The history of St James

The history of St James

Neatly nestled between Kalk Bay and Muizenberg, on what is known as the “Millionaire’s Mile”, lies the picturesque seaside town of St James.

Dutch emigrates described the abundance of fish around this area as early as 1687. The False Bay coast thus became home to hundreds of Filipino fishermen, the first of which settled after they were stranded by a shipwreck on Cape Point around 1860. The rest were mostly emancipated slaves from the east, or refugees fleeing from the Spanish after a failed uprising.

Stout, open fishing boats (powered by 5 oars, a massive spit-sail and jib) were the lifeblood of this community. The Cape Colony fishermen became renowned as the best in the world, having mastered boat- and rock-fishing in their continued struggle against the raw relentlessness of Mother Nature.

St James

The 1870’s and 1880’s provided much technological advance for the area, with the building of, among other things, a breakwater and a railway. Kalk Bay was no longer a sleepy little fishing town, and the wealthy elite began to move away from the too-popular seaside retreat that Kalk Bay was fast becoming due to its easy access from Cape Town by rail.

St James was originally part of the ever-extending Kalk Bay, and was thus named as a result of the railway: travellers to the well-known Catholic St James Church would ask to stop at “St James”, this eventually became a permanent stop and station. The surrounding suburb and beach were named after the church as well.

Cape Town

The St James Hotel was originally built in 1897, continuing to serve as a hotel until the mid-1980’s. It is now a Retirement Centre with frail care facilities. Many of the semi-original buildings that make up the nostalgic seaside atmosphere date back to the early- to mid-nineteenth century, and are still used as residential property today.

The whaling industry is a large part of the town’s expansion, as the Bay was largely used by Southern Right Whales for calving, and thus their seasonal habits made whaling easy. By 1855 the whales were hunted to near-extinction, leading to the eventual closing of all the whaling stations along the coastline. Two of the old whaling houses at St James have been converted into residences, and are still used as such today.

Part of the current romantic charm of St James is the original colonial architecture which characterises the seaside village. Most of the homes have merely been modified to withstand the test of time, so all the historic beauty of yesteryear is within your reach. The area has become a highly sought-after holiday spot, with beautiful antique guesthouses and residences all along the coastal stretch.


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