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Posted on: Thursday, 24 February 2011

Walking Wynberg

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Walking Wynberg

Walking Wynberg

Who would have thought that Wynberg Main Road, which most people avoid at given times of the day and barely give a second glance, could be so steeped in history? I’ve often been aware, as I drive my son home from school, that there are bits of the road that look as though they were here during the Victorian era – those colonnades down the lower end of the road are sumptuous if you look past the paint work – but I’m so busy dodging the jay walkers and watching out for taxis that a real look is rarely possible …

It is true that Wynberg Main Road, a major transport hub, is a ‘clutch your handbag to you’ neighbourhood. At least for a typically middle class white woman like me. Be that as it may, I enjoy heading into fabric shops here where you’ll always pick up a bargain. And the Wynberg beyond Main Road, to the west of here, is filled with gorgeously quaint cottages and I’m want to take short cuts through here often, in a bid to reach Rhodes Drive or to avoid Main Road entirely.

Unfortunately my favourite second-hand CD shop is no longer. An optometrist has now triple barricaded himself into the premises, just around the corner from Church Street, where wonderful buildings that date back to the turn of the century share space with the likes of Thistles Coffee Shop and a dodgy pub.

I’ve already discovered The East Wynberg Walk, one of a series of walking maps commissioned by the Wynberg Improvement District in 2002. Surprisingly, not much as changed since then. Map in hand, I venture out to discover the hidden gems on the roads I frequent often enough to know better.

Walking Wynberg
Photographs – Left: Hollandia, Oak Avenues / Centre: Church street with a view of the Dutch Reformed Church / Right: Victorian columns on Main Road

The first buildings along Wynberg Main Road were little thatched cottages. Hard to believe. Yet today, only one survives, right at the intersection with Maynard Mall. La Plaisance is still pretty, if a little neglected, and you barely notice its thatched roof set back from the road as it is. The ground plan of the house apparently still survives and the ruins next door (you can see them in the very overgrown and unloved garden) were known as the Recovery Cottage (someone important’s son was ill here). Today the house is hired by a local Aids NGO.

Back then, the Old Village was the heart of Wynberg, higher up on the slopes of Wynberg Hill. But growth extended this way rapidly, particularly with the building of a railway from Cape Town to Wynberg. Then a tram service was added to the mix, and the hubbub must have been very similar to today, just more upmarket. This became a shopping hub.

If you head onto Church Street, just off Main Road, there are a number of buildings worth seeing. This used to be a long row of late nineteenth century buildings very similar to the stone cottage and the Methodist Church, which rest next door to one another, as well as what was known as the Roma Building that also used to house the local Wynberg Times, but which today stands on the corner of Church and Brodie with its windows boarded.

Walking Wynberg

Photographs – Left: The canal through Wynberg / Centre: Pretty cottages / Right: Langley Cottage

The Methodist Church is the most interesting as behind it is a huge graveyard, which appears to be a combination of the Dutch Reformed Cemetery and St John’s Parish Cemetery, extending over a block to nestle up against a business block with its entrance on Brodie Road. And whilst the facade of the Methodist church is pretty mundane (it’s hardly Christ Church in Kenilworth), have a look at the gates to the St John’s Parish graveyard along the little side lane to the left of it and the old graves themselves, although you might have to ask the church for permission before you gain access.

From here we head up Brodie Road. On the corner of Brodie and Ebenezer Road (I think) there is an open plot of land across the road from the parking lot, where Wynberg’s original Muslim cemetery didn’t have the same luck as the surviving cemetery already mentioned, which is also now a proposed conservation area. Today the former Muslim cemetery lies empty and unclaimed, its wire fence filled with creepers.

Back down Brodie we trudge and along behind the library (also in a beautiful old building) and finally into Piers Road, which runs alongside Maynardville Park, parallel to Church. Just before Coghill Road you’ll see the former Assembly Rooms – today it’s an auction house. In its time, this building served as the place for theatricals, musical performances, meetings and the like. Thereafter is was the lodge of the local Free Masons, hence their symbols on the exterior walls. Today it has a bright blue roof, you can’t miss it.

Walking Wynberg

Photographs – Left: Wynberg Station / Centre: Stone cottage on Church Street / Right: St John’s Parish cemetery gate

Coghill Road is beautiful. Like Benjamin and Wellington Roads a number of stone cottages have survived from an earlier time, intact and restored. Look out for cast iron trim and trellised stoeps, but it is Oak Avenue that has a couple of real gems. Aside from the obvious lack of Oak trees (these appear to have resettled themselves across in Langley Road), here you can see the canalised Krakeelwater, also known as the Wynberg Stream. This was here in the days of old Wynberg and the part that runs through Maynardville Park gives you an idea of how it looked before it was canalised.

Roughly halfway down Oak Avenue is an interesting array of parapetted tenement houses. Built in 1920 to model Victorian terrace houses, this looks as though it stepped out of the suburbs of London. One-up-two-down is the feeling to the apartments here. Called Hollandia after the Dutch entrepreneur who built it, I find myself day dreaming about living here. Although I couldn’t discern whether or not they had gardens at the rear.

After this little discovery we chased down Langley Cottage. I’ve often driven past this beautiful thatched rendition. I love the huge oak trees around which they tarred Langley road, in order to save them (wish they would do this with established trees everywhere) and Langley Cottage sits perched on the corner of Langley and Flemming, most of its beauty hidden by its surrounding gate. I stand with my camera held aloft above my head in an attempt to photograph it, but I’m too close and all I get is window and white wall smudges.

The rest of the historical beauty of Wynberg we capture on the fly in the car along Main Road and down Lower Church Street via the station, which behind the myriad informal traders and the taxi rank, you can just make out the former beautiful old buildings.

Pick up a copy of the Wynberg Main Road map at the Wynberg Library. You’ll need:

  • a good pair of walking shoes
  • a hat
  • a camera
  • at least two hours

Useful Wynberg Links:
Wynberg Attractions
Things to Do in Wynberg
Wynberg Accommodation
Cape Town – Accommodation
South Africa Hotel Accommodation

Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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