History of the Estate

 

In 1685 Simon van der Stel, that dynamic, acquisitive and energetic mover and shaker, finally received the grant to the land he wanted in the valley he had decided was the most desirable in the Cape.

But being Van der Stel, he had not been content with the 60 morgen farm that was normally allocated -  he was convinced he deserved more.

His mentor,  Rijckloff van Goens, the Governor General of the Dutch East India Company, agreed with him, and eventually Van der Stel was granted the 892 morgen that became the farm he named Constantia

But even that was not enough, and 12 years later he bought the next door farm, Witteboomen (so named because of its many silver trees) and added it to his estate.

Van der Stel died in 1712, and it took four long years to wind up his vast estate, but eventually in 1716 the area that would one day be named Silverhurst first became a farm in its own right; a German immigrant, Johannes Franck, bought a portion of Witteboomen and somewhat prosaically renamed it “Part of de Witteboomen”. 

In 1803 the last of the Franck family died, having changed the name of the farm to “Frankengift” and left it to his sister’s son.  In 1824 new owners changed the name again, this time to “New Constantia”.

 

In all, the land changed hands 14 times between the death of Van der Stel and its purchase in 1872 by the Gilmour family, who were to remain the owners for more than 100 years.

It was they who changed its name from New Constantia to “Silverhurst” in recognition of the many silver trees on the property (“hurst” is an old English word meaning “hillock” or “wooded hill”). 

Successive owners had steadily added additional land, and by the time it was bought by the Gilmour family it had increased in size from 27 (23 hectares) to 131 morgen (112 ha).

Three generations of the Gilmour family worked the land, through good times and bad, eventually turning to commercial flower growing when wine and fruit prices fell.

Eventually, however, the combination of economic pressure on a smallish farm, and the potential value of the land as a prime housing area won out, and the property was bought by Masterprop in 1987.

The developers were determined to shape the new development as the most prestigious in the country, with limited subdivisions and a single-minded focus on quality.

As part of that focus, one of the first projects was to restore the Silverhurst manor house, a gracious farmhouse whose origins can be traced back some 300 years to about 1716, when Johannes Franck built his first home, a small thatched cottage.

Over the years the building grew substantially, with rooms being added on two sides and a gabled facade and slave bell in about 1815 (probably by the French architect Louis Michel Thibault), and then “modernised” in a rather heavy-handed manner in the 1940s.

But when the decision was taken to convert Silverhurst to a prestigious country estate, the developers decided to restore the house “to a condition consistent with a Constantia farmhouse of the early 19th century”, although a wing added in the 1920s was retained as “sympathetic to the design”.

 

History Timeline

All the 1940s changes were undone, the traditional H-shape was restored (voorkamer, agterkamer and two side rooms), modern ceilings removed and replaced with reeded types where appropriate and traditional fittings and designs lovingly restored or replaced.

The flooring was replaced, quarry tiles laid, the roof retimbered and rethatched and new outbuildings constructed, also with plastered walls and a thatched roof.

A neglected “Italianate” fountain in the front was restored by sculptor Nico Verboom and finally the house surrounded by a formal landscaped garden.

Fittingly, the first plots on Silverhurst were offered for sale on 20 November, when 500 guests were invited to see the beautifully restored manor house that was now ready to take its place as the centrepiece of what was destined to become the Cape’s most prestigious residential estate.