The least well-known of the three adjoining ‘bloem’ farms of Woodstock, Leliebloem was a narrow property that was situated between Zonnebloem and Roodebloem. It was granted as a freehold farm way back in 1692, but it seems there wasn’t a substantial house on the property until around a century later. However, a house can be seen on land surveyor and architect Louis Michiel Thibault’s map (circa 1814) of the farms along the Main Road from Cape Town to Simonstown (the farm was called Leliefontein on this map) and title deeds from 1821 mention buildings on the farm.
It’s likely that Leliebloem was originally called Leliefontein because of the proliferation of arum lilies on the property. There was also a natural mountain spring or ‘fontein’ (hence the second part of the farm’s name) on the higher reaches of the farm, which stretched from Victoria Road, Woodstock, all the way up to the uppermost slopes of Devil’s Peak, between the Queen’s and Prince of Wales blockhouses. This spring would have been an important water source for farming and so the top section of Leliebloem stretched high up the mountain slopes to include it on the property. Leliebloem’s old outer borders can be traced by following the course of the modern Mountain and Melbourne Roads, Woodstock.
An 1849 Cape Almanac list of properties along the Main Road shows Leliebloem as being owned by H.C. Voget. But by the time the Sisters of the All Saints bought the farm from then owner George Behr in 1868, only a few decrepit outbuildings remained. They built a large stone building called Leliebloem House, where the modern Garden Court Hotel stands today (previously the Eastern Boulevard Holiday Inn), which was built on the site in 1972. Though a gabled farmhouse was originally on Leliebloem, it burnt down in the middle of the 19th century. American photographer Arthur Elliot did, however, photograph a gabled homestead on the property (Picture 1. Cape Archives), though was probably a surviving outbuilding or a copy of an earlier photograph, because he came to the Cape in 1900 and the house had burnt down fifty years earlier.
Leliebloem was owned by Edward Searle and his family later in the 19th century and he and his brother William operated the toll at what is now Sir Lowry Road. The toll house still exists in Trafalgar Park bordering on Searle Street, which is incidentally named after this family. Searle’s son-in-law (the secretary of the Cape Electric Tramways, S. Edmond Smith) and his daughter also lived at the old farm. One can imagine the sweeping views of Table Bay, Lion’s Head and the West Coast they would have enjoyed from the house in those days, before Woodstock was largely built up and industry inevitably crept in.
The farm stood on a very exposed and windswept piece of land that couldn’t have lent itself to intensive crop farming. It was probably far more suitable for grazing, and may well have been a dairy farm for a time, while a saddler, Henry Crighton, (who was born in about 1815 and died there in 1870) conducted his business from Leliebloem. Like Roodebloem next door, during its history Leliebloem was also owned by the Laubschers, who planted vineyards on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. A massive old vine survives in the garden of a modern house at the very top end of Kylemore Road, which was close to the border between the two farms. There may even be some surviving Woodstock wine in a musty cellar somewhere!
A fine stone building was erected in 1886 on part of Leliebloem called The House of Mercy, a correctional institution, which still exists today. From old 19th century maps it can be seen that not much subdivision occurred at Leliebloem until fairly late in Woodstock’s development. A map of 1897 informs us that the old property was still largely recognisable as the Leliefontein farm from Thibault’s time. But a 1901 map reveals that the usual pattern of subdivision had occurred and Leliebloem, like the other farms in the area, disappeared under a grid of modern roads and intensive Victorian housing.
One such development was a row of seven fine Victorian houses that was built in Melbourne Terrace, a subdivision of Leliebloem. This row of houses was proclaimed a National Monument in 1991 under old National Monument legislation. One of the last owners was Carel Michiel Traut, who died at Leliebloem in 1918 (the last year of the First World War).
The lower slopes of Devil’s Peak were once abundant with fynbos, including flowering Ericas and Proteas, and it’s sad that large tracts of indigenous vegetation were obliterated with the building of De Waal Drive in the 1960s. But if you stand on the corner of Premier Road and Upper Melbourne Roads, just below De Waal Drive, there is a small section of mountain land with scattered fynbos that survives; this was once part of the upper reaches of Leliebloem (Picture 2). A small portion of open land, once part of Leliebloem’s farmlands, remains lower down. This is now called Victoria Walk Park (Picture 3), just off Victoria Walk and bordering on Golder’s Green Road, a pleasant little surviving pocket of a once extensive estate.
Although nothing remains of Leliebloem, if you drive up Victoria Walk, you’re ascending the old avenue that once led to the farmhouse (Picture 4), so you can get a rough idea of where the original gabled homestead once stood, near the top of the present road. A solitary old oak tree in the grounds of the Garden Lodge Hotel and a few old stone pines below the Upper Melbourne Road bridge over the N2 are perhaps the only survivors from the days when Leliebloem was still a farm. The Leliebloem House institution still exists, although it has since moved to Athlone, and now caters for needy children: www.leliebloem.org.za.
Sources: MOOC – CT Archives, 6/9/1199; www.capetown.anglican.org; http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com; Woodstock – A Selection of Articles from The Woodstock Whisperer – Gabriel and Louise Athiros (Historical Media cc), 2007. Wagon Road to Wynberg C.Pama (Tafelberg Publishers).
Jim Hislop is the current Senior Copy Editor and Wine Writer for Pick n Pay’s Fresh Living magazine.
A long-time resident of Observatory, and current resident of Woodstock, he is also a committee member of the Vernacular Society of South Africa (www.vassa.org.za), is currently researching the history of the old farms and estates of the Observatory and Woodstock area, and is the founder of the Facebook group The Cape’s Threatened Buildings https://www.facebook.com/groups/125151067623190/.