It had been a long, hot day filled with wonderful scenery. We travelled from the winelands of the Tulbagh Valley into the Warm Bokkeveld through Michell’s Pass, and from there into the Little Karoo. And then, after driving through miles of empty veld, we turned into the main street (only street) of the historic village of Matjiesfontein where we were booked into the Matjies Motel.
The main hotel, the Lord Milner Hotel, was built by James Logan, the Laird of Matjiesfontein, in 1899. James Logan was an entrepreneur who started his life in South Africa as an immigrant from Scotland. He got a job as a porter on the railways in South Africa, rising rapidly, and was soon in charge of the section between Touws River and Prince Albert on the line between Cape Town and Kimberley. He bought a farm in the area which he named Tweedside, sunk boreholes, and planted fruit trees. He then secured the contract for supplying water for the railway’s steam engines (there was no watering stop between Touws River and De Aar) and catering for passengers. The Lord Milner Hotel was built in 1892 to meet the needs of passengers.
The public rooms are gracious and on two evenings I enjoyed a pre-dinner G&T in peaceful Victorian surroundings – in the middle of the Karoo
In the grounds is a small chapel, which was originally built to house a gas-generating plant for the village. It was converted by into a chapel by the hotel’s second owner, David Rawdon.
The train stopped at the station building which has now been converted to a museum, and crossed the road to the hotel and refreshments. Nowadays the Blue Train stops here twice a week and one of the stops was while we were sitting on the verandah. People trooped off the train and through the hotel and I wondered if they had any idea what they were seeing.
Alongside the hotel is a derelict cricket ground. The first game was played here in 1889 when the new waterworks opened and visiting international English teams under Lord Hawke in 1894 and 1896, including one of the first Test Matches between South Africa and England in 1899, just before the Anglo-African War.
Logan himself lived in Tweedside where he created an indigenous garden (post to come on the gardening blog). He died in 1920 and was buried in the Matjiesfontein Graveyard (post to come).
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