fuel will be limited to 100kg per race. At the moment fuel is unlimited, but teams typically use around 160kg per race.

Minimum weight - to compensate for the increased weight of the 2014 powertrain, minimum weight has been increased from the current 642kg to 690kg.

Exhaust - unlike today where two exhaust tailpipes are used, the 2014 regulations mandate the use of a single tailpipe which must be angled upwards to prevent the exhaust flow being used for aerodynamic effect. Additionally, bodywork is not allowed to be placed behind the tailpipe.

Nose height - for safety reasons the height of noses will be reduced in 2014. The maximum height is currently 550mm, whereas next year it’s 185mm.

Front wing - front wings will be a little narrower next year with the width reduced from 1800mm to 1650mm.

Rear wing - the rear wing will also look a little different in 2014 compared to this year’s models. The lower beam wing is being outlawed and the main flap will be slightly shallower in profile.

Reproduced from

Saturday, 16 November 2013

All those little white butterflies

Visitors to South Africa travelling through Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo
recently, must have noticed that they were in the company of thousands of little
 white butterflies, fluttering steadily in more or less the same direction. These
are the brown-veined whites (known in Afrikaans as the grasveldwitjie), the
colouring of the undersides of their wings giving them their name, their scientific
name being Belenois aurota.
The butterflies originated from the Southern African interior, where most of their
larval hostplants grow naturally. The good rains in January and February and
the subsequent rush of new leaves saw the females laying their eggs on their  
specific food plants in great abundance. Within days millions of tiny caterpillars
hatched and ate their way steadily but surely “out of house and home”.
These caterpillars then pupated
and emerged as butterflies, to
go in search of a mate and a new
 food plant to lay their eggs upon,
 and so the cycle continues until
the larval food plant supply is
finished. This phenomenon is known
as population explosion.
Adults that have as yet not procreated
will disperse to look for their food
plants elsewhere and will somehow
keep moving in a south-easterly direction
 towards the sea off Mozambique. Most will unfortunately perish en route due to total exhaustion.
 A few nectar plants in your garden helps to sustain the travellers.
Reproduced from an article by Lieveke Noyons

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Jacarandas of Pretoria

Some background to the Jacarandas of Pretoria

October heralds the blooming of the jacarandas in Pretoria and hundreds of tourists can be seen photographing this spectacle in Arcadia, The small suburb of Pretoria where we live. Credit for this belongs to JD Celliers who imported two jacaranda trees, Jacaranda Mimosifolio, from Rio de Janeiro in 1888.


 He planted them in the front garden of his home Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, now part of Sunnyside Primary School at 146 Celliers Street. These trees are still standing and bear a bronze plaque and can be viewed during school hours.


In 1898, James Clark, a keen horticulturist obtained a contract from the government to plant hundreds of jacarandas throughout the city. The trees did so well that he was charged with the task of lining all the major streets of Pretoria with jacarandas. Government Avenue is unique with its double row of jacarandas on either side. It is the only street in Pretoria with a double row. They were planted like this to provide complete shade for the government officials walking to the Union Buildings from Bryntirion Estate. 

 The jacaranda has been declared a Category Three invasive alien plant, which means, in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, No. 43 of 1983, as amended in March 2001, it can be kept only under certain strict conditions in South Africa. The plants are not allowed to occur anywhere except in biologically controlled reserves, unless they were already in existence when the regulation came into effect. This means that existing plants do not have to be removed by the land user. However, they must be kept under control and no new planting may be initiated and the plants may no longer be sold. Other plants in this category include syringa, Australian silky oak, St Joseph’s lily, sword fern and New Zealand Christmas tree. 

While the rest of Pretoria goes mauve in October, Herbert Baker Street in the suburb of Groenkloof goes white, but also with jacarandas. The white species was introduced in 1962 by a resident by the name of H. Bruinslich and were imported from Peru.
A deadly fungus has been eating away at the roots of many of the city’s jacaranda trees for some time. Trees in some parts of the city are at different stages of disease as branches fall off and leaves dry out.
I cannot imagine Pretoria without its Jacarandas!

Reproduced from The Arcadian of November 2013