My mother’s bench has had several incarnations.  I cannot remember where she found it or what condition it was in when she bought it, but it was always part of my childhood gardens and featured in various photographs over the years.  It moved house a few times too as my parent’s lives changed, and eventually, when my mother died, the bench was shipped up to me.

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1980-something in my parent’s garden.

It survived the move from the coast to the Highveld and it survived our first house move too, but the next, involving three months storage in a warehouse somewhere in Johannesburg, proved too much for the antique cast iron and it was eventually delivered to Treetops in 3 separate pieces.

For the first year,  busy with settling in, establishing a garden from scratch and just generally finding our feet in our smaller home and new neighbourhood, I was able to put the damaged bench out of my mind.  But as time passed it began to reproach me from where I had hidden it behind the moonflower tree.


My sister, on a visit from England, was mildly reproachful too, having clear memories of the bench in its heyday.  I had asked a few people about the possibility of repairing the bench, including the metal workers who made and installed our driveway gates and the man who supplied and and installed our garden trellises.  Both had given me the same response:  While it’s possible to repair and weld wrought iron, it is impossible to weld cast iron.

I had also discussed the dilemma with Sascha at Garden Bleu in Parkhurst and she had confirmed this disheartening information.

Wrought iron, according to the OED and a few sources on Google, is a ‘tough, malleable form of iron suitable for forging.’  Iron that has been ‘wrought’ has been beaten out or shaped by hammering.

Cast iron is the result of metal, often mixed with other components like ground glass or sand, being poured into a mould while molten.  The end product is more brittle than wrought iron and can break or snap under pressure. Because it is not as ‘pure’ as wrought iron, it is extremely difficult to rejoin broken pieces.

Discouraged, I pulled all the pieces of metal and broken wooden slats out onto the lawn and studied them.  On close inspection, it seemed the metal had come apart cleanly in three places and I decided to have one last ditch attempt at finding someone willing to tackle the job.

I had also done some research on the history of the bench and concluded that it was worth persevering. It is a Fern and Blackberry Bench, manufactured at the Coalbrookdale Foundry sometime in the 19th Century.



I’m sure Sascha’s heart sank when I raised the subject again but after looking at the pieces herself, she agreed to bring her metal worker, Dirk Venter, to give an opinion.  Dirk was dubious.  He wasn’t sure if he would be able to get the joins to hold and he wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort.  But for me, it was.  I would have been happy if he’d only managed to wire the pieces together.

He loaded the pieces onto his truck and I watched that well-travelled bench disappear  up the the driveway and wondered if I’d ever see it again.

That evening I got a message from Dirk with a very reasonable quote.  He was willing to put the metal frame back together but I would need someone else to do the woodwork.

He sent me a couple of photographs of the bench while he was working on it. Besides putting it back together, he needed to  strip off all the existing paint – and rust – before repainted it.



Work in Progress

A few days later he delivered an almost unrecognisable bench back to me.  Restored to its former glory, I have not been able to find any sign of the repair work.  It looks magnificent.

It just so happened that we had a man called Washington here that week installing  cupboards in the garage.  He took one look at the seatless bench and offered to replace the slats.  A few days later I was able to send Dirk a photo of the bench, seat and all. He responded that it ‘looks like it came right out the factory brand spanking new Antique.’

Then there was the question of where to put it.  In the end the swallows had to be rehomed but they seem content in their new space.


Dirk’s company is called ‘Staalwerk.’ In English, that is simply ‘Steelwork.’  It was an absolute pleasure dealing with him.  After all the head-shaking and pessimism that had gone before, he was the one person prepared to give it his best shot and it was definitely worth it. I will always be grateful to Dirk for taking on this tricky, time-consuming project and to Sascha – with her endless patience – at Garden Bleu, who saw the potential in the bits and pieces.