Did you know?
By the time mining activities at Kimberley's Big Hole stopped in 1914, 2 722kg of diamonds had been extracted from 22,5-million tons of excavated earth.
Constructing homes of grandeur and opulence in most parts of the industrialised world is fairly straightforward today. But back in the 1870s, when Kimberley became South Africa’s first industrial capital following the discovery of diamonds, most of the building materials (apart from the bricks) had to be shipped from abroad and transported, along with furnishings, by ox wagon, and later by rail in the 1880s.
This renders the experience of the majestic Victorian-era architecture along the Belgravia Historic Walk, in the city of Kimberley, all the more impressive. With their deep verandahs, parapets, gables, turrets and cast-iron decorative features and fences, the Belgravia residences were the ultimate status symbols in early Kimberley.
By 1878 there were already over 20 residences there, inhabited by the diamond town’s wealthiest merchants, professionals and mining men. In Belgravia they could meet and mingle far from the harsh realities of mining.
The Belgravia Historic Walk, featuring 30 historic sites, starts and ends at the McGregor Museum, which offers an exceptional history of the area. The museum, like most of the buildings in Belgravia, was constructed from orange-red, hand-pressed bricks known as Kimberley bricks.
Originally a hotel and health resort that also served as mining magnate and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes’s home during the four-month Siege of Kimberley during the South Africa War (fought from 1899-1902, also known as the Anglo-Boer War), it was transformed into a museum in 1907.
Armed with a Belgravia Historic Walk map and a guidebook from the McGregor Museum, you can step back into the late 19th century as you stroll through memory-filled Belgravia. Several of the residences are in private hands, but others are available for you to explore, including the majestic Rudd House and Dunluce, both of which can be viewed by prior arrangement with the museum.
Along the walk you will see the birthplace of world-renowned De Beers diamond magnate, Harry Oppenheimer, and the home of celebrated architect DW Greatbatch. There’s also Kimberley Girls’ High School, established in 1887; St Cyprian’s Cathedral; the equestrian statue of Cecil John Rhodes; and the intriguing Duggin-Cronin Gallery.
The Duggin-Cronin Gallery has a series of 8 000 photographs taken between 1919 and 1939 by Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin, who was a night watchman for De Beers, with an interest in photography.
For those who want to imbibe Belgravia’s atmosphere overnight, accommodation in a Victorian-era guest house is available.