Holiday Accommodation in Pilgrims Rest

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Crystal Springs Mountain Lodge      Pilgrims RestHotel / Lodge
Mount Sheba Hotel Pilgrims RestHotel / Lodge
Royal Hotel Pilgrim's Rest Pilgrims RestHotel / Lodge

The conservation of Pilgrim's Rest as a cultural and historic asset began in 1974 when the provincial government purchased the village. In 1986 the village of Pilgrim's Rest and the farm Ponieskrantz, on which the village is situated, was declared a National Monument. Today a dedicated group of historians and interest groups continue to work towards the further restoration of the village to increasingly provide a better insight into the history of the area. The village is divided into two distinct areas - Up Town and Down Town. The Pilgrim's Rest Information Office and the Ticket Office in the Up Town sector offer tourist information and guided tours to three museums; the Diggings, the Reduction Works and Allanglade House.


The devaluation of the British pound in 1932 caused a sharp rise in the gold price which stimulated the economic growth of the village and the area. Apart from the usual butcheries, bakeries and blacksmiths, in the 1930's there were 16 general dealer stores located in Pilgrim's Rest. In the 1940's mine production dropped sharply which had a serious effect on the village community and many establishments were forced to close. The Dredzen Shop Museum is representative of the typical general dealer of the period 1930 to 1950. The articles displayed are a selection taken from a 20 year period and were not therefore, all available throughout that period. It is, however, interesting to note how little some of the goods and packaging have changed through the years. The home and life style of the post Second World War era has been reconstructed in the store owner's residence, adjoining the shop. Articles and furniture on display represent a typical middle class home of the period in Pilgrim's Rest. The house museums of Pilgrim's Rest portray the development of interiors at other village sites: The House Museum (1900 - 1915), Allanglade (1915 - 1930) and the Dredzen House Museum (1930 - 1950)


The House Museum is a fine example of wood and corrugated iron architecture which is typical of Pilgrim's Rest. The house was built in 1913 for a dr. W. Secomb. During the 1930's the house was occupied by Mr. Blaine, a lawyer. In 1976 the house was restored and furnished to characterise a middle class home of the early 20th century. The museum emphasises late Victorian styles in the decor and furnishings. In the living room are two upholstered chairs, without arm rests, specifically designed to accommodate ladies with wide Victorian skirts. The use of linoleum on the floors and the numerous pictures and embroidered verses on the walls are typical of this period. Flagged stone pathways and rectangular flower beds are prominent elements found in a Victorian garden. The Dutch oven at the back of the house was used daily for baking bread. The characteristic ornateness of this era is moderately expressed in the house and garden, bearing in mind the rural nature of the surroundings.


The first locally printed newspaper circulated on the Pilgrim's Rest gold fields was the GOLD NEWS of 24 January 1874. Shortly thereafter it was published by an Irishman, W. J. Phelan who became the new editor. Phelan changed the newspaper's name to GOLDFIELDS MERCURY. In 1910 the first PILGRIM'S REST AND SABIE NEWS was published with T. W. S. Craig as the editor. It was published every Saturday at a cost of sixpence, or one pound for a one year subscription. In 1911 Craig suspended publication of the newspaper until later in the same year when the new editor, A.W. Frost, revived the newspaper. The original premises of the PILGRIM'S AND SABIE NEWS, situated between the present building and the Pilgrim's Hotel, was totally destroyed by fire at some stage between 1916 and 1919. The new building and printing works was erected at the present site.


It is appropriate that Pilgrim's Rest should have a diggings museum to record the first gold rush in South Africa. Soon after alluvial gold was discovered in the Pilgrim's Creek, diggers from many parts of the world rushed to this valley to peg their claims and to seek their fortunes. Life on the diggings was hard and unsympathetic. The diggers worked long hours and often received little or no reward. Many of them spent their meagre gains in nearby canteens, of which there were 11 at the time when the mining boom was at its peak. There were no proper medical or sanitary facilities and the hospital was located in a large tent where diggers did voluntary service. Many diggers arrived at the gold fields suffering badly from malaria, dysentery and exposure after their arduous journey through the Lowveld. Although this was a typical community as found at gold fields elsewhere in the world, the customary lawlessness and violence was absent. Criminals were tried by a diggers committee and punished according to the seriousness of the transgression, of which claim robbing was considered the most serious. The first jail was a tent in which the convicted was placed in stocks. The tent however was soon replaced by a wattle and daub hut. For the more serious crimes, banishment from the diggings was ordered, with certain death should the convicted criminal return. By 1874 successful diggers had replaced their tents with more durable wattle and daub shanties. Prosperous storekeepers and canteen owners were able to erect structures of timber and corrugated iron. Buildings were usually no more than one large room with elementary furnishings. Beds were made of poles with canvas sheets tacked to the frames. Layers of dried grass served for mattresses. Tables and chairs were made from wooden boxes and crates in which provisions had been transported to the diggings.


In 1896 the increasing production of ore necessitated the rapid establishment of a central reduction works at Pilgrim's Rest. In 1897 the first buildings were erected consisting of a stamp mill, a smelting house and office buildings. To serve the scattered mines in the area, an electric tramline was laid to convey ore from outlying mines to the central reduction works. The size of the reduction works and the tramline was something of a technical feat at a time when South Africa was technically still in its infancy. In 1902, when the war ended, mining was resumed and the reduction works reopened. This was a testing period as the recruitment of labour and difficulties with transport slowed production. However these problems were overcome and by 1910 mining in Pilgrim's Rest entered a boom period. The reduction works was expanded as gold production rose to record levels during the period of 1913 and 1914. The reduction works continued to function through to 1959 when the machinery was adapted to produce fertiliser as a by product. The reduction works closed in 1972 when the last mine at Pilgrim's Rest ceased production. In 1974 the run down corrugated iron structures were restored and opened to the public as a museum soon after. The increasing demand for electricity created by the reduction works was one of the main reasons for the construction of the Belvedere Hydroelectric power station near Bourkes Luck in 1911. At the time it was the largest power station of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Pilgrim's Rest was the second town in South Africa to be electrified, at a time when London was still making use of gas.


Alanglade was built in 1915 by the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates to serve as the official mine manager's residence at Pilgrim's Rest. It is situated a few kilometres to the north of this historic village, on the Mpumalanga escarpment. The residence is surrounded by mountains and shady forests that , to this day, provide an atmosphere of quiet opulence and serenity. The home was occupied by several mine managers until 1972 when mining activities at Pilgrim's Rest were ceased. Alanglade is furnished with objects from the period 1900 to 1930, using its first occupants, the Barry family and the Pilgrim's Rest milieu as point of departure. The furnishings used, reflect a modern Edwardian approach and are mostly of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco stylistic origins. Architecturally, Alanglade conforms to the design essentials of early twentieth century buildings; i.e. simplicity, harmonious proportions between roof, walls and wall openings, effective use of materials and the integration of the building in its surroundings. Alanglade houses an extensive collection and is a worthwhile destination for visitors.


The origin of the old cemetery is closely connected to the legend of the Robber's Grave; that of an unknown man who was caught and convicted of tent robbing on the diggings and subsequently banished. A few days after his trial, the thief was spotted on a hill, now known as Cemetery Hill, where he was shot, killed and buried. His grave was orientated north - south to brand him a thief forever. The different nationalities of those who lie buried in the cemetery reflect the cosmopolitan character of the Pilgrim's Rest gold fields. Life on the diggings was rough, with accidents and disease as the main causes of death. The unlucky Saul Sampson died of starvation and a number of out of luck diggers committed suicide. Health services on the gold fields were practically non existent. There was however a Dr. John Ashton who advertised his skills as "Surgeon, Barber and Tentmaker". This cemetery stands as a testament to those remarkable pioneers who lost their lives at the outset of the great South African gold saga. Here, on Cemetery Hill, they lie overlooking the beautiful Pilgrim's Rest valley.


The Joubert Bridge was built in 1896 by an Italian engineer, Galetti. The bridge was officially opened to traffic on 5 May 1897 by the mine commissioner, Mr. J. S. Joubert, after whom it was named. In 1909 a section of the bridge was swept away by floods. A member of the local Italian community, G. Beretta, restored the structure, which has served Pilgrim's Rest to the present day.


The first coach robbery took place at the top of Pilgrim's Hill, now known as Robber's Pass, in 1899. Two masked highwaymen stopped the coach, threatened to shoot the driver and passengers, unhitched the mules and made their escape with gold to the value of 10 000 pounds. In 1912, the second coach robbery took place. Tommy Dennison, a well known character in Pilgrim's Rest, was badly in debt. His attempt at robbing the Mail Coach, a few metres from the spot where the first robbery took place, was however not so successful. Instead of gold sovereigns, Dennison found only a case of silver coins. He was arrested while trying to pay his debts with the stolen money. After a five year jail term, Tommy returned to Pilgrim's Rest where he opened The Highwayman's Garage.