The use of masonry blockhouses at railway bridges is consistent, but in the other locations cited, there seems to have been no firm rule and masonry and corrugated iron structures were interchangeable. The reason for this may be that many of the masonry examples were built at the end of and in the early months of , before the mass-production of corrugated blockhouses began. Major Rice introduced an octagonal corrugated design in February and only invented his circular corrugated blockhouse later.
By this time the Boers had lost most of their artillery and the double-skin corrugated iron wall with the shingle filling provided sufficient protection against rifle fire. The high cost and long construction period of the masonry blockhouses also probably swayed opinion in favour of the corrugated design. In spite of this, the advantage of the additional height of the three-storeyed masonry structure may have allowed further examples of this type of blockhouse to be built at a later date in flatter terrain. Design variations To the average tourist who has seen masonry blockhouses along the Cape Town-Johannesburg railway line, these structures may appear to be identical, although in variable states of repair.
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To the author, however, it is the wide variety of blockhouse designs, many of which formed distinct regional groups described below , that aroused his interest:. Along the railway lines, these standard pattern blockhouses defended major river bridges, while corrugated ones were found at intervals to cover the railway line itself. A view of the standard pattern Modder River Blockhouse, taken during the war. Photo: McGregor Museum. The standard pattern blockhouses were constructed of mortared stonework or reinforced concrete and measured 6,1 m square externally.
They were almost always three storeys high, the ground floor typically being used as a storage area, the first floor as a living area and the second floor for observation over the countryside under a pyramid-shaped timber and corrugated iron roof, with small gabled extensions over the steel machicouli galleries. The latter were cantilevered out from the walls at two diagonally opposite corners to allow flanking fire along the wall faces in the case of an attack.
The ground floor had two loopholes per wall. The entrance door was situated on the first floor, which also had three windows one in the centre of each wall and there were two loopholes on either side of these openings. The second floor had four loopholes at low level in each of the parapet walls, the gap between the top of the parapet and the eaves of the roof being closed by canvas 'drops', which could be rolled up in fine weather. The walls of the blockhouse were mm thick on the ground floor, mm on the first floor and mm on the second floor, the internal offsets carrying the upper timber floors.
Access to the blockhouse was by a ladder to the first floor, which could be drawn up inside in the event of an attack.
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Similar ladders inside the building gave access to the floors above and below. The roof was fitted with galvanised gutters which discharged rainwater through internal downpipes to circular corrugated iron water tanks on the ground floor, in the two corners opposite those occupied by the machicouli galleries.
The tanks were topped up regularly in dry weather, by train in the case of railway blockhouses or by water carts brought in from adjacent garrison towns. Food, ammunition, mail, etc, was delivered in a similar manner. The stable-type door, window shutters, loophole plates and galleries were all made of mm thick steel plate, 9 each with a x 75 mm, or a mm circular, loophole through which to fire.
The author has found only one exception to the three-storey rule in the standard pattern blockhouse. This blockhouse is built on a thick concrete foundation, reinforced by two rows of railway lines to stabilise the structure on the sand dunes and the entrance is on the lower floor level. The construction was not totally successful, as the two loopholes nearest to the south corner on the lower level have been blocked, internally, by stonework.
Orange River Station, a two-storeyed standard pattern blockhouse. There are a few minor variations in the design of standard pattern blockhouses around the country. Around Harrismith, these structures exhibit a gabled instead of a pyramidal roof, with vertical corrugated cladding on the gable ends and the roof is cut back over the machicouli galleries.
There is only one loophole on each side of the entrance at first floor level. The Reservoir Blockhouse, Harrismith.
The group of standard pattern blockhouses at Stormberg Junction, Burgersdorp and Aliwal North Buffelspruit in the Eastern Cape have square rather than the customary circular bases for the ground floor water tanks, with a drainage slot cut through each base to the overflow opening through the external wall. Some examples including those at the Stormberg Junction and Buffelspruit have had a doorway inserted at ground floor level at a later date when the blockhouses were 'recycled'.
This enables visitors today to view the interior of the blockhouse more easily, without having to carry a ladder. In addition, the Stormberg Junction South Blockhouse has staircases to both of the upper levels, which, judging by the spacing of the floor joists, appear to be an original feature. That there would not have been space for a water tank beneath the lower staircase may be accounted for by the easy availability of water at the nearby railway station.
The Stormberg Junction South Blockhouse. Note the square water tank base. There are no machicouli galleries here, but there are chamfered corners above the level of the loophole sills on the first floor. This building also has only one shuttered window on this level, opposite the entrance. There is one loophole on each side of the door and window, the other two walls being pierced by three loopholes per side and an angled loophole inserted at each corner see the Magaliesberg pattern below, where the chamfered corners and angled loopholes are a regular feature.
The Warrenton Railway Bridge Blockhouse. These masonry blockhouses were generally erected by contractors under the supervision of Royal Engineers personnel. The contract time allowed was six weeks, but delays in railway transport, the incorrect delivery of material, shortage of labour, etc, resulted in greatly extended building periods. The western blockhouse at the Breede River [WCJ took five months and eleven days to complete, 12 indicating that 'don't you know there's a war on' had little effect even during Victoria's reign!
Mortared stonework blockhouses were considered preferable to the concrete ones as less cement was used 90 casks for stonework and for concrete , a harder face and neater appearance were achieved, and the quality of the work could be more easily checked. The concrete blockhouses were possibly constructed in areas which had no natural stone, or they may have been experimental. Stone for masonry blockhouses was generally quarried on site, but could also have been transported by train for those blockhouses situated near to a railway line.
Other patterns of masonry blockhouse examined were all built of mortared stonework. A concrete standard pattern at Merriman. This makes for interesting reading, particularly for their value in hindsight, as many of the suggestions are seen not to have been used in the well-preserved examples 12 The major points in the report are summarised below:.
They are safer and more convenient and can be more easily washed out. However, at Mooi River [NC], a buried external tank is visible in contemporary photographs.
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Placed thus, the danger of falling through them is practically obviated and standards and chains for their protection rendered unnecessary. At Stormberg Junction South, despite the timber staircases at both levels, there are still the mandatory central traps in both floors, which seems to suggest that they were necessary for moving stores or weapons down to the ground floor or up to the second.
Interior of the top floor at Stormberg Junction South, showing the trap door and machicouli gallery. Wooden ladders are cumbersome, get broken and are apt to be used as fuel' - a practical suggestion regarding the material to be used, but vertical ladders between the floors would make hasty climbing more difficult, especially if the soldier was carrying something.
General Wood had sloping ladders in his design. However, the passage of time and neglect may account for some of these gaps. At Merriman and Brakpoort [NC] in the Karoo, the dry climate has preserved the limewash in its entirety and, interestingly, the whitened loophole plates are numbered in black paint, presumably to facilitate speedy dispersal of each soldier to his post in the event of an attack.
Denys Reitz, in his book, Commando, records that he fired into the loopholes of a fort during the Smuts Commando's attack on Springbok [WC] in April , resulting in the deaths of several of the defenders and the perforation of the water tank which led to the capitulation of the garrison. It ranged from seven to forty men, commanded by a subaltern or senior NCO. The Magaliesberg pattern A most distinctive type of masonry blockhouse is found defending the passes and high points of the Magaliesberg region to the west of Pretoria.
Clearly designed by an engineer with an affinity for medieval military architecture, they feature crenellated parapets above a flat roof, a wide range of plan shapes and the chamfering of external angles above the loophole sills to accommodate additional loopholes at the angles. The different plan shapes show an almost perverse variety.
The group of three on the mountain to the east of Kommandonek [NW] are, respectively from the bottom, square, T-shaped, and L-shaped. The blockhouse to the west of the nek is rectangular. The example at Hekpoort has a chevron or obtuse arrowhead shaped plan. All the Magaliesberg pattern blockhouses are single-storeyed and, where they are constructed on a rounded hilltop, the site has been levelled with a terrace comprising a surrounding revetment of unmortared stonework and a flat bed of small stone chippings.
The flat roof of the Hekpoort blockhouse comprises steel I-beams supporting arched sections of corrugated iron, 15 on which concrete has been poured to form a deck with a slope to direct rainwater to two outlet holes through the parapet walls on the inside faces of the chevron shape. The Kommandonek East lower and middle blockhouses and the Kommandonek West one were roofed in a similar manner, as witnessed by the fallen concrete rubble with impressions of corrugated iron upon them. The upper example at Kommandonek East and that at Broederstroom [NW] had flat roofs of lighter construction, probably timber and corrugated iron.
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The Magalieberg pattern blockhouse at Hekpoort. These blockhouses each had the standard steel stable door, shuttered windows and loopholes; the windows in the short end walls at Hekpoort were positioned above the loopholes and were so high above the floor level that an iron strap step was built into the wall below the loophole to give access to the window.
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The floors were of boarded and joisted timber, carried on wall offsets, with extra sleeper walls in some instances and with openings for ventilation of the space beneath the floor. One unique feature of the blockhouse at Broederstroom is the fireplace in the middle of one of the long walls. It had offsets to support a grate, a bar to hang a kettle or cooking pot on a hook above the flames and the wall is thickened externally to accommodate the flue.
When one considers the cold winters experienced in many parts of South Africa, it is surprising that this was not a regular feature in the masonry blockhouses. The fireplace at the Broederstroom blockhouse. Another feature associated with the Magaliesberg pattern blockhouses, resulting from the mountainous terrain in which they are located, is the existence of mule tracks leading up to them from nearby roads. These tracks are generally 1, m wide, revetted in drystone on the lower side occasionally on both sides to a height of anything up to two metres and finished on the top with a bed of fine stone chippings.
They are usually in a good state of repair, despite being used today as hiking trails. One of the best, although built for a corrugated blockhouse, runs up the ridge of the Magaliesberg to the west of Pampoennek for a total distance of about half a kilometre. A well-preserved mule track at Pampoennek. There were several Magaliesberg pattern blockhouses within the present municipal area of Pretoria which have been demolished but which were photographed before they disappeared.
The best known of these was situated at Wonderboompoort. The Daspoortrant pattern This type is peculiar to the mountain ridges around Pretoria and is characterised by a regular rectangular plan measuring 6,,25 m wide and ,3 m long outside with wall offsets and a central sleeper wall running along the length of the interior to carry the timber floor.
Most examples found have been destroyed above the level of the floor offset so that other features of the design are uncertain, but old photographs of what appear to be Daspoortrant pattern blockhouses show a preference for gabled corrugated or flat roofs, steel angle galleries and single-storeyed construction. The galleries on these examples are square in plan with the outer corner cut off, unlike the rectangular galleries of the standard pattern. A variant of the Daspoortrant pattern is represented by the only complete stone blockhouse in Greater Pretoria, Johnston's Redoubt, situated in the grounds of Libertas, Bryntirion.
This structure is 6,2 m square externally, single-storeyed with galleries, and it has a door in the centre of the side facing south, which is flanked by a loophole on either side. The remaining three walls each have a shuttered window and three loopholes.