Sammy Marks (1844 – 1920)
Samuel Marks arrived on the Cape Coast in 1869. He had with him a case of silver knives, his most valuable possession. Born in Lithuania, Marks began his career as a peddler working in the rural Cape. However, as he gained the trust and friendship of then president, Paul Kruger, Marks became one of South Africa’s foremost industrial entrepreneurs. He had business interests all over South Africa, from diamond mining to railroads and even canning and glass making.
Marks and his English born wife, Bertha, moved to Zwartkoppies Hall in 1885. This is where they built a splendid family home, complete with 40 rooms and Victorian finishes. They lived at Zwartkoppies until 1909, eventually using the home only as a weekend getaway. The last of the Marks children lived in the house until 1978. It had by then become derelict and aged. In an effort to maintain its former glory, the National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum offered to purchase 40 hectares of Zwartkoppies Hill. With the help of Johannesburg businessman, Mendel Kaplan and his family foundation, the Sammy Marks Museum opened its doors to the public in 1986.
Rose Gardens, Croquet and Picnics
The Sammy Marks Museum stands as an icon of the Victorian era. While the stone wall entrance does not prepare visitors for the splendor awaiting, as you travel along the gravel path, a picture-perfect scenery comes into view. Greeted by rose gardens and romantic arches leading to a forest-like escarpment, the Marks’ Victorian home comes into view, with a wraparound porch, bold Victorian pillars, red slate roof, crisp white walls and shuttered windows. You immediately get the feeling that this place is special and something worth treasuring for its opulence and style.
It is not often that you see a historical building so well kept in Pretoria. While our city is framed by buildings of the same age, their facades tell a story of disregard. For the proud historians and old souls, the Sammy Marks Museum is a beacon of hope that things of the past may still be treasured.
It is best to book a tour of this museum, because of its magnitude and intricate history. Your tour guide will give a brief, but detailed, explanation of Sammy Marks’ legacy, including his involvement in the South African war. Marks’ unique status as neither Englishman nor Afrikaner is highlighted, alongside his expert entrepreneurial instincts. As you begin to grasp a real sense of the man who built the house, the tour begins.
With over 40 different rooms, the Sammy Marks Museum can be overwhelming in its opulence. Not all rooms are open to the tour though, so there is time to enjoy the highlights. Take a peak into the kitchen, the billiards room, the Marks’ bedroom and the library. Here, you will find a collection of Victorian and Edwardian trinkets, furniture and books, 98% of which belonged to the family. The kitchen is especially fascinating as antique mixers, cast iron bowls and silver teaspoons hang up over the stoves. Learn all about how the Marks’ cooks made their favourite meals, while marveling at the bizarre kitchen equipment.
The tour doesn’t end at the house. Step into the garden for more exploration, learning and fun. Participate in a game of croquet under the vineyards, go on a treasure hunt or sit back and relax while the kids enjoy a puppet show. Families are also welcome to book a Victorian style picnic in the rose garden, attend weekly bird walks or take a bone chilling ghost tour of the mansion on Halloween! The museum also hosts an annual celebration in honour of Sammy Marks’ birthday.
It doesn’t get any more old-fashioned than this, so make sure to put the Sammy Marks Museum on your must-visit Pretoria bucket list.
For more information
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Details: Bronkhorstspruit Rd, Savannah Country Estate, Pretoria, 0184 | +27 012 755 9542 | [email protected]