Numerous books document the Anglo-Boer War experiences in the area, and often the sandstone houses form part of the narrative of the war.
The Brandwater Basin played a very important role during the war. It was here, on 30 July 1900, that Prinsloo surrendered with 4300 troops to the British. The lofty citadels of sandstone were the silent witnesses of this defeat.
At the Siege of Jammersbergdrift, Struan House was used as a hospital by British troops. Even the holkranse (hollowed cliffs, erosional caves or shelters) were used extensively. It was in one of these holkranse that the Free State Boers secreted a printing press which they used for distributing propaganda.
During the action at Moolmans Spruit it was yet again a sandstone farmhouse that was a stage-prop to the skirmish on 20 April 1902.
As you travel through the area, the connection between the Anglo-Boer and the sandstone is evident at every turn of the road.
The process of locating sources to provide us with information for our forthcoming publication on the Sandstone Houses of the Eastern Free State has proved both rewarding and frustrating. In a number of the towns and regions there are historical/heritage societies, administered by passionate residents of the area. These local historians are very willing to assist us, and they are often the ideal contacts for the project.
In other instances, every effort leads to a rather disheartening dead-end.
Thinking outside the proverbial box we've often been assisted by the unlikeliest of people.
We have had lucky breaks from the most unbelievable sources: from an assistant at the co-op in the tiniest of settlements, to the owner of a roadside stall selling local organic produce; from the farmer who has paused in his day's work to field our questions, to the village doctor who says, ‘Try this person,’ sending the contact details of a relative who has just the type of house we are looking for.
We have tracked down a brilliant photographer, now living in a retirement village on the coast, who has a host of evocative images of the houses and the area; and an architect with a passion for his career and for farming, who simply says, I'm having so much fun working on this.’
This is what makes the project so rewarding, connecting with the right people.
Sharing a common border with the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, the Eastern Free State is one of South Africas most picturesque areas. Apart from its rich history, palaeontology and unique geology, the area is also famous for its rather extensive use of Molteno Sandstone as a readily available building material.
Images of sandstone homes alongside the autumnal Lombardy Poplars are only a part of the areas tapestry. Oftentimes the pioneers of the region were faced with rather formidable challenges. Complementing the photography of the houses with the accompanying history provides the reader with a fuller understanding.
The book takes the shape of a peripatetic road trip. It begins in the Harrismith-Swinburne area and the journey ends in the towns of Smithfield, Rouxville and Zastron. Sandstone houses will be covered in their entirety, from the famous baronial estates to the lesser-known utilitarian workers’ homes.
This is a unique publication inasmuch as it is the first to focus only on Sandstone Houses.