A while back, one of my readers told me about Lindfield House in Joburg’s Auckland Park neighborhood. It’s one of the many places I would have loved to visit while living in Johannesburg, had I known about it. The city has so many gems just like this one, historical places with a fascinating backstory, but largely ignored by those who promote Joburg tourism.
If you like antiques, especially from the Victorian era, Lindfield House is a lovely place to visit. And, according to the blog 2Summers, it’s also the best place in Joburg for High Tea (which apparently is properly called Afternoon Tea). The pictures I’ve seen of their scones with cream and strawberry jam look absolutely mouth-watering.
But the main reason I’d want to visit Lindfield House is to meet the legendary Katharine Love. Not only does she own the house and live in it, she is also the museum curator, tour guide, cleaning lady, and cook. It’s a one-woman show if ever there was one. If you want to learn more about life in the Victorian period, there is no better teacher than Katharine. Clad in a Victorian housekeeper’s uniform, she regularly leads tour groups through the house. Every room from the kitchen to the teenage girl’s bedroom is filled to the hilt with period furniture and decorations, and it all comes to life with Katharine’s tales of what life was like for women, men, and children of the era.
Since I couldn’t meet Katharine, I thought I’d ask if she would give me an interview, and she agreed. I feel privileged to publish this interview right here on Joburg Expat. The light she sheds on Auckland Park’s history was particularly interesting to me.
Interview with Katharine Love of Lindfield House Museum
Since when have you lived in Lindfield House and what gave you the idea to make it into a museum?
It was my mother who started the museum. I was born just a block away in my grandparents’ home, and we would never have moved from the old house if it weren’t for the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg ) expropriating the property. My grandmother, as the owner of the old house, bought this one and we all moved here 50 years ago. My grandmother died soon after that, and my mother inherited the house. She had always collected antiques, but while my grandmother was alive, she kept my mother from really going overboard with the collecting. My father was very easygoing and would not have minded, but he also died just a year after my grandmother. My mother was then free to collect as much as she wanted to. I also began to take an interest in collecting antiques when I was about 15. As the collection grew, people began to call the house “The Love Museum”. Our friends were always bringing their friends to see the museum, and sometimes complete strangers would knock at the door and say, “We hear you’ve got a museum. Can we see it?” So the museum just happened. After my mother’s death I opened the house to the public. It is now about 18 years that I have been doing tours.
JE: Is everything on display a family heirloom or do you continuously buy new items that fit into the era?
KL: I am still constantly adding to the collection. I do have pieces that belonged to my great- great-grandparents, but most of it has been collected.
JE: What sparked your love for the Victorian era?
KL: I am interested in antiques of all periods, but what I love about the Victorian era is the variety of styles that were available. Not only did they have a typical style of their own, but they had revivals of every previous style and loved anything exotic. Almost any style can be called Victorian. One can never get bored in a Victorian house.
JE: Can you share any Johannesburg-specific stories from the Victorian era?
KL: I do not know that much about Johannesburg – my interest is really the Victorian period in England – but I can tell you something about my suburb, Auckland Park. In the early days when Johannesburg was still a mining camp, it was not a very pleasant place to spend one’s leisure hours. The miners used to get on horseback and ride into the surrounding country areas to have picnics. This area became a popular picnic spot, and then a man from New Zealand, John Landau, took a fancy to it because it reminded him of his home, a valley near Auckland. He bought the farm, as it was then, and named it Auckland Park. He laid it out as a residential suburb with large stands that he thought would appeal to professional people who wanted to live in the clean fresh air away from the mining camp. However, not many people were prepared to move so far out of town in 1888, even though it was only two miles away. He then turned it into a pleasure resort – converted the farmhouse into a hotel, built a boating lake, and a bandstand where they gave concerts every Sunday. There was a horse-drawn tram to bring people to spend the weekend out in the country. Afterwards there was also a horse racing course and a greyhound racing track. The Johannesburg Country Club was established in 1906 and took over the hotel grounds.
JE: Does it ever get tiring to give tours?
KL: Yes, it can be very physically tiring to give tours. When I have a busy day I am sometimes on my feet for 12 hours without a chance to sit down or have tea or lunch. There is also a lot of work getting the house ready for tours – I have to pack away everything I have been working with and put everything modern out of sight. I do not have any help in the house. I never get mentally tired or bored with the tours – I meet lots of interesting people who all ask different questions or see things in a different way. Every time it’s as if I’m doing the tour for the first time.
JE: I have heard you offer afternoon tea as part of your tours – do you do your own baking and cooking for that?
KL: I only do my own baking for high teas. For the ordinary everyday tours I just buy cake. I am hoping that a friend will take over the high teas in the near future, so that I can concentrate on the tours.
I’d like to thank Katharine for taking the time to answer my questions. She has much more to tell, but you’ll just have to go and see (and listen) for yourself!
One last thing that I’d like to point out: Katharine receives no government funding whatsoever for Lindfield House, even though it is such a historic place. As you can imagine, she desperately needs more funds to keep the museum going. It is also a great worry to her as to what will happen to the museum when she dies. There is no museum organization in South Africa that would be capable of maintaining it. She would love to find someone she could start training to take over from her as curator when she can no longer do it herself.
In my mind, the best way to find that person is to spread the word about Lindfield House in Johannesburg and beyond. So pick up your phone or go online and book yourself a tour. Even if you don’t care much about the Victorian period, you will absolutely love the scones!
Lindfield House is located at 72 Richmond Avenue in Auckland Park.
To book a tour, contact Katharine at 011 726 2932 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is part of the What To Do In Joburg series. You might also like: