The name Lythwood was originally spelt Lithwood. “Lith” being the Greek word for stone, which was so named because of an old quarry on the estate.
The estate on which Lythwood is built was part of the farm Blesberg. The Afrikaans name, literally means bald mountain, derives from the Voortrekkers who were the original owners of farms in the Lidgetton area. After the British annexation of Natal in 1843, the Voortrekkers had begun to retire back across the Drakensburg. By the later 1850s there were hardly any of the original Voortrekker families left in the district.
The first owners of “Lithwood” farm were the Henwoods. When their son Eric married, his parents gave him a portion of Blesberg farm which he named “Lithwood”. Eric built a temporary home, thinking that he would eventually move back to Blesberg.
The next owner was Arthur Coy who was the President of South African Cricket and lived in Port Elizabeth. His estate manager and gardener, Billy Caldo, looked after Lythwood during this time.
THE LEGACY OF THE ITALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR
Lythwood was subsequently purchased by a Dr LV Pearson of Pietermaritzburg and it was he who built the basic structure of the present day manor house. This was accomplished in the mid-1940s using the skills of talented Italian builders from Prison of War (POW) Camps in Pietermaritzburg.
An old midlands resident, Barry Raw, whose mother was Linda Henwood, explained that in 1943 there were about sixty thousand Italian prisoners of war in South Africa who had been largely captured in the East and North Africa campaigns. The POW camps were overflowing and many men were sent to work on farms to relieve pressure in the camps where they enjoyed a much more enjoyable lifestyle.
Many of the Italians were experts at wrought iron work and the ones working at Lythwood would often ask Barry Raw for old fencing standards that he might have spare. They turned these old, bent standards into beautiful chandeliers and other décor accessories. Barry Raw (75 years old at the time of compiling this history) unfortunately doesn’t recall any of the Italian’s names.
About 1000 former Italian POW’s were allowed to stay on in South Africa after World War II. Many settled in the KwaZulu- Natal Midlands and contributed to the architectural character of the area.
One, Guido Raphael Monzali, built a large and impressive house, popularly known as Monzali’s castle. It is clearly visible as the road climbs from Pietermaritzburg towards Hilton.
The most impressive and lasting of the prisoner’s achievements during their four years of captivity was the building of a church. Construction started in 1943 and the care with which the stone blocks were shaped and fitted together has to be seen to be appreciated. A visit to the church in Pietermaritzburg can be arranged by contacting Mr Gallus of the Italian Prisoner of War Trust (033) 330 3572.
The building of Lythwood Lodge was initially undertaken by Dutch builders. By the time Dr Pearson brought five Italian prisoners of war to the manor house, it was largely completed. However, it is the work of these Italians which transformed Lythwood from a building into a gracious home. All plumbing, electrics and finishes were done by the Italians and one, Giovanni Avellini gave to Lythwood its intricate and beautiful wrought iron work. Giovanni lived at Lythwood for some years and remembers his time there fondly. It is his self-taught work which you will see in the front gate, chandeliers and other touches. He, with the help of Dr Pearson, later brought his brothers from Italy to live in South Africa. Today they are the “Avellini Brothers”, the well-known construction company which operates just outside of Durban.