Re­tiree re­dis­cov­ers 100-year-old di­vi­sion bea­con

This was a sym­bol show­ing the bound­aries be­tween farms

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ANNA COX

T IS AN or­di­nary, ugly, old con­crete block, sur­rounded by lit­ter and weeds, to which no one would even give a sec­ond glance while driv­ing along busy Ox­ford Road.

But to the trained eye of Werner Kirch­hoff, an 84-yearold re­tired land sur­veyor, it is a his­tor­i­cal gem – a bea­con which was erected in about 1897 to mark the di­vi­sion of three his­toric Joburg farms.

Kirch­hoff lives in Mel­rose and of­ten drives along Ox­ford Road. Last week, how­ever, his heart jumped with ex­cite­ment when he spot­ted the for­lorn, but fa­mil­iar, con­crete block on the pave­ment, close to Glen­hove Road. For years it was cov­ered with a hedge and weeds, but now it was vis­i­ble, stand­ing there proud and in­tact, with just the top metal part miss­ing.

It had been, he re­mem­bered, a fa­mil­iar land­mark which he used to see ev­ery day as a child while rid­ing down Ox­ford Road on a trol­ley bus to school.

The bea­con marked the bound­aries be­tween three farms – Braam­fontein to the west of Ox­ford Road; Syfer­fontein to the north-east, which was de­vel­oped by HB Mar­shall into the sub­urb of Mel­rose; and Klip­fontein, owned by Barney Bar­nato’s company JCI and which be­came the sub­urb of Houghton.

“It even­tu­ally dis­ap­peared from view when a hedge grew up around it. I didn’t know its fate and be­lieved it had been re­moved or de­stroyed. I was very ex­cited to see it now that

Ibuilders have cleared the site to start con­struc­tion of a new build­ing,” said Kirch­hoff.

He spec­u­lated that the owner of Syfer­fontein, HB Mar­shall, would ride past it ev­ery day on his way into town and might have felt the farm bea­con was not suf­fi­cient to pro­tect his land, so he would have asked his brother-in-law, Jo­han Ris­sik, who was the gov- ern­ment sur­veyor, to build a trigono­met­ric bea­con. That would have been in about 1895.

HB Mar­shall was a prop­erty owner who sold two plots to Ce­cil John Rhodes be­tween Fox and Com­mis­sioner streets, to erect the gen­tle­men’s club now known as the Rand Club.

Kirch­hoff ex­plained that this one was what was called an “in­di­ca­tory” bea­con. The orig- inal one would have been placed in the mid­dle of Ox­ford Road. So when the road was built a cou­ple of years later, the orig­i­nal would have been re­moved, and re­placed by this one on the pave­ment in the same ge­o­met­ri­cal land-sur­vey­ing lines.

Kirch­hoff said it was an im­por­tant bea­con, be­cause it was from that point that the land sur­vey­ors of the time could see and plan town­ships.

He im­me­di­ately went to buy some white paint, and re­painted it, say­ing th­ese bea­cons were all painted white.

He also made con­tact with the de­vel­oper of the land whom, he said, was in­ter­ested in pre­serv­ing and restor­ing the bea­con, even though it was on the pave­ment.

Kirch­hoff ’s fam­ily is well en­trenched in South African his­tory. His fa­ther Peter was an artist who was one of the sculp­tors of the friezes at the Voortrekker Mon­u­ment. In fact, he and his fam­ily are clearly por­trayed in the friezes.

Flo Bird of the Jo­han­nes­burg Her­itage Foun­da­tion said: “This is so ex­cit­ing to find an old farm bea­con in Rose­bank. What a trea­sure. It is a huge find and such an ex­cit­ing way of demon­strat­ing the age of the area. Rose­bank all looks so new, but this will give it a sense of time,” she said.

Bird has re­ported the find to the Provin­cial Her­itage Re­sources Au­thor­ity hop­ing to get the own­ers to fund a blue plaque for it ex­plain­ing its sig­nif­i­cance.


CER­TAINTY: Re­tired pro­fes­sional land sur­veyor Werner Kirch­hoff shows how he was able to con­firm that the bea­con he saw along Ox­ford Road in Rose­bank was the one he used to see from a trol­ley bus years ago.

OVER­JOYED: Werner Kirch­hoff paints a bea­con that he re­dis­cov­ered along Ox­ford Road. The bea­con has been there for over a cen­tury. Kirch­hoff last saw the bea­con when he was a young­ster.

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