The owner of this estate can best be described as a total workaholic, business visionary, incurable optimist, master lobbyist, shrewd operator and survivor extraodinaire. Are you thinking Donald Trump ? Or Warren Buffet? Or Sir Alan Sugar?
No. His name was Sammy Marks. And long before those business buzz words of the 20th centuary, he had built a thriving business empire in the fledgling towns and cities, well before it was called South Africa. Sammy Marks was born in 1843 in Neustadt-Sugind, Lithuania and came to South Africa in 1869 via Sheffield, England.
From Cape Town he was drawn to the diamond fields of Kimberley, where he and his cousin Isaac Lewis started a business partnership, that would endure many ups and downs over more than 4 decades.
Moving to Pretoria in 1881, this is where he built his dream house, Zwartkoppies. I am standing in the rose garden, knowing that this is a view, that Sammy also enjoyed.
Come join me on my journey into this Victorian time capsule and what I was allowed to photograph.
The spacious house takes my breath away. In the downstairs main bedroom I marvel at the fortitude of his wife Bertha, whom he married in 1883, to forge a country life, far away from her roots in Sheffield.
In some of the bedrooms, I loved the fabulous mural painting that has been restored to its former glory, to be enjoyed by all.
The cavernous, mable floored kitchen hints at the scale of entertaining that must have been done at Zwartkoppies. The 5 doored oven would have impressed even Nigella Lawson !!
Various glass bottles on a table catch my eye. Products of his own glass factory, known as Eerste Fabrieken (officially opened by President Paul Kruger) , again a testament to his diverse business portfolio.
Up the staircase, and it is impossible not to be reminded of the various business interests he had to deal with. I think it is quite fitting that a portrait of Alois Hugo Nellmapius hangs at the top of the stairs, seeing that the 2 of them had to constantly deal with the consession driven government of the day.
In what some critics see as sitting on the fence, Lord Roberts peers down from one wall, whilst General De La Rey from another. I say lobbyist par excellance !!
And then the supreme status symbol of many a Victorian mansion, the billiards room. In which I can imagine lots of deals having been done.
Even though Sammy Marks had an office on Church Square, the study is crammed with books and I can well imagine him burning the midnight oil to get as much work done as possible.
The passage leading to the balcony is lined with travel trunks, both for the boys on their way to school in England as well as the master of the house.
In a downstairs cupboard, I catch a glimpse of long forgotten labels, hinting at the heyday of croquet and skittles.
After the tour of the house, I am reluctant to leave.
I take a look at the wine cellar, and wander past the remnants of the fruit orchards that were his pride and joy.
At the stables I am reminded that his daily office commute was about 20 kilometers, a rough horse drawn journey that sometimes took all of 2 hours.
My own journey ends in the Rebecca street cemetery, Sammy and Bertha Marks’ final resting place. Two people I would have loved to have known.
Need to know more: www.nfi.museum & 012 755 9541 to check the tour times
My thanx to all at the Museum for their gracious sharing of information. I loved tracing the footsteps of my hero, Sammy Marks.