The original plot on which The Cock House is built was granted in May 1826 to Benjamin Norden, Jewish merchant and pioneer from London who became one of Grahamstown’s foremost citizens.
Norden initiated a lucrative trade in ivory and other goods between the Cape Colony and Natal. He subsequently moved to Cape Town where, in 1841, he helped establish the Jewish tradition in South Africa by inaugurating the first Jewish congregation.
Dr John Atherstone
In 1835 Dr John Atherstone, the most prominent among Grahamstown’s first medical practitioners, bought the property. Formerly resident surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in London, Dr Atherstone emigrated to South Africa in 1820 and initially left the Albany district, of which Grahamstown formed the centre, to practise in Cape Town. He returned in 1828 to accept the post of District Surgeon in Grahamstown.
The Hon. William Cock
1820 British Settler William Cock, after whom we are named, lived here towards the end of his highly eventful life. He died here in 1876 and was buried at Port Alfred, the place in which he made – and lost – a considerable fortune. He become known as the man who changed the course of the Kowie River and, without his pioneering efforts in the mid 19th century, the construction of the modern day Port Alfred marina development would not have been possible.
Originally a printer from Penryn in Cornwall, Cock led a party of 91 British settlers on board the HM Weymouth, landing at Algoa Bay in May 1820. A keen businessman, he was soon actively engaged in Grahamstown in various projects. At one time he was contractor to the Government for supplying Mauritius and St Helena with salt beef, establishing a shipping line to carry the cargo.
He was in partnership with the Cape Town trading firm of Heideman, Hodgson & Co and established a branch in Grahamstown. When he retired from this business, he accepted as his share several farms at the mouth of the Kowie River. During a visit there in 1836, Cock records: “Whilst there I was lost to think it was much to be regretted that such a fine estuary so near to Grahamstown, and the finest county in the colony, was not made available for a port.”
In 1839 he became involved in the development of Port Frances (renamed Port Alfred in 1860 during the visit of Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred) which necessitated a great outlay of capital and immense personal labour. The first ship sailed up the new channel in March 1841, after which the port was regularly used by schooners plying between coastal ports.
Having been nominated by the Governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, as an M.L.C (Member of the Legislative Council) in 1847, the Hon William Cock and fellow M.L.C Robert Godlonton, succeeded in getting a Bill passed for further development of the harbour. The Kowie Harbour Improvement Company was established and, of the £50,000 budget required (about R60 million in today’s money!), half had to be raised privately.
As the company’s founder and chairman, and only resident director, Cock toiled for years, cutting, dredging and paving the channel, constructing breakwaters, building wharves and warehouses. All this was done with only manual and animal labour, steam-power not yet being available. Larger ships then put in frequently, the port having been declared open to vessels from every part of the world in 1855. For nearly 30 years Port Alfred was a thriving harbour but sadly Cock’s enterprise came to naught when the government eventually abandoned his scheme in 1880.
William Cock was married for 64 years to Elizabeth Toy and had eleven children. He built his family a home, Richmond House, on the heights of the west bank, commanding a wonderful view of the river and its activities. The house was designed by his eldest son, William Frederick, not only as a residence but also to withstand siege during the Frontier wars. Its flat roof, specially strengthened to mount small cannon and fortified with battlements, led to the house becoming known as ‘Cock’s Castle’.
William Cock’s eldest grand daughter, Letitia Harriet Elizabeth Cock, at the tender age of 8, took centre stage at the renaming ceremony of Port Alfred in 1860. Here is her own account, in this extract from “Reminiscences of Richmond Villa”
“Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, landed at Port Elizabeth on 6th August, 1860. He was a Cadet and it was his birthday, and he was to come to Port Frances to change the name to Port Alfred. He came as far as Grahamstown and wanted to shoot an elephant but Capt. Talton and Sir George Grey, the Governor, said he couldn’t do both things – he couldn’t go to Port Frances and christen it and also shoot an elephant and reach his ship in time – the “Euripides” (or “Eurius”) – so Capt. Talton, Sir George Grey and staff and all the notable people belonging to the Government came to Port Frances as the guests of my grandfather. My grandmother was lying dangerously ill at the time and so she was unable to do the christening. I was the only other female by the name of Cock and so I had to christen Port Alfred. I remember two piles being driven into the river before the work commenced. Someone broke a bottle of champagne and I had to say “Port Alfred”. All the staff stayed at the Castle, they had dinner there and slept there that night and next morning at breakfast they sent for me to say good-bye”.
Given Grahamstown’s prominence today as the home of the National Arts Festival, it is fitting to note that the celebrated South African conductor, Richard Cock, is a direct descendant of William Cock. He often pops in to see how his namesake ‘inheritance’ is getting along!
John Henry Webber
The Webber family took over residence of The Cock House, renaming it Adelphi House, for some 40 years over the turn of the 20th century. John Henry Webber, Mayor of Grahamstown in the early 1900’s and also of settler stock, was responsible for transforming the front of the house with the addition of the beautiful Burmese teak and trellis work verandah.
John and Emily Webber celebrated their Golden Wedding here in 1919 with all their surviving children and their families. A relative, Mrs Phelp, who lived here as a child with her grandmother Emily and two spinster aunts, Amy and Albina, gave us a fascinating insight into the house as it was then (early 1930’s). Still the original plot bordered by Wilcox and Retief Streets, there was a sweeping driveway and tennis court where the self-catering flats are now located. The original stable (rooms 1 and 2) provided garaging. Next to this was a fodder room and stable for the horses. Where room 4 is now, Aunt Albina held Baptist Sunday School meetings.
Amy was a gifted musician and taught violin and piano in the music room (now our office and kitchen). The “Ladies” was the original bathroom with tin bath and wood-fueled geyser. Our drawing room was their parlour and the dining room was divided into two rooms. The original kitchen is now our breakfast room. Albina was semi paralysed and the ground floor was adapted to enable her to move around in her wheelchair.
Between 1971 and 1981 the noted South African author, André Brink, lived here and was responsible for much of the initial restoration work, including saving the veranda which was in a sad state of repair.
The present drawing room was his study, wall to wall with bookshelves, where he wrote four of his books including “A Dry White Season” and “Rumours of Rain.”
In a letter to the Tudges in 1991, André Brink recalls that, “apart from a number of lovely old bottles and shards of porcelain, our restoration did not bring to light much of value. In the sheds outside were some charming old brass items including a bugle. I retrieved a great load of broad yellowwood boards and beams from the sheds, most of them in good condition. Then, without my knowledge, my gardener carted them all off to the township and used them as firewood…!”
Peter & Belinda Tudge
The Cock House Guest House and Restaurant was opened by husband and wife team Peter and Belinda Tudge on 15 June 1991, just 10 days before the Grahamstown Festival, a real “baptism of fire”!
Peter and Belinda were newcomers to the hotel business. Both British, Peter was born in Sidcup, Kent, and Belinda was brought up in Esher, Surrey, and subsequently Malta. Peter came with his family to South Africa as a small boy and was educated at Graeme College, Grahamstown. He qualified as an accountant and went overseas in 1977, moving a few years later to the Persian Gulf where they met. Belinda was then working in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, as a travel agent and they were able to travel extensively through India and the Far East. They moved to Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, in 1985 where they spent a further six years.
It was during a holiday in the hill country of Malaysia that the idea of running a country inn first materialized. They stayed in a quaint inn called “Ye Olde Smokehouse” and realised how beautiful it could be if renovated. Some years later, when not only looking for the place but also the country, they visited Margaret River in Western Australia and stayed in a converted planter’s house. Owned and run by a husband and wife team, the latter a self-taught cook, the cuisine and home-from-home atmosphere was outstanding and proved the catalyst they needed.
Belinda had always been a keen cook, also self-taught, apart from an intensive 4-week cookery course in the UK in 1990. Shortly afterwards, while visiting Peter’s two daughters then at Rhodes, they found The Cock House. To get some experience, Belinda worked a short apprenticeship with Dave and Jenny Dyer who owned Oaklands Country Manor in Van Reenen, Kwa Zulu Natal.
In terms of the restoration, structurally the main house is much as it was originally. The Tudges had to knock two downstairs bedrooms into one room to create the pub and much rebuilding went into forming the office and kitchen. They also built on the conservatory. The Breakfast Room is the former kitchen, still complete with the “Welcome Dover” stove.
The first four rooms were built on the site of the former stables. The old yellowwood ceilings and beams in the stables were “recycled” to make the bar and most of the tables and desks. There is a photo album of “Before and After” photos in the lounge which will give you a better idea of the extent of the renovations.
The second phase of alteration, in 1995, provided three additional guest rooms, two upstairs in the main house and one next to the cottage. Rooms 6 and 7 are both suites which can accommodate four guests. Rooms 4 and 6 boast beautiful four-poster beds and have become favourites with honeymooners! In 2002, two new suites were opened, Rooms 8 and 9. Both have a small lounge and ensuite bedroom.
Tragically in September 2003, after a brief but epic battle, Peter Tudge died from cancer. Belinda continued to run the business until November 2005, when The Cock House was bought by businessman and entrepreneur Richard Anker-Simmons.
Current owner Richard Anker-Simmons is based in Johannesburg and Hoedspruit but pays frequent visits to Grahamstown. Born in England, he emigrated to South Africa in 1968. After a few years in printing and publishing, he moved to the Northern Province (now Limpopo) to become a cattle rancher. His farm was proclaimed a Natural Heritage site in the late 1980’s and later became part of a game conservancy.
Richard also acquired the building adjacent to The Cock House. This has been converted into four spacious and comfortable two bedroom self-catering apartments. Richard transformed the facade of this building by erecting a modern day version of the beautiful Victorian balcony which graces the front of The Cock House.
Richard’s experienced and dedicated team, all from the local community and some from the early days of this enterprise, promise you a warm welcome to this much loved Grahamstown landmark.
Previous owner, Belinda Tudge, and present owner, Richard Anker-Simmons, at the 21st celebrations of The Cock House.