Restoration – Cederberg

ARTICLE FOR HASA WEBSITE – Cederberg Mills 7 November 2014

The mill at Kromrivier farm in the Cederberg conservatory milled wheat for the first time in living memory on Saturday 4 November 2014 witnessed by members of affiliates to the Heritage Association of South Africa from Drakenstein and Swellendam

This mill is on the Nieuwoudt’s family farm Kromriver which is currently under restoration. The Mill will feature in the attractions this area has to offer. The owner of Kromriver, Pip Nieuwoudt the 7th generation Niewoudt on the farm remembers the water furrow being opened and closed to facilitate electricity which the mill generated in addition to its milling function.

There were a number of operating mills in the area viz Matjiesvlei, Grootrivier(Mount Cedar), Nuwerust and Dwarsrivier (Cedarberg Wine Cellar), all in close proximity to each other. It is a characteristic of these mills that they were in the past(before there was electricity) combined with other functions where water was utilised to generate power to run sawmills, power a black smithy shop or just generate alternating current for lighting as at Kromriver.

It is possible that the dual function of these mills is what preserved them into the 20th century – they were all however allowed to fall into disrepair in mid-century. What is intriguing is the builders, as these mills are almost identical in manufacture and principle upon which they worked. There are names and dates etched into the grain feeder boxes. These mills are all constructed of Clanwilliam Cedar. This timber is for all intents and purposes extinct. All the telephone poles from Piquetberg to Calvinia were once of Cederwood but this exploitation plus the ravages of fires and the changed weather conditions have driven this timber to virtual extinction.

There are remains of a mill at Matjiesrivier (a Cape Nature Reserve). This mill, the building and the water supply, has been allowed to go to ruin in the past few years due to lack of planning and duty of care. The parts and the Cederwood have been plundered. This is a particularly interesting mill as the water used to enter into and run through the mill building which also has traces of a smithy in the same building. The water from the mills was used to irrigate an area for cultivation which is now a wasteland. The houses in this complex (now an office of Cape Nature) were originally the farm of the missionary / carpenter Wagener (who is buried nearby in a family cemetery) are a cause for great concern to heritage conservationists. The doors have been brutalised by security locks, the internal doors are removed from their frames (or not present at all), and the outside doors are crudely fitted etc., there are also structural concerns where walls have been removed all of which give rise to serious concern. This is a complex of special significance and deserves a full investigation by Heritage Western Cape to ensure that it is not further degraded and if possible restored.

There is another mill at Nuwerust. It is a fine complex of stone buildings built around the end of the 19th century by Austrian immigrants. The buildings are well cared for but the mill has been out of order for years – the wheel or remains thereof as well as numerous items/parts of the mill are there to view but the actual mill has been dismantled but could be restored .

At Groot Rivier (Mount Cedar) there is another mill which apart from the wheel, is relatively intact. The wheel having disintegrated due to lack of use.

There was a mill at Vogelfontein but this has disappeared as has the mill at Jonkershoek (Sonderwater) nearby.

The mill at Dwarsrivier is relatively intact having been rebuilt twice and now stands near the wine cellar (Cedarberg Wines). We have however not been able to gain access to this, it is not operating and is closed as the owners have experienced both vandalism and pilferage.

I found Cederwood first mentioned in the records of Colonel Robert Gordon who saw furniture at a house he visited. He then went to the Bidouw Valley where he saw the trees identified and drew them (see the drawing in the book on Gordon published by the Brenthurst press) The Clanwilliam Ceder according to Gordon’s classification is actually a mountain Cypress. Gordon traversed the area in which these trees were present. Gordon left from “Betjes fontein” (is this not Elizabeth fontein?) of Abram Mouton to visit mistress Coopman (widow Coopman) at the Pakhuis. She was a Hottentot who had married a free burger an occurrence not unusual in these districts. On the loan farm of her late husband Misses Coopman had a number of so called ”basters” who were engaged in exploiting the Ceder forest. Gordon estimates the height of the trees here to be up to 50 feet and they are recorded as covering an area of 2 days journey southward.

What is interesting is the reference to the many untidy huts on the farm to the extent that the neighbours refer to the area as “die kieine Kaap”. Gordon and the neighbours must have been only to familiar with the typical koi pick up and move huts so why the distinction? The cederberg until relatively recently had a number of Strooi’s a thatch construction a group of which at the Heerenlogment The Heritage association of South Africa has proposed for proclamation as provincial heritage sites. (see picture gallery). It is not clear but it appears as if Gordon then travers the edge of the forest Pakhuis to the uitkyk then to the Biedouw the farm of Frans Lubbe. This area would include the area associated with the Ceders . Algeria, Driehoek Wuppertal and Pakhuis.

In “Dokumenten over zuidAfrika” deel 3 Teal records the “ries van die commissie van veerteelt”

In 1805 which visited the area and records that there were 3 so cllled baptised Bastaards families of Jurgen Johannes Tas, Koopman and Jurgen Johannes Willemse. Some of which were married in accordance with the laws of the land they possessed no sheep but only goats and trek oxen. They survived by their activities of exploting the Ceder forest. The commission predicts that if

the felling of the Ceder trees was continued in the irresponsible and unsupervised manner as it was then that the forest would soon be destroyed for ever . Many of the remaining trees were found in inaccessible kloofs and were difficult to extract.

The commission records that Cederwood was suitable for joinery and can survive both water and the outdoors, They record that Frans Lubbe at the farm the Bidouw who Gordon had visited had erected a water mill 20 years ago and the Ceder wheel was still working as evidence of the fact that Ceder could be compared to Teak.

At the time of the visit the Cederberg consisted of 22 loan farms granted to 13 different owners including Ernst Kruger who had Jan disselsvlei ( now Clanwilliam). The commission noted that the cedewood was supplied to farmers of the Roggerveldt, Hantaum and Oliphants river and 24 rivers areas and was cut into 6×6 beams of 18 and 20 ft. as well as planks of over an inch thick of 12 and 18 inches wide.

The size of the forest was estimated as 4 hours ride long and ½ hour wide?

References from Robert Jacob Gordon editor Patrick Cullinan

Robert Jacob Gordon Raraper and Boucher

Teal as quoted in the text

We can edit and post on the web up to here


The feeder boxes for the wheat in some instances carries an inscribed logo a geometric design of a circle filled with 6 identical ½ circles to form a flower design. This motif appears not only on the mills but is encountered on the internal Cederwood loft stair at Kromriver which appears to date sometime after 1869. The old mill at Grootrivier carries the moif plus the name and initials of Wagener and the date 1922, while the box at Kromriver has the motif and the name Esterhuizen and a date 1915 April . Esterhuizen farmed at Nuwerust (we do not find this motif on the mill there?) but left according to Louise in approx. 1915 for the Orange river area. There are a number of chairs and benches from this area (out of Wilge hout) that carry this same motif on the circles on the back rest? Is this a sign that Esrehuizen used this motif as his insigna?

In the Stadsaal caves situated on Matjiesrivier near both Nuwerust and Kromriver there is a group of 4 names engraved including Wagner Niewehoudt and Esterhuizen dated 1915.

In the district there are a number of wall cupboards and doors that appear to be the work of the original Wagner as well as cupboards in the families possession. The family is complicated by the fact that Wagner married a sister of the Niewehoudt from Vogelsfontein BUT SHE HERSELF IS RECORDED AS PASSING AWAY A FEW YEARS AFTER HER HUSBAND ON HER BIRTH FARM Kromriver.

Len Raymond

chair HASA

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