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HISTORY OF MILNERTON

Milnerton StationIn the same year that saw the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, on October 26, 1897, a meeting took place of the now-vanished Town Council of Woodstock, in due course to be merged into that of Greater Cape Town. Before it, awaiting attention, lay a communication from a company, Milnerton Estates Limited, "notifying the purchase of the properties known as Paarden Island and Jan Biesjes Kraal respectively".

The letter also informed them that it was intended "to layout the estate as a township, to be known as Milnerton and also to open up railway communications from Cape Town to the centre of the property. . ."

Even in 1897 both properties acquired by the Milnerton Estates had a long history. Paarden Island, at any rate as a geographica1 feature, had received this name in honour, according to some authorities, of the "wild horses" or zebras which flourished there in the days of Van Riebeeck; and, according to others, of the more familiar mokes pastured by the settlers! As for Jan Biesjes Kraa1, this commemorates an early headman of the district.

Property buyres in 1906Another farm, destined to be associated in after years with Milnerton, figures in an advertisement in the Cape Government Gazette of June 16, 1834: "Peremptory Sale Of a TANNERY, DWELLING HOUSE AND PREMISES NEAR THE SALT RIVER, in the Cape District.. ."

Then followed a description: "All that desirable freehold Property, now called 'LA BELLE ALLIANCE', being the chief part of the place RUSTVLIET, situate at the Salt River, in the Cape District, together with a piece of perpetual quitrent Land adjoining thereto. . ." On this ground, which extended over about 6 morgen, and was known as Welgelegen, were located the earliest buildings in this part of the World: "A DWELLING HOUSE, containing four Rooms, two Halls, a Kitchen and Spacious Loft; with two stables, a cottage containing three Rooms, a Hall and Kitchen, two cottages, each containing two Rooms, a Pantry and Kitchen, with a small Garden in front. A TANNERY, comprising a spacious Range of Buildings, about 190 feet in length, containing numerous Tan Pits and other Conveniences. . . This property to be sold in the Insolvent Estate of John Brown".

Unlike modern township developers, the fathers of Milnerton began their sales campaign in a manner that could almost be described as casual. In the weekly journal of Cape Town gossip and politics, the "Owl", on February 17, 1899, there appeared on the back page a modest advertisement for "46 Plots of Land, near Milnerton Estates and the Beach", mentioning "Milnerton Estates Company's land which will soon be connected with the Government Suburban Line". Two months later, tenders were called for the construction of the Milnerton Railway.

Center Point MilnertonAs early as May 11, 1900, a step was taken, which profoundly affected not only the history of Milnerton, but that of Cape Town as a whole. To appreciate this it must again be stressed that the original township included the entire stretch of ground from the vicinity of the present-day Salt River Power Station to the boundary of present-day Milnerton, in other words the big industrial area of Paarden Island.

One of the directors, William Hare, conveyed to the Milnerton Estates a request from the South African Cold Storage Company Limited - forerunner of the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company - for "the letting of a small portion, about 30 lots, of land at the north-western corner of Paarden Island. . . at a rental of £25 per month. . ." Despite considerable hesitation, the transaction not only went through but marked the beginning of the island's industrial development, and of the process which culminated in the separation of that area from Milnerton proper.

The only visible signs of progress in the first half of 1902 was the completion of the railway track as far as Jan Biesje's Kraal and the planting of 10 000 blue gums and 2 000 tamarisks on each side of the line. Yet the decision was taken to hold the first sale of Milnerton plots, 1 160 in number.

On February 4, the “Cape Argus”, in an historic article, announced: “Perhaps the finest and best-situated
estate in the suburbs is that lying between the main line of railway, beyond Salt River Station, and known as the Milnerton Estates. Looking at the property from a distance, or form a passing train, it appears to be quite infertile waste, in fact, marshy, but on closer inspection, such as was afforded the representatives of the Press yesterday morning, this impression is altogether dispelled and, instead of a vast stretch of barren land, one finds an expanse of rich soil, planted advantageously with abundant trees, and irrigated by the river, which cuts right across it, a land capable of and eminently lending itself to cultivation, development and improvement.

Wood Bridge Milnerton"For the first time the proprietors of the Milnerton Estate have decided to place a portion of it on the market, as an initial step, and on Thursday next, February 5, Messrs. J. J. Hofmeyr & Sons, auctioneers, Hout Street, will put up 119 plots, suitable for business or residential sites, for public auction. These plots possess the additional advantage of being, of the whole Estate, the nearest to the railway, situated as they are on the Main Road, just beyond Salt River Station. Their value is further enhanced by the fact that the Government have acquired all the land in the immediate vicinity for railway works and extensions, so that stores may be transported direct from the Docks, almost to one's door with the utmost facility.

The first actual bid was received, a fortnight before the event, from Carl Jeppe personally, when he offered to buy a block of stands at £200 each, provided that he be allowed the choice. Unfortunately for him his colleagues of the Board decided that his proposition "be not accepted".

What might be described as a matter of conscience also came into the picture, when somebody suggested the sale plan should show the "old roads", indicating a denser system of communications. A compromise was reached - they should be shown "but marked as being disused and abandoned". On the other hand there was at least one private road, officially opened by the Maitland Municipality and running from "the bridge at Salt River to the house at Paarden Island", indicating how empty the neighbourhood still was.

That once well-known Cape Town journal, "The Owl", at Christmas 1904, carried a memorable article, "A Flutter to Milnerton", by a writer calling himself "Wayfarer". He began by telling how the Editor, having shown him a press report stating that on the King's Birthday, 5000 people had made their way there, asked him likewise to visit the new suburb.

Jansen HallWayfarer next described how he, the photographer and a lady friend, who was there to liven up the pictures, set off from the Main Line platform. The journalist described their arrival: "Milnerton Station. We alight upon a well-constructed platform, adorned with a small but picturesque and convenient station-house built of wood and plaster, and, while taking in the rural surroundings, find it difficult to remember that we are but 20 minutes journey from the heart of the Metropolis.

Following a narrow pathway through the dense vegetation, swarming with chameleons, beetles and other creatures dear to the heart of the entomologist, we presently emerged in an open space upon an eminence where the Tea Bungalow and the Concert and Dancing Pavilion are located. In front of this a terrace had been formed, and this, with its gravelled, level surface, its many rustic garden seats, its grassy banks, evergreen shrubs and clumps of beautiful marguerites, like great balls of snow, with their many and brilliant white flowers, is one of the prettiest portions of the Estate. The prospect from this commanding elevation is remarkably fine. . ."

Brief reference is also made to future plans. "It is intended to dredge the river for a distance of five miles, and, when this is done, there will be provided an ideal course for boat races. I suspect the daytime is not too far distant when Cape Town's two boating clubs will hold their annual regattas at Milnerton. Close to the mouth of the river and hard by the railway line, the Western Province Rugby Union are preparing a football ground and the near future should see many of the important engagements of the Union carried out at what promises to become one of the most popular watering places in the Cape Peninsula.

Along with this account appear some charming old photographs, done by no less a celebrity than the late
Arthur Elliott, whose name is remembered for his unique record, now carefully preserved in our National
Archives, of South African History. On this occasion he was happy when the train reached Milnerton, to do a view of Cape Town, besides shots of the swings, the river boats and of the tea drinking.

 

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