George Heys, a young man from Durban, made his fortune in the diamond rush in Kimberley by establishing a successful coach transportation business that operated between Kimberley and Pretoria. With his newfound wealth he commissioned British architect WT Vale to design him a house. In 1886, the three-storey stately Victorian mansion complete with turrets and Dutch gables, was erected. The house was named Melrose House after Melrose Abbey in Scotland, where Heys and his wife had visited on a delayed honeymoon. The grand house remained in the Heys family until 1968, when it was bought by the city council of Pretoria (Tshwane) and turned into a museum.
Melrose House played an important role during the Anglo-Boer Wars. In June 1900 British troops invaded Pretoria and requisitioned Melrose House to use as their war offices. For 18 months, the war effort against the Boers was strategised from 275 Jacob Mare Street. The Peace Treaty of Vereeniging that ended the war was signed around the massive dining table at Melrose House on 31 May 1902.
The house has remained structurally unaltered, although extensive restoration work took place between 1990 and 1992 to reinstate the building to its former glory. Some of the original décor is still in place, as are watercolours and bronzes owned by the Heys family. The satin and brocade items, gilded ceilings and stained-glass windows are all also original. The coach house in the sprawling – and now overgrown – garden still houses Heys’ car, a Minerva bought in 1920 that he did not actually like.
Today Melrose House is a museum that exemplifies the transition from Victorian to Edwardian architecture and décor. The house has a clay tennis court and library, and the large wrought iron conservatory houses an exhibition on the Anglo-Boer wars.
Visitors can guide themselves through the elegant rooms of this grand house or opt to pay extra for an audio guide.
Every year Melrose House is the location for one of the most popular Antique Fairs in the country where more than 200 stalls are set up in the gardens selling antique collectables such as jewellery, furniture, porcelain, coins and other bric-a-brac.
Adults R22, students/pensioners R11, school children R5. Audio guides costs R15.
Open Tue-Sun 10am – 5pm
Melrose House is located in central Pretoria, opposite Burger’s Park. The entrance to the museum is via the car park at 280 Scheiding Street.