The first thing Katherine said to me when I arrived at Lindfield House was “where did you park your car? You can’t leave your car outside here, it’s dangerous” After reassuring her that I’d arrived in an Uber, I took a second to appreciate the strangeness of the situation.
Katherine was dressed as a chambermaid from the victorian era in Britain. She looked and sounded the absolute part, with a crisp accent and long dress with apron and bonnet. And yet here she was giving me tips about keeping safe while I was in her home town; Johannesburg.
As Katherine led the way up to Lindfield house, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. From the outside Lindfield is somewhat unassuming, the white walls and simple architecture, really give no hint at all of the treasures inside.
But as soon as I walked through the front door I was absolutely blown away.
I have lost count of how many historical houses I have visited in England. All those hours spent exploring National Trust and English Heritage properties and I have never seen anywhere as well preserved as Lindfield House.
It is a stunning example of South Africa’s colonial past. As a Brit, my ancestors participation in the colonisation of South Africa is not something that I am proud of. It isn’t something that I think should be celebrated. But it is a part of South Africa’s history and it should be acknowledged and preserved. So that we (and future generations) can learn about that time and continue to learn from it.
Now more than ever is a shining example of what happens if we don’t learn from the history of the world. Anyone thinking that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again after WWII only needs to look at Brexit, Trump and the refugee crisis to realise that unfortunately that isn’t the case for a lot of people.
Lindfield House has been in the Love family for three generations. Originally bought by her grandmother, Katharine and her mother moved in, in 1967 bringing all of their Victorian furniture along with them.
When her mother (Katherine McGill Love) died in 1996, Katharine opened Lindfield as a living victorian museum, proudly displaying a vast collection of 19th and 20th century furniture, art and other household objects from both the victorian and edwardian periods.
18 of the 22 rooms in the house are open to the public, which is impressive, especially as Katharine still lives there. It was the incredible detail in each every one of these rooms that amazed me the most, along with Katharine’s knowledge of everything victorian. She answered question after question, about victorian customs and traditions as well as Lindfield House and how the area of Aukland Park (where the house is situated) has changed over the years.
I truly could have listened to Katharine telling stories for hours. You can tell the passion that she has for her home and for the wonderful artifacts it contains. The items there either belonged to her family or were bought at auction. They are all 100% genuine and Katharine’s knowledge of the victorian era only extends that even further.
At a time when there were no inside toilets, ladies wouldn’t dream of using the outhouses at the homes they were visiting. So visits were short – dinners would last no more than 90 minutes and when the ladies needed to use the lavatory they would have to go home! Apparently if they were caught short they could use portable chamber pots inside their carriages.
I’ve never been allowed to get so ‘up close and personal’ with such delicate pieces. All those little details that I had never seen before, where right there to be admired. I had no idea you could purchase a little stand for your pocket watch.
I could easily spend a full day Inside the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ alone, there are hundreds of amazing items including a Tibetan Skull Drum, which once belonged to the late Constance Middleton who travelled throughout the Far East in the 1920’s.
Used by Tibetan Buddhist Monks the drums are made by stretching human skin over the human skull bone. It was considered a great honour to have your head used as a drum. I love people.
While I was trying to stop myself from sniffing and stroking all the books in the library (don’t judge me) Katharine was telling us how the house has been broken into several times; at one point she was held at gunpoint and locked in her own cupboard. I have to admire her courage and strength in keeping Lindfield House going.
She is on her own and receives absolutely no funding, other than the donations people make to tour the house. There is something incredibly courageous about that.
Inside the nursery I was left speechless once again, this time by the humungous dolls house. Built by Katharine and her mother, it was so detailed. I truly can not imagine the amount of work that went into it.
The music room was rarely used for actual music, it seems it was more about being able to say that you had a music room. Katharine is using hers at the moment to display her impressive collection of Victorian wedding dresses.
The bedroom that was set up for a young lady was the stuff of my teenage dreams. The delicate portraits on the wall, the letter writing desk. And Katharine has displayed all of these things beautifully.
Tours are by appointment only (it’s really easy to email via their website), you can also have afternoon tea, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for, but will definitely taste when I go back. The tours last around 90 minutes, but I truly could have chatted with Katherine all day about Lindfield House and the Victorian era in South Africa.
I know that Katharine is worried about what will happen to Lindfield House when she isn’t able to look after it anymore. There is so much amazing history here, it would be such a shame if it wasn’t open for people to view.
If you are spending anytime at all in Johannesburg, I would absolutely recommend that you visit.
Find out more on their website