“Picture peaceful streets lined with beautiful oak trees, white-washed settler cottages, and heritage roses; all lying in the gentle shadow of the Boschberg Mountain.”
I was lucky enough to get a guided historical tour through town the day after we moved to Somerset East, courtesy of Oom Francois, one of Somerset East’s oldest and friendliest residents. What a great introduction to this friendly, happy little town. Oom Francois has spent all of his 79 years living and working in and around Somerset East – originally as a farmer in the ‘distrik’, and more recently as an estate agent here in town (he found our house for us!). His father and grandfather were also born and raised in and around town so his stories span decades.
I recently had the pleasure of taking our neighbour’s German visitor back to some of the spots Oom Francois kindly showed me that day – three week’s into our Eastern Cape adventure and I’m a Somerset East tour guide! 😉
Now for those who are historically challenged like me, here’s the lowdown: In 1815, Governor of the Cape Lord Charles Somerset established an experimental farm in the Boschberg region, known as Somerset Farm. The main purpose of the farm was to provide food to the British troops defending the Frontier. The project was cancelled 10 years later, and the farm and surrounding area was proclaimed a town in 1825, called Somerset. The ‘East’ was only added 30 years later (to differentiate between it, and Somerset West in the Western Cape).
I would like, if I may, to take you back a bit further, to 1810, to introduce you to my favourite naturalist, Robert Burchell. He travelled 4,000 miles from the Cape to collect and catalogue the abundance of plant life he found on the Boschberg. What makes Burchell my favourite naturalist? He believed…wait for it…THAT THERE WERE UNICORNS TO BE FOUND ON THE MOUNTAIN. I kid you not! I heart you, Robert Burchell.
Another interesting little fact: The Red-Chested Cuckoo, more commonly known as the Piet-My-Vrou, was discovered and named by French ornithologist, Francois le Vaillant, near where Somerset East now stands. Nogal!
We started our tour in Paulet Street – named after Lord Charles Somerset’s second wife, Lady Mary Paulet. This graciously unpretentious street takes you through the original and oldest part of town, and it’s riddled with national monuments like this charming little building, which used to be a mill.
I have walked past the Little Mill a number of times over the past three weeks and I always stop for a moment to take in her beautifully crooked lines and rusted structure. Isn’t she pretty? This old stone house pictured below was one of Somerset Farm’s original farmhouses, and for years was believed to have been Lord Charles Somerset’s hunting lodge.
This attractive yellow building used to be a school, which Oom Francois attended when he was in Grade 4 and 5, and in recent years was sold, restored and established as a B&B.
A lot of the houses in Paulet Street (and throughout the rest of the town – which I’ll explore in another post) still bear signs of the British Empire:
Somerset East may be small, but it’s fiercely rich in history. What a privilege to live in a town with so many stories to tell!
We must stop here. This is unicorn country.