LE ROUX TOWNHOUSE
THE TOWNHOUSE MUSEUM
These townhouses were meant to be purely functional. Thus their construction was simple and unadorned. The Le Roux Townhouse which now forms part of the C.P. Nel Museum-complex was markedly different from other such buildings. The house was built in 1909, when Oudtshoorn was in the midst of the second Ostrich Feather Boom (1900 -1914). Money being no object, the brief for this Townhouse was that it be designed by one of Oudtshoorn’s best-known architects, with the most modern innovations, and built with the best of imported and local materials.
Because of its gracious opulence, it stood head and shoulders above the ordinary townhouse, several of which are still to be seen in the area north of the Church, i.e. Camp and Loop Streets.
Choice feathers fetched unbelievable prices, which in turn brought unaccustomed wealth to both farmer and merchant.
This was augmented by the concurrent expansion of the Tobacco Industry, and soon began the rivalry between farmer and merchant to see who could build the more beautiful “Feather Palace” or luxury home.
THE LE ROUX FAMILY
The couple had four children, viz. Rosina (Rose) Elizabeth, born 22.7.1898, Maria Magdalena born 15.1.1900 with her twin sister Beattie (who died aged 14 months); and a son, Johannes Hendrik Josephus born 6.1.1904. The Le Roux couple frequently offered hospitality to the famous and even Royalty, amongst others, Princess Alice and the Duke of Connaught (the Earl and Countess of Athlone) and Princess Beatrice in 1923; the then Prince of Wales, in 1925; Prince George, Duke of Kent (killed in an aircrash during World War II); Cecil John Rhodes; the writer H. Ryder Haggard, and others.
He won several medals for the outstanding quality of his ostrich feathers exhibited at Cape and London Shows, as also trophies and other prizes for his imported cattle.
HISTORY OF THE SITE AND HOUSE
After Morkel it passed through the hands of seven owners before being acquired by Le Roux, In 1908 the well-known Oudtshoorn architect, Charles Bullock, designed the present “Townhouse” for John le Roux. Building operations by Coe & Bolton Contractors started in 19O9 and was completed in 191O. An interesting aside is that in 1905 Bullock also designed the one-time Boys’ High School, now the C.P. Nel Museum.
During the great Spanish “Flu epidemic of 1918 a Dr. J.A. Raubenheimer hired rooms in Le Roux’s “Pioneer House” as a temporary hospital for his patients, as his Private Hospital on the opposite corner of Loop Street was overflowing. One of the best-known couturiers of South Africa, Sarie Marshall, hired the “Pioneer House” from 1946 to 1952 from Le Roux to establish her business: “Sarie se Naaldwerkdiens / Sarie’s Sewing Service”. She later gained world-wide prominence with her ostrich-feather trimmed wedding gowns.
The three Le Roux offspring were the co- heirs of the house on the death of “John Plan” on 28.9.1947, each one having his/her own room. The son, Johan’s and his wife Lucia’s four children were all born in the front bedroom, as well as Rose’s only daughter, Ada. In 1961, after the death of her husband, Rose (van Niekerk) bought the house from her brother and sister and lived there until her death in 1977.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE TOWNHOUSE
The thick sandstone walls (built with dressed stone from the nearby quarries), the verandahs that almost encircled the house, the high ceilings and the large sash windows with their heavy wooden shutters were sufficient protection against Oudtshoorn’s climatic extremes. The corrugated- iron verandahs, decorated with gleaming white cast-iron lace-work brackets and railings, also all the iron-work of the portico, boundry-wall railings and the peak of the tower, contrast beautifully with the raw sandstone walls and red roof.
The rectangular jut of the tower room on the south-western corner and the triangular bay windows of the other two corners are typically Regency, whilst the asymmetry of the whole layout is more a Rococco element. This playing with styles created great complexity for the roof construction, which impression is underscored by the octagonal convex roof cladding of the tower.
Colourful stained glass panels of Art Nouveau-type with flowers and orientally inspired butterfly-wings, are incorporated in the front door, passage door and passage window. Copper instead of the more common lead adds to the overall impression of luxury. The ceilings, cornices and dados of the reception rooms are of embossed papier-mache. All the external woodwork is of imported Burmese teak, while the inner doors and frames are artistically “grained” to resemble oak. The fire-places and bathroom-basin support are of imported cast-iron. The Art Nouveau influence is noticable in the electric-lamp shades and the glazed tiles of the dining-room fireplace and the bathroom.
This dwelling was one of the first houses in Oudtshoorn that could boast with an indoor bathroom and toilet. It was also one of the first to be supplied with electricity. The oilcloth coverings on the pantry shelves, the wall-paper of the master bedroom and the cotton and lace window-shades are original, dating from 1909, as are the carpets in the master bedroom and sitting-room and the linoleum of the rest of the house with the exception of the kitchen and bathroom.
MUSEUM AND NATIONAL MONUMENT STATUS
On the 22nd February 1980 the house was declared a National Monument.
Public Holidays: closed
Reservation / Enquiries: 044 272 3676
146 High Street – Oudtshoorn
R25 adults | R5 children (tickets at the CP Nel Museum – Baron van Reede Street)
Source: Extracted from the Official leaflet which was compiled by: A.Holtzhausen