A fondness for local history

2008-01-23 00:00

Chimney in the Clouds by D. N. “Noo” Dorning, first published in 1997, has been re-issued in an edition containing new information and a pull-out pictorial map.

An attractive small-format paperback, the book’s content is made clear by its subtitle: “An overview of many of the historic buildings in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands (1845-1925)”.

Dorning has reissued this extended and updated edition largely due to public demand. “I hope it will prove popular,” she says, “especially as I have included those houses which for one reason or another were not dealt with in the first volume but which are equally valuable and important.” These include Sarsgrove and Greenfields near Mooi River, Buccleugh in the Karkloof forest, Lythwood in the Dargle and Lastingham, the original Lidgett home.

“Also, there is new information about people I find really interesting,” she says. These include Cormac Sutherland, geologist, Arctic explorer and Natal’s second Surveyor-General who lived at the Tweedie Farm homestead; and the Lidgett family after whom the Lidgetton area is named — this started out as a settler venture along the lines of the Byrne settlement near Richmond.

Dorning says architecture has been a lifelong interest and that her fondness for local history also began at a young age, listening to the reminiscences of her grandmother, a Byrne settler. Dorning’s work as curator of the Kokstad, Howick and Macrorie House museums provided further access to the past and its people. “You can’t help it when you work in museums, the information really just falls in on you.”

It was while at the Howick Museum that her interest in the midlands area was really kindled and it was in Howick that she also met Alex Bundock, whose exquisitely detailed drawings are a major feature of the book. The pictorial map for the new edition was designed by Marise Bauer and incorporates information about the houses and the white settler community of the midlands.

“You can find out what ship they came on, where they settled and, when I can provide it, the exact date,” says Dorning.

The user-friendly map, along with Dorning’s informative book, provide an indispensable addition to a drive through the midlands. But Dorning has an additional purpose in re-issuing the book: “I also want to try to get people to be aware of our historic homes — and to save some of them.”

Since the appearance of the first edition Dorning says she has become even more concerned about the national policy now in place to save historic buildings.

“The ‘Listing’ system which we hoped would put some pressure on homeowners and more importantly on local municipalities to protect buildings, which though not declared National Monuments are still vastly important, seems to have failed, certainly in the small towns and most evidentially in the rural areas.

“I hope the book will emphasise the need for the local townspeople and the farming community to realise that it is now up to all of us to safeguard our dwindling heritage.”

• Chimney in the Clouds by D. N. Dorning is available from the Howick Museum and Sidewalk Cafe.

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