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Selwyn Castle
Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape

Charles Jasper, Major SELWYN: Architect

Style:Regency Gothic
Street:Prince Alfred Street


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33°18'44.62" S 26°31'05.24" E

Proclaimed: 11-09-1936. (Picton-Seymour, D. 1989. Historical Buildings in south Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof)

'Selwyn Castle' is not only the first serious domestic essay in the Gothic style in South Africa, but it is worthy of study as a rare example of an English country house (in the fast vanishing tradition) at the Cape. Erected in spacious grounds near the Royal Engineers' establishment, the building was sufficiently a gentleman's residence to warrant adoption as the Eastern Cape's Government House by Sir Andries Stockenstrom in 1836. Its design was probably the work of the owner, Captain Selwyn, Commandant ROYAL ENGINEERS, who during 1835 was Town Commandant of Grahamstown.

A double-storey central block, crowned with low battlemented gables on all four sides, is flanked by two single-storey wings, one of which contained the original dining-room and kitchen. These wings, which would have been considered excrescences on a 'Grecian' building, were thought advantageous on this type of design because of the Picturesque quality they imparted. Outbuildings in the same style included the carriage house and stables, following the precedent of Humphrey Repton who 'brought the offices from their accustomed seclusion into view, because of their usefulness in increasing the richness of the composition, and to lead to and support the chief building, by giving it accompaniments of its own kind and character'.

Large windows with lancet tracery give an authentic Tudor air to 'Selwyn Castle', which still stands in the grounds of Rhodes University. It is interesting to note how, in conformity with the Romantic taste, the windows are no longer symmetrically ordered on classical lines, but are irregularly placed so that they command the best prospect from the interior. They are crowned by roll mouldings forming labels, while the gables originally carried plaster coats of arms.

'The Eating Parlour' is so placed that it commands a variety of views. It rounds off a house which could take its place happily in the irregular English landscape garden while itself enjoying the varied prospects of its surroundings. To this aesthetic justification for the Picturesque plan the Regency architects of England added such utilitarian arguments as 'it is desirable to group together their little appendages . . . because the combination is calculated to give consequence to a habitation that would otherwise appear insignificant. Irregular buildings convey the appearance of a greater magnitude than they actually possess, by the successive disclosure of their features to the view.'

Two fireplaces are all that remain of the former splendour of the interior. They are both interesting examples of the Neo-Gothic style, among the earliest of the type recorded in South Africa.

[Lewcock Ronald, 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pp, 288-291.]

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 39, 122
Hartdegen, Paddy. 1988. Our building heritage : an illustrated history. South Africa: Ryll's Pub. Co. on behalf of the National Development Fund for the Building Industry. pg 58
Lewcock, Ronald. 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa : a study of the interaction of two cultures, 1795-1837. Cape Town: AA Balkema. pg 288-291