For over a century, people have sailed across the lagoon or traveled the old ox-wagon to visit the abandoned “Spookhuis” (Afrikaans for Spook House). Some camped on the grassy shore by the old stone homestead and told scary stories in the moonlit nights. Evidence of their passage is seen engraved throughout the plaster walls, one of which comments on the reputation of the house by asserting “This place ain’t haunted.”
Originally from Scotland, Duncan McFarlane left the farm Wortelgat, which Mosaic is part of, to one of his two daughters, Agnes McFarlane Stroud. She then left it to her daughter Henrietta who married Jack Poole. Henrietta’s sister, Millie, married Jack’s brother, Campbell Poole, who was also a large part of the area’s history.
Henrietta and Jack chose a prime spot on the lagoon with beautiful mountain views to build the huge three-story home and established a successful dairy farm. The keystone above the entry is dated 1892. It was built entirely of solid limestone blocks quarried on the farm and hauled by ox-wagon and took three years to construct. Her mother, Agnes McFarlane Stroud, moved in with Henrietta and Jack after her husband, James Stroud, died.
The house is famous for the “moat” around it, which was formed originally by a large retaining wall along two sides, creating a light well and space around the foundation and cellar. An incline at one end of the “moat” would have provided access for a dairy wagon carrying milk to be rolled down to the cellar ports and cheese to be rolled out. One of the stone blocks of the retaining wall still bears the engraved initials “CP” for Jack’s brother, Campbell Poole.
We have been honored to have Campbell’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Fortescue (and great-great grand-daughter of Duncan), visit Mosaic Farm from Cornwall. It seems there is a special place in her heart for the old homestead.
The house reveals details of the English Georgian Style with a symmetrical façade, spacious proportions of the rooms and windows, and an arched Palladian entry. This style is also evident in the deep-set wooden door and window casings, built-in cupboards, and a central hall. The sturdy walls were built of stacked stone with the cellar foundation walls measuring over one meter thick. The original roof, which sadly had to be replaced, was solid iron which was shipped in from England.
This magnificent home situated on a productive farm, sheltered among the ancient milkwood trees at the lagoon edge, with wonderful views to the mountains across the water would seem to be an idyllic situation. However, for the socialite that Henrietta was, it was not ideal. To reach Hermanus required a trip by boat or a long ride by ox-wagon around the lagoon. The farm became a lonely place for her, especially after her mother’s death in 1897. One stormy night when Henrietta’s baby, John Evered, fell ill, she made her final crossing of the lagoon, baby in one arm and her favorite Persian carpet over the other. She refused to return to the farm. Since that time, the house has been occupied only occasionally by temporary residents.
For years afterwards, passersby reported seeing the figure of an elderly lady looking like Agnes Stroud sitting under nearby milkwood trees with a parasol. On approaching she could not be found. Thus the “spook” of the Spookhuis.
A Stanford resident and author, S J DuToit, has written wonderful books about the colourful history of the area, titled Stanford Stories and Hermanus Stories.
They are worth a read!