The Old Jail Guest House - where you sleep securely

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iol travel oct 15 NT Willowmore3_CITY_E1

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One of the converted stables with ancient carriage at The Willow. Picture Myrtle Ryan

Port Elizabeth - Just because you choose to spend the night in a jail, does not mean you have to experience hardship. On the contrary, it can be fun and comfortable… that is if you check into The Old Jail Guest House in Willowmore in the Eastern Cape.

Your prison wardens, Karen and Oleg von Loeper Dyatschenko (who can resist wanting to be locked up by jailers with such an exotic name) are not into punishment and retribution for crimes committed. Instead they are there to ensure that your time “in prison” is pleasantly memorable. You even have the option of deciding in which cells you would like to be incarcerated.

On arrival at reception, which also houses a small art gallery, guests are shown an unusually shaped table, where they can take dinner with the the prison commander and his wife should they wish. The reception also serves as the breakfast room in winter, while in summer it is taken in a pleasant courtyard.

So, what are the accommodation options in this building, which dates back to the 1880s and has half-metre thick walls, an expanse of lawns, and an attractive fountain?

The female, hospital, and awaiting trial suites all offer modern comforts that would have had prisoners of old committing multiple crimes just to return to such luxury. Each leads on to what was once the exercise area, but now forms a small garden courtyard.

On the wall of the female cell hangs an account of one of the prisoners, a Sophie Schutte, who could not pay the fine imposed on her (quite what her crime was is uncertain), so was sentenced to one-and-a-half years of hard labour.

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The Willow features all the grace of an earlier era. Picture Myrtle Ryan

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What the authorities did not know, was that Sophie not only was seven months pregnant, but also had syphilis. As a result she was taken to the prison hospital. A recalcitrant inmate, we learn she tried to escape, used bad language, and threw things at the nurses, so she had three different nurses over a period of six weeks, until her baby was born. Presumably, finding her more than a handful, the authorities then released her.

Original prison doors, complete with peepholes, and locks made in England, as well as some of the ancient safes, are still in place.

So are the old Oregon pine ceilings and original light switches, but everything has been rewired. Old fireplaces set the tone, but there is underfloor heating.

There are no keys, but “inmates” can bolt themselves in from the inside.

Apparently the place ceased to operate as a police station and prison in 1960, changed hands several times over nearly 40 years, stood empty for about 12 years, then finally became the boutique establishment it now is.

Another page from the past can be experienced at The Willow historical guest house, which was originally built as a rectory for the Dutch Reformed Church, and converted to a hostel for girls at one stage.

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The Old Jail Guest House is reflected in the water feature. Picture supplied

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The double-storey building is a place full of old-world charm, with Victorian furniture augmented by a large collection of Africana, giving the visitor insights into the South African way of life in times gone by.

The breakfast room was added on, while the original stables have been converted into rooms, mostly for self-catering. An old saddle in one room sets the tone. The garden, with large swimming pool and fine old trees, also features old carriages. The place positively oozes character.

As to the town, which was established in 1864 on the farm The Willows, it was first named Willow-Moore after the Moore family who emigrated from England to the Cape under the British Settler scheme.

Willowmore is the gateway to the magnificent Baviaanskloof, a World Heritage site.

l Contact The Old Jail Guest House on 076 792 0622 or e-mail karen@theoldjail.co.za

The Willow Historical Guest House on 044 923 1574; 082 414 8483; or e-mail thewillow@telkomsa.net - Weekend Argus

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