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.
“There is much more to know about Guido Raphael Monzali. The Shongweni Dam (1921-1927) was built by him, as well as the hardest pass encountered, namely ”Mike’s Pass”.
He built the double-track railway bridge over the Umgeni River, 1,200 feet (365.76m) long (11 spans of 100 feet (30.48m) of 22 cylinders, and depth of rock level, 153 feet (46.63m)); being then considered the world’s deepest foundations; the Athlene Bridge to Durban North (1,372 feet (418.19m) long with six 200 (60.96m) feet spans), and the Gouritz Bridge, one of the biggest in the Union, being 216 (65.84m) feet from water level to rail level.
Seventy percent of the railway lines, bridges and tunnels were undertaken by Monzali and his Italian workers. Kwa-Zulu/Natal is full of Italian history regarding marble stone imported from Carrara, in Italy by Adolfo Ascoli. He later went into bronze statues, amongst those created is the equestrian statue of Dick King in Durban. The Italian Legion during the Anglo-Boer War under Camillo Ricchiardi were on the frontlines of the battles against the British in Kwa-Zulu/ Natal. Among the Italian Prisoners of War , imprisoned in Pietermaritzburg who built the little chapel was Gregorio Fiascanaro, later after WW2 studied and became a Professor of Music at UCT, Cape Town, and is widely regarded as the father of the opera in South Africa.” with thanks to Andre Martinaglia
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. The front gate has since been moved to the top of the staircase leading to the Avellini tent.
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.
Ann and Michael Peacock converted the gracious manor house initially into an eight room luxury country hotel opening in 1997. Another four veranda suites were added in July 1999. Later in 2005, a multi-function centre, a chapel, (originally an old dairy) and eight new rooms were added. The six cottages were added in 2007.
In 2012 the Jack family became the sole owners of Lythwood Lodge and in 2013 an expansion project was completed to all public areas. The Avellini – Tent was built in 2015 to provide further options for bridal couples. An extensive renovation of the meadow rooms and cottages was completed in June 2017.
In October 2017 the LYTHWOOD LODGE EMPLOYEE SHARE TRUST was created that provides for 51% ownership of LYTHWOOD LODGE (PTY) LTD to the employees.
In 2018 the lodge rooms, Khaya centre and Chapel were all upgraded.
Future plans for Lythwood Lodge include additional rooms and a sub-division project