Search    

Building of Norscot

   

It was in 1935 that the Eriksens had foreseen the land to the north of Johannesburg and Ethel “decided there and then” that “this is where I want to build my home”. She had been captivated by the glorious open views to the north, with the land sloping away towards the Magaliesberg and in particular its sunset. The elevation and positioning of the Troon Room, bares testament to this and hints as what was visible before the northward expanse of development ensued.

“The very next day”, Ernst set out to find out more about the land, and it was then that his path crossed with that of the Van der Walt brothers’. The land was part of the original Witkoppen farm – which its 'werf' and homestead is presently located on Campbell Road (greater Maroeladal) flanked by the complexes of Villa Donato and Villa Dante. Witkoppen farm was proclaimed in 1856 and granted to a “Van Vuuren”.

By the 1900’s, much of the original farm’s land was in the possession of the Van der Walt Family, and had been so for some time, where the major produce was a watermelon and Friesian cattle. Ernst introduced himself and had coffee with them before persuading them to sell 423 acres (1.7 sq.km). Further acreage was added at a later stage as and when they came up for sale and Norscot Manor, at its height, comprised of 605 acres (2.45 sq.km).

Ethel was naturally delighted and work soon began on the first part of the project: Ernst lived in a tent on site during the initial build and already “the Cottage” – Norscot Manor’s chief façade comprising the two central wings with a courtyard at the time joined by a fence and small central gate – was ready for occupation by July 1936.

The original cottage had been built by the Thomas Clarke and all further alterations were carried out by “Swiss master-craftsman” Gottfried Heddinger over a period of ten years. Mr. Heddinger lived in a flat at the property while supervising the build and work. “First-class craftsmen” were employed and everything possible was done to produce a building of the highest possible standards. When the house was ultimately sold in 1982, it was described as “8 elegantly proportioned reception rooms designed for entertaining on a lavish scale. There are 6 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms and ample domestic offices. Total area under roof, excluding outbuildings, 1,200 sq.metres.”

Ernst was an “outgoing congenial man who loved entertaining” and Ethel had very definite ideas about style and the quality she desired. The result was the ideal house, where receptions and parties were easy to handle and “during its heyday Norscot saw many happy gatherings. The fine downstairs Tavern, which opened as part of Ernst’s Fiftieth Birthday celebrations on 6 April 1943, was much used, as was the large ‘braai’ area outside. Ernst was keen on music and “always had a violinist on hand to serenade the ladies”. The house was rarely without people, especially sportsmen and politicians. In this was Norscot Manor is an expression of both Ernst and Ethel’s personalities and was well used.

It ought to be kept in mind that through the 1950’s Norscot Manor was very much a ‘country house’. Sandton and Randburg were undeveloped and the William Nicol Drive “only came towards the end of the 1950’s”. It is worthy to note that William Nicol Drive was initially known as the Nicol Highway and the portion to the east of Norscot Manor today was in fact known as Witkoppen Road.  What is known as Witkoppen Road today was a series of connected dirt roads under different names one of which was Fir.  “Access to Norscot was still via Ferndale and Hendrik Verwoerd [Braam Fischer] Drive, and the whole area around the house was still regarded by Johannesburg as being ‘out in the sticks’.”

Access to Norscot used to be across the courtyard, where “bright bougainvillea would twine around gum poles”, and then through a shady porch into the spacious paneled Reception Hall.

Today, Norscot Manor is primarily accessed through what used to be the Sunroom which was used as a family room and into the Eriksen Lounge and Hall from the west end.

 

The Homestead - 2 Cars & a Dog

 

Apart from its fine paneling, the Hall still retains its outstanding feature, the elegantly carved fireplace that had come from the Parktown home of Randlord Sir Julius Jeppe, after whom Jeppestown and the Jeppe Schools are named. The Hall also previously served as the central and main gallery space, along with the Five Poster Room, for the Watercolour Society of South Africa (WSSA), which in later years had its national office at Norscot Manor. The stained glass windows in other parts of the house, primarily the Tavern and Billiard Room, also came from Jeppe’s home, once called Tsesebe, before it was to be demolished and make way for the present-day Jeppe Boys.  Herbert Evans, of the art chain store fame, remodeled the glass.

Fireplaces are a great feature of Norscot Manor; there are eleven open fireplaces many of them are flat raised of the Norwegian style. The stone fireplaces in the original Dining Room, the present day study room of the public library, are of particular interest as the granite came from the nearby Norscot Koppie. “The Koppie” now forms part of a functioning bird sanctuary and nature reserve as established by the now defunct Sandton Town Council and Municipality. The Koppie was originally in two parts; the smaller section was made by been owned by a company called Waterman & Amery while the larger portion had been belonged to a man called, simply, Mr. James. Not much more is known about these original owners, but we do know Ernst bought them. Of special note is an old tree near the reserve, a thorn Acacias Sieberana, which is around three hundred years old.

Another fireplace of special interest is the one what used to be the guest wing and now the public library. The tiles surrounding it, made by Cullinans of Olifantsfontein, were brought out to commemorate the Great Trek Centenary in 1936 and include drawings if ox-wagons and other ‘Trek’ subjects. There is also a fine moulded fireplace in the Troon Room. The elegant airbricks, also made by Cullinans, are all moulded with open animal designs and are to be found in other houses of the same period. The Viking ship mouldings in the Tavern and the Norwegian Lion moulding above the Stavanger fireplace are also Cullinans of Olifantsfontein products.

Fitted lights and lampshades add another interest to the house. First there are the wooden carved ones, of which unfortunately few have survived various maintenance projects over the years, which came from Norway. The glass lights of the Sunroom and those of the various bathrooms are also worthy of mention with the latter being of the art deco style glass and moulded into shell shapes. Fortunately these have been retained as they “blend well with the period of the house”.

Visitors should notice the quality of the woodwork, all supplied originally by Hunt, Leucherars and Hepburn, the old established Mining Timber Company. Teak was used for all the windows and Oregon Pine for the rafters. The floors were of Panga-Panga, a hard wood from Central Africa.

The detailed carvings at Norscot Manor, such as the alcoves and the Viking Ship Bar in the Tavern were done by a craftsman carver, Mr. M. Harcus, who was responsible for the carvings at Libertas, former home of the South African State President and now home of the Head of State and known as. Harcus came from the Hebrides and used to sit and work singings laments, which would make Ethel, ask whether he could not sing something cheerful. He also carved fine replicas of Scottish and Norwegian lions, and the South African Coat of Arms, at the time, which was placed over the fireplace in the Billiard Room when the family was in residence. These have subsequently been replaced and formed part of Joyce’s private collection as a reminder of the family’s occupation at Norscot Manor.

Specially made by the Rand Wrought Iron Works is the fine ‘Juliet’ balcony, which is a major feature of the Troon Room. The stairway balcony and those in the Tavern is a replica of those in the Spanish Embassy in London.

Over the years, Ethel had wide knowledge and experience of furniture, art and decoration. During travels in many parts of the world, she built up an exceptional private collection. Her “pewter collection was among the finest anywhere”. Once, when the Eriksens had visited Hong Kong, Ernst had to have crates especially built for Ethel’s purchases and another time when they were touring the English countryside she bought a table that had to remain on their car roof for the remainder of the trip until they returned to London. Ethel started collecting antiques in 1925, with her husband and house in mind, and had an “extraordinary eye for quality”. Norscot Manor became, not only a home, an elegant residence; “the expression of a woman with fine taste backed by vast knowledge”. 

 

Function & produce

Ethel was a great asset to her husband in his business. She was not only an expert in the world of art and antiques; she also became an accomplished gardener. She had five acres of chrysanthemums at Norscot. Particularly during WWII, cut flowers and farm produce were sold to raise money for the Red Cross. “Produce would be taken every Saturday morning to the morning market run by Mrs. Lindberg [the mother of the Lindberg of the CNA connection] at her home [since demolished] [o]n Oxford Road, Parktown. Post war, charity sales continued and it was then that Ethel sold her flowers, especially the chrysanthemums, to Flower Design. One special order for flowers supplied the Government of Ghana on the occasion of its opening by the Duchess of Kent, then the Princess Marina. Flowers were sent from Norscot to Accra by air. Norscot’s flowers were again sent, this time to London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, for Joyce’s 21st Birthday celebrations as a “nostalgic touch”. In this way, Norscot was a forerunner of the “great flower exporting business” that has subsequently been developed in South Africa. Another memorable special arrangement of Norscot flowers was at the Rand Club in 1953 for the Coronation Ball, where arrangements were placed in antique Viking cradles dating 1812 as displays, and as the 1820 Settlers Ball held at the Johannesburg City Hall.

Apart from his business Ernst had another interest, some would say “career”, which he excelled at. This was his farm at Norscot that he took seriously, building up fine herds and running them most efficiently. Ernst divided his land into ‘camps’ where he grew much of the fodder needed. Water was provided by boreholes and stored in two large tanks within a building to the north of the main house.

These tanks, with storage barn above, were covered with a shingled roof in keeping with the house so as to not spoil the view. (See ‘Out Buildings and Structures’ below)

 

Arial view of Norscot Manor

 

At one stage, there were as many as five hundred “Buccaneer” at Norscot producing bacon for the Escort Bacon Factory and for which Ernst won prizes at the Rand Agricultural Show. He also won prizes for some of his herd of one hundred and fifty Jersey cows and in 1945 gained the ‘Best Bull’ award for a bull sold to the Government of Rhodesia. He gained Gold Medals on four occasions for ‘Best Lamb Carcasses’ in 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1962 respectively. Norscot also prized a flock of mutton sheep and pedigree Herefords. “All these awards could only be achieved by someone striving for perfection and working with great enthusiasm.”

 

Outbuildings & structures

The gardens were Ethel’s “pride and joy”, where she grew her chrysanthemums and enjoyed the view. She had a rockery feature with a bridge over a stream, which ran through gentle woodland. This today forms part of the walkway to the Norscot Pre-School and flanks, the FON’s initiative, ‘Ethel’s Garden’. All of this had been restored and replanted and helps to retain the tranquil atmosphere of the house. The swimming pool, “always a popular attraction”, was situated where there is now a traffic circle at the north, Manor Close, gate and the palm trees which remain used to surround it, being much smaller then.

The original entrance was from present-day William Nicol Drive to the east, through an avenue of “shady lane” pines which, despite no longer being in use and now forming part of a separately owned erf, remain and are visible from the property. In the suburb of Norscot, where the ‘Manor’ suffix is used intermittently, Eriksen Close bears testament to the family and the past with the houses along Manor Close once being the sight for a large dam and two smaller ones.

Hidden away among the houses of Fourways, another house from the past managed to survive. Originally belonging to then Van der Walt brothers, from whom Ernst bought his property, the house had stood in around 300 acres (1.2 sq.km) but now finds itself on the southwest corner of Ibis and Flamingo Roads, Fourways. It still has some of its original flooring and its tin roof. The lounge was 40 ft. (12m) long.

The cottage had remained empty throughout WWII, but was finally restored by Ernst for his son upon his return from service in the South African Navy in the late 1940’s. After that, the house was let numerously and in ways remembered for its ‘famous’ and ‘infamous’ tenants who lived there.

Robert Tollast, a portrait painter “of some note” who worked for British Intelligence during WWII who spent ten years in South Africa, of which two were in this cottage, and it was also leased to the Bengers of Benger’s Foods. This was followed by the “#1…famous” tenant, one Peter Prowse who was an actor and whose notable showcase included ‘Diary of a Madman’. He became further well known because he eloped with a young girl while at the cottage and was pursued around the country by police and journalists alike before finally giving an interview and press release from his “country estate at Norscot”.

The cottage had yet another claim to fame in that Mr. Jack Pringle and his wife, who had previously been known as Virginia Welles, the former spouse of Hollywood actor Orson Welles, resided here. The former couple’s daughter, Rebecca Welles was a frequent visitor. The Eriksen’s daughter, Joyce, was herself a resident of the cottage in the years following Ernst’s passing to be closer to her mother. Amongst the new houses of Norscot stands a house that was moulded from the original water tanks, windmill and barn of Norscot. It is difficult to believe that they were visible from the house, but the roof has been shingled to create an attractive appearance and so as not to spoil the view. By the mid 1980’s, the roof was “half off” and the building was “almost derelict with vagrants often camping inside it”.

The walls were covered with graffiti and frames were removed and missing. The property was purchased by Ian Traill, who embarked on “the most enterprising restoration task, and who has transformed a building that was completely run down into a most interesting and exciting home”. The windmill’s ironwork has been included in the house making for a special feature of the hall. From the thin walled water tanks have bedrooms a kitchen been “cut” with woodwork. One water tank remains below the house and functions as a garage and workshop. The house goes by the name of ‘Norscot Barn’ and is located at 57 Turaco Street. 

 

The Eriksen children

The Eriksen’s son, Ernst Ronald, known as “Ronnie”, had gone to school at Cordwalles and later Michaelhouse in Natal matriculating in 1937.

He joined his father’s company, “at the bottom of the ladder”, as a motor mechanic. In 1938 and 1939, WWII intervened and Ronnie joined the South African Navy as a seaman and was commissioned in 1942, returning to the Motor Industry after the war in 1945. Working his way up, he was eventually promoted to Managing Director by his father who retained the position of Chairman up until his death in 1964 at the age of seventy-one. Ronnie then took over from his father, serving in his own right for three years between 1955 and 1958 as President of the Motor Industries Federation where he was previously a Fellow. He was also Chairman of the Naval Officers’ Association and sportingly was primarily interested in cricket. He served the Transvaal Cricket Union as Team Manager and active in promoting cricket in the school system. Ronnie went on to issue three sons and a daughter.

Eriksen Consolidated Holdings, apart from its headquarters in Central Johannesburg, established many branches all holding the Ford franchise. Among these were Kimberley in 1946, Welkom in 1949, Vereeniging in 1949, Vanderbijlpark in 1956, Johannesburg North in 1965, Glen Harmony in 1969 and Meyerton in 1979. The company continued to prosper and grow, so much so that when Henry Ford himself visited South Africa in 1984 he was able to attend a gathering of some fifteen long-service Ford dealers “…all with twenty-five or more years of service”. Sold to the Barlow Group in September 1984, the company that had now been associated with Ford Motor Company for over fifty years, continued to have a “large turnover”.

Growing up in the “wonderful open countryside” around Norscot Manor, Joyce attended Kingsmead School in Rosebank, after which she took a diploma in Agriculture at the now defunct Boschetto College in Harrismith, at the time the only agricultural school admitting female scholars. She then ran the farm at Norscot describing herself as “a sort of land girl” during WWII. Thereafter she spent time in England and upon returning to South Africa became particularly interested in politics, supporting the United Party, as did both her parents. For the nine years between 1962 and 1971 Joyce did “stalwart work” as a Member of the Provincial Council in Pretoria as the United Party representative for Hillbrow, until she got married and found that the demands of political and home life together were “too great”.

Giving up politics, but continuing her support for the United Party, before her passing in 1997, Joyce recalled her time under the leadership of Gen. Jan Smuts and Sir De Villiers Graaf as being “years of great moment in South Africa”. 

Back to top