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Wynberg, one of the most loved and established suburbs in the Western Cape, is known for its famous Maynardville open-air theatre, its quaint Chelsea Village and its excellent restaurants. Nestling on the southern spine of Table Mountain, this suburb today has the highest concentration of historic buildings in South Africa. Wynberg had its beginnings when on 1 March 1657, when Jan van Riebeeck, the first Dutch commander of the Cape, distributed land along the Liesbeeck River to nine “Free Burghers”, in order to establish farms. These farmers were to supply produce to the VOC Company so that their trading ships had fresh supplies en route to India and Europe. The local Khoikhoi people who had lived in this area prior to the arrival of the Dutch were forced to retreat or be incorporated forcibly into the economy of the European settlers. Van Riebeeck himself established a vineyard on a prominent hill at the Southeastern end of the Table Mountain chain, naming it Boschheuvel. In 1683, the first estate in this area passed into private hands when Herman Weeckens took transfer of the land and established the farm called De Oude Wijnbergh (Old Wine Mountain). A formal winter anchorage was established in Simon's Bay (during 1743) as the conditions in Table Bay during the windy winter season could cause shipwrecks. A wagon route linking this False Bay settlement, with Cape Town led over the hill adjacent to Oude Wijnbergh which then became a busy refreshment stop on the Cape Town to Simon's Town route, thereby literally putting Wynberg on the map. Wynberg prospered and grew rapidly over the next three centuries into a vibrant satellite settlement.
The British took control of the Cape in 1795, the established farming area of Wynberg, was developed into a military base when the British settled troops, the “Hottentot Corps”, in the area. Wynberg is about half way between Table Bayand Simonstown, so this was convenient for troops to have access to ships in both ports. The base provided farmers with a market and saved them the journey into Cape Town. The farm of Alexander Tennant, a slave trader, De Oude Wynberg, was selected by the British as property suitable to establish a camp. Tennant sold 78 morgen (a morgen was a unit of measurementof land in Germany, the Netherlandsand the Dutch colonies, including South Africa and Taiwan. The size of a morgen varied from 1/2 to 2½ acres, depending on area of land ploughed in a day .In 1869 the Germans fixed the area to a quarter hectare or 2500m²) to the Cape government in 1809; the British purchased a further 54 morgen in 1886 and established an extensive military camp which became less important after the South African War. In 1921, property and buildings on the remainder of the farm were transferred to the government of the Union of South Africa and remained a military camp.
The house built by Tenant, Sonnebloem, still stands today at the foot of Wynberg Hill and the vineyards belonging to the property can be seen on both sides of the M3 freeway.
Between 1834 and 1838, the astronomer, John Herschel lived in Wynberg. He studied the southern hemisphere skies, and together with his wife studied South African flowers. Charles Darwin, still a young man in 1836, met Herschel in Wynberg, this meeting had an influence on Darwin's later work.
The village grew up around the two churches. Land was granted to the Nederduitsche Gereformeerde Kerk in 1832, the first building on the site was erected in1839. Enlarged in 1843, the landmark as we know it today, at the top of Carr Hill, was rebuilt in 1889, in 1965 the church was proclaimed a national monument. In 1836 land was granted to the Anglican Church and St John's Church, the oldest Anglican Church in Cape Town was built.
In the 1840's Wynberg became a popular area in which to buy property for a country villa. James Maynard settled in Wynberg on the farm Rozendal and built Maynard's Villa. When the remains of Napoleon, were removed from St Helena to Paris in 1841, James Maynard purchased the gates that guarded the grave and shipped them to Cape Town to be erected at the driveway to his estate. They remained there for 100 years, after which they were restored and returned to St Helena. Willow cuttings taken from the trees at the grave site, were cultivated to lay out the Willow grove at Maynardville. Maynard married late in life and had no heirs, his properties were left to his nephew, William Mortimer Maynard Farmer. Farmer was a director of the Union Castle Company. Farmer entertained lavishly at Maynardville, gaining support for his political career as a member of parliament. The property was left to his son Gerald, who sold Maynardville to the City Council of Cape Town, who in turn demolished the homestead in 1954. The land now a large public park, with an open air theatre, hosts an annual Shakespearean festival, during the summer months. Annually at the end of February, the Maynardville Community Chest Carnival takes place.
The second oldest school in South Africa, Wynberg Boys High School was established in 1841, on the hill above the village, now situated on Hawthornden Estate.
Hawthornden built by Captain John Spence in the Renaissance manner, has more than thirty rooms, with bay windows, cast iron balconies, a turret, and a French-type mansard roof, a formal rose garden, can be seen by driving along Lovers Walk. In 1891 Hawthornden was bought by the mining magnate J B Robinson, who only moved into the property in 1917 Their daughter, Ida married Count Labia, who later became Prince Labia. The Labia family still occupy this magnificent home.
The Junior School buildings designed in the Victorian style by Sir Herbert Baker is situated on the same estate.
In the 1860's, six Dominican sisters from Ireland, purchased the Springfield estate to establish a girl's school in the “countryside”. The school, Springfield, is an independent Catholic Girls School, the first to offer “matric” for girls, was established in 1871.
In 1884 the Dutch Reformed Church, of Wynberg, decided to found a school for girls, now Wynberg Girls High School. The school was founded in 1885 with two teachers - Sisters Annie Brink and Nellie Brink - and twenty-seven young boys and girls. The buildings on the school grounds have significance. The boarding house, built in 1885 is situated where the old Pastorie was, the school library on the site of the original little school, as the school grew many buildings changed their original use. The school was nicknamed the "School in the Bush." Later changed the now known as Wynberg Girls High to Girls Public School, it now included pupils from Sub A to Standard Ten. It was the first girls' school in South Africa to offer Physical Education which included hockey, cricket and tennis, with a fully qualified Physical Education teacher, who studied in London. The gymnasium was erected in 1900, in 1905 the running of the school was taken over by The Cape Education department.
In 1682, the second railway in the colony was built from the junction at Salt River to Wynberg.
Wynberg Park, over 22 hectares, is a popular place for recreation and relaxation. The park which borders Trovato Link Road, a feeder to the M3, has an entrance to the park demarcated with a white marble fountain inscribed: “To commemorate the Coronation of King Edward VII, 9 August 1902.” The land for the Kind Edward Park, as it was then known, was obtained in the 1890s. The park was landscaped with waterways, lawns, trees, shrubs and displays of hydrangeas in summer, although a large section was allowed to remain wild. A small number of the Silvertree (Leucodendron argenteum), which was once plentiful in the area can be seen in the upper reaches of the park. The numbers of this prominent and attractive tree have been decimated through loss of habitat. Although the park has lost some land to the freeway it has been well preserved.
Wynberg was and still is the magisterial district of the Southern Suburbs, this is considerably larger than the former municipality. The district includes Hout Bay and Llandudno, Mowbray, Rondebosch and Claremont, Constantia and Tokai areas south of Wynberg and most of the Cape Flats. It has a district court and a Home Affairs Office.
Around 1954 the restoration of the old village of Wynberg, began, the area contains some fine examples of Regency architecture. Several dwellings in Durban and Victoria roads have been renovated with the efforts of the Old Wynberg Committee keeping the aesthetic, architectural and cultural values that make Little Chelsea unique in South Africa. Wynberg Village was designated as a conservation area in 1981.
Many of these historic cottages are commercially owned and house galleries, picture framers and antique shops, however the little streets still have quaint cottages, overhanging trees and creepers that create a village atmosphere. There are townhouses complexes which blend into the architecture of the village and many of the properties are deceptive in size. Parts of Wynberg have larger homes in more conventional tree-lined streets. These older homes are much sought after by locals as well as overseas purchasers. There are still a few unaltered cottages and homes to be snapped up and remodelled to individual taste. There are apartment blocks which are popular with young and old alike.
Access to the M3 freeway is gained by using the Constantia intersection or the Wynberg intersection. The Main road or Tenant road can be used to access Claremont. Heading towards Main Road there are second-hand shops, fabric shops, factory outlet shops, great for picking up a good deal. Constantia Village shopping centre is nearby as well as the Gabriel Road shopping centre. There are restaurants, and a pub in the heart of the village, and a convenience store at the petrol station on the outskirts of the village. Victoria Hospital situated at the foot of Wynberg hill is known for its high standard of care for the population it serves. The hospital provides a wide range of medical and surgical services.
The heart of Wynberg and the areas along Main Road have, since the late 70's slowly fell into a state of disrepair, even though the character of the area was maintained. Property prices in this area also moved more slowly than the surrounding areas which made the land and building prices attractive to developers who saw the potential of the area. Only recently in time terms, has Wynberg entered into a regeneration phase, which is leading to rapid property price increases and these too will reach similar levels as those in surrounding areas. “It is now the right time to invest in Wynberg.” says Greeff “One can clearly see the densification process taking place, older units being demolished to make way for new apartment blocks and or townhouse complexes. The Main Road area has until now resisted major change and only a few retail buildings have been developed there. This too is changing, as substantial open land and certain old building blocks in the Main Road precinct have been bought up by developers, who are working on new retail and residential projects.
Wynberg is a village packed with history, steeped in tradition, yet alive.