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The gable of Bletterman House -click to enlarge
The gable of Bletterman House
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Mary Cook

1902 1981

Mary Alexander Cook, Swellendam 1970 with Ma Mai-su
Mary Alexander Cook, Swellendam 1970 with Ma Mai-su

Physician and cultural historian
Author of books on historical buildings in the Cape

Mary Alexander Cook was born on 4 August 1902 in Barnsley, Yorkshire. She attended Barnley's Girls High school and often spent her holidays with family friends in Belgium to perfect her French. Mary studied Medicine at Leeds University, graduating in 1925. Together with her husband, the Anglican minister, Alexander Cook, she moved to South Africa, where they settled in Transvaal in 1926. Mary worked as a general practitioner until her first son was born in 1931. A year later the family moved to Pretoria, where Mary lectured in public health to nursing students.
During the family holidays in the Western Cape, Mary was fascinated by Cape architecture, and she studied the topic thoroughly, taking also notes in the archives. She started campaigning for the preservation of Cape architecture and, from 1947, she wrote regularly on the subject in journals and newspapers.
The family moved to the Strand and later to Kalk Bay, Cape Province. After the early death of her husband in 1957, she devoted her energies to the preservation of antiques. In 1958 she accepted a post as historical researcher at the SA Museum in Cape Town, which put her in charge of the cultural history section. The Koopmans de Wet House became subsequently the South African cultural History Museum. In 1965, Mary Cook accepted the position of curator of the Swellendam Drostdy Museum, which she remained until her retirement in 1974. A year later she moved to Tulbagh, where she had bought, in 1945, the beautiful old house Ballotina in Church Street. Her attempt to restore this house remained incomplete. Mary Cook died on 2 August 1981 while on visit to her daughter's house in Somerset West.

Awards and Honours:

Medal of the Historical Monuments Commission 1949
Honorary Award of the Drie Eeue Foundation 1959
Special award for cultural achievements, SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns 1969
Doctor honoris causa, University of Stellenbosch 1971
Freedom of the town Swellendam 1971


The Old Houses of the Cape (co-author: Hans Fransen), Balkema, 1965
The Cape Kitchen, 1973
The old Buildings of the Cape (co-author: Hans Fransen), Balkema, 1981
(Entirely revised and much expanded edition of The Old houses of the Cape)

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