Joburg’s Wacky Victorian Time Warp

On a recent visit to the Melville Visitors Center, I noticed a small brochure for a place called Lindfield House and was immediately captivated. It’s a Victorian home in Auckland Park, a suburb adjacent to Melville, which has been furnished as an authentic 19th-century English estate. The owner, Katharine Love, has lived there for half a century and spent her entire life restoring the house.

In addition to being Katharine’s home, Lindfield House is also a museum. Katharine does personalized tours of the house, while explaining what life was like among the upper classes in Victorian England. Katharine also serves one of the best afternoon teas in town. There is no finer illustration of quirky Johannesburg than Lindfield House, and no better way for Joe and I to spend a couple hours of quality time with my mom.

Lindfield House is a difficult place to describe in words, and Katharine herself is equally difficult to describe. So I’ll just share the photos and say that my visit to Lindfield is one of the most interesting things I’ve done since moving to South Africa. I would recommend the tour even if you have no interest whatsoever in Victorian culture. After this visit, you will.

Katharine shows us the dining room and explains the intricacies involved in a formal Victorian dinner. The most interesting tidbit I learned: When a Victorian lady went out to dinner, it was considered inappropriate for her to use the hostess’ chamber pot or to go to the outdoor toilet. So if she had to go to the bathroom, she would say she felt faint and call for her carriage to take her home. Men, on the other hand, were welcome to use the chamber pot or go outside. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

This is not the real dining room; it’s the dining room in Katharine’s doll house. The dollhouse is mind-boggling.

The Lindfield House library. The library was the man’s domain. Women were not allowed in unless invited, although men would sometimes ask their wives and daughters to sit with them in the library. Books inappropriate for female eyes were put out of reach on the top shelves.

Lindfield House has a small nature room, which Victorian children of the house would have used for studying science. It’s  filled with curious objects like exotic shells, skeletons, and pieces of taxidermy. It also includes this human foetus preserved in formaldehyde. Seriously!

This stunning walnut bed is the central feature of the main bedroom. Katharine sleeps here.

The bed in one of the smaller bedrooms has a pull-out step to make it easier to climb into. The bottom step doubles as a chamber pot. Brilliant.

Oscar the Cat.

Mom and I love afternoon tea – it’s one of our favorite things to do together on vacation. The Lindfield tea was spectacular – mini sausage and meat pastries, fluffy scones with jam and cream, and some scrumptious cakey-custardy things. The tea itself was also delicious but I unfortunately forgot to ask what kind it was. We did our best to eat everything, but failed. Lucky enjoyed the leftovers. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Mom and I are in Cape Town for the weekend. We get back to Joburg on Monday and then leave Tuesday for two days on safari. So I might get a little behind on my blogging but rest assured — I am stock-piling great material.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Francis January 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Nothing like those Victorian houses to show us how the rich people used to live. Beautiful photography and interesting subject, thank you for sharing with us.

    • Reply 2summers January 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

      Thanks Francis. This place was seriously fascinating. It’s hard to convey in words and pictures!

  • Reply Tilly Bud January 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

    No photo of the whole doll’s house? 🙁

    If the cakey-custardy things you are talking about are on the top tier, then I think they might be vanilla slices.

    You look like your Mom!

    • Reply 2summers January 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      Yeah, I should’ve taken the whole house. It was so huge though — hard to get a shot of the whole thing!

      • Reply carol hahn January 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm

        Hi Heather,
        I am sorry we missed you before leaving Joburg/ Thanks for the great party.
        Cape town
        was 38 c very hot.
        We will see you in another 14 years Kim

  • Reply Slowvelder January 25, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Its all rather surreal isn’t it?
    Hope you enjoy your safari

  • Reply Greg January 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Hello. I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks now (learned about you through Slowvelder’s blog). My wife and I are visiting SA for the first time in a few weeks and I feel like I’m getting a headstart with all the great articles you’ve published. Great, great blog. Thank you!

    • Reply 2summers January 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Wow, thanks so much Greg! It’s really great to know that my blog is helping you. If you have any other questions, just ask.

  • Reply KLong January 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    That fetus is revolting. But I loooooove that library!!

    • Reply 2summers January 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      It’s funny Klong, you are the first person to comment on the fetus. Actually, it makes perfect sense. Joe and I think this is the greatest photo I’ve ever taken.

      Interesting side story: When Catherine showed us that jar, I said, “That’s a HUMAN fetus?” And she said, “Yes, well, it’s an African fetus.” I was afraid to ask what she meant.

  • Reply Annette Renee White January 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I love these sort of offbeat attractions that way too many people would bypass on their travels. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Reply 2summers January 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      I know, that’s the beauty of writing a travel blog about the city you actually live in! Thanks for reading.

  • Reply sharon April 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    I live in JHB and have been to Lindfield House with my sister, son Jon and daughter Amy. We found it to be such a fascinating experience we are planning to return with other friends and family. The amount of Victoriana is amazing. Catherine is very knowledgeable and an interesting guide. Amy loved the music room, especially the cello (she’s in music school). I thought the doll’s house was fantastic and my son loved the kitchen and the Mrs Beeton Housekeeping books as well as the library. Wow!

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2011 at 9:28 am

      Yes, what an amazing place. I hope to go back soon with other visitors too. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply An “Off the Beaten Path” Guide to Joburg – 2 Summers September 19, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    […] 9) Lindfield House […]

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