The History of McGregor

Bundles of reed, soon to become a thatched roof. Legend has it that our Breede Valley neighbours would admonish their errant children with "Behave! Or I'll send you to McGregor!" and no one can deny that McGregor is somehow a little different.

McGregor is the best preserved and most complete example of mid-nineteenth century townscape in the Cape Province. With its traditional, whitewashed, thatched cottages set in quiet streets, surrounded by mountains, wildlife, and wine estates, McGregor really is one of the jewels of South Africa!

The charming village of McGregor lies at the foot of the Riviersonderend mountains, 20 km from Robertson on a good tarred road. A dirt road does connect the village with the N2 via the Stormsvlei Pass, but the tar peters out a little way beyond the village towards the famous McGregor to Greyton walk via the Bushmanskloof Pass. It is this physical sense of isolation which has helped to preserve some of the most attractive 19th century architecture in the Western Cape.

The village shares the climate of the Little Karoo: hot in summer and cool to cold in winter, when the rain falls and occasionally snow shimmers in the sunshine on the encircling hills. It is good farming country, and although the !Xan travelled through the area en route to the sea, it was the soil which drew the first farmers to settle in the late 1700s.

Some old techniques, still very much alive in McGregor: Adobe bricks and cob. A few scattered houses were built in the early 1800s. Some were used for nagmaal (such as a terrace of three known as Die Trein in Voortrekker Street), some housed labourers and some were built by people such as the miller and the whipstock maker. The village was officially proclaimed only in 1862 and divided into 2½ha. Plots. By 1905, all the land had been bought by 19 smallholders and farmers, and their names are recorded on a contemporary map now in the McGregor Museum.

When the plots were auctioned, an advertising poster apparently claimed that the main road to Cape Town from the north would probably pass through the village. This never happened, and neither did the planned road over the mountains through the Boesmanskloof Pass to Greyton. As a result, the village has retained its friendliness and peaceful feel, with thatch-roofed cottages, vines, apricot trees and olive groves adding a special beauty.

Bundles of reed, soon to become a McGregor thatched roof.

The McGregor Heritage Society aims to maintain its historical significance, in architectural and social terms, to promote conservation awareness and continue the development of the surrounding Nature Reserve.

The growing settlement was originally called Lady Grey. Confusingly for the authorities of the day and the post office, the village shared this name with another in the Eastern Cape. But in 1904 the congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church decided to call their parish and new church in Voortrekker Street after their much-loved pastor, the Rev. Andrew McGregor, who had just retired after 40 years of dedicated service in Robertson. Two years later, in April 1906, the relieved authorities followed suit and gazetted an official name change to McGregor.

Caln MacGregor kilt

People living in McGregor sometimes tend to forget that the name McGregor is that of one of the oldest and most honourable Scottish clans.

I first heard of the McGregors through my late father, an RAF officer for the first half of his career (he went into IT in his mid-forties, which just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks!).

The restoration of an old property in McGregor.

Restoring an old McGregor cottage is a challenging but exciting and creative task. My house, now on the market, was done in three stages, and has turned out really beautifully. Life has a way of prodding us into moving along, otherwise I'd still be living there, but it's time to cut my ties with McGregor. I'll always look back on my house with great affection, though.

View of the mountains and trees of McGregor, on the road to nowhere

An excellent road runs from Robertson to McGregor. It carries on through the heart of the village and then… stops. Originally, this road was meant to continue through the mountains to Greyton, and then on to Cape Town. In 1861 it was decided that another town was needed on this road, and the village of Lady Grey came into being.

Crest of the Clan MacGregor. 's rioghal mo dhream

The Clan Gregor is a Highland Scottish clan. Outlawed for nearly two hundred years after losing their lands in a long power struggle with the Clan Campbell, the Clan Gregor claims descent from the third son of Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland, a descent which is proclaimed in the motto, 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream, translated as Royal is my Race.

Chris McGregor, the famous jazz musician, who was the great grandson of the Reverend Andrew McGregor.

The great grandson of the Reverend McGregor was the famous jazz musician, Chris McGregor, who is credited with discovering the black jazz scene (or, more correctly, bringing it to a wider audience). McGregor moved from South Africa to London in the early 60's, along with his hand-picked band, TheBlue Notes.

The severalty of "village" and "tourism" websites in McGregor has given rise to no small confusion. It's not for us to describe them all here, though the McGregor Tourism Bureau site is mentioned in brief. This is our story.

McGregor.Org.Za, as the site was known, is the original McGregor website, being founded in 1999 by Rob Phillip. Rob, son of Barry and Margie of McGregor Country Cottages, and a tourism operator in his own right, could see the value of a competent village website. But how to get one......

Lady Eliza Lucy Grey, the wife of Cape Governor Sir George Grey

When McGregor was proclaimed in 1862, it was named Lady Grey in honour of Eliza, the wife of Cape Governor Sir George Grey. Anthony Abbott has written the following fascinating story about her.

According to documentation sent to him by a Mrs. Julie Lund, of the Strawberry Hill Farm management committee in Australia, Lady Grey was by no means colourless . She caused a lot of trouble. If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, Lady Grey managed the no mean feat of turning a ship around in mid-Atlantic.

Sauer the Dobermann

When travelling to McGregor from Cape Town, one passes through places like Worcester, Rawsonville, the Nuy valley and Robertson, and for those of us who live in the area, these names are part of our interior landscape. But few of us know about a rather unusual local hero, whose greatest feats were performed in these parts.....

The McGregor Kampterrein

History of the McGregor Secondary School

From “A History of the McGregor NG Congregation”, a Master of Theology Thesis by L.W. Breytenbach (Stellenbosch).

“Whatever happened, a village was created on Over-den-Berg. The community - or certainly the N.G. members - did not immediately build a church as did the neighbouring community of Robertson. Lady Grey (or Over-den-Berg as it was called in the beginning) connected up as a ward of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Parish of Robertson.

The ruins of the first McGregor post office and other buildings.

Over the years, McGregor’s post office has been situated in 3 different locations. The original one, which was some way out of the village, subsequently become a beautifully weathered earthen ruin - a naturally-eroded work of heritage art.

However, all have now gone, the ruins having been bulldozed by the landowner and the final working office closed by the postal authorities to cut costs. Such is the price of progress and a far cry from the old days when the post office, along with the church, was the focal point for village life.

The McGregor Heritage Society

The McGregor Heritage Society, established in 1995 and registered with Heritage Western Cape, aims to promote conservation awareness, develop the Krans Nature Reserve, build up McGregor's museum and ensure that McGregor maintains its charm and historical significance in both architectural and social terms.

McGregor is recognized to be unique among Western Cape towns, because of its excellent state of preservation, its setting and its distinctive environmental character.

The Rev. Andrew McGregor.

The modest Museum in McGregor shares a characteristic with the rhenosterveld which surrounds this charming village on the edge of the Little Karoo. At first glance, it appears deceptively low key, yet there is a wealth of interest here for those with time to look and delve a little deeper.