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The Old Court House

With tax season upon us there’ll be many people looking for loopholes in the system to avoid handing their hard earned dosh over to the government, but if you’re on the hunt for loopholes you need look no further than the Old Court House Museum! While most laypeople know the term to mean an ambiguity that lets them escape responsibility, military persons will have a different understanding of the word ‘loophole’. In fact the term (originally loupe) is a military one that was first used in the 1300s to describe a small vertical slit in a castle wall used for spotting enemies and shooting arrows. A citation in Middle English: “Eche chyne stoppe, þat no light leope yn at louer ne at loupe”, translates to “Let chain close every chink, so no light leaps in at louver or loophole” – perhaps where the term ‘closing loopholes’ came from.

An example of loopholes in a castle wall

An example of loopholes in a castle wall

But back to the Old Court House, which as its name suggests, wasn’t always a museum. The oldest remaining public building in Durban, the court house was built in the mid 1860s, with proceedings commencing on the 25th April 1866. But just over a decade later, in 1879, the British forces found themselves at war with the members of the Zulu kingdom, and the residents of Durban bandied together in defence of their town. The court house, along with several other prominent buildings in Durban, were ‘loopholed’ for defence purposes. The loopholes, literally holes in the walls of the building, remained for many years, until they were eventually filled, making the building whole again.

Note: The Old Court House building, with the addition of two wings, was used as a court of law until 1912, when the courts were moved to their new premises on Victoria Embankment. There were originally plans to demolish the court house in order to make way for ornamental gardens, but luckily the rapid development of the town necessitated the provision of offices for municipal staff, which influenced the council at the time not to demolish the building, but rather to alter its interior in order to provide for offices

Images courtesy of and

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