A Brief History of the Kimberley Club
The Kimberley Club was founded in August 1881. Leading men of Kimberley wanted a meeting place along the lines of London clubs where they could enjoy a drink or two, good food and the company of their peers, in comfort, away from the dust and dryness of the diggings.
Cecil John Rhodes was the prime mover in the founding of the Club. Some of the original members were Cecil Rhodes and his partner, Charles D. Rudd and Dr Leander Starr Jameson, as well as mining magnate Lionel Phillips and JB Robinson. Needless to say it was the men of the diamond industry who predominated.
A visitor to Kimberley once said “the place was stuffed with money. There were more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world.
The members were all young, ambitious and adventurous. Cecil Rhodes himself was only 28 years old at the time of the founding of the Club. It was on the veranda of the Club that he worked on plans and ideas to colonize the land north of the Zambezi, Rhodesia, which was named in his honour. The iron arrow on the pathway in the main door of the Club was placed there in 1889 to point north, as Cecil Rhodes’s sense of direction was not of the best. It can still be seen today.
The original building burned to the ground on 1 November 1886. All that remained were two side walls. The fire started while members were at dinner when an oil lamp chandelier fell in the upstairs Billiard Room. The building included a great deal of wood in its construction which burned fiercely. Naturally residents of Kimberley rushed to view the disaster. Kimberley’s inadequate water supply could not extinguish the blaze.
Residential accommodation was added for the first time when the Club was rebuilt eight months after the fire. Four outside bedrooms were built behind the Club as well as a communal bathroom. Electricity, generated by a plant, was installed at the beginning of 1888. De Beers agreed to supply the Club with electricity from the Kimberley Mine in 1890.
Early Club rules included “No Women in the Club, “No Dogs on the Premises and “No Smoking in the Dining Room, later amended to “No Smoking until one hour after the commencement of the meal. Rhodes and Jameson were inveterate smokers.
The second building was destroyed by fire just nine years later in October 1895. Nearly everything was destroyed except the stores in the wine cellar and papers and documents rescued from the Secretary’s safe. The kitchen remained unscathed and three days later meals were again being served in a house nearby. Salvaged from the ruins was the famous weighing chair, presented by Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Sir Winston Churchill in 1892 which now stands in the lounge off the bar on the ground floor.
The third Kimberley Club building was completed in mid 1896. Plans had been drawn by Greatbach who also designed “Dunluce” in Lodge Road as well as the original buildings of what is now Girls High School. A lot of the furniture still in daily use was ordered from London; the bentwood chairs in the bar lounge date from this time as well as the mahogany sideboard in the Dining Room.
Cecil John Rhodes presented his portrait, painted by Herbert Harkomer, to the Club in 1898, and this is to be seen in the bar lounge.
Famous Visitors to the Club
Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, visited the Club for three days in March 1934. So pleased was he with his visit and reception at the Club that he sent a signed photograph of himself which is still among souvenirs of well known visitors to the Club.
In 1947, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses Elisabeth and Margaret, used the Club during their one day visit to Kimberley. The Queen left a diamond ring in the bathroom which was found after their departure. It was sent on and the Club received a letter of thanks from the King’s aid-de-camp.
The Kimberley Club had always been a Men’s Club. Ladies Nights were held very occasionally but it wasn’t until 1937 that a Ladies Annexe was made available (now the Rhodes Room). A banquet was held on 12 May 1937 to celebrate the opening of the Ladies Annexe as well as the coronation of King George VI. At this stage ladies still used the back gate into the Club premises. The present Ladies Lounge off the Dining Room used to be the Billiard Room, and was brought into use towards the end of 1962 after much rebuilding and alterations were done. At last the ladies had an entrance on Du Toitspan Road, not the front door as such, but they no longer had to use a back door to the Club. It was only in April 1965 that women were admitted to the Club as Associated Members instead of having to be invited guests. After discussions at the Annual General Meeting on 25 July 1980, women were finally allowed to use the front door, the Dining Room, accommodation at the Club. including The Bar and Bar Lounge.
Membership of the Kimberley Club in 1881 was limited to 250. Today the total membership is 540.
Of all the tributes paid to the Club, perhaps the most perceptive is the simple statement of Philip Jourdan, Rhodes’s private secretary. “One always fared well at the Kimberley Club”, he wrote in 1910. “Everyone was kind and everything was well done……Each seemed to know each other, and we were really like a big family living together. That, in essence, is what the Kimberley Club has remained. It is a Club first and historical institution second.
The structure has recently received a major facelift and upgrade, and will once again be resplendent in the luxurious style of the glorious diamond dynasty era.
Since extensive renovations to restore its former glory, members of the public are now welcome to share in the luxury of a bygone era.
Early in 2004, DeBeers Consolidated Mines Ltd made available a loan to the members and committee of the Kimberley Club to aid with renovations. The successful upgrade project has been seen as a turning point in the Clubs history, including the decision by the members and the committee to open the accommodation and dining sections of the club to the general public. The upgraded Club with a completely rebuilt kitchen and the appointment of an executive chef, has been graded as a four star hotel and attained the chefs hat status for fine dining from its “Portfolio” listing.
Should you require accommodation in Kimberley, the Club has seventeen en-suite bedrooms decorated in true colonial style, using the Club’s original furniture mixed with some new pieces. If you would like to wine and dine at a restaurant in Kimberley, three dining areas, including the Rhodes Dining Room for intimate parties and a ladies lounge, there is much on offer at this four-star boutique hotel.
The rooms offer a combination of warm wooden furniture and wood floors, alternated with rich carpeting and touches of ochre reflected in the bathroom fittings. The luggage racks at the foot of all the beds are still the originals from the early days of the Club.
The original main entrance opens onto a beautiful wooden staircase accentuated by stained glass windows on the landing and a statue of Colonel David Harris. On the second floor the Reading Room can be found, reputed to be haunted by Mr Van Praag, a regular topic on Kimberley’s popular ghost tour.
So if you are touring South Africa and would like to tour Kimberley and visit the birth place of Harry Oppenheimer, the Kimberley big hole and Kimberley mine museum, and many other local historical attractions, all those in favour of reclaiming some of the history and style of what once was the diamond Mecca of the world, feel free to book your stay or lunch, conference or weddings and functions, and share in the style of those historic millionaire patrons of the Kimberley Club.