Artificers' Square - Among the most interesting examples of Settler Architecture

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Wednesday, 22nd January 2014

Over the last few months we have noticed a number of historic properties located on Artificers' Square in Grahamstown come on the market. This piqued our interest in the history of the area which led us to this short description compiled by Désirée Picton-Seymour in her epic 1989 book Historical Buildings in South Africa. Enjoy...

"With the arrival of the 1820 Settlers there was a boom in building, and skilled artisans and craftsmen were at a premium; even Trekkers such as Pieter Retief and Arnolduz Bernadus Dietz went into the profitable building trade. Many of these artisans built their modest homes in and around what is known today as Artificers' Square. A number of the Settler houses have been restored under the auspices of Historic Grahamstown (Pty) Ltd, forming an interesting and unique architectural group.

In order to accommodate the artisans, who because of their skills, were allowed to leave their settlement and come to young and fast-growing Grahamstown, a complete block of the grid plan of the town was cut up into 32 small erven, and allotted to these artisan settlers. The houses they built were simple and faced directly onto the streets. Building methods were primitive, yet the style was basically Georgian, remembered from the country of their origin.

They were either single- or double-storeyed with pitched roofs (originally of thatch) and gable ends with chimneys often abutting one another. The facades consisted of a central front door with windows to the right and left, corresponding with the simple plan of central passageway with front rooms on either side. The kitchen quarters were under a lean-to roof at the back, leading onto a small yard. Typical dwellings, now restored, are Jeffries Cottage and Chapel House, the latter built in 1823 for the Baptist minister William Miller and used as a chapel for some 20 years, until a more suitable building was erected in Bathurst Street.

At the intersection of Bartholomew and Cross Streets, the corners were cut across, thus forming a square. A plan of Grahamstown dated 1824, and now in the Albany Musuem, shows this section of the town on Settlers Hill centred around Artificers' Square. Among the most interesting examples of Settler architecture, these small scaled-down buildings have all the grace of proportioning and vernacular appeal of their larger counterparts in the town."

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