One cannot “make” antiques - however, convention allows that new works can be created which will be judged after the passage of a century as to whether or not they have passed the test of time. However, with careful research and skills one can restore an original antique rather than allow it to decay beyond all hope of survival which would deny future generations of a unique experience or possession.
It is clear that our heritage authorities have preferences regarding policies to be applied when addressing the restoration of historic sites. These policies are open to interpretation and many factors have to be taken into consideration. Factors such as accessibility, context, rarity, historic significance, risk exposure and vulnerability must be taken into account and also the acceptable standards currently adopted in similar cases. These aspects must be balanced against the need for security and maintenance and the provision of any services which must be provided along side - and most of all money.
It is clear that the creation of a Sustainable Heritage Tourism Business Plan for the site will require some restoration as well as conservation measures. The decision to go ahead will then rest with the Heritage Authorities who up to now have made it clear that they are not in favour of restoration, an impediment that must be overcome or else the Association must abandon the project.
In 1806 the expanding “Cape” was a huge territory difficult to protect and at the heart of which was Cape Town. Roads were few and the most effective transport for travellers and goods was by sea, mainly by dangerous inshore routes. There were few places where ships could safely anchor to offload their cargoes, Hout Bay being one of the few where ships could anchor and shelter. However, such places were also accessible to enemy forces and hence a network of forts and outposts were created to protect them.
Left:- This artists impression of what the c.1796 block house at East Fort, shows most of its characteristics. It consisted of a lower story magazine and water cistern, a first and second floor with access to the roof which could be used for observation.
(Castle of good Hope Military Museum artist)
Right :- This elevation and the plan view (below) were drawn by the British military engineers who designed the Blockhouse established by Gen James Craig, Acting Governor General and commander of the British Forces in 1796 subsequent to the first British Occupation in 1795.
Left :- This Plan view of the building gives a clear layout of the three floors and shows the three balconies which had “loopholes” in their floors through which a muskets could defend the walls and entrance ladder.
There are many other historic drawings and pictures which give us additional evidence of what East Fort’s precincts were like before the Fort was bisected by Chapman’s Peak Drive in 1922. If the road engineers of the day had understood the Fort’s significance they may have bypassed the precincts and left it intact. However, in hindsight they may have done us a favour - East Fort is spot on South Africa’s No 1 tourism artery - surely its worth saving as a Heritage Tourism Destination to encourage domestic as well as overseas visitors!
The upper precinct buildings, including the Blockhouse were constructed following the first British occupation in 1795. General Craig also built several other defences in Cape Town, Simons Town as well as here in Hout Bay. As the first Governor General of Canada, Craig built many fortifications there too which may be a good source of more information about Forts of the period.
(Click on the pictures above to see enlarged versions and comments)
The background photograph to this page is a wall at 111 Harrington St. Cape Town (Right). It could have been plastered but it would detract from the obvious charm of an old wall which has undergone many changes over the many years in which it has existed. It tells the story of Cape Town’s early history to the present day and adds ambience and charm to the Head Office of the SA Heritage Resources Agency in which its occupants take pride.
It also adds credence to the adage:-
“If you don’t use it - you lose it”!
Where does one stop? East Fort, an interesting example !
A Nation that turns its back on its history, the lessons and experiences of the past, good or bad, undermines the foundations of its future.
Stop the decline, conserve the site, restore the site or walk away ?
The sixty year rule.