The day it snowed in Paarl

Dr Frans Petrus Bester (1875-1956), Paarl's district surgeon, standing next to his Swift motorcar (Gribble Collection, Drakenstein Heemkring, Paarl).

Dr Frans Petrus Bester (1875-1956), Paarl’s district surgeon,  next to his Swift motorcar during the snowfall (Gribble Collection, Drakenstein Heemkring, Paarl).

Today, 100 years ago – on Monday, 24 August 1914 – it snowed in Paarl’s streets. It was then, and still is, a very rare phenomenon. In fact, there is no other record in the town’s history of snow every falling in its streets. According to contemporary records, it started to snow at about 10:30 in the morning and continued for an hour and a half. The following eyewitness report appeared in the Paarl Post four days later, on 29 August, 1914. Continue reading

HMS Drummond Castle almost claims famous composer’s life

Rocco Catorzia de Villiers (1838-1902). Photograph taken on 19 June 1890. Drakenstein Heemkring, Gribble Collection

Rocco Catorzia de Villiers (1838-1902). Photograph taken on 19 June 1890. Drakenstein Heemkring, Gribble Collection

Tragedies like the recent crash of the Air Malaysia flight over the Ukraine, are often accompanied by extraordinary stories of people who narrowly missed tragedy by some seemly random event. Something similar happened to one of Paarl’s most famous 19th century musician-composers – Rocco de Villiers.

In May 1896 Rocco de Villiers booked a berth on the HMS Drummond Castle to visit London and Germany from where he imported pianos for his shop in Paarl. His travelling party included MS du Toit, Rev Frans du Toit, Jan Moll, Dolf Moll, Frans Retief and Frans Roux – all from Paarl. Continue reading

Diamant, a portrait of a farm in 1885

Diamant farm in Agter Paarl, land grant 1693

Diamant farm in Agter Paarl, land grant 1693

Diamant farm was officially granted to Coenraad CLOETE in 1693, although it is likely that he had already started farming the 60 morg property by 1692. Cloete was married to Martha VERSCHUUR and owned the farm until his death in 1704. The farm lies on the western slopes of Paarl Mountain, and is flanked by Sandwyk and Fairview wine estates.

It is often very difficult to imagine what a farm looked like a century ago, and here old newspapers prove to be an invaluable resource. Take for instance the auction notice for the sale of Diamant farm on 25 April 1885. The advertisement in the Paarl District Advertiser mentions the owner’s name – Jacob Jozua Francois LE ROUX (Joz zn) and describes the property as follows: 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


Business licences, 1885

FJ van Wagtendonk had a shop in Ou Tuin - Paarl District Advertiser, 11 September 1885

FJ van Wagtendonk had a shop in Ou Tuin – Paarl District Advertiser, 11 September 1885

Old newspapers are a valuable source of genealogical information, especially because they often printed long lists of names of people and businesses that had applied for trading licences. The following is an extract from the list that was printed in the Paarl District Advertiser on Wednesday, 11 February 1885.

Apothecary: F Townsend (2), C Teitge, Dr Fismer, Dr van Breda, Dr Hoffman, Dr Botha

Agric. Distiller: JJ le Roux, EG Retief, AC Siebrits, M Louw, EJ Joubert, GD Marais, AP Retief

Auctioneer: DF Marais, JF Pentz, AB de Villiers, JD Cilliers

Baker: JH Boddenryk, L Dornbrack, A Fortuin, J Krige, J Arnold, FH Skead, Mrs Herbert, JF de Villiers, LB Siebrits, H van Heerden, Mrs E Hauptfleisch, B Greef

The list was signed by Ll. Powys Jones, pro Sub-Distributor of Stamps, CC Office, The Paarl on 31 January 1885.

A complete list of all business licences issued in Paarl during 1885 (24 pages) is available on the Drakenstein Heemkring’s website.

Paarl District Advertiser, 11 February 1885


Royal Baking Powder

Royal Baking Powder factory, Jan van Riebeeck Drive - Drakenstein Heemkring, Gribble Collection

Royal Baking Powder factory, Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Paarl – (Gribble Collection, AG771)

The Royal Baking Powder company was founded in the USA by the brothers Cornelius and Joseph C Hoagland in 1866, who in 1888 registered the Royal Baking Powder trademark in South Africa. At the time Paarl was at the centre of the Cape’s wine industry, and was a natural choice to establish a company that required large quantities of cream of tartar. By the 1930s Royal Baking Powder was one of the four largest industries in Paarl. The building depicted on the photograph was completed in 1932 and was designed by the architects Robers & Small in Cape Town. Note the Cape Town – Paarl – Wellington railway line in the foreground. Continue reading

Famous Fillis Circus visits Paarl, 1888


Backstage at the circus 1891, painting by Arturo Michelena (1863-1898) –            (Wikimedia Commons)

In April 1888 the famous Fillis Circus visited Paarl and produced three shows on Market Square. Frank Fillis (1857-1921) was a circus impresario. He produced his first show in South Africa in 1883, and became known for his elaborate and lavish productions in Johannesburg, Kimberley and Cape Town. His company had more than 100 performers and also toured the British Empire. His wife Vincenda was said to be the first “human cannon ball”. The Boswell brothers also worked for the Fillis Circus. The Boswell family later went on to establish their own circus. Continue reading

La Mode

The Drakenstein Heemkring has a fascinating collection of taped interviews, and it was while I was listening to the all but forgotten Tape No.42 in the Heemkring’s archives that I discovered that a really famous couturier lived in Paarl in the early 1900s.

Paarl’s “Christian Dior” was of course Braam (Abraham Lochner) de Villiers of La Mode on the corner of Main and Hout Streets.

The tape records a conversation between WA de Klerk and Marguerite de Villiers and her recollections provide a lively peak into Paarl before World War II.

Braam de Villiers was born in the 1870s and was the eldest of six children and the head of the family after their parent’s early death. Braam showed his flair for fashion and design from an early age, and by the turn of the century he travelled regularly to New York, Rome and Paris to view the latest fashions.

Back home, his sisters Kitty and Gerty – then in their late teens – provided ideal models to show off his gowns. Fashion conscious women thought nothing of driving from Cape Town to Paarl for an appointment with Braam de Villiers. In Paarl women were equally enthralled by his gowns and anyone who had aspirations to be noticed and seen, wore his creations. And as everybody went to church on Sundays, the morning service provided a ideal opportunity to show off the latest La Mode creations.

In the interview, his niece Marguerite de Villiers recalls that on Sunday mornings her uncle would dress up his two sisters – beautiful gowns with matching hats – and then set off to church in his limousine driven by Floris the chauffeur. Then, with perfect timing they would wait until everybody was seated before making an entrance.

In those days people had their own pews in church, and Braam’s pew was in the third row from the front, right under the pulpit. Little wonder then that Braam and his sisters’ progress down the aisle would be followed by urgent whispers of “what are the La Modes wearing, what are the La Modes wearing”. After the service the gowns, style of the hat or the choice of material would be discussed in great detail.

When the two girls finished their schooling at La Rochelle, he took them on a Grand Tour of Europe to finish off their education.

Marguerite de Villiers recalls that while they were on this Grand Tour, Braam met his future wife Clara Hussey, an American heiress from Pittsburgh. The couple were married in Pittsburgh in 1911. On the return journey Kitty met another wealthy American businessman, Henry Schwab, and they were married the following year.

In 1913 Braam and Clara bought the farm Klein Constantia and moved to Cape Town.  They restored the farm and threw lavish parties. For the young Marguerite it was a magical period  of candle lit dinners, silver and fashionable people. For the children Braam and Clara organised “goblin parties’ during which Floris had to dress up as a goblin.

Visits to Paarl became less frequent, but were still marked by more parties and an endless stream of visitors.

Braam de Villiers died in 1930. A memorial service was held at Klein Constantia, followed by another service in Paarl. Hundreds crowded the Toringkerk to pay their last respects to one of Paarl’s great personalities.

[The article was written by Marguerite Lombard and appeared in the Paarl Post, 4 July 2008]

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.

Liquor licences provide valuable genealogical data

Wine barrels (Wikimedia Commons)

Wine barrels (Wikimedia Commons)

Notice is hereby given that in terms of the provisions of Act No 28 of 1883, and 25 of 1891, a meeting of the Licensing Court for the division of Paarl, will be held in the Court Room at the Paarl, on Wednesday the 4th day of March 1896, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, for the purpose of considering the undermentioned applications for wine and spirit Licences.

The lists printed in the De Paarl and the Paarl District Advertiser are interesting in that they provide the names of hotels and their proprietors, and also show that some residents also sold wine from the homes, as did some of the wine farmers close to town.

The list of applicants in De Paarl newspaper of 6 February 1896 included:

Bottle Store Licences, Renewals

  • Abraham Johannes de Villiers (JJ zn) at the premises of Mr J Francke (Ward No 3 Paarl)
  • G A Decker, at his premises, Market Square, Paarl
  • Isaac J Bosman, at the premises of Mrs J D Bosman (Ward No 1 Paarl)
  • John Charles Graham Mackintosh, East Street, Wellington
  • Jan de Ville Minnaar, at the premises of Mr J H L Minnaar (Ward No 1 Paarl)
  • Blignaut & Company, at their premises (Ward No 1 Paarl)
  • Frans P Hoffman, at the premises of the Paarl Berg Wijn Brandewijn en Spiritus Maatschappij, Lady Grey Bridge Station, Paarl

Continue reading