Cape Town is a city steeped in history. Many places have stood tall and proud for centuries, witnessing the city’s evolutions. One such place is Winchester Mansions. One of the most recognisable hotels in Sea Point, Winchester Mansions has been around since the early-1900s, and bore witness to many things in the area.
Originally built as residential property in 1922, it was bought by a Mr Harvey who converted it into a hotel in 1958. Back then, Winchester Mansions was a sea-facing property in every sense of the word. In place of the concrete promenade and grassy lawns than run alongside the ocean, was a sandy beach.
Many people enjoyed lazing on the beach, but in a time where social stigmas around disabilities were rife, one particular woman felt uncomfortable. Lady Bordeaux, the wife of a wealthy Mr Marais, was wheelchair bound. In 1898, Mr Marais had a villa made on Beach Road, so Lady Bordeaux could enjoy looking at sea ocean. When that wasn’t enough to satisfy here, he had a pathway constructed to a concealed rock pool where she could enjoy the water far from prying eyes.
That very same pathway, became a scandal in Sea Point later on. Mr Marais hit hard times and sold the villa to Jacobus Graaff. The Graaff family used the pathway to access the concealed beach in nothing but their silks. Eventually the pool had to be closed after sunset, because people were being too lewd behind the closed walls. The Villa Bordeaux was converted to a hotel one year after the Winchester Mansions was established. In 2005 it was fully demolished and converted into flats.
Another exceptional piece of history that the Winchester Mansions witnessed was the railway that connected Sea Point to Cape Town. The green lawns that are now in front of the hotel, were once a railway line. The only reminisce of this rail way is the bathrooms along the promenade that used to be station stops.
Today Winchester Mansions has undergone renovations to bring it to the modern age, whilst still maintaining its historic charm. It gives you a small glimpse into the rich, interesting and curious past of Sea Point.