The Old Granary

One of Cape Town’s oldest and most storied buildings.

Living Legacy

The Old Granary

The Granary provided a suitably officious backdrop for important public announcements, such as election results.

The façade statues are that of Neptune and Britannia, god of the sea and personification of Great Britain, respectively. The central design on the pediment is a carved British coat-of-arms straddled by a Scottish unicorn and English lion. Above and beneath the coat-of-arms are the French phrases: Dieu at mon droit (God and my right), motto of the British monarch, and Honi soit qui mal y pense (Evil to him who evil thinks), the motto of the British Chivalric Order of the Garter. The date on the pediment is 1814.

Re-imagining Space

The Foundation and City agreed to a restoration philosophy that re-imagined existing space, as far as possible, rather than breaking things down and starting from scratch.

Walls of glass are used to create office and archiving accommodation, maximising natural light and enabling one to visualise the original sizes and shapes of the building. Suitable environmental control and lighting technologies are retro-fitted without interfering with the building’s original structural integrity.

Once a former women’s prison, it had been described by one of the women held captive there as a “…den of infamy”. The building is now a beacon of hope. The building mirrors South Africa’s complex history, and it can now be seen as a place of healing with the Foundation as well as the exhibition calling it home.

Modern exhibition spaces have been created, framed by old brick walls and curious windows and entrance ways and a modern glass walkaway.

Re-imagining Space

“But it was only on hearing about the Old Granary’s rich and chequered past, that I realised that this too was a home with many rooms…

We want to use this building, so rich with South Africa’s history of strife and division, to make visible the compassion and dignity needed by our country – and all people of the world – to make global peace a daily reality.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

07 October 1931 – 26 December 2021

The Old Granary

Building Timeline

  • 1809

    Original core of Granary Building built by baker, Jacob Hendricks. Sold in 1813 to colonial government for significant profit.

  • 1814 – 1820

    Customs House: imports/exports handled; including redistribution of liberated slaves from oceanic slave trade.

  • 1819

    Town Granary housed in building to supplement shortage of grain.

  • 1820 – 1922

    Resident Magistrate’s Court.
    Housed public offices in front.

  • 1827

    House of Correction: prison for women who were passengers aboard Gentoo ship assumed to be involved in prostitution and unsavoury activities aboard the ship.

  • 1833

    Civil Engineer’s Offices

  • 1895

    Public Works Department

  • 1922

    Court functions removed and remained Public Works Department

  • 1994

    Transfer of the Old Granary Building from Public Works Department to Cape Town Municipality

  • 1994 – 2014

    Fell into disrepair

  • 2015

    Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation sign formal lease agreement with City of Cape Town for 40-year occupancy