Camps Bay History

Prior to the arrival of the Dutch in 1652, the residents of Camps Bay were the San and Khoi peoples. The mountains surrounding Camps Bay, called the 12 Apostles, were covered in forests, and populate by lion, leopard and antelope!

Camps Bay was initially avoided, as it was thought to lack attraction, and the rocky headland called a ‘kloof’, proved dangerous for ships that might wish to land there. This area behind the kloof was originally called Roodekrantz (red earth), due to the colour of the soil.

The Khoi were decimated by measles and smallpox brought by the new settlers. Later they were restricted to the area nowadays known as Oudekraal, which is on route to Hout Bay.

Eventually, the area now known as Camps Bay, was granted to a chap called John Lodewyk Wernich. He built a farm called ‘Ravensteyn’ which then passed to his son Johan.

John married Anna Koekemoer. Widowed in 1778, she remarried an invalid sailor called Frederik Ernst von Kamptz (her 3rd husband!), seemingly intent on marrying her for her money. He succeeded, settling on the farm, and the area became known as the “Die Baai van von Kamptz”, translated in English to Camps Bay. Look for Ravensteyn and Van Kamp Rd’s (just across the road from our beach site) roads still in existence today.

War between the Dutch, French, and English saw the construction of a battery and guardhouse in the area to prevent enemy landings. Unfortunately this led to Ravensteyn farm being ruined. After the war, Von Kampzt complained to the government. They bought his farm for 10 000 Rex Dollars, building two small gun batteries there instead in 1876.

The Wernich farmhouse later became the holiday home of the British Governors, including Lord Charles Somerset.

Through the 19th Century the area remained undeveloped, and was a hunting ground for Somerset, the then Governor of the Cape. The Roundhouse, in the Glen area which still stands today, and is now a well-recommended restaurant, was his hunting lodge.

In 1848, the road known as Kloof Road was completed between Sea Point and Camps Bay as the area became known as a supreme spot for picnicking. 40 years later the Beach road was completed by Thomas Bain using convict labourers. He named it Victoria Rd, in honour of the Queens jubilee.

At this time, there was only 1 permanent resident of Camps Bay, a chap called Glendinning.

In 1855 he tried to sell 40 plots in the area, including one that had been Somerset’s house. No one wanted to buy! Then in 1859 he claimed he found gold in the area, but still no one bought his forty plots. In fact, it would be another 100 years before property became sought after in the area.

At some point a syndicate was formed with the intention of buying all the land, building a tramway for easier access. They would then divide up the land into lots to be sold.

Becoming a popular weekend destination at the turn of the century, the tram service was built in 1901 from the city. Tidal pools, the Rotunda (which still stands as part of the Bay Hotel) and a concert pavilion were built too. The Rotunda was defining landmark of Camps Bay and in its time has housed rollerskating, silent movies, dancing, and boxing.

By 1913, Camps Bay was incorporated into the City of Cape Town.

Nevertheless the area remained a resort, with property sales failing. The property syndicate even went insolvent. At one stage, Camps Bay housed refugees from the Transvaal after Jameson Raid.

To make the area more attractive, properties were then sold by paying a monthly fee, considerably less than normal rental, after which in 10-15 years the property would be yours. Even electricity and water was included. Finally, Camps Bay property took off.
A chap called Farquar then laid out the familiar palm trees that line grass verge of Camps Bay Beach front. You find him remembered in one of the Village area street names.

In Camps Bay, no homes or beach front property may be developed over 3 storeys. This originates from when a 7-storey building was proposed on the site of the original hotel. This restriction was the first successful ratepayer’s action.

Some other historic venues in Camps Bay are The Camps Bay Retreat in Argyle St, Philly’s Plaque at the Camps Bay library, the old cannon opposite Camps Bay High School, and the old power station which is now Theatre on the Bay.

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