historical introduction

Prynnsberg has been appropriately described as “the architectural jewel of the Eastern Free State”, it is one of the most magnificent sandstone buildings in the country and a window into the historical development of a unique South African family.

How it all began: The Newberrys

The magnificent Prynnsberg Estate was the creation of Charles Newberry at the end of the 19th Century as a result of the purchase of 20,000 hectares of  land, circa 1880, from his wife’s maternal grandfather, William Prynn (b.1811), who ran a trading station on the estate, the remains of which can be seen today in the Retreat Valley. It was here that King Moshoeshoe of the Basuto, Chief Sekonyela of the Batlokwa and Major Warden, the British Resident at Bloemfontein, met to negotiate a peace treaty.
Having met and fallen in love with the daughter of a Lesotho based missionary (Elizabeth Daniel daughter of the Rev John Daniel) while on a trip through the Eastern Free State Newberry decided to make the Eastern Free State his home and along with his new wife set about the fulfillment of his dream of creating a classic English country estate in the wilds of Africa.


Building Prynnsberg

The house began as additions to the original single story farmhouse and became a two-story, 20-room manor, constructed of local sandstone which was finely crafted there and then in the African veld. The estate included two churches, a vicarage, a gamekeepers’ lodge, stables and various outbuildings. The house was built in old-world grandeur, becoming a national gem and, was decorated by the London firm James Shoolbred and Company of Tottenham Court Road. Prynnsberg includes enormous rooms of gold leaf and flocked wallpapers, intricate oak parquet, pressed leather panelling, rococo plaster ceilings, gilded cornices, elaborate tiled replaces, leaded windows and teak doors with Victorian stained glass and flamboyant friezes.


Guests included Rudyard Kipling

The estate often housed travellers of similar rank and guests such as: Lord Milner, the Duke of Westminster, President Steyn and Rudyard Kipling. It was Kipling who painted the the frieze of Noah’s ark in the night nursery while he was a guest of the house over the Christmas of 1900. Prynnsberg escaped the horrific farm burnings at the hand of the British during the Boer war on account of being English owned.


The curse of Clocolan

In an effort to preserve what he’d built up for future generations, Charles Newberry exercised the inheritance law of fidei commissum (entrusted in faith), leaving Prynnsberg to the eldest son of the fourth generation, thus preventing his spoilt-rotten sons from selling the property. This meant that the second and third generations only had occupancy, never ownership. Subsequently very little money was spent on the upkeep. Trevor Newberry eventually inherited the entire estate, only to die from cirrhosis of the liver in 1993 at the age of 49. He died intestate, with no children. His next-of-kin sought to sell; they had no interest in a faded Prynnsberg. And Charles must’ve somersaulted in his grave!


The return of the glory days for Prynnsberg

Rick and Sue Melvill bought the estate in 2009 and set about restoring Prynnsberg back to its former grandeur. The first task was the securing of the Manor House roof and the taming of acres of terraced gardens that had long since returned to the wild. After that came the task of restoring a lot of the woodwork. Major aspects of the wood project included the white oak windows of the billiard room plus much of the original lead-paned windows. The famous Glass Staircase was returned to its original splendor, followed by all the sash windows in the Manor House itself. All that is now more or less completed and stand as a credit to the talents of master craftsman Laurence McGillivray and his team. The biggest job of all – the addition of 8 bathrooms ensuite following a plan by award-winning architect Michael Scholes. This will reach completion in July 2017. The glory days are definitely back for the Prynnsberg Estate.


Further Reading

Cape Style pg 86