Toast to home’s half a century

The Cowleys home in the 90s.

In 1963, Robert Cowley bought a plot in De la Haye for R1 200 and took out a loan of R6 150 to build the house he has called home for 50 years.

Robert was 25. He put a R400 deposit down and paid a monthly bond of R8.20 after getting a loan from the South African Permanent Building Society (which no longer exists).

Robert’s brother, Richard, knew someone in the bank and asked him to put in a good word for his brother. The loan was approved. One week later, the man who had helped Robert died on the golf course.

Robert and his brothers, Richard and Eddie, worked around the clock, every day except Sundays, to build the house in Gainsborough Street.

His wife, Elizabeth, also helped, carrying tiles onto the roof.

They moved into the unfinished home on September 24 1967, 10 months after they had started building.

At the time, the neighbour opposite was also starting to build and another one down the road.

The couple hung curtains in front of the kitchen cupboards, while Robert saved up enough money from his job at Cape Gate Fence and Wire Works to finish them.

De la Haye, he says, has changed a lot over the years – it was mostly vineyards and gravel roads when he and Elizabeth moved in.

There was also only one “farm wall” entrance to the area and a dam between Gainsborough and Rembrandt Avenue.

But despite the changes, Robert says the area has “still kept its look and feel”.

Elizabeth died in 1975 of a brain haemorrhage and Robert re-married four years later.

Cheryl was from Durban and introduced to Robert at a mutual friend’s birthday party in 1979.

She didn’t speak a word of Afrikaans and was nervous about moving into the predominantly Afrikaans area. But she was warmly welcomed.

Robert and Cheryl have been together in the house for 38 years and raised four children there, three of them from Robert’s first marriage.

In 1981 they converted the stoep into an entertainment room.

They knew someone in the building industry, who was busy demolishing a compound and let them take the bricks.

“Robert would sit every night after work trying to get the concrete off exactly 64 bricks,” says Cheryl.

He had Japanese birch floors put in, which until today, they have not had to re-coat.

Robert also made all the window and door frames, as well as a large grandfather and grandmother clock around the home and on the mantel.

Cheryl says they still have a few neighbours whom they have known for more than 40 years, and the same sense of community still exists.

If someone was sick, the women would get together and make a roster to cook for them.”

Over the years, the Cowleys have had many celebrations in their home, including birthdays, the four children’s 21st’s and weddings and Robert and Cheryl’s anniversaries. And on Saturday September 23 there was another when Cheryl arranged a surprise anniversary to celebrate the home’s half a century.