JNA THATCHERS was recently approached to rethatch the representation of an old farmer’s house at the Worcester Open Air Museum, Kleinplasie. Originally the project seemed straight forward – it would require a thatching process that we have done many times before… little did we know that it would not turn out to be that simple!

We visited Francois Fouche (manager of Kleinplasie) as well as Gabriel and Gwen Fagan (Gabriel Fagan Architects), to talk about the history of this museum, the renovation process and their involvement.

Gwen Fagan and Heloïse Naudé (curator) overseeing farmer workers preparing the grounds and garden for the museum.

Gabriël (Gawie) Fagan, the well-known, respected conservation architect, and his wife and creative partner, Gwen, where actively involved in the development of the museum in 1981. Gawie did the architectural component, while Gwen was responsible for the landscaping. The focus was on recreating the early pioneer lifestyle by building a typical farm yard, illustrating all activities and buildings as it would’ve been found in the Cape colonial times. As part of their research, the curator (Heloïse Naudé) and the Fagans used their weekends to travel across the Western Cape, studying buildings and gathering information to assist with the design of the museum.

Today, Kleinplasie includes two exhibition techniques: the first is demonstrating the history portrayed through live demonstrations such as the baking of bread in an outdoor brick oven and forging of metal by a blacksmith. Household traditions like the tramping of grapes for winemaking, roasting coffee beans, candle making and the milking of cows, are also demonstrated. The second technique is the exhibition of additional information in the exhibit hall, which was completed in 1988. Kleinplasie thus serves both an educational and conservational purpose.

When stopping at Kleinplasie, one can enjoy the demonstrations, donkey cart rides, playing with the animals, a museum shop and a restaurant, but this wasn’t always the case. During our visit at the Fagans, they revealed that the launch of the restaurant was a very controversial topic back in the day! Gwen and Gawie suggested opening a restaurant in order to attract visitors and lengthen their visits. At this stage, a restaurant at a museum was unheard of and Heloise did not welcome the idea at first. By the time the restaurant was opened, Kleinplasie was the first of its kind: a museum with a restaurant!

Construction and Plans of the Original Houses on Kleinplasie
All buildings are exact replicas, and as far as possible the building methods and materials remained true to the original way of doing things. It is exactly this detail that made our work challenging! In today’s thatching industry we build our structure with pine poles and blue gum laths.
Original House That The Kleinplasie House is Modelled On
The Fagans, however, quickly clarified that the structure on the old farmers’ house would need to remain true to the original; which entailed a structure made from the flower stems of an Agave (garingboom) and Spanish Reeds as laths. The Agave poles have an incredibly soft core, forcing us to ensure that all connections are delicately done. For the cappings a lime and sand mixture was used, done according to the specifications on the building plans, dating back to 1981.
Thatch Restoration Completed by JNA Thatchers at Kleinplasie

When it comes to heritage projects as such, authenticity is vital.

For Francois, the manager of Kleinplasie, it is important that those working on heritage projects will take the time to familiarize themselves with the history of the buildings, ensuring that the methods used will enhance the lifespan of these buildings, rather than damaging the original structures.
Agave (Garingboom) Structure with Spanish Reeds as Laths – Duplicating How it Was Done Back in the Day

For us, projects like these, are always an honour. After all, the more we know about the past, the better we are prepared for the future.

If you would like us to be part of your next thatching project, Click here to contact us – historical or modern thatching, we do it all.

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