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La Rochelle Visitors 1954-1970

This very important historical document entitled: ‘La Rochelle Visitors 1954-1970’ has been officially published to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Trust of Zimbabwe (in 2020) and in memory of Mr Darrel Plowes (04/04/1925 – 19/10/2016).

After arriving in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in the early 1950s, British couple Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld decided to make it their home. Fabulously wealthy and with diverse artistic and humanitarian interests, the Courtaulds built a striking home and gardens which they called La Rochelle. They bequeathed the property to the National Trust of Zimbabwe in 1960.

At La Rochelle the Courtaulds hosted an extraordinary range of visitors from all over the world and from many walks of life. Visitors were invited to sign their names with a diamond tipped stylus on several glass window panels, and the hundreds of inscribed signatures have intrigued more recent visitors to La Rochelle.

Over the past 7 years 3 volunteers have documented 898 signatures, aiming to learn a little about each individual – not an easy task given the problems of deciphering the signatures and the passage of time. The resulting publication provides a fascinating glimpse of signatories ranging from African nationalist activities, political figures from various parties, prominent musicians, dancers actors and artists, historians, British aristocracy, local residents and more.

The project was iniatated by a former guest and friend of the Courtaulds (and well known local botanist) Mr Darrel Plowes and an Austrailian visitor to La Rochelle, Mrs Heather White. As Darrel’s health limited his invovlement, his companion Ms Nina Bauer, took on the research with Heather. The memories of local residents, along with extensive internet searching, have allowed the compliation of brief notes about many of the Courtauld’s visitors, with web links and/or verifeid sources.

While much has been discovered, some intriguing gaps remain, and it is hoped the readers of the publication may be able to add a few more pieces to this picture of Rhodesian/Zimbabwean social history.

The Trust would like to acknowledge the passionate voluntary work undertaken by Mrs Nina Bauer and Mrs Heather White over a period of 8 dedicated years. Together they have compiled a fascinating and highly interesting document.  The Trust is extremely grateful for all their hard work and time and for choosing the Trust to be the sole financial beneficiary of their work.

The Trust would also like to say a huge thank to Ms Catherine Leonard and Mr Bill Turner of the International  National Trust Organisation for all their technical help and support in bringing the on-line sale of the book to fruition.




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