16 June 2013

Sunset at the Witkop Blockhouse

When traveling through certain areas of South Africa one observes these strange upright square buildings with window openings but no windows. They are generally built of stone and seem to be from a bygone era which they in fact are. These are the Blockhouses that were built during the Anglo Boer war (1899 - 1902)

Most of the 441 masonry blockhouses were constructed between December 1900 and the early part of 1901. They were built to the standard 3 storyed blockhouse design by Chief Engineer Major-General E. Wood using mortared stonework or reinforced concrete. They were erected at important points such as railway bridges, railway stations and towns. 

The standard 3 storey masonry blockhouse housed between seven and forty men. The use of the ground floor was for storage, the first floor as a living area and the second floor for observation over the countryside. The gap between the eaves of the pyramid shaped timber and corrugated iron roof and the top of the parapet wall on the second floor was closed by canvas “drops” during bad weather. Two steel machicouli galleries were placed at two diagonally opposite corners to allow flanking fire along the walls in case of an attack. They could also be used as a mounting platform for a machine gun. Access to the blockhouse was by means of a ladder to a steel stable type door situated on the first floor. The ladder could be drawn up inside in an event of an attack. Trap doors were situated in the middle of each wooden floor and access to the next floor was by means of a wooden ladder.

The roof was fitted with galvanized gutters, which chanelled rainwater through internal downpipes to circular corrugated iron water tanks on the ground floor. The tanks were topped up regularly in dry weather by train or water cart.

The Witkop Blockhouse was declared a national monument in 1948 and is one of the last fifty left in our country.

Many of these buildings have over the years been destroyed but fortunately, not far from where I live, there is a one in reasonably good condition to be found. I headed out there this afternoon hoping to capture one with a sunset to boot. 

Shot with the Sony A99 and the CZ16-35mm.

Just behind this blockhouse is an abandoned building which made for a good photograph too....

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