VASSA How archival research can provide context to vernacular buildings









How archival research can provide context to vernacular buildings

SPEAKER: Nigel Amschwand

DATE:  Tuesday, 19th September 2017
TIME: 19h45 for 20h00                                                    
VENUE: The Athenaeum, Boundary Terraces, Newlands, 

at the intersection of Mariendahl and Campground Roads

Nigel’s talk will present the various archival sources that were used to research his book ‘1847 dispossession and migration’. He examined the story of three farms in his book, each with a fascinating story to tell. The farms are: Moordenaarsgat; Ongeluksfontein and the former Rhenish mission station De Tuin. The first two have particularly ominous sounding names!

The talk will focus on the research methods that Nigel used, rather than the story- for that you will have to buy the book!

Nigel points out that by using historical records it sometime possible to determine occupation dates of buildings. These records include: loan farm records, title deeds, lease contracts, tax records, wills, Government Notices and general correspondence such as memorials, letters of complaint etc.


The book will be on sale at the talk at a significantly discounted price of R150,00. I’m sure that the author can be persuaded to sign copies!

Nigel Amschwand

Our speaker, Nigel Amschwand, is a long-standing member of the Vernacs and served on the committee as treasurer for a number of years. An engineer by training, Nigel has a great enthusiasm for our vernacular past, with an interest in the old routes as well as the histories of the families that populated the often remote reaches of the Cape hinterland. He has also organised many measuring up trips with an intrepid group of members, including among others, the late Guido Lugtenburg who recorded the surveys in beautiful detail. Their survey of Matjesfontein farm has been published in an earlier VASSA journal. Nigel is also the author of ‘Short history of the Onder-Bokkeveld, which was published in 2009.



Saturday 30th September: 10:15 for 10:30

The outing this month focuses on two aspects of our vernacular heritage, namely: building a vernacular house in the late 20th century and a collection of Cape furniture.

We will be looking at the Cape house that Dirkie Neethling built in Somerset West in 1987 using recycled materials. He will give a short talk in Afrikaans on the actual building of the house. Then Barry Anderson will give an illustrated talk on two items of Cape furniture in the house.

Bring along your picnic lunches!

In view of the difficult access to the house and very limited parking, the outing is strictly limited to 25 members only!

In order to secure a place on this outing, please respond to this email! Contact

ONLY 25 PLACES AVAILABLE! I will email confirmation to you and let you have details of the address.


1924- 2017

Mary Floyd was instrumental in the founding of the Vernacular Architecture Society in 1963, along with a small group of intrepid enthusiasts, who were inspired by the lectures on vernacular architecture given by James Walton and Barrie Biermann at the UCT Summer School in that year. In this she shared in the interest of her husband, Hugh Floyd, an architect and UCT lecturer.

Her death draws a close to an era that began with James Walton and continued under her presidency of the Society. We remember her contribution to our knowledge and understanding of our vernacular heritage.

Val Taylor comments: I held Mary in very high regard, and loved her wonderful sense of being, and of humour.   We had many a laugh together, exchanging news, sitting on old werf walls”. These are sentiments that we all share and we will miss her greatly. We celebrate her life and her contribution to the appreciation of vernacular architecture. It is perhaps apposite to recall Mary’s address at the 2010 VASSA AGM as published on our website.

“We are quite extraordinarily lucky in South Africa in having evidence of man’s progress in home-making over a very long time available to the inquisitive twenty first century man.

Stone Age man lived in our mountain rock shelters till a very short time ago. His habits and skills can still be glimpsed. The nomadic herdsmen still live in the North West Cape, still able to make comfortable, portable, prefabricated, beehive huts. Their herds and grazing lands are diminished but their vernacular skills just survive.

African traditional building made of clay, thatch, cattle manure and small trees no longer exist in all their variety and glory, as machine made building materials penetrate the whole world.

We have many examples of this ancient and prized vernacular building but much more needs to be done. Not in our area, but could we spread our encouragement to a new generation of architect?

I trust that we have been recording all the evidence and that one day soon those records will be available to be added to the wonderful Walton collection in The Stellenbosch University Library, before it all disappears.

A world wide interest in old buildings has been part of the gentrification of small homes in towns and villages away from big cities. Destruction of much of the old fabric is inevitable. We have been witnessing destruction by opulence here in the Cape.

 We cannot grudge the gentle people their mod cons and good drains, but without being too judgmental, can we not slow down the philistines? Superficial fashion for oldie, cute cottages, building styles such as ‘’Tuscan’’, “West Coast Vernacular ” or “Cape Dutch” with inappropriate icing sugar plaster in funny places …

We must live through it and bravely help a return to genuine sanity and simplicity, keeping our integrity”.


We visited the Clift Granite Works in Paarl on a perfect Spring day. The tour took in the old family home, Sarnia Villa, now the company offices, as well as the granite works. The museum contains fascinating old pieces of equipment used in the cutting and carving of granite. It was interesting to see the plaster casts done by Ivan Mitford-Barberton of the animal heads of the Old Mutual Building (now Mutual Heights) in Darling Street as well those on the Provincial Building in Wale Street. Our thanks go to William and James Clift for showing us around the house and works.

From there we went to the nearby wagon museum which displays the history of wagon-making in Paarl where it once was a major industry. It is also has a good coffee shop that is worth a visit!




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