Sunday, January 14, 2007

Philippolis, and resurrecting a gracious old lady...

Hi, well, today's the day, I'm finally giving you the long promised tour of Philppolis. In case you need to put this in context, we travelled there on this post to visit Max's sister, Joyce and her daughter Shannon, for their birthdays, which are a day apart, but we took so long to get there, we needed to defer our tour of the actual destination till now!

Blogger has been a PERFECT GENTLEMAN today, uploading pix quickly and without glitches, so naturally I went a bit overboard (sigh...what's new?) so I hope you are sitting in a comfortable chair, with a nice steaming cup of coffee at your elbow (or a tall glass of ice cold coke if you are sweating it out in the Southern Hemisphere!) Here goes...........

Right, so here we are still in Philippolis, which is one of the oldest towns in the Karoo. A typical style of architecture developed in this part of the world, as the settlers contended with the extreme climate, impossibly hot during the summer, but FREEZING in winter.
To highlight this, contrast the temperature when we got there two weeks ago, (41.5 degrees C!!!!) with these photos, taken in August, when they had a light snowfall!

Because water is always an issue here, many of the old homes had boreholes, with windmills and reservoirs in their back yards, and elaborate systems to carry water to their houses. This is the remains of one such system, in Joyce's garden.

As the homes in this town were built from the mid 1800’s on, a progression of styles can be seen. They are an interesting mixture of styles, amalgamated to develop a unique 'Karoo Architecture". My South African history is not the greatest, so I won't risk plying you with mis-information, but the settlers in these inhospitable areas were mostly Afrikaaners, trekking North to escape British rule in the Cape. They brought with them the Cape Dutch architecture which had evolved in the Cape, featuring large fancy gable walls. This mixed with typical British colonial references to Victorian style, and added some touches to suit the climate.

The early settlers overcame the extremes of climate with exceptionally high ceilings, and verandas to shade the windows, as well as by planting shady trees around their homes. The indiginous vegetation consists of low scrubby bushes, so to contend with the extreme climate, mostly European and American deciduous trees were planted, oaks and poplars being the most common.

I adore this giant old poplar next to Joyce's house.

As we arrived along the main street, we snapped these examples.

And strolling around the side streets is also great. The house with the huge barn on the right belonged to the celebrated South African author Sir Lourens Van der post, if you have never read his books do yourself a favour and hunt them down!

Speaking of walking, one of the places of interest in town is the old Kruithuis, which was an ammunition supply store built on a hilltop to the West of town, before the boer war. (Click on this photo if you want to enlarge it and read about the history of the place) Sorry about the crumby photos, they were taken on a cellphone! This was in January 2006, when we had a gathering of the clan for new year with Joyce. Grandpa and Yvonne came from Knysna, and Charlie (Max and Joyce's big sister) and her husband Malcolm came from Kloof in Natal, with their daughter Cara (visiting from Scotland).

Before we see the renovations, perhaps you should meet the hostess?Here's Joyce, and her youngest daughter Shannon, in the kitchen.

and Joyce and Max, picking apricots in the back garden, which, now that the apricot trees have been tamed, and the monster wall built, is a lovely shaded cool spot to sit.
Joyce’s house is one of the oldest in the town. The previous owner sent her this photograph of it, taken in 1950,
This is how it looked 2 weeks ago, can you believe those rose bushes (which were already big and old in the 50s) are still there!

and this copy of the Municipality's document, showing the changes of ownership over the years, from when records started, so as you can see the first record is in 1886, but the house could be older. But since then, it was sadly neglected, and this is how it looked when she bought it just over a year ago. I wish there were more "before" photos to show you, but this should give you an idea. Joyce literally camped there with the crumbling walls, leaking roof, great holes in the floor, and worked on it, to complete Phase 1 of the renovation. Then family matters intervened, and she had to return to Capetown for a while. In mid 2006, she returned to start on Phase 2, tackling the interior finishes.

You can tell a lot about a person from the contents of their drying rack! Once a renovator, it becomes like a sort of irresistible urge.

We went to visit for the first time in January 2006, when Joyce had just about finished on the first phase of the renovation, and by then the worst of the damage to the walls was fixed (in some places the walls were literally moving apart, and had to be cranked back together before the cracks were filled.) and the roof repaired, so that MOST of the rain stayed outside! A fresh coat of paint protected all the new work too.
You'll meet this great door again later, from the inside! but you can see how big the cracks in the wall were! (Thanks for sending it Charlie!)
The floors still needed to be fixed, and there was not a stick of furniture. We treated it like a camping trip, and took blowup matresses, camp chairs, gas cooker, etc with us, to camp in the house!
Here I am going to bed in what is now the main bedroom (complete with table cloth thumb tacked on window for privacy!)...

and here is how it looks now after the tender loving care joyce has put into it? Slight change hey!

The house has some lovely architectural details, it always amazes me how much effort and craft-skill went into the old houses, even in humble little villagers like this, in the middle of no-where. Compare this to the soul-less matchboxes which are slung together now!

Lovely cast-iron detail along the roof ridge....

Stunning stained glass door in the lounge. BTW this particular style of door is common in old houses of this era, and the genuine old ones always seem to combine blue glass in the corners, and combinations of red and amber in the long side panels. I have collected quite a few doors and sash windows like this over the years. You may have noticed, if you have been following the renovations to Croick Cottage, that there are 2 of them there too.They are called "Happy Doors". What I want to know is if this is just a South African thing? Have any of you from other countries encountered these, and if so are they also called happy doors? It is such a friendly cute name! I'd love to know more about its origins....

Beautiful old pressed steel decorative panels on walls and ceilings.

And ultra high ceilings, so that there is not just 1 dado/picture rail along the walls, but 3!! This is the main passage, lovely gleaming floors pay tribute to TONS of hard work, and 5 coats of varnish, all lovingly applied after the floors were rubbed with steel wool each time.

And after this skylight is in the centre room, which is surrounded by rooms and passages on all sides, as you can see in this old plan. The bottom ceiling is 4 metres high, and it the swoops up from there, Joyce still has to track down a ladder long enough for her to get up there and finish fixing it!

This is the one I most regret not having before photos of, because the transformation is so huge. This kitchen had sagging floors in SHOCKING condition (I mean, "don't walk barefoot if you don't want splinters" bad.) And a tatty little sink in one corner, a rusted old water boiler in the huge fireplace which must have originally housed an old wood burning Aga stove, a little grocery cupboard in the corner next to the door, and not much else! Joyce managed to get an old one, but very cleverly knocked through the back wall of the fireplace in the lounge, which backed onto the stove recess in the kitchen. She fitted the stove in the lounge, and now the much needed heat permeates the whole home in winter.

Contrasts! The front garden in mid winter, before Joyce had a chance to work on it, and in mid summer, 40 degrees C difference in temperature, and new fence, plants and paving. By this time, she had removed 11 large truckloads of rubbish from the property!

As you will have picked up by now if you are a regular reader of this blog, security is a big issue in South Africa. Sadly you can't escape it, even if you move to a tiny town in the middle of no-where.

This space between Joyce's house and the neighbours is a walkway, leading into town from the "african township" which is a relic of the apartheid era. Her house was an easy target for theft, and also her peace and privacy were constantly disrupted by the people walking past, often quite raucous after serious partying at this watering-hole in town!

So sadly she had to lose the lovely open feel of the entrance,

and spend a fortune putting up a monster wall and sliding gate, in order to secure her property and herself. I often wonder who actually lives in prison in this country, the criminals or the general honest public?

So there you have it, now that she has moved in, Joyce will continue to work on the old lady at her leisure (mmmm now there's an oxymoron for you, work at leisure) but you know what I mean! Hopefully we will be back soonish, and can bring you an update! And she has bought another old wreck in town to get stuck into when this is done, so theres lots to look forward to (NOTE TO JOYCE: please take TONS of before photos of all the scabby details of the new place, so when it is done we can marvel at what you accomplish with it!!!)

Today's photo was taken on a video camera which takes lousy stills, so sorry about the quality, but I like the reflections my star light fitting makes in the passage at the office!

And since we dealt with Joyce's place today, it was only fitting that the from my files and photo groupie should come from her place too.

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