Extracts from Helen Robinsons book “Wynberg a Special Place”

From 1795 Britain and France were locked in war with one another and it was thus to Britain that the Stadtholder of Holland fled when his country was overrun by the forces of Napoleon. Apparently acting in a care-taker capacity for the Dutch East India Company, a British fleet arrived at Simon’s Bay in 1795 with orders to occupy the Cape settlement. This first period of occupation was military in character and the strategic position of Wynberg, midway between Cape Town and Simon’s Bay, was at once realised by the new rulers who stationed troops on hill at Wynberg. This camp became a focal point of commercial activity in the area and was responsible for the development of a small village which supplied services, commodities and accommodation to members of the garrison and visitors from the India station.

In the early days of the village (between 1810 – 1840) a number of tradespeople and a few general dealers lived and worked near to the military camp. In this period, the wagons and coaches which travelled from Cape Town to Simonstown stopped at Wynberg Inn (1) on Durban Road to give the horses and passengers some rest on the uncomfortable journey.

By the 1840s the small village has been developed and extended as people began to settle in the Wynberg area. Several shop-keepers had set up businesses in Alphen Hill Road.

Durban Road continued to be the centre of commercial activity in the village and at least fourteen shops were situated there.

In the mid-twentieth century, the village on the hill once again experienced a restoration by the private sector after a period of decline. This time Wynberg attracted an artistic fraternity and many crafts were represented; graphic artists, painters, sign-writers, interior decorators, furniture designers, silk-screen and gold-leaf workers all settled there. They created an atmosphere which prompted the name Little Chelsea, conferred upon it by the local press rather than the inhabitants. Many of these artists and crafters worked from their homes as villagers had done in earlier days. Accommodation was at a premium after World War 2 and the particular appeal of the old village for creative artists encouraged a rapid resettlement of this hitherto run-down area. With their arrival, the first phase of reconstruction in the village had begun.

Note: The above extracts are from Dr Helen Robinsons Books

Dr Robinson began her professional life as a theatre practitioner and a lecturer in drama and communication. She settled in Wynberg 35 years ago and has pursued her interest in its multicultural heritage since that time/ Her PhD thesis was published in 1998 with the title – Beyond the City Limits – People and Property at Wynberg. Her second book, entitled Wynberg – A Special Place, emphasizes the role which conservation has played, or failed to play, in preserving the heritage resources of Wynberg. Her other books include Shakespeare at Maynardville and The Villages of the Liesbeeck, which explores the role played by the river in the formation of the Southern Suburbs, as we know them today.

Enquiries about her books may be made through her e-mail: wynberg@webafrica.org.za


In 1822, Lord Charles Somerset wrote:

“At Wynberg there are many pretty villas and as it is extremely cool and sheltered from the South-East winds in summer, it is much resorted to.”

Thanks to the work of the OWVS over the past thirty years, this is still case.

Its position, close to natural streams such as the Krakeelwater (Wynberg Stream) and between two significant and fertile valleys, (Liesbeeck to the north and Constantia-Tokai to the South), has made Wynberg popular since the time of the Khoikhoi.

The Village has experienced periodic phases of prosperity and decline. Dating back to the eighteenth century when Wynberg emerged as a halfway house between Cape Town and Simonstown, it developed into a garrison settlement under the British occupation of the Cape. By the 1830’s, Wynberg Village was a busy centre with wagon connections to all developed corners of the Peninsula. Shops, inns, pubs, blacksmiths, bakeries and laundries were established and Wynberg became important enough to be the centre of a magisterial district.

When the railway was built in the late nineteenth century, activities shifted towards the Main Road and by the mid-twentieth century, the Village has become slightly rundown. However, the discovery of the Village by the artistic fraternity in the 1950’s changed all this. Buildings were renovated and the importance of preserving a unique heritage was recognised.

On 27 August 1981 the Cape Town City Council finally resolved to amend the Final Statement of the Town Planning Scheme by the inclusion of a section enabling it to control development in designated conservation areas, numbered 100 nov and titled “areas of Special Architectural, Aesthetic and Historical Significance.” Where initially only specific buildings in the village were proclaimed and designated conservation subjects, on 29 June 1990 Official Gazette No4649 gazetted the General Amendment of the Town Planning Scheme Regulations, including section 108 (renumbered from 100 nov) now titled “Urban Conservation Areas.” Wynberg Village was included in the Schedule – plan No TPZ 8581/1. It must be added that all of the above came about as a result of the efforts of residents, recorded as far back as 1959, but gaining momentum in 1980 with the formation of a Wynberg Advisory Committee, whose purpose was to liase with, and advise the Cape Town City Council and the National Monuments Commission with regard to the preservation of buildings in the old garrison village of Wynberg, and the need to limit business interventions in the village to acceptable levels.

Arising out of the efforts described above, the Old Wynberg Village Society was formed on 26 March 1993, and through constant liaison with residents, the Cape Town City Council Planning and Heritage departments, today plays a critical role in preserving this historical conservation area, which is situated next to the Maynardville Park, a green belt identified as being a community and cultural hub for the enjoyment of the citizens of the City of Cape Town.

Wynberg Village contains the largest surviving concentration of traditional Cape thatched vernacular cottages in Cape Town. It also boasts a fine collection of Cape Georgian and Victorian buildings, modest vernacular domestic dwellings and proximity to public open spaces and parks.

What makes Wynberg Village special is its unique mixed-use character and historical charm, which the Old Wynberg Village Society continues successfully to protect today.