One of South Africa's grandest colonial mansions, Zwartkoppies Hall, 23 km outside Pretoria, is now a fascinating museum that pays tribute to the genius of its original owner.
Set somewhat in acres of rolling veld just outside Pretoria, Zwartkoppies Hall epitomises all the ornate elegance of prosperous colonial households during the latter decades of the last century.
The 48 graciously rooms are filled with all the trappings of refined Victorian living exquisite furniture, porcelain, paintings, silver making it a home truly worthy of Sammy Marks's status as one of the leading industrialists of his day.
The museum is unique in that it's the only Victorian mansion in the country whose interior is preserved intact and wholly authentic. This is thanks largely to the foresight of Sammy Marks, who declared in his will that the house with its contents are to be preserved for four generations after the day he dies.
What is even more appealing about it is that Zwartkoppies Hill has somehow retained some of the well-worn and relaxed ambience of a family home.
It is a gorgeous period piece, soaked in atmosphere and appealingly frayed at the edges, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the his descendants occupied the mansion for most the century.
The high-ceilinged rooms may stand quiet now, but there was a time when the entire house was filled with activity. It was a grand Victorian household in every sense, run by a small group of servants and occupied by several children, Sammy and Bertha, his wife.
It is easy to imagine, as you walk from room to room, how the house once was filled with the happy laughter of children, with the clumping of little boots up and down the Burmese teak staircase, the movement of coach wheels on the gravel driveway, and the invisible scurryings of parlourmaids as they scrubbed and polished, lugged coal and fetched water.
Now you will detect only faint lingering scents of furniture polish and old wood, but a century ago the air in the old house was heavy with the perfume of roses brought in from the garden, mingled with the smell of roasted beef drifting from the kitchen, and cigar smoke coming from the billiard room....
An very impressive home for a man whose origins were so humble. Born in Lithuania, the son of an tailor, Sammy Marks was blessed with integrity, courage, astonishing business acumen and the capacity for sheer hard work, all qualities that helped him rise, in the period of a few decades, from being a peddler of cheap jewelery to one of the old Transvaal Republic's leading industrialists.
He departed for South Africa in 1868, aged 24. After his stint as a smous (peddler) in the Western Cape, he teamed up with his cousin Isaac Lewis, who was to be his life-long business partner, and went to Kimberley, where they made a modest living selling supplies to mines and diggers, and later branched into diamond trading.
After some time they decided to diversify their interests and turned their attention to the Transvaal region, buying concessions and starting a variety of businesses, including a distillery, a canning factory, a glass factory, a brick and tile works, a maize mill and, later, an iron-and-steel works that was to be one of the direct precursors of the steel industry in the Transvaal.
They mined coal on the banks of the Vaal River, where Vereeniging is now, and gained partial control of the rich Sheba mine in Barberton. At the last few years of the 19th century, the Lewis and Marks company had emerged as one of the top ten on the Rand, being both millionaires.
If you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself,' was one of Sammy Marks's favourite expressions, and when the time came to build his own home, he became clerk of works, personally supervising the ordering of materials, which were transported from Durban by ox-wagon.
Endowed with the same unflagging energy that had made her husband so successful in business, Bertha managed the house and its staff with great aplomb, still finding time to raise her eight children, indulge her hobbies of keeping chickens, gardening, and entertaining on a lavish scale.
Luncheons, dinners, croquet on the lawn, tennis and billiards, parties were all regular events, and there were often no fewer than 30 guests at a time. Of course, she was helped her staff of 14, most of whom (the indoor staff, at least) were engaged through an agency in London.
There were parlourmaids, kitchenmaids, laundry-maids and gardeners, as well as a governess and a cook. Then there was the estate carpenter, Mr Potts (also known as Daddy Potts), and the English butler, MacCracken, whose task it was to sound the great gong in the hallway just before dinner.
The massive stove in the kitchen, with five ovens and 10 hot-plates, is testimony to the scale on which the Marks's entertained.
Once you have completed your tour, relax for a while over tea and scones. Tables are under the trees and also on the wide trellised verandah that runs the length of the house, affording splendid views of Bertha's rose garden.
Other Pretoria Museums, Monuments & Landmarks provide a glimpse of the rich history and culture of the city and South Africa.
Where to Stay
Accommodation in Greater Tswane-Pretoria Area are found in the cities of:
* Pretoria with suburbs such as Arcadia, Brooklyn, Garsfontein, Hatfield, Lynnwood and Silver Lakes.
* Centurion with suburbs such as Centurion Central, Clubview, Eldoraigne and Irene.