One of Nijkerk’s most beautiful monuments is “invisible”.
The interior of the “hidden” manse breathes a unique atmosphere.
is a small town in the centre of the Netherlands where the history of the Callenbach
family began. What is possibly one of Nijkerk’s most interesting monuments is
almost hidden behind one of its busiest shopping strips. “De
Oude Wheem” (The Old
Manse), which is, as far as can be established, Nijkerk’s oldest house.
The property does not border on a normal street, but is forlornly squeezed between a few houses and a parking lot of a supermarket. The manse was built in times when Town Planning was still an unknown concept. The outside is unremarkable, almost ugly. The awkwardly heavy architecture, with its grey plastered wall doesn’t stir the imagination. So we can’t speak of an eye catching monument that could be included in as part of the town’s promotion material.
Step into the past.
However the visitor who takes the trouble to have a look inside will be pleasantly surprised. The first step across the threshold is a step into the past. It is as if time has stood still for the old manse. The wide entrance hall with its wooden paneling and the enormous golden framed mirror breathe the atmosphere of the nineteenth century, of a bygone era of posh-ness.
The minister, aka “The Prophet of the Velue”, lived in the manse with his wife and seventeen children from 1828-1861. Mr. Callenbach, the father of GF Callenbach, the founder of the Publishing House and the Printing Works of the same name, would still feel at home in the manse in 1991 because little has changed. Even the cupboard bed of the maid has been preserved. The question is for how much longer the Oude Wheem will be able to radiate this atmosphere. Mrs Woerdman, the aged inhabitant of the property has sold the house. It was getting too big. Besides she cannot afford the drastic renovations. And those renovations are required otherwise the decay will ultimately win the battle for this little jewel. It was difficult for Mrs Woerdman to sell the house. Not because there were no takers, on the contrary but because she had to part with the house which had been her home since she was six years old. On top of that she loves the atmosphere of the house immensely.
Mrs Woerdman is a perfectly friendly hostess. After a detailed guided tour she talks lightly about the sale, but a little later she admits that it was difficult to decide to dispose of the house. She hopes intensely that the new owners will be careful with the old manse.
She does have some faith in the buyers. One of the buyers, a young veterinarian assistant, has been renting some rooms in the oldest part of the house for some time. But with the arrival of this young lady the twentieth century has also obtained a foot in the door. A built-in-cupboard has been converted into a shower. “These young people think they can’t live without a shower anymore”, reflects Mrs Woerdman with some sense of amazement. This remark takes on extra form for the visitor who has seen the bedrooms. No modern bathrooms or even a hand basin here. In “The Oude Wheem” the visitor will wash with the aid of a bowl and a jug. Only one bedroom has a wash basin. Mrs Woerdman detests the ugly thing. Indeed, the blue tiles clash screamingly with the writing desk, the threadbare thresholds and the brown oak panelling.
“De Oude Wheem” is an exceptional building. The history of its origins is lost in antiquity. We do know that the word “Wheem” was no longer in common use by the sixteenth century. Therefore medieval origins must be a possibility. For more than three hundred years it has been the home of the priests of the Grote Kerk. (Large Church) The Catholic priest Swear, who lived there toward the end of the sixteenth century, is the oldest known resident. The last protestant minister was the Rev PJ van Nieuwenhuizen. After his tenure the Woerdmans moved in. In the nineteen forties the property was bought by the vet Willem Beernink. During this long period Mrs Woerdman remained in residence in the “De Oude Wheem”. The old dispensary is a reminder of the time when the vet plied his craft there. Mrs Woerdman inherited the house After the death of Beernink, which is now five years ago. (1991). She will remain in residence for a little while longer but towards the end of 1992 she will definitely move on. That will be more or less the end of an era.
This article is a
translation of a story which appeared in the local paper Veluws Dagblad on 18th