Hidden Joburg: Glenshiel and Villa Arcadia

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Hidden Joburg, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings, Tours | 6 comments

My quest to visit all the places in the Hidden Johannesburg book — which began with my pilgrimage to the Lemon Squeezer Church and then a visit to the Lions Shul — continues. I recently went to Glenshiel, a historic mansion designed by renowned architect Herbert Baker, on a tour with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. This brings my total number of Hidden Joburg places to 17, with 11 left to go.

Glenshiel arches
Glenshiel, built in 1910, is known for its butterfly shape and north-facing arches.
Thorsten's drawing of the Glenshiel arches
I think Thorsten (a.k.a. @thethinking_hand) drew Glenshiel a lot better than I photographed it.

While walking around Glenshiel I suddenly remembered my 2019 visit to another Herbert Baker mansion, Villa Arcadia, about which I never blogged. I decided now is a good time to remedy that omission as Villa Arcadia is also profiled in Hidden Joburg.

Villa Arcadia with its arches
Villa Arcadia, built in 1910, has graceful arches as well. It also has very ornate chimneys — a detail Herbert Baker was known for.

Glenshiel and Villa Arcadia are both classic “Randlord” mansions, built for rich, British-colonial mining magnates and their glamorous wives. (The same goes for Northwards, another Herbert Baker mansion featured in Hidden Joburg, which I blogged about briefly several years ago.) Both homes went on to become charitable institutions of different sorts. I won’t go into lots of detail about their histories but here’s a quick recap and some pictures/drawings.

A Visit to Glenshiel

Architectural sketch of Glenshiel
An architect’s interpretation of Glenshiel by Thorsten.

We toured Glenshiel with David Gurney, one of of my favorite Heritage Foundation guides. David is the one who tipped me off to Herbert Baker’s fancy chimneys, which I will always pay attention to from now on. The house is in Westcliff, one of Joburg’s first wealthy neighborhoods, which continues to be an extremely wealthy neighborhood today.

Glenshiel mansion
The butterfly shape is easily visible from this angle. Note also the fancy chimneys.
Glenshiel chimney
Another angle of the mansion
This house is so huge — it looks completely different from every angle.

Glenshiel was built for Lady Isabel Dalrymple, a former actress and well-loved socialite, and her husband Sir William Dalrymple, who wins the prize for most colonial-sounding name. The estate is known, among other things, for having the oldest private swimming pool in Joburg.

Glenshiel swimming pool
The swimming pool. The surrounding gardens are also incredibly beautiful, but we were there just after aloe season and just before wisteria season so it wasn’t the best time.

The Dalrymples died in the late 1930s/early 40s. The house was then purchased in 1943 by Major Gordon Haggie, who loaned it to the Order of St. John, who used the mansion as a military hospital and convalescent home for injured World War II soldiers. (The Haggie family converted the stables into their own home and Haggie descendents continue to live there today.)

The Order of St. John is a British charitable health organization that has been around since medieval times, with a history involving monks and knights and the Crusades and such. Today Glenshiel still serves as “the Priory for South Africa of the Order of St. John”, which is fitting because the place has a very medieval feel inside.

Glenshiel Great Hall
Glenshiel’s “Great Hall”, graced by portraits of both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Renaissance men in tights.
Hogwarts sitting room
Thorsten sketching in the Hogwarts sitting room.

St. John, which is not affiliated with St. John’s College (another Baker-designed Hidden Joburg spot), as far as I can tell, supports extensive health services in South Africa, including the well-known Baragwanath Eye Clinic in Soweto.

A Visit to Villa Arcadia

Villa Arcadia verandah
Looking out from the Villa Arcadia verandah.

Herbert Baker built Villa Arcadia at the same time he was building Glenshiel, just a couple of miles away in Parktown, for Sir Lionel Philips and his wife Florence Philips — a well-known philanthropist and art collector who founded the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The Philipses only lived at Villa Arcadia for 13 years before relocating to the Cape. The mansion then became home to the South African Jewish Orphanage, referred to as “the Arc”, housing about 400 children. Hollard, one of South Africa’s largest insurance companies, bought Villa Arcadia in 2003.

Villa Arcadia
I love this photo but I really wish I’d thought to move that recycling bin out of the way. The staff were preparing for an evening event while we were there.

Villa Arcadia now houses Hollard’s extensive art collection and is occasionally open to the public as an exhibition space, like it was on the day I visited with Fiver in November 2019.

Fiver in Villa Arcadia
Fiver, who perfectly matched the decor, during an exhibition of South African contemporary art at Villa Arcadia in 2019.

Fiver and I were the only visitors in the house, as I remember, and we had a great time exploring while also enjoying the art.

Foyer of Villa Arcadia
Villa Arcadia’s magnificent foyer and grand staircase. The beautiful sculpture is by my old friend Nkhensani Rihlampfu.
Villa Arcadia dining room
I love the floors and the window seats.
Villa Arcadia bathroom
Lady Philips’ sumptuous bath.

If I had to choose one of these mansions to live in, I would definitely pick Villa Arcadia. Glenshiel is a bit too King-Arthur-y for my taste. Which one would you choose?

Stay tuned for another Hidden Joburg post in the relatively near future.

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  1. AutumnAshbough

    If I’m going with the view and the bathtub? Arcadia all the way.

  2. Fiver Löcker

    Oh man I had forgotten about that trip, feels like a lifetime ago! The most amazing art collection and hardly ever open to the public. So strange…

    • 2summers

      Not strange for Joburg! Haha.

  3. dizzylexa

    Has to be Villa Arcadia for me, for the view, the veranda, those bay window seats and so much more. Great photos of Glenshiel’s.


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