The Forge – mystery and history wrapped into one

Posted by Oakhurst Farm Cottage - 21 Aug 2020 | Blog

There are few remaining large, working farms along the Garden Route. As the region emerged from a sleepy backwater into a well-trodden tourist destination, the value of land shot up and many farms were sub- divided and sold off for development or as lifestyle small holdings. Oakhurst Farm survived and today retains its 640 hectares, now a symbiotic mix of tourism and agriculture.

With an appreciation of Oakhurst’s rich history and being a sixth generation descendants of Henry Dumbleton, the original purchaser of Oakhurst Farm, the Crowther family have carefully retained so much of Oakhurst’s history, many of these relics marking significant milestones in the farm’s development.

But one building, fondly referred to as, “the missing piece in the Oakhurst history puzzle” is The Forge. So why the mystery? Well, nowhere is it documented as to why The Forge was ever built, who it served and what exactly took place there after its construction.

But let’s jump right back to the afore mentioned Henry Dumbleton, who it must be said, never had much to do with the farm. In fact, Henry purchased the title deed while serving in the British Army in India in 1820. He’d never laid eyes on the place and knew little of this far-flung corner of the British empire. Twenty years passed before a Dumbleton set foot on the land, this being his son, Henry junior, who came out to the Cape Colony, presumably sent by his father to begin developing the farm. 

A photograph taken in the mid 1900’s showing Henry Dumbleton’s by then derelict farmhouse and The Forge in front of it.

One of the first tasks he completed was to build a small stone blacksmith forge. Farming was a pioneer activity here in the 1840’s and one had to be entirely self-sufficient. This could well have made building a forge a top priority for Dumbleton. Farming implements, transport wagons and other items would have needed to be maintained and manufactured in such a building. Henry was also busy constructing his own house (Today the Crowther’s farmhouse) nearby, which would have required the need for a workshop facility. All speculation of course, but there is evidence that the yellowwood beams used in The Forge’s construction, were cut in a saw pit alongside the building, still partially visible today. The stone for the walls would have been quarried and brought in from somewhere nearby.

Henry Dumbleton junior left Oakhurst after a few years, preferring the more genteel surrounds of urban Cape Town, and the farm was taken over by his enthusiastic brother, Walter. Walter Dumbleton threw his energy into the farm, as well as his family, comprising 13 children in total! Not only did he develop a 4.5km water catchment furrow from the Outeniqua Mountains to his own newly constructed farm house, but he also built the Oakhurst chapel (still in use today) and the water mill, which was still active right up until the 1960’s

The historic forge building at Oakhurst Farm
A painting dating from about 1867, showing the Oakhurst farmstead. Walter Dumbleton’s newly built house on the horizon, with Henry’s house and The Forge in the foreground.

Back to The Forge. Through all of this, the building seemed to stand vacant and unused and as far as can be made out, may have remained empty for at least the next 100 years. 

In 2010, Jake and Claire Crowther saw the little building’s potential as an escape for weary urbanites, looking for cozy accommodation in a rural setting. The stone building was beautifully restored and formed the main bedroom of this creative abode, to which they then added a timber constructed living area, with roll-up canvas sides and a lower level bathroom. 

The Forge today.

This was the start of Oakhurst’s dip into the tourism trade. The Forge proved so popular that a second ensuite bedroom was later added, the living area enclosed with stack-doors and windows, an open-air shower and plunge pool soon took shape, outside living areas were built on and a host of other refinements added to its character.

The Forge is in no uncertain terms a gem, a little slice of mystery and history wrapped into one. What’s for certain though is that while Henry Dumbleton little stone building may have been forgotten over time, nearly 200 years later, it has become the flagship of Oakhurst’s gorgeous farm accommodation.

The interior of the original structure, now a bedroom.
The timber kitchen area added onto the building.
The living area off the bedroom.
The views from the outside living space.
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