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TThe legendary mining town of Kimberley in Northern Cape province shot up at lightning pace in the late 1860s and early 1870s following the discovery of diamonds. And with the diamonds came wealth, a good deal of which was ploughed back into the magnificent Victorian residences in what was originally the opulent mining-magnate suburb of Belgravia, named with obvious aspirational intent after a similarly snooty SW address in London.
Constructing homes of grandeur and opulence in most parts of the industrialised world is straightforward today. But back in the 1870s, when the discovery of diamonds catapulted Kimberley into the position of South Africa’s first industrial capital, most of the building materials (apart from the bricks) had to be shipped from abroad and transported, along with furnishings, nearly 1 000km from Cape Town.
This was originally accomplished at a laborious pace by ox wagon over roads that were little more than farm tracks, and finally in the 1880s by rail. Knowing this history makes the majestic Victorian architecture along the city’s Belgravia Historic Walk 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 more than 20 residences in the suburb, inhabited by the Diamond City’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 sites from this era, 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 sanitorium – one in which arch-imperialist mining tycoon Cecil John Rhodes lodged during the 4-month Siege of Kimberley, a key event in the South Africa War of 1899 to 1902 (formerly known as the Second Anglo-Boer War) – the building became the new home of the museum when it moved here from Chapel Street in 1970.
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 the memory-filled suburb. 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 famous 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.
This gallery houses 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 long-ago atmosphere overnight, accommodation in a Victorian-era guest house, the Belgravia B&B, is available.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Halfway House Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)53 831 6324
Copper Oryx / Kimberley Anne Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)53 492 0004
The Half, Halfway House Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)82 303 1337
The Fat Greek, Halfway House Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)71 438 1091
How to get here
Kimberley is between 470km and 480km south-west of Johannesburg (either via the N12 or the N1 and R59 – just over 5 hours’ driving in both cases), or you could fly to Bloemfontein, 170km away in Free State province, and hire a car for the 2-hour drive to Kimberley via the N8.
Best time to visit
All year round, but keep in mind that summers (November to February) are baking hot.
Around the area
Kimberley has a wide range of cultural and adventure activities for the visitor – from museums, architecture and art galleries, to paintball and dirt- or quad-biking. See the Kimberley City Portal for all that’s on offer.
Tours to do
Tour guides for the Belgravia Historic Walk can be organised through the McGregor Museum.
Self-drive is the best option.
What will it cost?
Entrance to the McGregor Museum is R30 per adult and R20 per child (in May 2019). Schools tours, with or without a guide, are R15 and R10 per person respectively, although they need to be booked in advance.
Length of stay
Kimberley and the surrounding area have a lot for visitors to see – the Big Hole, vintage tram rides, breeding flamingos on the Kamfers Dam, San rock art at Wildebeest Kuil, a variety of museums, monuments and art galleries, not to mention nature reserves packed with bird, plant and animal life – so you should give yourself at least 3 days to explore it.
What to pack
Walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen (the Kimberley sun is especially fierce from November to February) and a camera.
Where to stay
Kimberley offers a choice of hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. If you would like to stay at an establishment that is part of the Belgravia Historic Walk, the Belgravia B&B is a good option.
What to eat
Kimberley has a wide choice of restaurants, from take-away fast food and sit-down franchises to fine dining. Munchies Pool and Pizza on the corner of Lawrence Road and Matthews Street in Kimberley North is a popular, unpretentious family spot.
For fine dining, try Copper Oryx in the Kimberley Anne Hotel on Mac Dougall Street in Royldene. A popular local spot is The Half, a restaurant and pub in the Halfway House Hotel in Belgravia’s Du Toitspan Road. The hotel also houses The Fat Greek, for those in the mood for a Mediterranean meal.
Rudd House (5 to 7 Loch Road) and Dunluce (10 Lodge Road) have been fully restored. They can be viewed on weekdays by prior arrangement with the McGregor Museum. A tour inside these historic treasures is sure to be one of the highlights of your visit to Kimberley.