Melrose House – Pretoria’s romantic Scottish link

“If thou would’st view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;” – from Canto Second of the “Lay of the Last Minstrel” by Sir Walter Scott.
It is not really necessary (though not a bad idea either – though you would not be able to go inside the house then) to visit Melrose House in Pretoria by “pale moonlight” as Sir Walter Scott proposed in “The Lay of the Last Minstrel“.

Melrose House

Cetainly this historic home in Pretoria has much of the romantic about it.

It was built in the late 19th Century by wealthy Pretoria businessman George Heys, who had started to make his fortune as a trader in the Kimberley diamond fields.
Heys and his wife Janie visited Scotland and were deeply impressed by their visit to Melrose Abbey and so decided to call their Pretoria home after it.

The stained glass window with the scene from "The Lay of the Last Minstrel"

To complete the romantic idea they had a stained glass window depicting a scene from Scott’s great romantic poem “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”  installed in the stairwell.

The scene is:
The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither’d cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem’d to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards was he,
Who sung of Border chivalry;
For, welladay! their date was fled,
His tuneful brethren all were dead;
And he, neglected and oppress’d,
Wish’d to be with them, and at rest.

– from the Introduction to “The Lay of the Last Minstrel” by Sir Walter Scott

The table on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902

The treaty which ended the convulsions of the Anglo-Boer War in May 1902 was signed in the dining room of Melrose House, which is now a museum. The table still stands where it did when the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on it.

The treaty was signed in this house because it had been commandeered after the occupation by the British forces as their headquarters.
The house was bought from the Heys Family Trust in 1968 and has been meticulously restored.
Today Melrose House is one of the best-preserved Victorian mansions in South Africa and as such offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of wealthy Victorian families.
The architectural style of the building can best be described as “eclectic”.
The house is in Jacob Maré Street opposite the main entrance to Burgers Park, which Heys had a large hand in designing.
The gardens of Melrose House itself have been re-developed to reflect the style of garden popular in the Victorian era. A gift shop and tea garden complete the experience for the visitor.
© Text and photos copyright Tony McGregor 2011


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