1930s: Women and their place in society

“Gone with the Wind” was first released in 1939. [Wikimedia]

The epic movie “Gone with the Wind“, based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, was released in 1939 on the eve of World War II. The movie took the world by storm and gave Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable cult status. Despite the movie’s feminist undertones, the following quote from the book’s author provides a more sobering perspective of women’s status in society in the 1930s:

“Life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was woman’s lot. It was a man’s world, and she accepted it as such. The man owned the property, and the woman managed it. The man took credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness. The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him. Men were rough of speech and often drunk. Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words. Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious and forgiving.” – Margaret Mitchell Continue reading

19th century housekeeping

Early European cookbooks were generally written for professional chefs, who were mostly men. So essentially these books were written for an elite audience.

A very new type of cookbook came into print during the 19th century. These cookbooks were generally written by women, for women and responded to a demand for professional instruction. This was only possible because literacy rates among women was on the rise. Industrialisation, migration and social mobility also required greater self-sufficiency. Continue reading

Police horses, 1931

Civil services are always under constant scrutiny by members of the public, who as rate papers invariably feel they deserve more. The following rather humorous letter appeared in the Paarl Post of 1931, where the reader complained that Paarl’s police horses not only looked like hags, but were also in a deplorable condition.

Geagte redakteur:

… Die perde waarmee die politiedienaars van vroeër diens gedoen het, was die moeite werd om die aandag van enige liefhebber van diere te trek. Nieteenstaande die afwezigheid van die aantreklikheid van die ou diere, word hulle egter nog geduld deur die publiek … Dit is eintlik ‘n aardigheid om die gewilligheid, moed en trou te sien, dog die ontbrekende kragte wat aan die dag gelê word. Hulle maak nie eintlike meer ‘n zwierige vertoning nie. Ek is bepaald skaam vir die politieman se part om op so ‘n ou dier te ry. Die jonger perde wat vars in die tuig is, oortref die ouders nie in vertoning nie en is bykans magerder, en wat gewig bedref, kom hulle ver kort. Nou var ek die publiek watter diens kan hulle van sulke uitgeruste beskermers verwag. Kan ‘n politieman ‘n vluchtende misdadiger op so ‘n onbekwame dier achtervolg? Ek het op ‘n dag ‘n politieman zes myl van die dorp om vyf-uur die agtermiddag in die winter teen ‘n bult teëgekom, voor sy perd in plaas van op hom! Te uitgeput was die arme dier om sy ruiter te dra.

Paarl Post, 7 February 1931


Who can still recall these old car number plates?

Austin car on Paarl Mountain, c1930s (Photograph donation by C Rossouw, now part of the Gribble Collection)

Many Paarl cars still use the CJ prefix. This photograph of an Austin car was taken on Paarl Mountain in the 1930s (C Rossouw, Gribble Collection)

Some trivial information, but a great guessing game for car lovers. Who can still match these number plates to towns in the Cape Province. Some prefixes are still recognisable, while others have since changed. The list is an extract for an article printed in the Paarl Post on 17 February 1923.

Cape Town (C.A.), Aliwal North (C.AE.), Venterstad (C.ACo.), Beaufort West (C.AI.), Bredasdorp (C.AK.), De Aar (C.ALo.), Caledon (C.AM.), Calvinia (C.AN.), Carnarvon (C.AO.), Ceres (C.AQ.), Clanwilliam (C.AR.), Fraserburg (C.AV.), Williston (C.AVo.), George (C.AW.), Graaff Reinet (C.AZ.), Port Elizabeth (C.B.), Hope Town (C.BE.), Laingsburg (C.BM.), Montagu (C.BR.), Namaqualand (C.BU.), Petrusville (C.BXo.), Sutherland (C.CJ.), Swellendam (C.CK.), Victoria West (C.CR.), Tulbagh (C.CM.), Worcester (C.I.) and Paarl (C.J).

For more about car licence plates, have a look at the following Wikipedia article.

Famous Hungarian violinist visits Paarl

Ede Reményi and Johannes Brahams 1852 (WikiMedia Commons)

Ede Reményi and Johannes Brahams 1852 (WikiMedia Commons)

On Saturday evening 21 April 1888, Ede Reményi, a Hungarian violinist, performed in Paarl. According to the advertisement placed in the Paarl District Advertiser, Mrs OT de Villiers and Misses A and N de Villiers, and Harold E Stidolph, pianist, also performed that evening.

Reményi (1828-1898) was born in Miskoic in Hungary and was banished for taking part in the Hungarian Revolution (1848). In Germany he befriended Johannes Brahams, then only 15 years old. Reményi spent four years touring in America before returning to Europe in 1852. The following year he went on tour with Brahms. In 1854 he performed for Queen Victoria, and after his pardon in 1860, performed for Emperor Franz Joseph. He died in 1898 during a concert in San Francisco.

Paarl District Advertiser, 1 April 1888

Ganzen in de straat


Wilhelm de Villiers was gedagvaard door de Municipaliteit omdat hij de regulaties had overtreden doordien zijn ganzen in de publieke straat hadden gelopen op 26 Maart. Hij pleitte schuldig onder provocatie, dewijl de ganzen zonder zijn verlof hun hok hadden verlaten. Vonnis 2s 6d boete.

Paarl District Advertiser, 2 May 1888

Order of service – seating of women in the church

Today it is difficult to believe that society could be governed by so many rules and conventions. Someone recently brought the following note to me. It is titled: “Rangskikking van sitplase in die kerk te Stellenbosch, 5 Jan. 1748)”, and was published in the minutes of the church council, 22 Dec. 1805. The same rules would have applied to the Strooidak Church in Paarl. The note listed women’s status as follows: Continue reading

Tobacco as currency

Smokers, a painting by Mattheus van Helmont c1850 (Wikimedia Commons)

Smokers, a painting by Mattheus van Helmont c1850 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Spanish were the first to grow commercial crops of tobacco in the early 1600s, and by the time Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape in 1652, tobacco smoking was already a popular pastime in Europe. Tobacco became a favoured currency in Van Riebeeck’s barter transactions with the indigenous Khoikhoi tribes. By 1681 four tonnes of Virginian tobacco and seven tonnes of Brazilian tobacco were imported to the Cape for bartering purposes. At the time the going rate for a single head of cattle was about 500g of tobacco and a few strings of glass beads. In 1698 along the Cape imported 30,000 clay pipes. These long thin stemmed clay pipes were relatively cheap, but broke easily. Each pipe carried the mark of its maker, and today archeologists use these unique trademarks to date the pipes and by deduction, the approximate date of occupation of  archaeological sites.

Source: Paarl Post, 4 February, 2010

Ghost stories for Halloween

The volunteers at the Drakenstein Heemkring sometimes get rather odd queries, and by far the oddest was one in which two people wanted to look at our photographic collection in order to identify ghosts. More specifically, have a look at clothing in order to date the individual ghosts. We were extremely sceptical, but it soon became quite clear that the two young women knew their ghosts well enough to describe items of clothing in great detail. What was more, they did not  only have one or two “visitors”, but possibly as many as twenty. Where was their farm-stall? we wanted to know, and they described one on the Wellington-Klapmuts road behind Paarl Mountain. The farm-stall it would seem, had been built on what may have been a 19th century graveyard.

One of the Drakenstein Heemkring‘s committee members has quite a number of stories about haunted houses in Paarl, but I thought I would document some ghost stories I picked up in some of the old Paarl Posts we have at the Heemkring.

The first was documented in the Paarl Post of 16 May, 1939 and told by Hugo Vercueil, who grew up on a farm in Agter-Paarl and a owned Klein Schuur in Paarl. In the article he told the reporter that growing up, the workers on his father’s farm always said that they would invariably hear a blood curling scream just before sunset a day or two before someone died.  This Agter-Paarl farm was clearly haunted. Continue reading

Oaks – our cultural heritage

Oaks, Main Street

Oaks, Main Street

This time of the year Paarl’s oaks become prone to fungal diseases, and without fail the debate of replacing Paarl’s iconic oaks begins. Oaks are vilified for not being indigenous, for having branches that break off, andOaks may not be indigenous to the Cape, but they are certainly part of our cultural landscape, and have been so for more than three hundred years.

Timber played an important role in those early economies. Trees provided wood for construction, and carpenters used wood to make doors, windows, furniture and to build wagons. Every household needed wood for cooking fires and to warm houses in winter. At the Cape, timber was also used to repair ships during their stopover between the East Indies and Europe. Continue reading