Wemmerhuis Coach House
Roadworks unearth historical artefacts in Belfast
An important part of South Africa’s history will hopefully be preserved through an unlikely alliance between a toll road concessionaire and a group of archeologists.
It started in 2008 when N4 toll road custodian Trans African Concessionaire (TRAC) began work on upgrading the R33 (old Carolina road to Belfast) and found that a number of unknown graves — about 55 in total — would be affected by the roadworks. The graves, some of which were older than 60 years, were in a semiformal cemetery on a portion of the farm Wemmershuis near Belfast. After consultation with the landowner and the South African Heritage Resources Agency, it was decided to relocate the graves a few meters north.
TRAC approached archeologists from Archaetnos, a Pretoria-based cultural heritage resources consultancy firm, to exhume and relocate the graves to an area outside the road reserve. The results of their archival and historical research, as well as information obtained during the exhumation of the graves, have been enclosed on an information plaque that now marks the roadside cemetery.
While undertaking the grave exhumation and relocation project Archaetnos also did a superficial survey of the area and identified a number of other historical sites. These include an old coach house related to the late 19th century Delagoa Bay transport road that ran through the area, as well as a British blockhouse dating to the Anglo-Boer War, which had been built by the British to protect the railway line from the Boers.
Because not many of these old coach houses are still in existence and is therefore unique from a historical and heritage perspective, Archaetnos decided that research should be conducted on the site to obtain as much information as possible on its history. The archeologists approached TRAC to fund the historical-archaeological work,which includes archival and historical research, mapping the structure and undertaking archaeological excavations in and around the coach house.
The excavations, undertaken in April 2011, recovered cultural material that might have been left there by visitors, such as porcelain fragments and other metal objects. These will assist with dating the structure and determine the function of the building. The work on site provided information on the state of the structure’s preservation, as well as the requirements for the preservation and management of the building.
The site has potential to be developed for tourism and education purposes.