History of Stanford Village
The history of Stanford might not be well-known, but it certainly is a colourful albeit sad one. The story of Stanford begins with a man named Robert Stanford. Born in 1806 in the town of Ballina in the county Mayo, Captain Robert Stanford served in the British army. He served with distinction in Burma and later married a general’s daughter. At the age of 32 he resigned his commission and retired on half-pay, after which the Captain and his wife immigrated to the Cape Colony.
Once settled, they purchased the farm Kleine Riviers Vallei, where the present day Stanford village is located. Stanford was a progressive farmer and soon turned the farm into a thriving enterprise, along with seven other farms he purchased. He also opted not to transport his produce via ox wagon over the mountains, but instead purchased a small ship which sailed to Cape Town from a small cove not 12 miles from his farm.
After the failed Irish rebellion in 1845, the British Government decided to send a number of captured rebels or convicts, as the locals believed, to the British Cape Colony. The colonists would not stand for this however and declared that anyone associated with the ship or its occupants would no longer be supplied with any provisions or services. Thus when the “convict” ship Neptune arrived the Irish men aboard, just ordinary men, were kept at sea for five months. They were fortunate enough that there were a few that broke the embargo out of their loyalty to the crown and provided them with supplies.
The provision cease went so far that the Governor approached Robert Stanford, who was still in the employment of Her Majesty. He was given the option of providing supplies or a state of martial law would be declared and the provisions would be taken by force. Duty-bound to comply, Stanford complied to the Governor’s request, but was not seen as a hero in the eyes of the colonists. They regarded his actions as treason and ostracized Stanford and his whole family. Stanford and others who provided help were persecuted, banks refused to do business with them, their children were expelled from school and the servants left the farms. The persecutions continued even when Stanford’s youngest daughter fell ill and the doctor refused to even see her. Tragically this resulted in her death.
Desperate, the former Captain Stanford travelled to England to plead his case and ask for compensation for his losses. His plea resulted in him being knighted and he received 5000 pounds for his return to the Cape. Upon his arrival he discovered his farms in ruins. The farms had been stripped and some even sold by the people he left in charge. His beloved farm Kleine Riviers Valley was sold for a pittance to a Phillipus de Bruyn at auction.
Reduced to poverty and defeated by life, Sir Robert Stanford returned to England, where he finally passed away in Manchester at the age of 70. On 30 September 1857, De Bruyn sold the first plot of the new village he decided to call Stanford.
The community of Stanford prides itself on the Cape Victorian and Edwardian styles in which the buildings and houses in the village were built. The picturesque and historic buildings take you back to a time when Stanford was but a farm on the banks of a river, and it is this that the community is keen to protect.
In 1992, this was made binding when the Stanford Conservation Trust was formed. Their main goal is “To enhance the natural and built scenic beauty of Stanford” and “to protect and conserve the environment and heritage resources in and around Stanford for future generations”. The Trust is doing an excellent job as Stanford stands as the 3rd most preserved village in the Western Cape. In keeping with that the Trust also organised and guided the restoration of the St Thomas Anglican Church, the first to be built in Stanford. Furthermore, to keep the atmosphere of the village true to its heritage, the SCT had most of the village proclaimed under Conservation Area A or B in terms of the National Heritage Act, in 1995. This enforces extra responsibilities on property owners in Stanford that build or renovate in the town’s conservation areas.
Stanford is also the only town in the Overstrand proclaimed as a heritage site. Almost 200 different bird species can be found in and around Stanford, of which 30 out of the total 68 species are endemic to South Africa. This might be contributed to the unique Klein River flowing through the village. The River happens to have one of the shortest distance between its origin and mouth.
All in all, the small village with its humble beginnings is a true heritage and natural gem. Staying true to its history, Stanford is a beautiful little town with much to offer. Filled with thrills for the adrenalin junkies, fun and culture for the visitors and a quiet place to settle down.