Herbert Baker built the Pretoria Station in
1909-10. Paul Kruger Street in Pretoria forms an
axis between the station and
the axis continues visually behind the station to
The entrance to the main hall is through a
series of arches which open up into the domed main
hall. The entrance arches jut out from the rest of
the building and are finished in rough granite,
quarried in the south of Pretoria.
ground floor consists of public spaces such as
tickets sales, waiting area and refreshment
stations. Some of the interior walls are faced with
has included a number of roof lights allowing light
to penetrate into the ground floor space.
The two floors above the ground floor are used
as official accommodation. These two floors are
faced with smooth stone. In the centre of the north
elevation is a deep eaved loggia, fronted with four
pairs of ionic columns.
The ends of the north elevation is emphasised
with balconied windows on the first floor level. The
ends jut out slightly from the rest of the façade,
further emphasising them.
Baker was experimenting in the design of the
station with building methods and materials, which
he was preparing to use in the
undemonstrative central entrance and his use of
indigenous materials can be seen in this design, as
in the Union
When South Africa was on the brink of becoming a
union in 1910, the Transvaal government decided to
spend excess funds rather than surrender them to the
new Union government.
A competition was held to find an architect for
the Station. When none of the entries were approved,
the competition was abandoned, and
Baker, who was one of the competition judges,
was awarded the commission.
Herbert Baker began his sketches on 17 March
1909 and completed the drawings five months later,
on 11 August. The Station replaced the old station
which was built to receive the first steam trains
into Pretoria, in
In 2001 a fire at Pretoria Station destroyed
much of the roof, including the elegant clock tower.
When the restoration process started one of the
first jobs was to restore the clock tower and its
The original red copper weathervane fell
off in 1983 and was never found. The weathervane,
including a charming locomotive at its apex, now sit
again at the very top of the building. The clock
face, originally made of cast iron and 1.5 metres in
diameter, has also been replaced. While the workers
were up in the sky, the beautiful copper copula was
cleaned and polished, for the first time in 92
“The first step in the restoration process was
intensive research of what the building was and is
at the moment,” said architect José Ferreira, an
architect involved in the 2001 restoration.
Herbert Baker's original drawings were found.
Over the years the South African Railways had added
internal structures and replaced the wooden parquet
tiles in the entrance hall with klompie brick tiles.
These had to be replaced, but Ferreira says it took
quite a bit of research on
other buildings to establish his preferred patterns
and shapes for the replacement tiles.
These replacement quarry tiles are now in place,
emulating the patterns of the parquet and completing
the splendour of the tall, arched entrance hall. Over the years the upper part of the
beautiful sandstone façade had been painted
a pale sand colour to blend with the lower
rough stone colour. Once restoration
started, it was suggested that the paint be
stripped and the original façade be restored
to its original finish.
The investigation revealed that in order
to make the paint adhere to the stone, the
painters had sealed the sandstone with an
industrial sealant. This had subsequently
seeped into the stone, causing the sand
particles to separate. Furthermore, the
sealant was of a non-breathing variety and
prevented the natural process of evaporation
of water. This water accumulates and over
time causes deterioration of the stone,
leading to a further separation of the stone
As a result, it was impossible to
consider removing the paint and risking
further deterioration. It was decided to
renew the paint, this time using a
breathable system which allows for moisture
The reconstruction of the roof posed
special problems. The timber used for the
original roof was Baltic deal or
Scandinavian pine and every effort was made
to re-use the original roof timber.
At the back of the building the roof
curves. This meant that almost every truss
inside the roof on the curved section had to
be individually measured and cut to fit its
particular place. Where possible, every
effort was made to re-use the original roof
The roof tiles were also a challenge. A
mould for them and a specialised cutting
machine were imported from Italy, and the
tiles had to be purpose-made. "Baker had
skilled craftsmen to do this work, but we
have had to study his drawings carefully and
brief the builders and manufacturers
precisely,” says Ferreira. A brickmaker from
Italy was brought in to assist with the
Several runs of the rounded red tiles
were made before the correct colour was
obtained, and now, says Ferreira, when the
new tiles are compared with a section of
tiles at the back that survived, “no one can
tell the difference”.
During the restoration it was found that
Herbert Baker had a symbol in the shape
of a swastika inserted into the plasterwork
above the clock tower.
There are conflicting views as to how
Baker’s swastika – albeit a straight-up
swastika instead of a tilted Nazi swastika -
ended up above the clock in the building.
One view says that Baker was fascinated by
symbols, which appeared more in his writings
than in his buildings.
Another says that what was originally
intended for the building - a tableaux of a
man, woman, elderly woman and child (put on
Union Buildings in Pretoria instead) –
was intended for the Station, but possibly
money or time constraints led to the
swastika replacing this symbol.
Still another view says that the four
arms of the swastika were chosen to
represent the four colonies, as a symbol of
unification in the celebrations when South
Africa became a union in 1910.
We’ll never know which opinion is
correct, but what we do know is that the
symbol has been around since 3000 BC, found
in images in Europe and Asia. It was widely
used in Mesopotamian coins, and in early
Christian and Byzantium art, as well as
South and Central American art. It is also
believed to have been used by the Navajo
Indians in North America. It is still used
today in Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Station sees some 70 000 passengers
pass through its entrances every day, most
to catch a train to work, some to take a
coach out of town, some to board the
luxurious Blue Train to Cape Town, many, it
is hoped, to take the new high-speed
Gautrain to Johannesburg.
Commuters and tourists alike can now
walk on beautiful quarry tiles, through
brand-new teak doorways with brass knobs,
beneath high arches and marble columns.
Truly a magnificent railway station
beautifully restored to its former glory.