To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
The Victoria Falls Hotel Rebuilt
The first designs for the next reconstruction of the hotel were supplied by Sir Charles Metcalfe, but the actual building erected in 1914-7 was designed by Frank Scott.
It soon became necessary to improve the original temporary buildings, and plans were drawn up to replace them with larger brick buildings. The first designs for the next reconstruction of the hotel were supplied by Sir Charles Metcalfe, but the actual building erected was designed by Bulawayo architect Frank Scott.
“This time, the construction of the hotel was not effected as speedily as it had been in 1904. Sketch plans exist showing a number of proposed designs – from a simple, long-bungalow type building to a grand, two-storey design, with a balcony facing the Falls. The common feature was the spaciousness of the rooms and the high ceilings to keep the interior cool.
“The final design, by well-known Bulawayo architect Frank Scott, is dated April 1912. The Rhodesia Journal of 1912/13 was already announcing its many feature, but the construction did not start until 1914. It was a bold decision by the administration, at the outset of the War, to invest an estimated 40 000 pounds in a building programme that took longer than anticipated. All the material had to be brought up from Bulawayo, and many of the fittings were imported from England. By all accounts, the war period was quiet at the Falls, with many young men away on military service, so perhaps the lengthy and delayed building programme did not affect trade too much.
“According to an advertisement in the Rhodesia Journal of 1916/17, the new hotel was due to open on April 1 1917 but, in that month, the Livingstone Mail reflected that; “Furnishing of the new hotel at the Falls is coming on.” It is probably that the hotel opened sometime in June of that year." [C&S]
Construction did not start until 1914, but the furnishing and reopening of the hotel was subsequently delayed by the outbreak of war in Europe.
The Victoria Falls Hotel rebuilt
“The main structure was completed between 1914-15 at a cost of around £40,000 but it appears that the new hotel, due to open in April 1917, experienced some delays, according to an advertisement that was printed in the Rhodesia Journal of 1916/7.
The new building consisted of twenty four bedrooms, two suits and five public rooms, which were the lounge, the writing room, the drawing and music room, the smoking room and the dining room. Office accommodation to the left and right of the main entrance were also included and there was a small private bar." [C&S]
Eventually the new buildings were opened in 1917, although the old iron and wood section was retained for many years as an annex, located approximately where the laundry is now. These remained for many years and were used as an annex at a lower tariff during the busy holiday periods.
From 1917 the lease for the operation of the hotel was taken over by the Railway’s own recently formed catering department.
Creewell reprints a contemporary review (from an un-named source):
“The building is a long single-storied structure, with two flanking bedroom wings set out at swing angles on each side. The present bedroom accommodation provides especially large apartments, small in number of rooms. The rest of the building is planned on spacious lines, suitable for the much larger bedroom accommodation which will follow when the future second story is added. The two main features in the way of staterooms are the lounge and dining room, both handsome, spacious rooms treated in a suitable architectural manner....
“The building is approached on the west front from the railway station through a vaulted vestibule leading directly into the lounge, from which corridors branch off on either side to the extremities of the building. Passing across the lounge, the main loggia (a pillared stoep) is reached, and on either side of this are smaller loggias of lower height and lesser width. The eastern front is the main façade of the building and is approached from the loggia by a tier of steps running the full length of this feature.
“The building is cool, spacious and airy everywhere and, architecturally, is treated in quiet Southern European Renaissance manner. The exterior walls are coloured a light, cool cream and this colour scheme has been generally carried out in the interior of the building.
“The sanitary arrangements, which are of the most up-to-date description, provide for the water carriage of all sewage, which is led to a septic tank placed some distance from the new building, and serve both the new and various building of the old hotel.
“The kitchen accommodation is especially compete, fitted up with every convenience of a modern hotel, and designed to cope with the large number of guests who flock to the Falls during excursion times The old hotel, re-erected to the south of the new building, is designed to accommodate the overflow from the ne building during the busy season.
“The Rhodesia Railways are to be congratulated on their enterprise, and I have no doubt that the extension of the building provided for in construction will be accomplished at no very distant date.” [unknown ref, from Creewel, 2004]
The Hotel Redesigned
Efforts to encourage tourism included the running of two special trains, in 1926, carrying 350 American tourists from a world-cruise liner and including visits to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, with the parties staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel for a couple of nights. The success of this tour, to be the forerunner of any more, led to the enlarging of the hotel in 1927. Another fifty bedrooms were built, with bathrooms and other facilities, were included in the new 'hammerhead' wings, along with modern rail station in a style to harmonise with the hotel.
The Hammerheads and Summer Parlour, 1926
The Victoria Falls Hotel after addition of the 'wings'
“In 1926 hammerheads were added on to the north and south wings of the hotel and this gave an extra capacity of 50 rooms and four suits. Almost every room had a private bathroom and those baths previously provided for communal use are remembered as being so large that no child was permitted to use them unaccompanied.
To preserve the symmetry of the building, a summer parlour was built above the lounge, which was open in the front, overlooking the bridge. This gave additional lounge space and was a wonderful venue for bridge and cocktail parties for the guests. This summer parlour is now the Batoka Suite which is a favourite with visiting journalists, because of its spectacular scenic views down the gorge to the Victoria Falls Bridge.”
Swimming pool opened, 1928
In 1928 the swimming pool was added, surrounded by walls for privacy. For many years there was no mixed swimming. This, apparently, was as a result of a request to the Administration by a visiting maharajah who wanted to swim, but not in view of the ladies. The instruction was not withdrawn for some time.
“In 1928 the swimming pool was added, and for privacy, walls were erected. For many years there was no mixed bathing, as it appears that a visiting Maharajah had made a request to the Administrator in Livingstone not to allow this. Apparently, this was upheld for some time." [C, 2004]
Court Wing extension, 1929
The Court wing, where the reception and hotel’s management offices are now located, was added in 1929, again with J R Hobson as architect. A special feature of this extension was the inclusion of the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene.
The Hotel Chapel
The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene was primarily provided for the use of the railway chaplain who travelled up and down the line, as well as the guests of the Hotel. Bishop Paget and the railways general manager, Colonel Birney, also felt the chapel would be a source of great comfort for people working or living in the hotel.
“The chapel was consecrated in early 1932 by the Right Reverend Edward Pagent, the Bishop of Southern Rhodesia and later Archbishop of Central Africa, and has been in regular use since then for Sunday worship, weddings baptisms, funerals, memorial services and private prayer.” [C, 2004]
The Victoria Falls Hotel Chapel
Among the more famous visitors to the chapel were members of the British Royal family during their stay at the Hotel. They attended Sunday service in the chapel on April 12, taken by Bishop Paget.
Although the chapel is officially an Anglican place of worship, members of many Christian churches attend the services. The alter is made of Indian Teak and the cross and candlesticks were specially designed in London and are similar to those used in St Martins-in-the-Field Church, in Trafalgar Square, London.
Services are now taken by visiting ministers from either the town of Hwange, 100 kilometres from the Falls, or Bulawayo, about 450km away.
The Chapel and Hotel are still very popular as a location for weddings and honeymoons, with many couples enjoying the services of this special feature of the Hotel.
Victoria Falls Hotel courtyard
“Around the time of the court wing extension, the development of the courtyard garden was started by Tim Ward and he planted the mango trees, which now tower above the hotel and provide fruit and shade, auspiciously for the guest, but more so for the troops of monkeys who feast there around November and December.”
“The large magnificent tree, Guibortia coleosperma (Mtshibi in Ndebele) or Zimbabwe Mahogany, that was in its proud place on the lefthand side of the lower terrace for so many years, unfortunately became diseased and had to be cut back – and eventually was cut down to allow for the extension of the terrace at the beginning of 1996. However, the splendid Brachystigea spiciformis (Musasa tree in Shona), still stands in all its glory on the right side of the lower lawns and is estimated to be over 200 years old.” [C&S]
Victoria Falls Hotel from the air
The Hotel Today
The Victoria Falls Hotel was last refurbished in the late 1990's, when a new wing was added and the hotel completely refurbished in an Edwardian style, but with a range of modern facilities and amenities that include satellite television, new air conditioning systems, luxurious fittings and soft furnishings and a new restaurant, called Jungle Junction after the airline pilots’ nickname for the Victoria Falls stop-over point on the England – South Africa flying boat service between the 1940s and 1950s. It now has 182 rooms and is rated as one of the world's 25 most famous hotels. The spray from the Falls can be seen from the terrace and lawns, along with the bridge and second gorge.
Within the courtyard is an old trolley, the last remaining one of many that used to carry guests of the hotel to and from the Falls along a special rail track. This service was started in the early 1920s and was discontinued in 1957 and was especially useful in the days when almost all guests toured the Falls and surrounding rain forest in full day dress and raincoats, making the walk there and back both hot and tiring. Today’s visitors must walk the short distance to the Falls from the hotel.
A visit the grand Victoria Falls Hotel is recommended for anyone, and it is well worth the time to walk through the lobby, courtyard and to the veranda. Tourists are encouraged to stop for afternoon teas and to sit and enjoy the view of the Falls, gorges and bridge. The Victoria Falls Hotel remains one of the most famous luxury hotels in the world, and is well worthy of its reputation.
View from the Victoria Falls Hotel
Creewel, J. (2004) A history of the Victoria Falls Hotel - 100 years 1904-2004
Croxton, A. (1982) Railways of Zimbabwe