Home / Visitor Information / / History /

History

The history and development of Oudtshoorn is inextricably connected with the growth of the ostrich feather industry from as early as 1860. By the turn of the twentieth century (during the Edwardian Period) the use of prime ostrich feathers in ladies clothing was high fashion, especially in England and Europe.

Feathers were light and easily imported and fetched incredibly high prices. The resultant prosperity had a profound effect on Oudtshoorn and its immediate environment.

Numerous immigrants, particularly the Jews of Eastern Europe, were drawn to the "boom" town, mostly because their relatives and friends had already established contact by "smousing" (trading).

Oudtshoorn acquired such a large Jewish community at the time that it became known as "little Jerusalem". With so much money available, the town expanded rapidly. More churches were built as well as many public (schools) and commercial buildings.

The farming community, who had suddenly become extremely rich, vied with each other to display their wealth and built magnificent "Ostrich Feather Palaces" decorated and embellished with stained glass windows, turrets and handsome cast-iron work (locally known as "broekielace" - cast-iron decorations that remind one of the lace decoration on ladies underwear).

Several of these "Ostrich Feather Palaces" are still to be viewed in Oudtshoorn and its immediate environment. The distinctive sandstone used for these buildings was readily available because it was locally quarried. The skill of the Scottish stonemasons, originally imported for the building of the Dutch Reformed Church ("Moederkerk" - Mother Church) is evident in these fine buildings.

A number of well-known architects such as Charles BullockGeorge Wallace and J.E. Vixeboxse opened offices in Oudtshoorn and were responsible for the design of many an Ostrich Palace.

Even today their designs provide a distinctive architectural heritage for Oudtshoorn, reflecting the opulence of the Ostrich Feather Boom of 1860-1914.

It was primarily the invention of the motor car and the advent of the First World War that brought the Ostrich Feather Boom Era to an end. Faster open vehicles played havoc with the feather decorated fashion and fashion trends in 1914 and onwards were generally more sober and less flamboyant.