Cape Town  - District Six

Huguenot House
Cape Town - South Africa

Huguenot House

In and around Cape Town are a number of old houses dating back to the times of the Dutch occupation of the Cape. They can be found in between some of the more modern buildings that have been built in town over the years. On the corner of what is today known as Hout and Loop Streets Cape Town (Wood and Walking street) the lovely old home named Huguenot house was built. In 1752 when the city was still very small Governor Ryk Tulbagh released a number of new plots to be sold to the locals in Cape town. Erf no 6 in the new area was sold to Hendrik Britz.

Diamond earing Diamond ring

Jewellery manufactured at Huguenot House

The erf was small measuring just over 104 square feet but this did not deter Britz as he built a magnificent Cape home on the erf. Back in 1752 the streets of Cape Town had not yet been named but followed a grid pattern alongside water canals that supplied Cape Town with water. It was alongside one of these water channels that the house was erected.

The house once completed consisted of a “voorkamer” front room with a bedroom on either side and an “agterkamer” (back room). An upstairs area with a number of rooms, a courtyard at the back and a kitchen and slave quartersmade up the rest of the house. It was originally decorated with wall paintings and motifs said to have been painted during the 18th century. Colours used in the paintings were similar to those used in the city of Pompeii which were discovered in 1790.

The house during its early history had a number of owners and was sold in 1760 for 5350 guilders, in 1765 for 6300 guilders, and in 1770 for 6000 guilders to Nicholas van Wielligh. When he died in 1815 his widow sold the property for 55000 ryksdalers. Because of the large increase in the value of the property it is assumed that Van Wielligh made extensive improvements to the house and that the paintings in the house were commissioned by him.

Then during the early 1900's when electricity was installed into Cape Town homes the electric light illuminated areas that before had been dark. With the new found light fashions began to change and the walls and ceilings of Huguenot house were painted firstly pale blue and thereafter a brilliant white. When the property was purchased by the current owners Prins and Prins in the 1980's it was decided that the old house would be restored to its original state. What the restorers discovered makes interesting reading.

Starting with the walls it was discovered that they were built of a variety of boulders, rocks, clay tiles, mud and lime and were up to 80 centimetres thick in places. Water proofing of buildings was not a priority way back in the late 1700's and consequently the building still suffers from rising damp. To protect the property from evil spirits a number of weird items were built into the walls and the restorers found some of them. There were dolls, crosses, skeletons of animals and glass to name but a few. When the internal walls were cleaned the paintings on the walls were rediscovered. Luckily the paint that had covered them had produced a gas that had protected the old paintings. Many of them are displayed on the walls today.

Built in cupboards are a modern day item in our homes today or that is what I thought. Not so! When the house was restored a number of spaces where cupboards had stood were discovered. Unfortunately the cupboards had been removed and most probably sold. The floors in the old house were found to be made of Burmese teak while the ceilings and beams were made of yellow wood. During the restoration bits and pieces of the old kitchen were also rediscovered and restored.

When the kitchen floor was pulled up an old well was discovered under the floor. Its original use was for drinking water but it was later used as a long drop toilet. Today the well is used as a wishing well. There are a number of other rooms and cellars in the house that have been renovated and are today used by Prins and Prins for their diamond business. The owners of the old home invite you to come and visit them to see the old building in its restored state as well as to visit their modern diamond cutting and jewellery making factory on the premises.

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Cape Town - Huguenot House