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The Princess Christian Home – A short History

The Princess Christian Home began in 1904. The thought of providing a home for indigent females began several years earlier when doctors at Somerset Hospital were concerned about the number of women coming in for treatment who seemingly had no proper home. Many of them had been brought to this country as governesses or ladies’ maids and when too old to work, had not got the money to return to England. The doctors approached some affluent ladies who spoke to the wife of the Governor General Sir Hely Hutchinson, and through her, learnt that Rhodes had left an area of land on the Rhodes Estate for just such a Home. In the suburb of Mowbray this site, on the beautiful slopes of Devil’s Peak, gave good views of the mountain and the distant Tygerberg hills.

It is not known who approached Princess Christian for permission to use her name but she graciously allowed this. The third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, she had married Prince Christian of Schleswig Holstein Augustenberg whom she had met on a visit to Germany with her mother. An impoverished Prince, who as third child, had no hope of a ruling position, Queen Victoria would only consent to the marriage if he came to live permanently in England. Christian agreed to do so and they were married in July, 1866 when the Queen gave him the title of Royal Highness.

Their Son, Prince Victor, came out here in 1902 with the British troops to fight in the Boer War but died of Enteric Fever. Wanting to visit his grave in Pretoria, Princess Christian accompanied by her daughter, Princess Helena Victoria, came to South Africa in September 1904. From Cape Town they went by rail to Pretoria where she visited the grave and also laid the Foundation Stone for another Home which was to bear her name. After an extensive tour of Southern Africa they returned to the Cape where Princess Christian laid the Foundation Stone of this Home on Monday 10 th October 1904. The Stone was not incorporated into a building until 1907. Problems with funding and trying to find the cheapest and easiest to run structure delayed the project. Eventually the building of three interlocking cottages began in mid-1907 and after its completion at the end of the year, it was dedicated by Archbishop West Jones and opened for four residents with some offices. As the need for accommodation grew, five new wings, a luxurious common room, a sick bay, and new quarters for the Matron were added between 1911 and 1961. Mr Hart went round to all the surrounding municipalities to ask for donations, and in 1974, the then Chairman of the Committee Edwin Hart, opened the Annexe, a block of retirement flats in the lower part of the grounds. Then in 1996 the University of Cape Town approached Mrs Grace Lawton, Chairman of the Board of Management, saying they wished to take over the site but would search for another location for the Home. Their choice fell on the present site, which, in the development of the suburb of Kirstenhof, had been designated for such a facility, but was still vacant. Complicated negotiations between Government and Provincial authorities ensued. (The site was then within the South Peninsula Municipality but now has been incorporated into the Cape Town City Council). The S.P.M had hived off a 30 metre strip bordering Tokai Road for commercial purposes. Eventually building of the Home and Lawton Court (Flats 1 to 24) on the attenuated portion took place in 2004.

The “Great Move” from Mowbray to Tokai was a mammoth task for all staff and, where available, relatives. It took place in early December 2004, and Lawton Court residents moved in during the first months of 2005. After further protracted negotiations with C.T.C, the Home paid for that still unused strip of land and the building of 16 more flats started in 2008. Not only has the Princess Christian Home grown in size – it can now accommodate 47 residents and with Lawton Court, is now named the Village, but the amenities offered have also increased. For some time in the early years of the Home, Royalty continued to visit, Princess Alice, another daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of a former Governor General, and Princess Marie Louise, another daughter of the Princess Christian, came whenever they visited this country and their photographs hang in the foyer of the Home with one of Princess Christian. On the opposite wall there is a picture of the original Home in Mowbray and the Foundation Stone of the Home with those, of the two added wings, are in the covered way leading to the Home.