head picture

return to home page


Situated about 75 km south-east of Johannesburg. One of the older towns of the  Transvaal with beautiful Victorian architecture and a rich history. GPS coordinates: 26.4992°S 28.3564° Elevation: 1546m

I am here talking about the Heidelberg in Gauteng, not the one far away down there in the Cape and definitely not about the German Heidelberg after which this town has actually been named.

History in general

Heidelberg early townA start was made in 1860 by Heinrich Ueckermann, who had established a trading store on the farm Langlaagte. It was at his initative that the town was laid out and proclaimed in 1866.
And history could begin, one of the early travellers writing about the place was EF Sandeman 'Looking down on the village from a mile or two away, it has all the appearance of a pretty, old fashioned German hamlet, but a closer inspection showed it to be a decidedly dirty and unpicturesque little place.'  He came through Heidelburg (his spelling) back in 1877 and was not very impressed with the place. I am sure things have improved since then.
For a while it was the seat of government of the Zuid Afrikaanse Repuplik in 1880/81. Heidelberg was selected because it had no British troops stationed there, thus the republic could be re-proclaimed without interference from the military. On the 16 December 1880 (Dingaans Day) the flag was officially hoisted at the town.
It became a municipality in 1903.

Heinrich Ueckermann

Heidelberg old houseHeidelberg H UeckermannThe town basically started with Heinrich Ueckermann, he set up the first trading store in what now is the town. The picture shows the oldest house in town, it was the farmhouse of the farm Langlaagte on which the town has been laid out.
He originated from Germany and named the place after Heidelberg in Germany, that is where he studied. The sources don't reveal what he studied. He arrived in South Africa in `1849, disembarking in Durban. He set up business in Pietermaritzburg and two years later got married to Elizabeth Mary Mason. She bore him 14 children.
After the birth of their first son they trekked extensively by ox-wagon into the interior, as far as the Southpanberge, it was on the trek that their first daughter was born 1856 (a personal note: it is always an amazement to me how tough people were in those days that they could trek for month on end and have babies at the same time). On an other trek he got to the farm Langlaagte and decided that this is a good place to establish a trading store and that way come to an end of their wanderings.
From the farmers Strydom and Venter he purchased a piece of land to set up a trading store. This piece of land still exists as stand no.92 on the corner of Ueckerman- and Kerk street. The picture on the left shows the trading store in the early days.
Heidelberg Ueckermann storeHis business was obviously successful and he became a respected citizen of the town. Represented Heidelberg in the Volksraad (parliament) and was a member of the executive (uitvoerende raad). In business he not only had the shop, he also opened a chemist (which gave rise to the thought he may have studied pharmacology in Germany) and became a building contractor. He was also a member and the secretary of the Nederduits Herformde Kerk and it was under his supervision that the first church was build in 1864/65.
Heidelberg Ueckermann graveHis grave is in the Kloof cemetery, the inscription on the grave stone reads:

Sacred to the Memory of
Heinrich Julius Friedrich Christian Ueckermann
Born in Mecklenburg Germany
20th July 1827
Died 24th July 1883

A note: Mecklenburg is not a town or a place, it's a state in the Federal Republic of Germany. His exact place of birth is Schwerin, one of the major towns in Mecklenburg. And another note: we are actually dealing with nobility here. In the sources it states that Johan Jacobus Ueckerman received the title 'baron' in 1790, this could have been the grandfather of Heinrich.

Railway Station

Heidelberg stationA beautiful sand stone building of red and white sand stone. NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij) was the major railway company of the South African Republic (Transvaal), it was responsible for connecting the Natal line from Durban to Johannesburg. The station was completed in 1896. The observant visitor will notice that the station is not near the present rail, in fact its standing there isolated completely from any rail traffic. This is because the track was changed in 1961 and a new station erected some distance from the old one. The position of the old track can still be followed on Google Earth, coming in from Natal the line had a huge S-curve, that was possibly the reason for straightening the line somewhat.
The disused station was purchased by the Rembrandt Group and a transport museum established. Unfortunately with the death of the founder, Anton Rupert, the museum was closed and most of the exhibits moved to the Cape.


Built and completed in 1938. What makes it interesting is that the architect was Gerhard Moerdyk, the same guy that designed the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.

NG church

Heidelberg NG churchThere are a number of churches in Heidelberg, I am picking here on the main NG church, that beautiful sand stone structure in the middle of town. It was built in 1890 and cost £17000. The inscription on the corner stone reads as follows:
Translated: Dutch Reformed or Reformed Church
this stone was laid on the 12 April 1890
by P J Joubert Commandant General

Heidelberg NG church corner stoneThe architect were Brislin and Seale and the Master builder J.B.Kirton.
Heidelberg NG church insideWhy does the name of the two Afrikaans churches appear on the stone? During 1885 there was an attempt to unify the two streams, which in Heidelberg led to having a united congregation, they went about to build a church. But obviously at the time the name had not been agreed on yet thus the two names on the corner stone.
From ref.6 it looks like the unification didn't last, there is talk of a court case in 1897 to split up the property.
The big tower of the church collapsed in February 1909. Here is a picture of the fallen tower.It happened a few hours after the minister ds. A.J.Louw and some of his church council members had been up in the tower to inspect some building defects, I presume cracks had been appearing after a lengthy period of rain. A new tower was constructed and inaugurated by J.D.Kestell in 1911.

NH church

Heidelberg NH Kerk Heidelberg NH Kerk insideNH stands for Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, that is the other Afrikaans church in town. A church of pleasing architecture out- and inside. And no wonder, the architect was Gerard Moerdyk.
This church was built in 1932, before that the congregation used the church known as the Kruiskerk, in English cruciform church. It used to be on the same block as the present Klipkerk of the NG congregation. And Heinrich Ueckermann had something to do with that, see the story above. The foundation stone was laid on 17 October 1864 and cost was 6326 Pounds, 2 Shilling and 2 Pence.

Hoër Volkskool

Heidelberg hoer volkskoolHow do we translate this? Higher folkschool, doesn't sound right, its the high school for mainly Afrikaans speaking pupils.
Expansion to a secondary school followed in 1919 with the erection of the present main building of the Hoër Volkskool (in the picture). The inscription in the corner stone reads: Hierdie Steen is gele deur se edele die Administrateur A.G.Robertson op 8ste September 1919; translated: This stone was laid by the honorable administrator A.G.Robertson on the 8th of September 1919.
Heidelberg NG church pulpitSomething they do have in safe keeping at the school is the original pulpit (preekstoel) of the NG church. There is talk of moving it back to the church.
In recent times the school has had its fair share of mainly political problems. With the new political dispensation the school came under pressure to accommodate non-Afrikaans speaking pupils. A number of English media classes were established and maintained. In the meantime a English medium high school has been built and the school through its governing body has decided to discontinue with the dual medium. This, of course, caused an uproar under certain groups who feel that this is racism. A number of papers have reported on this subject, check this article, it seems a fair summary. One just has to wonder, how many of these complainers actually pay school fees.

Laer Volkskool

Heidelberg established itself as an educational center for the wider area. The basement of the Klipkerk was used as a class room and a new school erected in 1907, this was the Laer Volkskool, primary school.

Old Jail

Heidelberg jailOne reference I found states that the jail was built in 1888 but not used as a jail initially, it was a hospital. During the Boer War it was certainly used as a jail. Salomon van As was executed here, at the back of the jail.

Salomon van As

Salomon van As was a field cornet during the Boer War as a member of the Heidelberg commando. He was involved in the killing of Captain R.C.H.Miers. The incident occurred during September 1901 at Riversdraai 12 miles south of Heidelberg. Captain Miers approached the Boers under a white flag most likely with the indention to convince them to surrender. What exactly happened is not known, the British claim the Captain was shot in cold blood which makes this a war crime, van As claims he acted in self defence.
Heidelberg bullet holesThe British felt so strong about it that his name came up in the peace conference at Vereening as one of three burghers that had to hand themselves over to the British for investigation. He was imprisoned in the Heidelberg jail where the court case took place. Van As was not given the opportunity to call his own witnesses, found guilty and was condemned to die. The execution took place at the back of the jail, the bullet holes in the wall remain as witnesses to that event.
A few years after that the father of van As received a letter of apology from the British military, admitting that the court case was irregular and thus van As had not received a fair trial, compensation was offered to the family but refused.

This is getting too much for one page, thus lets move to page 2 for the interesting history I have found in the Kloof Cemetery.

next page

return to home page