The Demise of a National Monument

Environment

Michele du Plessis

Long ago, in the 1890’s, the famous hunter, Henry Thomas Glynn decided to build a house that would be named Huntington Hall. On a boat trip to England, HT (as he was known amongst his friends) met a Miss Gertrude Gilbertson Dales (1876-1970) who would become his wife. They married in 1896 in England and during that same year, they moved to Huntington Hall in Sabie.

The broad veranda often hosted dinner parties for fifty or more guests and the annual Christmas tree was attended by every man, woman and child in Sabie. Many a visiting dignitary and politician enjoyed the hospitality of HT Glynn and his wife. Lord Milner was a distinguished guest in 1906 and President Paul Kruger stayed at Huntington Hall as he and HT Glynn was planning the then Sabie Game Reserve, now Kruger National Park. HT Glynn was buried in the Glynn Cemetery in 1928 on the property and there are more than 18 graves in the little cemetery.

This once proud building and property became an intrinsic part of the history of Sabie, at one time housing the first school. HT Glynn was also seen as one of the founders of Sabie and he started TGME. During 1880 the mines of the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME) began to exploit reefs and realised that they needed timber. The mines got the timber from the diminutive indigenous forests along the Escarpment. However, these forests were soon exhausted. Plantations of eucalyptus and pine trees were planted, introducing forestry to the area. The rest is history, as the saying goes.

On Friday, October 9, 1987, Huntington Hall was declared a National Monument and Provincial Heritage Site in the Government Gazette No. 10965. (SAHRA Site ID. 9/2/255/0002). This National Monument is classified as a Grade II site, which means that these sites “are so special that they need to be given a status beyond the protection provided by being entered in the Heritage Register, but are not of outstanding national significance. They may be rare examples of their kind, or otherwise be highly representative of a type.” Grading: Purpose and Management Implications, SAHRA.

Huntington Hall – desperately in need of TCL

In the case of Huntington Hall, it seems that this National Monument is in the process of falling apart. Structural alterations (deemed temporary by the owner) to the veranda was made, the fireplace situated in the entrance room is damaged, the tiles gone, trees were cut down, light fittings removed (chandeliers) and replaced with neon lights, the wooden pillars on the veranda damaged with graffiti, walls full of graffiti, the hand basin in the only bathroom clogged, to name but a few. The present state of Huntington Hall defies description.

According to Willie Jacobs, TripsSA, a phone call to the Deeds Office confirmed that Erf 1322, 23 Glynn Avenue, is registered to Thaba Chweu Local Municipality. “The other property, erf 1323, belongs to someone else.”

Mr Benjamin Moduka, Mpumalanga Provincial Heritage Resource Authority (MPHRA), received a GPS News inquiry that included the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for the protection of this site?
  • Are there any permits granting permission to structurally alter the building?
  • Who gave permission for the old trees to be cut down?
  • Who will be responsible for the restoration of the building?
  • What will be done to clean the overgrown cemetery on the property?
  • “Grade II sites are so special that they need to be given a status beyond the protection provided by being entered in the Heritage Register…” Huntington Hall is a Grade II site and entered into the Heritage Register. Did no one in an official capacity inspect this property while it is used as a school?
  • “They may be rare examples of their kind, or otherwise be highly representative of a type. They may connect closely to an event or figure of provincial/regional significance. Grade II sites should enrich the understanding of the cultural, historical, social and scientific development of the region in which they are situated.” Huntington Hall is an intrinsic part of the history of Sabie. Tourists wanting to view this National Monument is not allowed near this site. Is it not counterproductive to the tourism and cultural climate that such a heritage site be allowed to deteriorate and be destroyed in the process? What will be done to rectify this problem?

In a telephonic conversation, Mr Benjamin Moduka acknowledged receipt of the questions that was also forwarded to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) Head Office, Cape Town and to Mr James Ball, The Heritage Portal. By the time of going to press and despite various requests, no response has been received from Mr Benjamin Moduka.

“Thanks for getting in touch and showing concern for this important site. I have cc’d a few members of the local heritage community who may have a more up to date contact at the MPHRA. I fear the details I have are no longer correct. Please keep me in the loop with how you get on. This sounds like a site we should have on South Africa’s endangered heritage list,” James Ball said in his email.

GPS News will keep our readers informed about further developments in the Huntington Hall saga.

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