02 February 2013

Pearson's folly

Lord de Villiers
The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) was formed in 1913 to support the claim by Cape Town to have a National Botanical Garden at Kirstenbosch. A lot of very posh people signed up including Lord de Villiers (the only South African, I think, to become an hereditary Peer of the Realm in England). He became the First President of the BotSoc and First Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Botanical Gardens of South Africa. He died on 2nd September 1914 after only one year in office. 
Henry Harold Welch Pearson
Prof Harold Pearson, the first Hon Director of the National Botanic Garden of Kirstenbosch,who had relied heavily on the influence of de Villiers, proposed that an elaborate memorial to him be constructed at Kirstenbosch. He chose the site of Col. Bird's Bath for a Palladian edifice (apparently modelled on theWilton House Palladian Bridge in Salisbury) which was duly designed by Herbert Baker and Franklin Kendall. Money was not forthcoming, however, (there was a world war on after all!) and after Pearson died on 3rd November 1916, 26 months after de Villiers, the drive to construct the memorial petered out.
Just imagine! 
This would have been where the Dell is today - the whole folly built over the spring where Col Bird's Bath is today. In the plan below you can see the diagram of the bath on the right, which would be under the building. Water would then be channelled through the opening in the centre.
(Information and illustrations from Dr John Rourke who, after some clever sleuthing, unearthed all this after finding the un-named plans in the Compton Herbarium. Some illustrations were shown in his presentation "90 Years of the Botanical Society of South Africa" and his article 'The monument that never was' in the September 1989 issue of Veld & Flora 75 (3) p.80-81 has even more.)
Although this seems inconceivable and rather blasphemous today, when you look at photos taken in the 1900s of Bird's Bath, it was a pretty ordinary spot.

(These photos are taken from the banners on display in Kirstenbosch now. They are also available for downloading on the SANBI website. Click here.)
And today it looks like this:
Photo: Alice Notten

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