Wellington was originally a settlement of French Huguenot refugees started in 1688, and the region was known as Limiet Vallei (‘Limit Valley’). It was later changed to Wagenmakers Vallei due to a wagon building industry which developed there when the Kimberley diamond fields were discovered in 1869.
Wellington lies in the Berg River valley about 13 km north of Paarl. Sir George Napier, Governor of the Cape, renamed the settlement in 1840 in honour of the Duke of Wellington who was the victor at the Battle of Waterloo. Wellington experienced rapid growth and prospered after the opening of Bains Kloof Pass to the Tulbagh valley en route to the north in 1853. This growth was further enhanced by the opening of the railway line in 1863.
Rev. Andrew Murray, the Dutch Reformed minister from 1871 to 1906 opened the Huguenot Seminary in 1874. The oldest teachers training college in South Africa was opened in 1896 and the Huguenot Seminary became a university college in 1916. This university closed its doors in 1950 but the Dutch Reformed Church continued to train missionaries and social workers there.
The Wellington region is famous for its fruit, particularly apricots and for its wine farming. In early summer one can see wooden frames containing apricot halves throughout the region. Wellington is the headquarters of the dried fruit industry in South Africa.
Many splendid examples of Cape Dutch architecture can be found in the Wellington area. One fine example, now a national monument is Twistniet (‘don’t quarrel’) and was built in 1811. Other fine examples can be found on the surrounding farms.
The British built a number of blockhouses and the southernmost fort built during the Anglo-Boer War can be found on the banks of the Berg River on the farm Versailles north of the town. The blockhouse has been proclaimed as a national monument.