In 1847 Henry and Ellen Dumbleton came out from Hampshire in England and bought the farm “Avontuur” (north of what is now Hoekwil) on the rough track leading to Duiwelskop and Ruigtevlei. He renamed the property “The Oaks”, later “Oakhurst” and farmed there for some years.
After 10 years at Oakhurst Henry moved to town, and in 1855 his younger brother Douglas Dumbleton, also moved there from England. Later Oakhurst was transferred to Walter who then went to England, and married Emma Pelly in 1866, and returned to George while building a new Oakhurst home.
They moved into the fine double-storied house in 1867. Two years later Emma was to produce the third of her eleven children there, while earlier in the year the new home had survived the great fire because of its new tin roof.
Roderick, Walter’s second son who later inherited Oakhurst, used to tell of the local farmer who approached his father for a loan of £500. As security he offered the bush covered sandveld which stretched from Island Lake to the Wilderness lagoon. Not many years later, complaining of drought and disease, the farmer begged Walter to accept the land as he was unable to repay the loan.
Soon after, Walter and Emma were to be found on horseback on the hills discussing where they would build their beach home. They finally decided on a wooded hill close to the lagoon – and in 1874 Walter Dumbleton built Fairy Knowe – the hilltop house in the trees behind the current Fairy Knowe Hotel.
After Emma’s death, Walter visited England where he met a young Norwegian girl, Elise Sundt, whose parents were attached to the Norwegian consulate in London. After Walter returned home to his large family, Elise followed. The story goes that her sailing ship had to wait for three weeks at the Knysna Heads before the seas were safe to enter the harbour. Later Walter and Elise were married in St Mark’s Church in George.
Walter’s youngest child Bertram, was born in 1896 when his father was 60. He made a considerable name as an artist, exhibiting 11 works at the Royal Academy in London in the years between the two world wars.
Roderick, who inherited Oakhurst on his father’s death in 1917, married Anne Bowker of the well-known 1820 family. In the words of Roderick’s brother-in-law they “maintained the old traditions as lord and lady of the manor” for half a century.
As a young man in the 1890’s Roderick was digging out the midden in the Touw River cave for fertiliser when he unearthed a Khoi skeleton. This appears to have been the start of a lifelong interest in archaeology and he was later instrumental in getting another shelter on the Oakhurst property methodically excavated by Professor Goodwin over five seasons in the 1930’s. The term “Oakhurst Complex” is now used to describe certain stone age tools found from the Southern Cape to Zimbabwe’s Matopo Hills.
Roderick died in 1967 at the age of 94. The property was then inherited by their only child Ethne, after whose death in 1980, it was bought by Brian Crowther, also a descendant of Walter and Emma Dumbleton. Emma had produced eleven children in her 19 years of married life. One daughter, Kathleen, married Charles Owen-Snow, a George doctor, and it is from this couple that the Crowther family, present owners of Oakhurst, is descended.
Since 1874, three years before George Bennett built the farmhouse which he named “The Wilderness”, Walter and Emma’s seaside home of Faerie Knowe has stood on the wooded hill behind the hotel. At the time of the great eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 in Indonesia, Roderick, who was 10 years old at the time, recalled seeing the waves washing over the dunes into the river.
When Walter died in 1917 he had fathered four sons and nine daughters. His eldest son, Douglas, had died in 1904. Roderick and Harold were both married and in their forties, while the youngest, Bertram, was in his 21st year. In the circumstances it was probably natural that the extensive farming lands were divided between Roderick and Harold. Harold was to build what is now the Fairy Knowe Hotel.
Whatever the actual circumstances on Walter’s death Roderick inherited the Oakhurst homestead and the Kleinkrantz lands between the Touw River and the eastern boundary of The Wilderness, where Freesia Avenue now meets Waterside Road. Harold inherited a part of the Oakhurst farm and the Kleinkrantz lands to the east of the Touw.
As the lower lands on Harold’s portion near Serpentine were prone to flooding, he arranged to buy a slightly raised portion from his brother on the western bank of the Touw. This is where the Fairy Knowe Hotel was developed.
While Owen Grant was developing the Wilderness, he stayed with Harold and Katie (nee van der Westhuizen) and it might have been at his suggestion that they decided to take guests.
In July 1929 the Herald reported; “At Fairy Knowe, which can now boast its own train stopping place, a transformation is taking place at the guest house of Mr & Mrs Dumbleton. Its rondavels are familiar to many artists who make a long stay there in the summer months. Now a group of new buildings are rising to treble the accommodation – an indication of the rapid opening up of the lakeland with the arrival of the railway. There is a new dining hall and kitchen raised on a stone terrace and it looks as though another story is to be added. On the river’s edge is a long red-roofed building with about 20 bedrooms facing a broad terrace against which boats may be moored.”
Harold is described by his brother-in-law as “the genial proprietor of the well-known Fairy Knowe”. Guests were welcome to join their hosts in the “wooden room”, his timber lounge which hosted many a memorable party. On Harry Dumbleton’s death in 1957 Fairy Knowe, together with certain lands across the river, was inherited by his eldest son, Buxton, whose wife Valda (nee Taute) had been the effective manager for several years by then. It was in this era that the hotel developed into today’s familiar form.
Buxton also built himself a home on the dunes opposite, where one now finds such names as Dumbleton Crescent and Buxton Close. Sadly Bertram passed away on the 28th April 2015.
Bertram and Desmond then inherited the hotel and represent the fourth generation of Dumbletons in the district and the third in the long history of the Fairy Knowe Hotel.
In March 2021 the hotel was sold after being in the Dumbleton family for more than 100 years. Mr Savage aims to restore the hotel to it’s previous glory and honor and hope to welcome old and new guests for another 100 years!