Fort Klapperkop – one of Pretoria’s historic forts

In the months prior to the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 the government of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR – the South African Republic) four forts were constructed to defend the capital, Pretoria.


The entrance to Fort Klapperkop

One of these, Fort Klapperkop, was built at a cost of £50000 and was handed over to the government of the ZAR on 18 January 1898. Included in the fort was the Central Magazine, also handed over that day.

The entrance to the Central Magazine

By the following January the fort was manned by 17 troops, increased to 30 six months later, although only three months later the number had been reduced to 16.


A replica of the “Long Tom” cannon stands guard over the southern approaches to Fort Klapperkop

By October 1899 the armaments of the fort included a “Long Tom”, a 37mm Maxim-Nordenfelt and three Martini-Henry hand-maxims.

The “Long Tom” was sent to Ladysmith (Natal) by train to assist the Boer forces there. A 65mm Krupp mountain gun was the only armament left at the fort, with two Martini-Henrys, by 7 November 1899.

The fort had a reservoir under its floor fed from the Fountains Valley some distance away.

Communications with the outside world were by means of heliographic and overhead telegraphic links as well as telephone.


The generator which supplied power to the fort

The fort had electric power supplied by a paraffin engine and generator.


Part of the moat around Fort Klapperkop

Unlike the other Pretoria forts Klapperkop had a moat and drawbridge, though the moat seems never to have been filled.


A display in the museum

The fort is now a museum with some well-planned displays.

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

The Union Buildings in Pretoria – summing up an architectural era


The Union Buildings from the foot of Meintjies Kop.

The Union Buildings from the foot of Meintjies Kop.

After the dreadful sufferings of the people of Southern Africa in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 there was widespread support for the unification of the four British colonies which had been involved in the conflict – the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange River Colony (formerly the Orange Free State Republic) and the Transvaal Colony (formerly the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek).

Movement towards unification was speeded up by the calling, mostly at Jan Smuts’s insistence, of the National Convention which sat from 1908 to 1910.

When it became clear that Unification was almost certain, the search for a suitable capital and an appropriate building to symbolize the unified nation, Pretoria was settled on as the administrative capital while Cape Town was given the legsilature of the new country.

The Union Buildings from the other side of the valley

An architect who had made quite a name for himself in South Africa, Herbert (later Sir Herbert) Baker, was given the commission to design the building and a site on Pretoria’s Meintjies Kop was decided on.


Looking up at the East Wing of the Union Buildings.

Looking up at the East Wing of the Union Buildings.

Baker, who would later go on to collaborate with Edwin Lutyens in designing the capital of India in New Delhi, was an almost exact contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, and, as Desirée Seymour-Picton wrote in her excellent book Historical Buildings in South Africa (Struikhof, 1989): “Wright was the innovator, Baker the apotheosis of an era, a dying era.


The statue of former Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog in the gardens of the Union Buildings

Baker designed a building which, in its breadth and classical lines, would symbolise the reconciliation and inclusiveness (at least of the two white language groups, English and Afrikaans) that was the hope of the unifiers.

The Union Buildings occupy the lovely position on Meintjies Kop with grace and grandeur. The two domed towers on the two wings of the sweeping building represent the two language groups, while the curved colonade represents the unifying constitution which guaranteed a place for each language in the new country.

The building process took three years and was completed by 1265 workers at a cost of £1,310,640. Because of the design each stone had to be individually dressed. Mostly local materials were used and the roofing tiles were manufactured in Vereeniging.


The Union Buildings are a popular tourist site and so the sidewalk salespeople do a roaring trade in front of them.

The Union Buildings are a popular tourist site and so the sidewalk salespeople do a roaring trade in front of them.

It was also highly significant and symbolic that when, after the 1994 elections which brought full dcemocracy to South Africa, the first president of the new South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, was inaugurated against the backdrop of that graceful colonade.

© Text and photos copyright Tony McGregor 2011

Climbing up to the Wonderboom Fort in Pretoria


The cool and leafy interior of the Wonderboom

Just north of the Magaliesberg range which thrusts into Pretoria is the Wonderboom Nature Reserve, so called because of the huge 1000-year-old Ficus (wild fig) tree growing there.

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