For over a half-century, people have sailed across the lagoon or traveled the old ox-wagon road 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 was engraved throughout all the plaster walls, one of which commented on the reputation of the house by asserting “This place ain’t haunted”. The Spookhuis became a legend and local landmark.
When the Johnson Family purchased the farm in 2002, the Spookhuis was in a state of complete ruin. Graffiti filled every wall in every room, floorboards had been torn up and burned inside the home, doors, windows and most interior trim had been taken out long before, and holes dotted the original iron roof. There was no electricity and the only residents of the Spookhuis for over a half-century were bees and barn owls, thus the floors were covered with a thick carpet of owl pellets and honey!
A twelve-month historical restoration by Cape architect, Gregg Goddard, and interior designer and co-owner, Kathryn Johnson, returned what was once an enchanting manor house into what is now a magnificent facility for weddings, conferences and special events. It is home to our Mosaic Lagoon Café and wine cellar, where fabulous picnics can be enjoyed under the shade of ancient milkwood trees on the edge of the lagoon, or around roaring fires if there is a chill in the air.
Gregg Goddard, with his expert knowledge of historical buildings, pieced together building debris to reconstruct the original character of the old homestead. The house reveals details of the English Georgian Period 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 building has three spacious levels and was constructed entirely of massive limestone blocks, which were quarried on the farm and transported by ox-wagon. Exterior and interior walls were built of this stacked stone method, with the cellar foundation walls measuring over one meter thick. Every detail from the exterior stone pointing to the fireplaces has been restored. The wooden ceiling beams and roof trusses are all original. The old wood doors, window and door architraves, and baseboard moldings were not salvageable, however the replacements were cut exactly to what was originally there. The original roof, which sadly had to be replaced, was solid iron, which was shipped from England. It was donated and reused in Stanford.
The Spookhuis is famous for the “moat” around two sides; however, there is no indication that it was ever filled with water. The original stone blocks used to build the retaining walls were one meter long. Having been a dairy farm, 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. The moat walls were close to the point of collapsing but have been straightened and stabilized. One of the stone blocks of the retaining wall still bears the engraved initials “CP” for Jack’s brother, Campbell Poole.
One of the highlights on the main floor is the John & Margaret Bridgman Library, where you will find an extensive collection of old and new books and antique maps from around the world. Owner Breese Johnson collected these over decades of travel.
The old cheese cellar is now our wine cellar, which highlights the delicious wines from the Overberg Wine Region. The spacious loft is equipped with high tech video equipment for conferencing and showing of nature DVD’s and movie nights.
Our hope is that the Spookhuis will be used to celebrate the history, culture, people and biodiversity of our corner of South Africa. It is our vision that the transformed building will help transform lives through job creation for disadvantaged people.
The house has also been used as the setting for many commercial film locations, including Microsoft’s “Vista” operating System, Oriflame Cosmetics, French ham, a Mercedes SUV and well as a Bollywood production from India.
Over a century of History
On September 30, 1857, the land baron Duncan McFarlane registered as the first plot owner in the village of Stanford. Within several years he purchased all the land around the Hermanus Lagoon and along the Klein River. In 1892, Duncan’s granddaughter, Henrietta and her husband Jack Poole, built the enormous stacked-stone manor house on part of that land which is now MOSAIC. After being abandoned for years it came to be known as the “Spookhuis.”
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 (John) Poole. Henrietta’s sister, Millie, married Jack’s brother, Campbell Poole, who was also a large part of the area’s history. We have been honored to have Campbell’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Fortescue (and great-great grand-daughter of Duncan), visit MOSAIC from Cornwall many times. It seems there is a special place in their hearts for the old homestead.
Henrietta and Jack choose a prime spot on the lagoon to build the massive three-story home; with beautiful mountain views and surrounding ancient milkwood trees for wind protection. The limestone blocks used for construction were quarried on the farm and hauled by ox-wagon to the site. It took over three years to construct and the keystone above the entry is dated 1892. The Pooles established a successful dairy farm and had a cheese cellar in the lower level of the house. Henrietta’s mother, Agnes McFarlane Stroud moved in with Henrietta and after Agnes’ husband, James Stroud, died.
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 via Stanford or across the mouth if accessible. The dairy cans were transferred this way.
Jack was often away from the farm and it became a lonely place for Henrietta, especially after her mother’s death in 1897. One stormy night when Henrietta’s infant child, 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. What became of the family is written in the books noted below.
For years afterwards, passersby reported seeing the figure of an elderly lady looking like Agnes Stroud sitting under nearby milkwood trees with a parasol in hand. On approaching she could not be found. Thus the “spook” of the Spookhuis. Imagine daring to approach the abandoned homestead (as so many have) on a black, cloud filled night, void of electricity, and hearing the screech of barn owls and feeling the wind of their swooping wings against your cheeks, and perhaps a drop of honey brushing your skin. One could convince themselves of ghosts. However, the only ghost that resides within is the HOLY SPIRIT!
Owners and caretakers occupied the house until the 1960’s when Anglo American purchased the farm from the Hauman family, who used it as a holiday home. After that time it remained unoccupied for almost fifty years prior to the restoration in 2007. Purely by coincidence the owners of Mosaic were visiting friends and owners of Remhoogte Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, Murray and Julia Boustred, and met Liezel Hauman, whose grandparents were the last owners of the farm before the Anglo purchase. They have since met with Liezel’s grandmother, Ellen Hauman, who recreated a fascinating part of history.
Many books have been written about the area and the Stanford Spookhuis. A Stanford resident and author, S J DuToit, wrote two wonderful series about the history of the area, titled Stanford Stories and Hermanus Stories. Six writers from the Hermanus area wrote a novel titled Dead Letter, A Ms. Abercrombie Mystery, which takes place around the Spookhuis. Annalize Mouton, the editor of the popular magazine Village Life, published a most beautiful coffee table book titled Portrait of a Village which celebrates 150 years of colorful history of Stanford and its people. You can find them in our library and they are all worth a read!
“We hope you will enjoy your time at MOSAIC as much as we enjoy being in this beautiful corner of South Africa!”
- Breese & Kathryn Johnson and the Mosaic Team