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Bloemfontein, South Africa
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Historical Street Scene

Daily Life in the Early 20th Century

The popular Historical Street Scene in the National Museum was built in the late 1970s. This exhibition depicts the daily life of ordinary people in a Free State town at the end of the 19th to early 20th century.

Household articles are shown in context, e.g. a stove and fridge of that period in a kitchen. Most of the furniture and household items were donated by the public, but certain pieces were purchased. The businesses depicted in the exhibition were recreated according to advertisements that appeared in local newspapers of the time. The exhibition extends over 400 m2 and took about 4 years to research and to build. The “walls” are fibreglass and cement casts and are about 1 cm thick. Real brick walls would have been too heavy, as the scene is erected on the first floor of the Museum. Life is brought to the scene by “people” busy with their daily activities. These “people” are fibreglass models, of which there are 16, and were created by the Museum’s Art Department staff, using mostly Museum staff as models.


The Oranje Apotheek was founded shortly after the turn of the 20th century and was situated at 58 Church Street, Bloemfontein. The first owner was the German Consul in the Orange Free State, Dr H. F. A. Flockemann. He was also a medical practitioner. After 1928 doctors were no longer allowed to dispense medicine and he sold the pharmacy to a Mr Taylor. The pharmacy changed hands a few more times and in 1976 the then owner, Mr Winterburn, retired. The National Museum bought, with financial assistance from the Free State branch of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa, the entire contents as well as certain architectural elements, e.g. the cast iron pillars, the shop front, the counters and shelves. The pharmacy was re-erected in the Museum.

General Dealer

General dealers played an important role in the community as they provided almost all of the supplies needed by the people. The shop is modelled on an advertisement for W.B. Walker Boeren Handelshuis, founded in Kroonstad in 1888. Walker sold household articles such as pots and pans, sweets, food and also clothes, fabric, fashion articles, shoes and boots. The articles in the exhibition do not originate from a specific shop, but were acquired specifically for display purposes. The shop is given life by the shopkeeper, a little boy in front of the shop and a few chickens pecking at some food. The model of the little boy is often referred to as the most beautiful of all the models and visiting children have been heard to discuss amongst themselves how he manages to sit so still all the time!


Most children today have no idea what a blacksmith is or what he did, but in days gone by he fulfilled an important role in the community. The majority of the tools and the furnace depicted in the blacksmith’s quarters were donated by the public, although some pieces were purchased. The blacksmith model is Mr Des van Driesel, an employee of the Department of Public Works and a bodybuilder who won the title of “Mr Free State” in the 1970s.


B. Wilford, the cobbler, is recreated from an advertisement of a “first-class bootmaker” in Rambler’s View, Aliwal Street (Bloemfontein). He specialised in repairs, promised “moderate charges” and used “nothing but the best English leather”. The actual corrugated iron building and its contents were acquired from Mr Jan Bekker from Christiana. As with the pharmacy, the whole construction was dismantled and transported to the Museum, where it was re-erected. The model is Mr Alwyn Smit, a caretaker at the Museum during the 1970s.

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