The Story of Melsetter

Gradually developments took place in the village. Charlie Heard bought the Anchor, and the top house was rented by the Government from 1951 as a European Clinic and home for the District Nurse until D.N.s� posts were later abolished. In 1956 Dr. Rosemary Fox ran a private African clinic, and the opening of the Biriwiri African Clinic eased the position slightly.

Fairbairn Cronwright took over his father�s store and moved it to Meikle�s Building, after which it was rented by successive storekeepers as the Melsetter Trading Company until Meikles took it over themselves, and it is now run as Meikles Melsetter.

The Garage and Service Station was housed in a primitive building and much of the service was amateur. From 1947 successive owners made efforts to keep a garage going in temporary premises, until Dr. Ziervogel financed the present Garage building, in which Giellie Bredenkamp and Bill Atkins ran B & A Motors for some years. The building was then bought by the Vacuum Oil Company and rented to successive operators, with Mr. and Mrs. H. Evans in charge today.

From 1947 Bottle Stores were run successively in Meikles� Building and in The Anchor. In 1952 Mr. and Mrs. Nesse came to Rhodesia, heard that the Melsetter Bottle Store was for sale, and took over the business in Jack Knott�s new building. Since Norman�s death in 1957, Maynie has carried on the business.
The butchery position was not satisfactory with no proper building and no abbattoir, and permanent arrangements could not be made owing to the hold-up in Town Planning, but various people made attempts to keep one going. In 1950 van der Linde was granted a temporary licence, and in 1952 he built the abbatoir for the V.M.B. In 1953 the butchery building, financed by Bill Springer, was completed, and a full licence was issued for the New Cash Butchery, which Giellie Bredenkamp bought soon afterwards. Giellie and Nellie lived on Orals Krantz until his father died, when they moved to Dairy Plot.

Efforts were made to establish bakeries and tearooms, but none lasted very long until in 1952 it looked as if there would be a permanent one when Mr. and Mrs. Clarke built a bakery and tearoom which was in operation by March. On 19th July disaster struck. The V.M.B. had accepted Hendrik Qlwage�s tender to fell some old gum trees which threatened to be a menace, and unfortunately when an enormous gum outside the Bakery was being felled the tackle broke and the tree crashed through the roof of the building. According to Rowan Cashel�s report every precaution had been taken and no blame could be attached to anyone concerned, but the responsibility lay with the V.M.B. Cashel, the N.C., left immediately for Salisbury to interview the Government�s Legal Department, and the Government Valuator came to assess the damage. There is no traceable record of the outcome, and shortly afterwards the Clarkes left Melsetter.

The W.I. staged the first Flower Shows in the Courtroom, in incredibly uncomfortable conditions and with no previous experience of such undertakings. The Shows were so popular and aroused so much horticultural interest that the Melsetter Horticultural Society was formed in 1950, which was well supported and was soon holding two Shows a year in the Country Club. Every Show has meant a tremendous lot of hard work for the few members of successive committees who have undertaken the staging, but their efforts have been much appreciated and have been rewarded with some outstanding displays. Bad weather and other impediments have been experienced and have sometimes combined to reduce the number of entries, but once the members had learned something about display the exhibits of flowers, vegetables and fruit have been of a very high standard. The Society has organised enjoyable garden afternoons at members� homes,  with gardening topics and floral arrangements being discussed: a feature of these afternoons is the quantity of plastic bags carried at first unobtrusively but later blatantly, as members delightedly collect their loot of cuttings and plants from their generous hosts.

The title Melsetter Country Club was adopted at a public meeting convened by the Recreation Club in April 1947. By 1950 considerable progress had been made, and in August the Club was inaugurated and a constitution approved by a public meeting. A lot of hard work went into fund-raising over the years, including donations of cattle which were sold for funds. The land was allotted and during 1951 members brought tractors and labourers and started work on the grounds.
The plan for the Club House was drawn up, bricks were made, and the building was started. It was first used for a Committee meeting in December 1952, was finished and furnished through members� efforts and was officially opened in September 1953. The bridge room was added on with donations from keen individual members soon afterwards. Out of doors the Tennis Section was the first to get going and built two courts and a shelter in 1950. A golf architect laid out a course and construction started, but little progress was made for some years. The Gymkhana Club continued as a section of the Country Club, and gradually more permanent buildings were erected: the horses are comfortably stabled, seating is provided, and Club members run the bar and cater for teas and lunches for crowds of up to 300 at the annual Meetings in comparatively comfortable conditions. In 1952 the Bowling Green was pegged out, work was started in 1955, and the laying and planting was completed by January 1957. The Cricket Section was lively and a pitch was laid out near the Gymkhana ground, where many matches were played, and for one year at least there was an active Hockey Section.

While the new road was being built there was more trouble on the cuttings road. In January 1952 the R.M.S. passenger bus turned back at Cashel as the road was reported to be eight feet deep in mud. In February the road was declared unsafe, the R.M.S. services were cut, and the Railways could give no guarantee of continuity of services. Trucks travelled in convoy until normal services were resumed in the middle of March. There were hold-ups in other years too, as the road deteriorated rapidly while the Roads Department concentrated on the new road.

Earth tremors have been experienced from time to time, with the longest spell being from March 1951 when severe tremors started and lasted off and on till August:  24 were felt during May all over the district and damaged some houses and buildings. When the Government office started rocking and cracks appeared in the wall everyone shot outside. Elric Dawson, the N.C., received a report that the mountain had fallen down, and Dennis Hobbs, Ian Farquhar and he went out to have a look, and after a long arduous walk, with several ranges being crossed, the investigating party arrived deep in the mountains.
A large area, about 500 yards across, had broken away and crashed to the bottom of the gorge, destroying everything in its path; massive rocks had split and fallen many hundreds of feet. At the base of the fall was an area of burnt ground, where it was thought fire had been started by the friction of falling masses or by sparks caused when large rocks were split by others.

Chips Crook dashed into her house to telephone the Editor of the Umtali Post. While she was doing this one wall cracked from ceiling to floor. She told him this, and he said: �REALLY, Mrs. Crook!� She had a trembling dog in one hand and the phone in the other, and yelled at him: �Well, if you don�t believe me, come and see for yourself.�

The British South Africa Company decided to expand their forestry enterprise and their Forestry Officer, accompanied by Binks Holland, visited Melsetter in February 1952. They slithered in a wheel-chained truck to the homestead huts on Welgelegen, where a clearing in the bush gave a magnificent view of the Chimanimani Mountains, and the property was bought and the Company began their afforestation programme.
Soon afterwards the Forestry Officer on horseback was shown across Settler and Cambridge by Hans Heyns, and by the end of the year 17000 acres had been bought, and the Remmers� Fairfield estate became a natural headquarters being favourably served by abundant water and the new highway. It was decided that production of large structural sawn timber would be the first objective, needing a growing cycle of 30-40 years.

At Gwendingwe Estate seven acres of pine were planted on Zebra in 1950, and this original plantation is being preserved. In 1951 the first major planting was made, and among its trees is the only plus, or potentially plus, tree which the Forestry Commission has found on Gwendingwe: a plus tree has to conform to certain rigid specifications and is a possible suitable parent for hybridisation.

In 1954 the Estate lost 200 acres in a serious fire, as at that stage they did not have sufficient staff or machinery to cope. During the early 1950s the Forestry Department, which became the Forestry Commission in 1954, bought more land and started plantations on Lionhills, Chisengu, Tarka and Glencoe Forest Reserves.

On the Wattle Company Estates expansion took place. Besides the wattle-planting that went on, a school for the children of African staff was established, a model housing estate was built on Silverstream, and good houses were erected for the Estate Managers on the surrounding estates.

Wattle is grown on a ten-year cycle, and as the trees mature they are felled and stripped of the bark, which is transported in lorries to the factory for processing. While the initial development of the plantations was reaching completion the Silverstream Factory was built approximately 22 miles from both Melsetter and Chipinga. The opening of the Factory on 2nd November 1956 was a very big social occasion, when the WI. catered for the Company�s 340 guests. Wattle extract is used in leather-tanning, and is obtained from the bark through a diffusion process followed by the evaporation of moisture, and the end product is a hard resinous compound.

Silverstream Sports Club was established under the auspices of the Company and has a small attractive clubhouse with tennis courts and bowling green. The gymkhana ground and cricket field are very attractively sited, bordered by huge old cypresses, and very many happy occasions have been experienced in this lovely setting.

At Tilbury forestry experts� opinion won, and with much regret the beef herd gave way to timber. In 1950 Border Forests (Rhodesia) Ltd. was formed, and tree planting began in earnest. The Company�s name was changed to Border Timbers Ltd. in 1957.

The programme was to plant pines and eucalypts over the whole 21 000 acres, with main roads, extraction roads and fireguards always one step ahead of the actual tree planting. Under the guidance of a Forest Officer each of the five blocks had its own Forester in charge of his African labour and seedbeds, while in the centre there sprang up the African school, clinic, store, bakery, workshop, dairy, dam stocked with fish, golf course, tennis court and a community hall.  Soon Tilbury�s soccer, tennis and cricket teams were competing with the district clubs. The network of roads spread to the tops of the mountains, and the target was completed in five years and brought visitors from all over the country and from overseas to see the growth of this wonder child.

Planting the large acreages was made possible by the methods used in the design of the seedbeds, the planting of the seeds, the root pruning of the young seedlings, and the moving of 40 plants at a time and placing them in boxes ready for planting. The gadgets for root-pruning and for lifting the plants performed a most efficient and important service, and Tilbury�s planting system was studied and adopted by other Foresters. The road was realigned to link up with Melsetter�s tarred main road and was built by Border Timbers, the Rhodesian Wattle Co., and the B.S.A. Co.

Among the trees on Tilbury are some interesting ones planted, presumably by English, more than 40 years ago. They are specimens of Maclura aurantiaca (synonym pomifera), family Moraceae, commonly known in the southern United States as American Bow Tree or Osage Orange.