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Sammy Marks

Zwartkoppies Hall

Marks had bought the farm Zwartkoppies to the east of Pretoria and there he began the construction of his home. The name originates from the black rock around the farm which has iron in and is by nature black rocks. This also attracts electric storms. He drew the initial plans for the house on a piece of wood and got a local builder to construct the house according to his rough sketch plan. The house is a very cold place as he built the house facing West which does not work in the Southern Hemisphere. Marks built a grand 40 odd room Victorian mansion, Zwartkoppies Hall, on the farm near Pretoria, which became well-known to celebrities and dignitaries visiting South Africa. Sammy and Bertha moved into the house in 1886. Sammy had an Italian painter paint the walls on silk material so that the walls would look like they were made of silk. Beautiful patterns decorated each room of the mansion. Having the same restless energy that led to Marks's success, his wife Bertha controlled the house and its staff with ease, managing to raise nine children, breed poultry, maintain a garden, and entertain on a lavish scale. Luncheons, dinners, croquet on the lawn, tennis and billiards parties were all regular events. There was no dinner party, and no Sunday, which passed without a 5 course meal attended by 30+ guests. A staff of 13, most of whom were engaged through an agency in London, carried out the housework: parlourmaids, kitchenmaids, laundrymaids and gardeners, as well as a governess, a cook, an estate carpenter and a Scottish butler. A massive stove in the kitchen, with five ovens and 10 hot-plates, testified to the scale of the entertainment. After Marks’ death, his widow and some of the children lived in the house until the death of the last one in 1981. After a period of standing vacant, the family realised it was in need of maintenance and a suitable tenant was sought. In 1984 an agreement was reached with the National Cultural History Museum according to which the Government was to buy the contents of the house from the estate, restore the house and rent it from the family trust. In 1986 the Sammy Marks Museum opened its doors to the public. In 1995 roughly 73ha surrounding the house and upon which all of the historical buildings are situated, was cut from the rest of the farm and sold to the National Cultural History Museum. Today the Sammy Mark's Museum forms part of the Ditsong Museums of South Africa.
The grand staircase
The kitchen