Category / History

Local History – The Roodebloem Farm

Posted on 28 September 2011 by Stefan Blank

Jim Hislop gives us the second fascinating installment on the history of the farms that made up the Woodstock area. This installment covers the Roodebloem farm.

Roodebloem

Way back in 1666, the same year that building of the Castle commenced, the VOC (Dutch East India Company) granted land on the slopes of the ‘Windberg’ (Devil’s Peak) to Hendrik Lacus (or Lacirs), an early VOC official. In those days what was to become the upper Woodstock suburb was still an untamed place, roamed by wild animals, from mountain zebras to leopards and even lions. Building materials were scarce and the first farmhouse on Roodebloem would have been a fairly crude structure, possibly made of a combination of mud bricks, small rocks, blocks of antheap from Table Mountain and klompie bricks (small bricks used as ballast on ships). The name Roodebloem probably came from the proliferation of pretty red flowers that grew on the lower mountain slopes in the area before cultivation.

 

Roodebloem c.1804


Although Lacus would have had his hands full keeping any livestock safe from marauding lions and other sharp-toothed predators (a lion was shot on the property trying to hunt livestock in 1705), and any fruit and vegetables that he was cultivating from raids by mountain baboons, the farm was ideally situated above the wagon track from the newly-built Castle to Hout Bay (now Victoria Road) and water was plentiful, thanks to the streams flowing down Table Mountain, ideal for irrigating his crops. The farmhouse was prefectly situated at the end of what is now Salt River Road, which ran up from a drift (crossing) over the Salt River estuary, and lay close to Table Bay down below ¬– an important route for travellers and explorers into the largely unexplored interior. Roodebloem’s position meant that passing travellers could pay to graze their horses and buy supplies for the journey. Like Willem Adriaan van der Stel, Lacus was found to be a rather dodgy character –¬ lining his pockets with VOC funds, and he was sent to Robben Island and later banished to Batavia (now Java).

 

 

Picture 2 Roodebloem Laubscher burial ground (Photo Jim Hislop)


After a succession of owners, Roodebloem came into the hands of Johannes Pfeiffer. Adam Tas (the man who took it on himself to crusade against and expose governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel’s corruption) and Jacobus van der Hayden visited him there once, on their way back to Stellenbosch from town. At this time the VOC still had heavy control of farmers; anything the free burghers cultivated had to be sold to the Company for cripplingly low prices and they weren’t allowed to trade with the indigenous Khoi people who were still in the area. They were also banned from selling wine and spirits unless they had special permission from the VOC and Roodebloem’s close proximity to Table Bay must have made it tempting to smuggle alcohol to passing ships to make extra money. In fact there was rumoured to be a tunnel under the house that could have been used for this purpose.   ¬

When Pieter Laubscher took ownership of the farm in 1777, the original, simple farmhouse was improved and enlarged into a traditional gabled, H-shaped, thatched homestead (Picture 1).

 

Picture 3 Roodebloem Manor (Photo Jim Hislop)


At this time the large farm extended over much of the upper part of Woodstock, with big fields and vineyards on the slopes of the mountain, and the farmlands were further enlarged throughout the first half of the 19th century. An early 19th century owner was Hendrik Laubscher and it was members of this family who were buried in the cemetery behind the house. The burial vaults were either later destroyed or grown over by long grass, but the rather creepy, derelict spot is still marked by a lone pine tree behind the house, just off Roodebloem Road between Wormwood Lane and Bideford Road (Picture 2).

Sometime in the early 19th century the house was Georgianised and enlarged again, and a second storey and French doors added, becoming more of a townhouse than the former farmstead. Urban sprawl was turning Woodstock into a suburb, with clusters of houses springing up everywhere as the old farms were subdivided. At the end of the 19th century, Roodebloem was given a Victorian makeover and an interesting balcony supported by half-barrel vaults was built. The resulting building that we know today is a fabulous, rather eccentric structure incorporating at least part of the original H-shaped Cape Dutch house.

In the 1850s another fine house was built on the property (Picture 3) and various members of the Van Breda and Van der Byl family lived there, farming dairy cattle very successfully. The grounds once stretched right down to Woodstock beach! This house later became the well-known Lord Milner Hotel and is now called Roodebloem Manor, today serving as offices for the King James ad agency in Avenue Road. It was restored in 1989.

 

Ruth Prowse

 

In 1860, when Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred visited the Cape, he was invited to visit Roodebloem by then owner Mr. Pickering to admire the view from the farm. It was also Pickering who installed the first phone line at the Cape, from the Castle to Roodebloem.
Eventually the property was reduced to a small block between Listowel and Elson Roads, with Birkdale as its approach from the busy Victoria Road.

 

Picture 6 Roodebloem (Photo Jim Hislop)


Artist and avid architectural conservationist Ruth Prowse (Picture 4) bought the old complex and moved into the Retreat (Picture 5), an old thatched outbuilding next to the house in 1958 – her mother having lived there in the early 20th century. She took a deep interest in the homestead and its history and did much to preserve it. The present Ruth Prowse School of Art (pic 6) (www.ruthprowse.co.za), which operates from the old farm complex is named after her and was founded by artist Erik Laubscher in 1970. Roodebloem was restored recently and though half-hidden behind modern buildings in Victoria Road, this historic house still commands a fine view over Table Bay (pic 7). Vine Road behind the house, serves as a reminder of its farming past.

 

Picture 7. Back of Roodebloem house (Photo: Jim Hislop)

 

Sources:
Article by Ruth Prowse, 1964; Hans Fransen – The Old Buildings of the Cape (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2004; Gabriel Athiros and Louise Athiros (editors) – Woodstock: A selection of articles from The Woodstock Whisperer, 2003 – 2007

14 Comments For This Post

  1. LOCAL WOODY Says:

    Very interesting, tx. Is Erik Laubscher related to the Pieter Laubscher? Could be an ancestor of his, making it truly remarkable.

  2. Victoria Says:

    Most enjoyable reading. Thank you Jim.

  3. jim hislop Says:

    Hi Local Woody. I wondered that myself and have emailed Erik to ask him. Let’s see what he says…

  4. jim hislop Says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Victoria, no problem!

  5. jim hislop Says:

    Hi Local Woody,
    I just chatted to Erik Laubscher on the phone. He kindly confirmed that he’s a direct descendant of Pieter Laubscher, and he wasn’t aware of this until Ruth Prowse did some research and they made the connection. He said he looked for the tunnel under the house by removing some tiles in a small room next to the office, but couldn’t find anything. He did uncover the old cellar in the courtyard and poked around in there but couldn’t find anything of interest to prove or disprove the smuggling rumours.
    It was great chatting to him, he says he’ll pass on more info as he comes across it. I’ll post anything that he sends to me.

    Jim

  6. Theo Van Der Merwe Says:

    I stayed in Elson Road from 1950s (21 years) Ruth Prowse was a friend of the family and baby sat us as kids regularly. Her home ‘Retreat’ burnt down and was later restored. The Roodebloem Manor, Retreat and other homesteads on the property where surround by a variety of fruit trees which included Peach, Loquats, Fig, Pomegranate, Lemon and Plums. Have lots of stories to tell amazing time in my life…

  7. Chris Says:

    I own the house attached to Ruth Prowse (you can see a bit of it on the RHS of picture 6). Back in 1998, while re-tiling the entrance passage, I noticed an old stairwell which was filled with rocks. I dug down a bit and realised it plunged steeply into the foundations. So there’s a bit more grist for the rumour mill…

  8. SERG-OLIVE Says:

    SERG-OLIVE Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    April 13th, 2012 at 1:23 pm
    Hi,

    Does anyone know the history of Chamberlain Street in Woodstock?

    I was born and raised in Woodstock and witnessed something that is out of the ordinary. This may sound like a ghost story but a true story! When I was about between 5 – 10 years of age during the late 80’s early 90’s. Not sure how I would describe it but “they” seem to appear in the middle of the night where my family is a sleep and hear noises in the kitchen which was located a couple of feet away from my bedroom where I shared with my brothers. They never witnessed anything except for myself and use to think that it was all a dream! However this demon like dark figures (that’s how I would describe them) use to come to my bedroom and watch us sleep and it happened almost in a nightly bases. I could hear them breath deeply and they would disappear in the early hours of the morning. There were occasions that I switched on the bedroom light and it would not switch on. I use to yell out for mother but no sound was coming out of my mouth. Ever since then I believe that there is something out there, whatever it is , it scared the living day lights out of me, and my mom would confirm that I had sleeping problems during the middle of the night and always slept with my bro in he’s bed or sleep in my mom’s room.

    Scary hey!!!!!! So if any of you who is reading this or witness anything out of the ordinary in Chamberlain Street, Woodstock please fill me in!

    oigresd@gmail.com

  9. jim hislop Says:

    Hi Chris, that’s interesting. I have a feeling that your house incorporates part of the Roodebloem complex. It makes sense to think that the building stretched not only to the left of the main block, but to the right too.

    Jim

  10. Chris Says:

    Hi Jim

    I have a site plan from 1862 which shows how my house, Ruth Prowse and Avenue Flats was part of one long set of terraced houses which shared a long stoep that stretched the entire length. My house and the Avenue Flats portion was mirrored around a courtyard. 4 Elson Road still retains it’s half of that courtyard, filled with large hand-cut cobbles of Table Mountain granite, probably from the Higgovale quarry. Unfortunately the other portion was entirely demolished when the flats were built.
    Incidently, on the site plan, Elson Road is labelled ‘New Road’.
    You can email me at chris@capetownhomes.com if you want a copy.

  11. eRica Says:

    Hi Jim

    Researching my family history and would like to know if there ever were brickworks at Roodebloem in the early 1900′s? When did Roodebloem belong to Adrian van der Byl.

    Thanking you for the lovely article
    Natal North Coast greetings

  12. Megan Says:

    Don’t dismiss the possibility of many farm workers dying on the farms and buried there.

  13. James Says:

    Can anyone tell me when The Lord Milner Hotel was established?

  14. rudi Says:

    i went to school at laerskool tafelberg.from grade 2 right thru to grade 7.I was wondering what had happend to the school and former classmates.my surname is louw,i was the chap that was in hospital so much.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Woodstock Treaty House and Tree History Says:

    [...] of Jim Hislop’s fascinating history of the farms that made up Woodstock. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here and our general Woodstock history [...]

  2. » The Leliebloem Farm » I Love Woodstock Says:

    [...] of Jim Hislop’s fascinating history of the farms that made up Woodstock. You can also view Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and our general Woodstock [...]

Leave a Reply

Advertisement

Events Diary

Subscribe to our newsletter

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos