About Henry Harper, SV/PROG
Henry Harper was a renowned eccentric - living in a dwelling referred to as "Harper's Castle"
[Harper's Castle] ... was one of the wonders of [Grahamstown] more than a century ago, and although for years the inhabitants considered it a public nuisance and continually complained about it, the Board of Commissioners did not, or could not, do anything about it.
The 'Castle' stood next to a Mr. T. COCKCROFT's wagon-makers shop in Bathurst Street, next to the bridge. HARPER had persuaded his brother to lend him the plot of land for the purpose of erecting a building and engaging in trade. So with all the bits of junk he could collect, he threw up a shack of sorts and started work as a cooper. But that was only the beginning.
HARPER was also a great frequenter of the sales held in the town, and here and there, at bargain prices, he picked up articles which were to form the foundation for his next venture, that of a second-hand dealer. He was too, always on the look-out for something for nothing, and this included all the stones dropped in the street in front of his shop from passing transport wagons. By these means he was able to lay the foundation for the building which became known as 'HARPER's Castle'
At first the Grahamstonians poked fun at old HARPER, but their astonishment increased as the building grew. Slowly the walls reached window level and when they rose to a height above the doors, the people, believing HARPER's work was done and that all was to come was the roof, ceased to take any interest in the place.
Then much to the bewilderment of everyone, HARPER went on. This time when he had completed the second storey, the residents waited apprehensively, fearing that the man was out of his mind and was about to add a third storey - perhaps even a forth. However, he had had enough of it, and added only the roof.
"But such a house never has been seen before nor since." related a diarist at the time. "In fact several celebrated artists attempted to make a drawing of it, but failed. Even a celebrated photographer tried to get a likeness, but all you could see on his prints was a mass of rubbish heaped together."
The diarist continued: "HARPER must have done well there for all that. The public discovered that most of the articles stolen by their servants and others, found their way to the castle. Not to say that HARPER or his journeyman had any hand in collecting them abroad, but it was proved that they had been purchased for a mere trifle from the thieves. The consequences was, that search warrants were issued and that the castle was turned inside out, and such collection will never be seen again."
In 1852, this monstrosity of a place was put up for auction and HARPER's dour description of his property in the advertisement of the sale he inserted in the Journal, is worth repetition. He advertised a large assortment of curious articles which he did not want to detail, 'as by making known the whole contents of the wondrous castle, I would only anticipate the curiosity of the Grahamstown public."
He continued: "Precisely at 2 o'clock will be sold, the whole of the materials constituting the ingenious fabric so well known by the name of HARPER's Castle. This building needs no comment. It having been the surprise of every architect that has viewed it, while it's symmetry of form has excited the admiration and wonder of every beholder. The edifice has baffled the most tempestuous storms and winds that our town has witnessed, and it stands at present, as a monument of stability and durability."
"It is therefore expected that as this will be the first exhibition ever presented to the public, that a splendid building will be manifested, for bear this in mind - the sight is gratis"
Transcribed from scrapbooks at the Port Elizabeth library that contains miscellaneous newspaper cuttings pertaining to the 1820 Settlers, by Becky Horne, Port Elizabeth, South Africa http://1820settlers.co.uk/modules.php?name=News&new_topic=4