Prefab

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The Paper House by Leslie Johnson courtesy of Morris Sloman

Prefab

The  first prefabricated building in Southern Rhodesia, erected at the Globe and Phoenix Mine as its first manager’s house, was constructed out of panels of paper maché on wire netting, hence the name, The Paper House.

Prefab

The house was manufactured in Britain, shipped to Que Que just before the turn of the century and brought north by ox wagon from Port Elizabeth, somehow negotiating through the Matabele Rebellion and the rindepest epidemic.  Cecil John Rhodes slept here.  The Paper House has style, besides being practical.  It’s built on stilts to protect against the white ants and damp, which makes it sit daintily on the landscape and yet it still stands today.  The wrap-around verandah, though modest, is a prerequisite for any self-respecting colonial house.   The tin roof shimmering in the heat has a generous pitch to deflect the deluge of rain from afternoon summer thunderstorms.  Its all set about with Rhodesia’s indigenous family of acacia trees with grasses yellowed by the white hot glare of the African sky.  At the time, every other building was either a tin shack, hot by day and cold by night, or made like an African hut out of pole and dagga (mud) with a thatch roof.

After  the advent of rail in 1902, the secluded, grand rambling Phoenix House, with its extensive gardens, was built for the manager .  The Paper House then became the mine manager’s office.  The painting reflects how Dad saw the The Paper House a half century later, on his way to work, summoned by the wail of the mine hooter, signaling the start of the morning shift.  Sick Parade at the Native hospital, at seven o’clock, started his day, every day.

European and Native hospitals had been built in 1896.  The natives were amazed that a building was set aside exclusively for the treatment of the sick,  along with attendant doctor and orderlies and were wary.  Opposing tribes refused to share a ward.  But by the time Dad arrived the hospital sported a portable X-Ray, primitive operating theatre and elementary laboratory.  It was all rudimentary and crude but the basics were there for a wider practice and a challenge to upgrade, which he relished.

Soon after Dad’s arrival,  the Chairman of the Board of Directors and his wife visited from the London Head Office.  Dad was to show her around the medical facilites while her husband went underground.  Dad was waylaid.  He made his apologies: delivery of twins by Caesarian section took precedence, assisted by the Assistant Compound Manager, A. J. Liebenberg, enthusiastic but untrained, as anaesthetist under his direction.

At the officials party that evening the Chairman’s wife admonished her husband “You can’t expect the doctor to struggle so under those conditions and he is doing such good work.  You should see the beautiful Native twins he delivered today.”  She was as good as her word.  A new modern theatre table and Boyle’s anaesthetic apparatus arrived in due course, a great boost to Dad’s planned upgrades.

In  this new century, with other wars and new disease,  many of the old icons of those early years,  Phoenix House, and the mine doctor’s house are still there but most remarkably that landmark, the prefab Paper House still stands, now a national monument, a reminder of the tenacity of the pioneers to get the mine underway.

The spirit remains:  there’s yet more life in the mine, new adventurers digging in and new fortunes to be made for risk- tolerant investors.  Recently Lee John, an Australian, has resuscitated the defunct Globe and Phoenix Mine and has plans for the whole Sebakwe area.

http://olympicgoldmines.com/projects.htm

This charming water color by Leslie Johnson is shared on the blog courtesy of Morris Sloman.  Thanks indeed Morris.

12 Comments

  • Betty

    Reply Reply October 16, 2010

    This is all fascinating! First of all, how in the world did the paper on wire last through all the rainy seasons? It is beautiful and serene looking, and I would have loved to seen the floor plan..or was it one big room? Was there electricity? It is incredible that that mother went into labor at exactly the same time as their visit….God works in mysterious ways, and things are always better after He intercedes…..I also find it amazing that so many really important people came to your small town. I realize that the mine was very important, but there seemed to always be a flurry of anticipation and excitement with all the visitors coming every once in a while. No wonder you are such a fabulous and creative cook….your mother was always serving dignitaries, and there wasn’t a Whole Foods or gourmet grocery store to be found! Both of your parents were amazing people….lucky you!
    PS…loved your descriptions of the house and surrounding flora in the first paragraph!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 16, 2010

      Betty,

      Heaven knows how The Paper House lasted a century and beyond! Keeping it off the ground was critical and I expect paint gives it an impervious skin. There is a romance about the painting (which isn’t dated), but other working mine buildings sprang up along side the road. When Rhodes visited (before 1900) the scene was pretty bleak and conditions really primitive like any frontier town. It was two bedroomed, later converted to offices. The mine was completely self sufficient, preceeding the establishement of the town which grew up because of it. The mine established its own water supply (brought by ox wagon in the early days before it was piped from 5 miles away), generators to run the 40 stamp mill (to crush the ore) and ran three farms (cattle and maize) to feed workers.

      The timing of labor is so often inappropriate, not to mention all the other medical emergencies that interrupted our lives. In this case it really was fortuitious!

      The Board ofcourse wanted to know what was going on, check on how the money was being spent so representive visits of one sort or another occured pretty much annually I believe. It was the richest gold mine in the British Empire in the middle of nowhere. Yes, we did entertain a lot. Everything made from scratch…but we did have servants to cook, clean and serve so it was a joy with the benefit of all sorts of outside worldly news and opinions from real movers and shakers of the times in politics and industry which we didn’t fully appreciate as children at the time.

      The scenery there is much like the Texas hill country (minus those wonderful Live Oaks of yours). It has a ruggedness all of its own and you have to love the heat (no humidity though except in October the so called suicide month).

      You’re a wonderful reader. Thanks for tuning in.

      Diana

  • Ed Goldberg

    Reply Reply October 16, 2010

    Hi Diana – thanks for a terrific blog. As you know my late father, Dr. Isaac Goldberg, was the chief geologist on the mine from 1949 to 1956. Here is how he described the Paper House in his unpublished autobiography:

    “My first office was the house on stilts, to which I have already referred. It stood well away from the main office building. When I entered it for the first time, accompanied by Teddy Mannix, it was completely bare and uninviting. Apparently, it had some historical value, as, it was believed that Cecil Rhodes slept in it once on a journey from Bulawayo. I was never able to establish if that was true, but I did hear, much later, that the house had been declared a national monument. Was it because of me or Cecil Rhodes? Or, perhaps both of us! Happy thought.
    Later,Teddy Mannix came to see me in my “office”.
    “ We will soon get you a desk and a chair”, he said, when he realised that I had nowhere to sit, other than on the steps leading up to the front door of the house. What a set-up, I thought! “

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 16, 2010

      Ed,

      This rings so true to the times: making do or doing without! Things were pretty primitive still in ’49. I think the significance of the Paper House shell was recognised pretty early on which helped to preserve it, along with the mystique that Rhodes slept here much as the American George Washington or Robert E. Lee slept here (and maybe your Dad too!) The Paper House went through various functions over the years: managers house, then the general managers office, geologist office and then Tess Harris (nee Banfield shared with me) underground manager’s office after 1956 when her father, George Banfield, occupied it and took over our house at #1 Silver Oaks Road. Vacancies here and there inbetween no doubt occurred.

      The Paper House is part of the mining museum there now. The Globe and Phoenix Mining complex could become a Williamsburg, Va of Africa. I believe its pretty much preserved intact and could become a living history experience for families and mining history buffs.

      Your Dad’s memoirs are a historical treasure. Do hold on to them. Thanks for all the information you have shared with me over the years.

      Glad to see you are still tuned in.

      Diana

  • Ed Goldberg

    Reply Reply October 16, 2010

    I do look forward to your regular postings.

    Ed

  • Tess Harris

    Reply Reply October 18, 2010

    Very interesting to read the full history of this unique prefab, also to read the comment from Ed Goldberg, as I now recall the name Issy Goldberg as one referred to often by my father, George Banfield!

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Tess

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 19, 2010

      Tess,

      Good to know that Issy Goldberg is well remembered in Que Que. They lived next to the Christinsons’ on Old Bell Road. He went on from Que Que to get a Ph.D in Economic Geology from the University of London and became the Chief Geologist at Anglo American in Sby amongst other positions.

      His son Ed, was only 5 when they left Que Que, but he has amassed a great history collection of the G and P Mine and Jewish Community in particular in Que Que and has been very generous in sharing it with me. He lives in Vancouver, B.C. Its a small world after all.

      Diana

  • Franky Cookson (Mrs)

    Reply Reply May 13, 2013

    This is absolutely fascinating, because the house was build by my great, great grandfather, Edward Arthur Maund, who was a pioneer, commissioned by the National Geographic Society, to put Matabeleland on the map. He originally built the house for himself and his young bride, Eleonora (my great, great grandmother), and he was a colleague and friend of Cecil Rhodes, so it is not surprising that Rhodes slept there. They later fell out over a letter from Queen Victoria, but that’s another story. EA Maund also build a more traditional house in Harare and the original market building in Harare. I have a whole history of the adventures of EA Maund, his friendship with Lobengula, and his pioneering exploits. I also have some original maps. He returned to England in the late 80s and lived for a while in The Red House, in Suffolk, which was later owned by Benjamin Brittan and Peter Peers.

    It’s a lovely painting of the house. Do you still have the original? I would be very interested in buying a colour copy of it.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 15, 2013

      Mrs. Cookson, So glad you have enjoyed the blog. You have a very interesting history, evidently well preserved–a real treasure. Rhodes’ dealings with Lobengula (and many others) were less than honorable–but he was a visionary. I am sure Edward Maund’s accounts would greatly add to Rhodesia’s early history. I hope you will publish his adventures.
      As mentioned in the blog Morris Sloman owns the painting. I will ask him if he wants to make a copy of it for you…

  • R S Roberts

    Reply Reply October 12, 2014

    re Paper House, Que Que and reply by Mrs Franky Cookson.
    Edward Maund was responsible for the Wire Weave House in Salisbury where he and his wife lived very briefly; but I have never heard that he was connected with the Paper House which was erected, I thought, after he left the country for good.
    I am completing a paper on the Maund family and would like to contact Mrs Cookson if that is possible please.

    • Franky Cookson (Mrs)

      Reply Reply October 13, 2014

      You are very welcome to get in touch. How interesting that you are writing a paper on EA Maund.

      Long before I saw pictures, or anything on any websites, the story of the Paper House came down to me, through the generations. I believe it was one of many houses and other buildings designed and commissioned by EAM. Since I don’t think my grandparents would have invented a story about their parents building a paper house in the middle of Matabeleland (it sounds so ridiculous), I feel sure it must be true. The reason given was that EAM wanted his new bride to live in a better home than a mud hut, and he was very enterprising in his endeavours to give her a little more refinement. He was also certainly involved with the mining – and with Cecil Rhodes. In fact he named his eldest daughter (my grandmother), Miele Cecily (Miele was the name of either Lobengula’s favourite wife, or his daughter, the stories are unclear). Apparently Cecil Rhodes said to EAM, “You have named your daughter after two savages”. Their friendship didn’t last. I believe they fell out over the letter Lobengula sent to Queen Victoria and her reply, which was delivered in both directions by EAM. My great grandmother, Eleonora, never liked Cecil Rhodes, though I don’t know why.

      EAM also spent time in Salisbury, as he designed (and possibly built) the old market which still stands there.

      There are a umber of family stories about EAM and his young bride, Eleonora, and I look foward to sharing some of them with you. On it’s 100th anniversary, The Paper House was featured on one of Zimbabwe’s postage stamps. It has always been a source of both pride and amusement to my family.

      All the best,

      Franky Cookson

  • Sue

    Reply Reply August 20, 2018

    I have just purchased a limited edition copy of the Paper House. I would love to know about the artist, when the picture was painted and other artwork she has done% any direction would be great. Thanks

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