To get to Gate 2 and the Centre for Home gardening, visitors must first pass through the Bell Tower Gate, still remembered as the ‘main gate’ or ‘old main gate’, from the days when this was the entrance to Kirstenbosch.

The bell of the Bell Tower Gate is an old ship’s bell and it is housed in a bell tower that was built to commemorate the contribution of Sir Lionel Phillips’ to the founding and early years of Kirstenbosch. This bell is rung every weekday at 07h30, 10h00, 10h20, 13h10, 1400 and 16h20, to mark the time for the gardeners:- time to start the working day; break for tea; break for lunch; and time to go home.

Sir Lionel Phillips was born in London in 1855. He went to Kimberly in 1875 in search of diamonds, where he met Cecil John Rhodes, Alfred Beit and J.B. Robinson. He married Sarah Florence Ortlepp in 1885, moved to Johannesburg in 1895 and helped develop the gold-mining industry. He was the director of numerous mining companies. He was a member of the reform committee and was sentenced to death for complicity in the Jameson Raid of December 1895. The death sentence was commuted to a fine of £25 000. In 1912 a baronetcy was conferred on him for ‘public works’.

In 1913 he initiated the legislation that led to the establishment of Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden. He became vice-president of the Botanical Society and both he and his wife served on the council. In 1917 the Phillips’ bought Vergelegen in Somerset West and developed the estate. Lady Phillips sponsored the botanist Rudolph Marloth in his work The Flora of South Africa and was a friend of Harry Bolus. Sir Lionel Phillips died at Vergelegen in 1936.

The bell comes from HMS Dominion, one of King Edward VII of England’s battleships that was attached to Third Battle Squadron during the First World War and was scrapped in 1924. It was given to Sir Lionel Phillips by a friend who had been a gunnery officer aboard the Dominion. It was first hung outside the wine cellars, then outside the Library at Vergelegen and was tolled when Sir Lionel died.

In 1938 Lady Phillips donated the bell to Kirstenbosch and it became part of the tower built to commemorate Sir Lionel Phillips. The tower was designed by Gwelo Goodman, a painter, architect and friend of the Phillips and inaugurated at a ceremony on 27 April 1938 by Sir James Rose-Innes, President of the Botanical Society, when the bell was tolled three times by Lady Phillips.

Just inside the Bell Tower Gate is the Gatehouse. It was originally a staff residence, but today it is used to accommodate visiting staff and colleagues.

Scroll to top