the history and architectural heritage of greyton

history of Greyton

The First 150 years 

In 1854 Herbert Vigne founded a freehold agricultural village on his farm Weltevreden. He kept two small portions for himself and bequeathed the remainder of the farm to the proprietors of the erven as commonage, naming it "GREYTON", after Sir George Grey, the then Governor of the Cape. The layout of the village was designed and set out by J G Rietz, a senior surveyor at the time. The layout remains essentially the same with only a few changes and additions through the years. In the 1860s Herbert married a young girl of British stock named Elizabeth Belshaw - 27 years his junior! They settled on their town farm De Bos, in the village (subsequently subdivided by his heirs after his death in 1895). Elizabeth bore him a legitimate family of three sons and a daughter to add to the illegitimate offspring of his younger days, whom he was to acknowledge in the village. Vigne Lane was later named after him.            

The erven were long and narrow and were serviced with water running in "leiwater" furrows, which crisscrossed the village. Cottages, in the rural Cape Vernacular style, were built close to the street leaving large pieces of the erven for horticultural pursuits. The produce consisted of a variety of vegetables and fruits such as onions, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beetroot, carrots, pomegranate, apricots, pears and the like.

Although the reason for the establishment of the village remains obscure, the fact is that Herbert Vigne left us with a village of unsurpassed beauty and enchantment. It is a wonder that the essence of the village and its Cape Vernacular architectural environment are largely intact and that the out-of-context and unresponsive development that has destroyed so many small towns of the Cape has up to now passed Greyton by.


Ferryman on the Sonderend River


Architectural Heritage

A 1938 aerial photograph and the T D Ravenscroft collection of photographs taken between 1915 and 1930 bear witness to the early urban and architectural endeavours of the villagers.  Humble cottages were built close to the streets in neat rows, parallel to each other, rectangular in plan with simple window and door openings.  Roofs were pitched, either thatched or with corrugated iron (the latter began to make its appearance in the Cape during the mid-1800’s).  The cottages were mostly two-roomed with a hearth and oven (abbatjie) with chimney at one gable.  At the other gable, wooden ladders gave access to attic spaces.  Later kitchens and bathrooms were added by way of lean-to roofs at the back.  Walls were of unburnt brick, unplastered or with rough plaster and sometimes whitewashed.  Floors were either clay or wooden planks.  Ceilings were mostly reeded, covered with clay screeds to facilitate the use of attic spaces for storage and to act as protection in case of fire.  Open “stoeps” on the street with built-in benches at the ends contributed to social intercourse between inhabitants and passers-by.  Verandahs came only later.   Low walls, hedges or wire fences separated private from public space at the erf boundaries.

Public buildings, although of a grander scale but still of a utilitarian nature, exhibited similar properties so that there was a continuous aesthetic thread in the village.  Here and there flat lean-to roofs could be seen amongst the general pitched roof landscape.

Oak grees (Quercus robur) graced the streets, stone pine (pinus pinea) and cypress (Cupressus spp.)were visible here and there.  Abundant orchards and cultivated lands filled the space at the back of the cottages, all irrigated by leiwater furrows.