Province:Platinum Provincial Dugout
District:South Eastern Transvaal District Dugout
Short History of the Old Jail in Heidelberg “Old Gaol”
The planning of the jail dates back to 1867, when F.K Maré asked PresidentPaul Kruger to build a jail in Heidelberg to prevent prisoners escaping during the Boer War. Maré suggested the use of “kruitgeld” war funds to erect the building. The then “Uitvoerende Raad” approved the request for a jail but denied the use of war funds as this was allocated to buy ammunition. In 1868 £100 was allocated for this purpose but the planned building that was to be 30 x 20 feet(9.144 x 6.096 meters) with a hall and platform for magistrates Court proceedings and one room for detention far exceeded this amount. In 1869 a portion of Stand No 86 was purchased from H.J. Ueckermann for £1 100 and £1 509 was allocated for the erection thereof.
May 1878 magistrate Ueckermann wrote to the secretary of state explaining that the jail was old with its unfired bricks and thatch roof and inadequate to hold prisoners. He Wrote “the walls are thin and decayed, the roof is falling in and admits daylight freely. Any repairs to it would only be a waste of money.”
On 29 October 1878 two prisoners escaped and broke into a store in town only to be discovered by accident on their return while neatly rehanging their cell door. A tender was placed for a new jail that December and in 1888, after ten year of numerous appeals from Ueckermann and Maré the work was completed for the amount of £3682 plus £119 for steelwork. In 1891 the mule stables were built at the back of the jail, costing £60, after the inspector of correctional services complained about the noise of the mule’s hoofs on the stone floor that kept the prisoners awake at night.
A Hospital was allocated to the new jail for inmates, police and their families. On 28 January 1891 the district surgeon, Dr J O’Reilly (MD) submitted a report on the hospital in the jail. He mentioned that the hospital was the only one in town and that Dr van Niekerk and he also treated a large amount of civilians from all races and creeds, poor folks from town and members of the transporters industry just passing through. He complained that the ceilings of the cells and hospital that were made from reeds plastered with lime were inadequate and suggested that the stone floor in the two rooms of the hospital needed to be replaced by a wooden floor to make the cleaning thereof easier.
During the Second Boer War the jail apparently hosted prisoners of war. There were three cases on the court’s role after the signing of the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May 1902. One of which was that of the “Veldkornet” Field-Cornet Salmon van As and Louis Slabbert cases. On 8 June the English Military summoned van As and Louis Slabbert. On their arrival they were summarily arrested, tried by a military court, where Slabbert was sentenced to life imprisonment and van As to death, at day break 23 June 1902, Salmon Gerhardus van As was executed against the rear wall of the prison by firing squad.
The building was continually used as a prison to around1963, when the new prison was completed outside Heidelberg and the jail then stood empty for about 30 years. Standing empty and unused the now, old Jail deteriorated to a ruinous state and became an eye sore to the public of Heidelberg.
The Heidelberg Publicity Association leased the building from the Heidelberg Town Counsel in 1993 and they shared these facilities with The Memorable Order of Tin Hats, Suikerbosrand Shellhole also known as the MOTHs. In 1997 the MOTHs of Suikerbosrand Shellhole entered into a ten year lease agreement with Town Council which was extended at the end of this period for a further three years.
The MOTHs restored and upgraded the old jail with the support of the community of Heidelberg, fund raising events were held to finance this action. Work included cleaning, painting, security, fencing, repairing of roofs, installation of a waterborne sewerage system, electricity, etc. to its present standard. Great care was taken not to damage or change the structure of the building or any structure in the nearby vicinity during these renovations and upgrades.
In 2016 “Phoenix Paranormal S.A.” visited the Old Jail. The team carried out an investigation with high-tech equipment and found a few occupants that were sentenced to eternal imprisonment in the Old Jail. All the action was captured by the film crew of “DSTV’s Stranger S.A.”. If you want to see what they found, go to their website at www.phoenixpsa.co and go to the video section where you can watch a hair-raising clip of what happened at the Old Jail! Go to https://www.facebook.com/PhoenixParanormalSA/videos