Dunn’s Castle

George Herbert Dunn:

George Herbert Dunn was born on 14 June 1861 near Tavistock, Devon, England where he also went to school. He was diagnosed with a severe pulmonary disease at the age of 21 and given 6 months to live if he stayed in England and a year if he moved to a warmer climate. In response he boarded the Warwick Castle on 23 December 1881 and set sail for South Africa, arriving in Cape Town on 14 January 1882. There he met and married Mary Catherine Hoyle. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Catherine (Kitty) and a son, George, who died before his first birthday. Mary Catherine died in Kalk Bay in 1893 at the young age of 32. In 1864 George married Alice Agnes Steer. They had four children, Eric, Ethelwynne, Alfred and Ruth.

Although uncertain as to the dates, it is known that George bought a small farm at the foot of the Piquetberg Mountains, called De Tuyn, from Mr. Christiaan Liebenberg of De Hoek. Here he introduced thoroughbred Hereford cattle and grew grain and vegetables. His health improved miraculously. One day, looking up towards the mountain, a sort of plateau attracted his attention and a great idea came into his mind – what about building a sanatorium there? That dream came to be realized when he started building a huge mansion, with a Norman tower, which later became known as Dunn’s Castle.

George was employed by George Findley and Sons, a hardware firm where he later became the manager. As he became more involved in the Findlay business, he bought Farleigh in Heathfield, Cape Town and the family moved there. Once or twice a month George came out to Piquetberg to supervise things at the castle.  When Cape Portland Cement came into being at Piquetberg, they bought it in 1922 as residence for their workers and the general manager.

The Castle:

The castle is a majestic, old building at the foot of the southern heights of the Piquetberg Mountains, on the right side of the road to Velddrif. George Dunn spared no cost in building his dream house, comprising 14 Rooms built in a U shape. It is thought that Sir Herbert Baker was the castle’s architect as he was a good friend of Dunn. Famous guests such as Cecil John Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling and Herbert Baker were regular visitors. Mr. C.J. Liebenberg was the builder. Work commenced on the castle in 1892 and was completed in 1902, but only registered in George Dunn’s name in 1905.

The stones for the building were taken from the surrounding area, transported by ox wagon and cut and dressed on site. The cement was imported in barrels from England, as were the nails. The beams of the cellar still rest on 12 of these barrels, filled with concrete. The internal woodwork is mainly Oregon Pine, Kiaat and Birch. The floor is made from Birch and the roof beams from Norfolk Pine, a hallmark of Sir Herbert Baker’s buildings. The roof tiles were imported from France as were the turn-of-the-century hand washbasins. There are 7 guest bedrooms in all, each with its own fireplace.

Cape Portland Cement:

In 1921 Cape Portland Cement took over from the Hermon-Piquetberg Lime Company that discovered lime on a portion of the farm Rietfontein, known as De Hoek, owned by Mr. Christiaan Liebenberg. In those earlier days the original farm house was occupied by the employees of the factory, but eventually it had to be pulled down to make room for the factory development. C.P.C then bought Dunn’s Castle as living quarters for their construction workers and general manager. As from 1927, when the housing scheme for the workers was completed, it became the sole residence of the General Manager and family and remained as such until 1988. After that there were various owners, all utilizing the building as a guesthouse.

The furniture in the Dunn’s Castle room at the Piketberg Museum originates from the time George Dunn and his family stayed at Dunn’s Castle. It is the property of Pretoria Portland Cement and is on loan at the Piketberg Museum.

Source List

Burger, WA     1975    Piket teen ’n Berg, Printpak Beperk: Kaapstad

Van der Merwe, H      1952    Piketberg 1652-1952, Fisher en Seuns: Paarl

Hill, J   Great-grandfather Dunn