Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa is steeped in history, but the natural evolution that gradually transformed it from a modest Cape Dutch-style farmstead dating back to the 1700s into the elegant four-star boutique hotel of today has preserved the rich heritage of this property. Guests driving onto the grounds immediately notice the majestic, towering oaks that have silently stood their ground for generations.
The Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa was established in November 1994. David Gant, from the neighbouring Lourensford Estate, decided to develop the Erinvale property into a golfing residential estate. The land where the hotel stands was sold separately to Peter Baragwanath, who subsequently developed the existing building into the hotel.
The Erinvale Manor House has been restored – the original structure dates back to the 1700s. The only part of the original house that can be identified is the chimney, which used to be part of the kitchen. The L-shaped thatched rooms were constructed within the footprint of the original stables and the Georgian-styled block was built within the footprint of the original stable barn.
Where does the name ‘Erinvale’ come from?
Irishman Edward Strangman, who purchased the land in 1868, changed the name to Erin Vale (Irish Valley).
Early Dutch heritage influences
In 1666 Willem Adriaan van der Stel succeeded his father Simon van der Stel as Governor of the Cape and, a year later, acquired 413 morgen of land in the Hottentots Holland valley without the Company’s consent. The farm he called “Vergelegen” which means “far situated” as it was a good day’s ride from the castle in Cape Town.
Though Van der Stel was a poor Governor, he was an expert agronomist. Soon this fertile soil was producing a rich variety of fruit and vegetables, citrus and grapes, many of which are still cultivated here today.
He also imported trees – the now giant camphor trees in the Vergelegen and Erinvale gardens and the many oaks which can still be found in this area nearly 300 years later.
However, Van der Stel’s virtual control over food supply did not endear him to the free burgers. Led by Adam Tas in 1707, they bought a petition against him for misconduct and corrupt practices tending to the serious loss and oppression of the colonists. As a result, he was ignominiously re called to Holland, his estate confiscated and sold by auction.
The section southeast of the Lourens River, on which the Vergelegen homestead lies with much of the present land was sold for 9500 gulden to Barend Gildenhausen. The area southwest of what is now known as Morgenster and Land-en-Zeezicht, was bought by Jacques Malan. The remaining extreme southwest area went to Catherina Haarmen who called it “Cloetenberg” after her late husband’s family.
The area northwest of the river was bought by Jacobus van der Heiden and was later divided into three portions: one of which is mostly Lourensford, the second became Vrede-en-Hoop and Oakwood (and is now part of Lourensford) and the last portion is the area now called Erinvale.
The nucleus of the latter area was initially called “Welgelegen” (well-situated) and passed through many old Cape families – the Theunissens, Munniks, Morkels, Buisinnes and Hendriks. (It was Marthinus Theunissen who, with three other farmers in the area, was instrumental in establishing the village of Somerset West.) The original homestead is believed to have been built by Helena Munnik in 1817.
In 1868 Edward Strangman bought the property for the sum of £800. Being an Irishman, he changed the name in memory of his home country to “Erin Vale” (Irish Valley). After his death his son Frederick continued to farm, and had two sons – one of whom was killed in World War One. As his remaining son was a chemist and had no interest in the farm, it passed on to Frederick’s two daughters Doreen and Kathleen when he died in 1942. Major alterations were made to the manor house, masterminded by Doreen who passed away in 1981. The sisters were the last to farm at Erin Vale.
At the time David Gant bought the farm in 1989, the Erin Vale farmhouse was sold separately to Peter Baragwanath from the then Pietersburg in the northern Transvaal. It was to be his first venture into the hospitality industry.
The old home was demolished by the daughters of the previous owner in 1951, being in such a bad state of repair after a fire it was thought impossible to save. The existing Manor House was rebuilt on part of the foundations of the original homestead. According to archaeological reports, the L-shaped outbuildings probably dated back to the early 1700’s and were converted into luxury rooms both at ground level and in the thatched roof space.
The only part now identifiable is the original chimney of the old kitchen. The L-shaped thatched rooms were constructed within the footprint of the original stables and the Georgian-style block was built within the footprint of the original stable barn. The smaller conference centre consisting of the Birch and Oak Rooms used to be the old tractor shed and the large conference centre was the old pigsty.
Legend has it that John Merriman, politician and wine farmer, invited a French winemaker to the Cape in 1931 to give a selection of lectures on the art of viticulture to the local Stellenbosch wine farmers. The function was concluded by a tasting of the various wines – where Mr. Strangman’s wine was judged the best. His labourers were obviously proud of his achievement and felt that they deserved to reap the benefits of their hard work as well. Through skilful maneuvering of the iron bars on the cellar window, someone squeezed through armed with a hose with which he proceeded to siphon copious volumes of wine into containers. The consequence of this celebration was that no-one attended work the following day.
As al farms need constant attention, Mr. Strangman had to personally milk the cows, feed the chickens and attend to the pigs that foraged on the acorns under the grove of oak trees. Returning home at midday for refreshments, he was harshly reprimanded by his wife for producing wine that she believed was the “evil” of society and led to one’s downfall.
Mr. Strangman promptly went to the cellar and emptied all the wine vats, resulting in a river of red wine flowing down what is now known as Lourensford road. The farm was subsequently converted into a fruit farm with six new dams built for irrigation – some are still in use on the golf course.
The Erin Vale farm was the same width as it is now, but was much longer with the Lourens River as the southern boundary. At the time of development, the land between the river and Lourensford Road was sold to Vergelegen who know use it for public parking, horse shows, etc. Before that in the late 1980’s it was used to sell roll-on kikuyu lawn to local residents.
The northern boundary was only about 300 meters below the highest point of the Helderberg Mountains – virtually at the Disa Gorge, which is easily visible from the estate. The 118-hectare area above the estate’s current northern boundary was given to the Helderberg Nature Reserve on a long lease and is almost as large as Erinvale itself. This area was never cultivated.
Erin Vale was sparsely used for agricultural purposes as the soil was poor with more than 50% left fallow and about 20% uncultivated. The rest was under mealies (corn), with two fields on the lower part encompassing the 1st and 3rd golf holes, around Landrostkop Drive, and another higher up on the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and adjacent houses.
A feasibility study done in 1990 showed that, if the better areas were used for pear-tree orchards, the cost of establishment and ongoing farming would have resulted in a massive loss on investment over the first 10 years and was therefore not seen as viable. This poor potential was one of the main reasons that municipal permission was given for a golf estate. Other reasons were that the nature reserve would have a relatively “green” neigbour and that the estate would blend in with the historical adjacent farms. The study ruled out a normal residential suburb.
There were numerous trees on the estate, many in rows as windbreaks, particularly where the mealie fields were situated. The pin oaks on the right of the 1st fairway were estimated at the time to be about 25 years old and the pines left of the 17th fairway possibly 50 years old.