An Old Letter Is Found -
Triggering a Brief Foray into Architectural Archaeology.


I was going through the various old family files we have stashed around the house, looking for a particular photograph which I couldn't find. But in going through the old papers, I come across an intriguing envelope:



I had pretty much forgotten about the existence of this envelope - I could see it was addressed to my mother some time before she was married (Her maiden name was "Kuyters") and was sent from the pharmacy where she worked in The Hague. Here is the letter that was in the envelope:



Loosely translated, the letter reads as follows:


The Hague, 26 May 1934

Pharmacy Plemper van Balen
Valkenboschlaan 50
The Hague


The undersigned Dr J.F.A. Pool, managing pharmacist of the Pharmacy Plemper van Balen, do hereby declare that Miss Kuyters, Petronella Theodora, born in Assen on 5th of February 1910, has been employed as a Pharmacist's Assistant in the above named pharmacy from November 1929 through May 1934.

In connection with her personal circumstances, and at her request, her resignation has been accepted.

Miss Kuyters has well satified all requirements. she is diligent, accurate and persistent in her dedication.

She may be considered as very suitable for all tasks that are encountered in a busy pharmacy.

Dr J.F.A. Pool


We can see at top left of the envelope, that this pharmacy was located at Number 50, Valkenboschlaan (Valkenbos lane) at the corner with Columbusstraat (Columbus street).

The Hague is a city I used to know well, and I enjoyed exploring its various neighborhoods, so I thought I might pay a virtual visit to this address (courtesy of Google Maps and "street view") and take a look at where my mother once worked before she got married. This is what I saw for Number 50 on Valkenboschlaan:


Courtesy of: Google Maps "street view"


This is not at all what I expected - this single door doesn't give the appearance of opening into a pharmacy, but neither does the building appear to have been (re-)built more recently, in fact it matches the rest of the neighborhood closely, being built well before the 1930's..

But it is right on the corner with Columbusstraat, so let's ask Google Maps to shift our point of view to where we can get a view of the corner as a whole. This is what we see:


Courtesy of: Google Maps "street view"


With a little imagination, one might surmise that the yellow-boxed facade might once have housed a retail shop - possibly a pharmacy?

It would be nice to find out... worth a try.... I emailed two friends, Roel and Maurits, who are both avid photographers of the local scene in The Hague, one of whom (Maurits) I was fairly sure lived close to the target address. I asked him to see if he could take a walk to the building marked by the yellow box, and figure out its address or if it was connected to the door at No 50. I copied Roel on the email as well, just in case he was interested or could contribute any thoughts.

Within minutes, Roel replied to my email with an attachment - a picture he had found by searching the on-line municipal archives of The Hague. I have marked up the picture with two yellow arrows and show it here:




Clearly this is the same spot, at some time in the past. The auto on the left is very distinctive, and immediately recognizable as a Volvo PV444 or PV544. This model was built from 1943 to 1966 with little variation, so all this tells us really is that the picture was taken post WWII. But we also note the type of TV antenna visible on the roof - a "horizontally polarised dipole" - and this tells us that it is likely in the early days of TV in Holland before the more common Yagi-based designs took over - so likely late 1950's ot early 1960's. Of course the antenna could have been up there for many years as nobody bothered to take it down once it was out-dated, but we're talking probabilities here rather than absolute proof.

(Subsequently, by going back to the archive site where this picture came from, I note that it is dated "circa 1972" but they caution that such dates indicate more a general time frame or date of an "album" rather than a specific year for a specific image.)

I have marked two particular points of interest in this picture with yellow arrows. The right-most arrow points to a sign next to what appears to be a front entrance. The sign appears to be of a type common in these parts - a fairly large white marble (?) plaque with black lettering - typical of professional offices of some kind - a Notary Public, a Doctor, an Accountant, or... a Pharmacist. The other arrow points to a sign hanging out over the street. The picture is too indistinct to be able to read the sign, but on the basis of its length-to-height proportions, it could easily be a longer word like "Apotheek" (Pharmacy).

So maybe that was it? That was likely the front door of the pharmacy where my mother worked, and presumably the windows to the right were the rest of the pharmacy.

And then, half-an-hour after the above picture arrived, Roel sent a second email with a pointer to another picture on the website of the of The Hague Municipal Archives:


then cropped and re-sized by me and further restored slightly by Roel Wijnants


Bingo! This is it! Actually the above is a cropped version of the referenced picture, and it has been reduced in size as well for purposes of this web page. In addition my friend Roel did some restoration of the image to remove a few blemishes.The full-sized and uncropped version may be seen by clicking here, in which case the whole image will likely be bigger than your screen and you will have to scroll around to see it all.

But most convincingly, the word "Apotheek" appears clearly in a number places.Besides the small white sign to the left of the front door (opposite the head of the passenger next to the truck driver) and in large letters as part of the big sign "Valkenbosch Apotheek" above the windows of the ground floor, we can see it on the door itself, and partially obscured by the hat of the gentleman who is standing immediately next to the hood of the truck. So the name of the pharmacy is different to the one on the envelope that started this hunt, but we're definitely in the right place.

An hour or two after I had the above image, an email arrived from Maurits. He had walked over to the address and confirmed that the side door marked as No 50 on the Valkenboslaan indeed appeared to be associated with the premises on the corner and that maybe once it had been the staff entrance to the pharmacy.

Here are the two views that Maurits sent after he visited the location::


Photos courtesy of Maurits Burgers


These pictures clarified an issue not immediately apparent the other pictures - now we can see clearly that this "front" facade of the building (facing the intersection of the two streets) actualy has two parts. On the left is a convex sort of bay window projecting from the building, and to its right is a flat front also with a window in it. The part projecting out on the left has three openings - one window in front and then one on either side - the left one of these two appears to be a possible door but now has a roll-down shutter covering it, and there is no "step" visible at the bottom, which one would expect for a doorway opening outside onto the garden or street - it also looks very narrow to be a door.

But we know it was "the" door to the pharmacy at some time in the past - see the earlier pictures above - the one with the two yellow arrows and the one with the snow-clearing trucks.

The answer lies in the follwing picture that I also found on the Municipal Archives site - this is the oldest image I could find of this address and it is dated "Circa 1905"




Here we can see that when the building was originally constructed, the two windows on ether side of the convex "Bay" on the left of the front facade were symmetric and did not stretch all the way to the ground. And on the right of the "Bay" is a pair of "French Doors" leading into the very small garden taking up this corner. So that was the original intent of the archtect.

Then some time later with the advent of the pharmacy, we see that the left window of the "Bay" has been elongated to become the main door into the pharmacy, the little white sign next to the door confirming that this is the main "front door".

Then even more recently, the pharmacy is gone, and the building has reverted to its original residential use. The opening where the old "front door" used to be is now covered with a roll-down shutter, but still appears to go all the way down to be level with the ground. The opening has not been restored to its original size to be symmetric with its partner on the other side of the "bay".

So enough already with the architectural archaeology - what became of Miss Kuyters, the Pharmacist's Assistant?

Here is a picture of her (on the left) standing in the door of the Pharmacy with two colleagues. The first two years she worked there as an unpaid intern to learn the job. After she was qualified, she worked six days a week and slept in a chair behind the counter three nights in every fourteen when she had "night duty", and was on call to fill emergency prescriptions.



The reason she resigned was that she had just got a letter from Uganda in central Africa from Epeus (Pé) Couperus, my father in which he asked her to marry him. She was already formally engaged to marry him, but no date had been set - the expectation was that he would return from Africa to marry her. But now a narrow escape from a lion apparently triggered in him a sense of urgency, so he asked her to marry him remotely.

In those days there was no airmail to or from Africa, the post went successively by boat, train, truck and foot. If you were lucky a letter went via the Suez Canal and took 3-4 weeks. Otherwise the letter went all the way round the Cape of Good Hope and back up the east coast of Africa, taking twice as long. She wrote back to my Dad with her acceptance.

In those days, it was not considered proper for an unmarried woman to travel alone to "the colonies" - she would have to get married before she could get on a boat to Africa. So a marriage by proxy was organised ("trouwen met de handschoen" in Dutch) where a family member would stand in as a "proxy" representing the groom who was thousands of miles away living in a tent sowhere in the middle of Africa.



This is her wedding picture - on the arm of Wim Moeselaar who was the husband of Aaltje, my Dad's sister. After the wedding, she got on a boat to Mombasa on the East coast of Africa. There she took a train as far as the railway line went in those days, somewhere near the border between Kenya and Uganda. From there she made her way by whatever means was available (walking or catching a lift on the occasional ox-cart whenever the opportunity arose) to meet my Dad who had started heading east from his camp in Mbarara to meet her.

On his way, my Dad received a message via a runner or via tom-tom drums (probably a combination) that a white woman was on her way to meet him - the message arrived when he had just reached Masaka, and he joined up with my mother a day later near Nabugabo,



This picture was taken soon after, on the shore of Lake Nabugabo in Uganda. They were married 44 years until my father passed away in 1978. She lived to be 90 and passed away in 2000.