Tour of Bertram House

Ground floor

Entrance hall

The entrance hall is reached through a covered projecting portico with a black and white marble floor. Ceiling, cornice and woodwork were painted white during restoration and the walls coloured a deep green used throughout the house. Rooms are symmetrically arranged on either side of the passage leading from the entrance hall. The central positioning of the elegantly designed spiral staircase is emphasized by the entrance vista through the passage arches.

Double drawing room

To the west of the hall is the double drawing room. In England during the 18th century it was a richly decorated room, arranged in a formal manner and used for entertaining.

By the 1750s festoon curtains were popular, comprised of one piece of fabric drawn vertically in swags. Later in the 1780s French curtains were introduced, consisting of a pair of curtains drawn horizontally on two rods, sometimes having a pelmet or curtain cornice using brass or wooden rings.

Lighting was provided by cut-glass chandeliers fitted with candles. Beeswax or tallow candles were very expensive and the wicks required constant trimming. Candle stubs were a servant’s "perks". Wall sconces were often fixed in front of mirrors in order to reflect more light about the room. Silver candelabra and candlesticks became important status symbols and Sheffield Plate was used after its introduction in the 1760s.

At Bertram House it was decided that the principal rooms on the ground floor; the double drawing room and dining room, should be hung with wallpaper in order to enhance the decoration of the rooms and impress the visitors as would have been the original intention created by owners of that era.

The square piano made by Clementi and Co. dates from about 1906. It was restored in 1993 and is regularly used for chamber music events throughout the summer months.

Dining room

To the east of the hall is the dining room. During the early 19th century dinner at the Cape would have been served between six and seven in the evening. The table has been laid for dessert and the white damask tablecloth removed. The extra leaves of this table made it suitable for small family dining or adjustable for larger groups of guests.

The Kangxi dessert plates form part of a set which belonged to Mrs Lidderdale’s mother-in-law, née Mary Wadsworth Busk, who spent her early childhood in St. Petersburg. The English silver and wine glasses which complete the period setting all form part of the Lidderdale bequest.

It was customary for the hostess and ladies to retire to the adjoining drawing room at the end of the meal leaving the men to their own discussions and to drink and smoke. Later in the evening the men would rejoin the ladies in the drawing room for conversation and card games and tea would be dispensed. Mrs Sarah Norman Eaton described the local customs of the Cape in her journal dated 1818 and records that tea was served "in the same style as in England, though in Dutch families it is usual to introduce preserved fruits which my brother does when he has Dutch visitors".


The second room on the east of the entrance hall is the study. This room would have been used mainly by the gentleman of the house and their male visitors. The card table set in readiness for a game acts as a reminder of the importance attached to card playing, while the clay pipes indicate the use of the study as a smoking room.

The fall front secretaire with walnut marquetry is the oldest piece of furniture in the museum. It dates from William and Mary period (1689 - 1702) and forms part of the Lidderdale bequest.

Morning room

The room known at Bertram House as the morning room would probably have been referred to as the parlour in England. This room was more informal and intimate than the drawing room and would have been furnished with a central table and chairs grouped around it so that members of the family could read, practice needlework and take tea.

There is a predominance of early walnut pieces from the Lidderdale bequest in the morning room including a bureau bookcase and side chair dating from the Queen Anne period (1702 - 1714).


The location of the original kitchen is not known but would probably have been situated at the rear of the house. Equipment used in a kitchen during the late 18th century would have included iron kettles, copper pots, pans and jelly moulds and pewter plates, as well as wooden and earthen vessels. The insides of copper pots were kept well tinned to prevent the formation of verdigris. Sugar was purchased by the loaf and pieces were broken off and pounded in a mortar and pestle.

There is no formal attempt at recreating a late 18th or early 19th century kitchen at Bertram House, instead a kitchen dresser and table are displayed together with a few basic utensils and items of Sheffield plate.

First floor

Bedrooms and dressing room

The first room on the east is a lady’s bedroom. It has a field bed with white muslin bed hangings and matching curtains. By the late 18th century curtains generally matched other fabrics of the room.

A larger room second on the east is furnished as another bedroom with adjoining dressing room. The four-poster bed hangings and curtains are made of fabric reproduced in England based on an original 18th century design. Both bedrooms have framed examples of needlework on display. The samplers made by young children demonstrate the importance of acquiring the skill of fine embroidery early in life.

The decoration of the bedrooms and treatment of the walls is restrained when compared with that of the principal rooms on the ground floor. It must be remembered that bedrooms were usually unseen by visitors and were not created to impress.