Short history of Cape Peninsula’s Railways.

Blogger Barry: Very interesting Cape Town History.


The Cape Town – Simon’s Town line is not the oldest in South
Africa. A short line between Durban and the Point opened on 26 June

The Cape Town Railway and Dock Company completed its line to
Eersterivier on 13 February 1862, continued to Stellenbosch on 1
May 1862 and finally reached Wellington on 4 November 1863.

The Cape Town – Wynberg line began in December 1864 and was built
to the Standard gauge of 4ft 8 ½ in. When the line was bought by
the Cape Government in 1873, the gauge was reduced to 3ft 6 in
because of costs. It was called the Cape Gauge and has been used
throughout Southern Africa ever since.

The change was put into effect in 1882 when the line was extended
to Muizenberg. At first there were no stops between Wynberg and
Muizenberg and the trains were known as the Muizenberg Flyers
because of the fast journeys. Wealth resulting from the Kimberly
Diamond Fields turned Muizenberg and Kalk Bay into fashionable
retreats for magnates and businessmen who built opulent homes there
and in 1883 the line was extended to Kalk Bay making it a popular
destination for day trippers at a time when Sea Point was sparsely
populated and undeveloped.

In 1889 work began to take the line through to Simon’s Town. The
Steep and rocky coast, quicksands and river mouths had made it
difficult to build even a road between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town
and the journey by cart or wagon was so arduous that much traffic
went by boat instead.

The completion of the line on 1 December 1890 was therefore a
celebrated event. The honours were done by Cecil Rhodes – then
Premier of the Cape – who rode in the first train which arrived in
a bunting bedecked Simons Town. There was a parade, free train
rides for the children and a grand luncheon at the British Hotel
for all the dignitaries.


Cape Town’s first railway station was a temporary wood and iron
complex sited near the present-day Golden Acre. It was built in
1861 and was replaced in 1875 with a handsome stone-faced brick
building which housed the platforms and offices of the Cape
Government Railways. It was substantially enlarged over the years
and ‘under the clock’ became a favorite meeting place. It gave way
to the present station in 1964.


Originally called Papendorp, after Pieter van Papendorp who lived
there in the 18th century, Woodstock beach was famous for its lime
kilns and as the site of the tragic aftermath of the Cape’s violent
storms in the days of sail. 6000 people witnessed the Governor
turning the first sod in the pouring rain to start construction of
the line here in 1859.

The old Castle Brewery and the gasometer of the Cape Town Gas
Company (which serviced large parts of older Cape Town) are on the
seaside of the line.


The river named by the Dutch for its salinity – Zout Rivier – rises
near Riebeeck Kasteel 80Km north of Cape Town. Parts of the railway
workshops here date from the very beginning and are still in full
use. The Station was built for the convenience of the railway
artisans who mainly lived in Cape Town and the suburb grew around
the workplace. It is also the junction of lines to the North and
South. On 9 June 1926 four rear coaches of a crowded commuter train
were derailed and 17 passengers, including Cape Judge President Sir
Malcolm Searle were killed.


Originally the first stopping place on the Wynberg line,
Observatory Road Station marked the point where the line crossed
the road to the Royal Observatory established by the British
Admiralty in 1827. Most of the pioneering work carried out by
famous astronomers Royal Sir William Herschel and Sir Thomas
Maclear is continued today at Sutherland in the Karoo, far from
city lights.

The Observatory is sited on Valkenberg, one of the earliest Free
Burger farms which also houses the century-old psychiatric

The building of the station made it a much more accessible suburb
which boomed as a result of the diamond and gold rushes and is
today a rich but threatened collection of Victorian and Edwardian
architecture. The best part of Observatory – Clee estate – was lost
to Groote Schuur Hospital when it was built in the 1930s. It is
chiefly famous for the first human heart transplant performed there
in 1967.


Mowbray was first called Drie Koppen after the heads of three
slaves impaled there after execution for murder in 1724. Mowbray
House, who’s owner came from Melton Mowbray in England inspired the
new name. Already a bustling little village in 1840s, it became a
municipality in its own right in 1890 later merging with Cape Town.

The temple like memorial to the energy of British Imperialist Cecil
Rhodes can be seen on the mountain side and above it the King’s
blockhouse used to signal messages between Cape Town and Muizenberg
before electric telegraph arrived in 1860. The landscape below
Devil’s Peak includes the only surviving windmill – Mostert’s Mill
– built two centuries ago and a reminder of the wheatlands farmed
by the Dutch settlers.

Just after leaving the station there is a cutting dug by navvies
brought out from Britain to build the line in 1863. St Peter’s
Church was opened in 1854 and perches above. Sir Billy Butlin of
Butlin’s Holiday Camp fame was baptized there in 1900. Opposite is
the Mowbray Maternity Home.


At first only a small stopping place called Lower Mowbray, Rosebank
House once on the corner of nearby Alma Road gave its name to the
new station which also houses a post office, quite customary then.

It became a busy light industrial station supplying wood to the
Rosebank match factory on the main Road and servicing the Rosebank
Agricultural Showgrounds active until 1953.


The train passes over the now canalised Liesbeek (originally the
Amstel) River before reaching ‘t ronder doorn bosjen, an outpost
for the farming operations of the Dutch East India Company.
The station is the only one built on the eastern side of the line
because most people lived there.

Very little of the pleasant Victorian village remains and the only
older landmarks of note are St Paul’s Church (1834), the Rondebosch
Fountain (or more accurately, horse trough) and the Rondebosch Town
Hall (now Public library). Most of the mountainside is taken up by
the Groote Schuur Estate, a vast area amalgamated by Rhodes with an
eye to conservation. It includes his grand former home, now
official residence of the State President with many nearby houses
for the cabinet. Apart from the University, Rondebosch has a
concentration of famous South African Schools, including Bishops
(founded in 1849) Rustenberg Girls School (1894) and Rondebosch
Boys’ School (1897).

Trains were formally requested not to blow their whistles by the
classical (1900) Dutch Reformed Church.


The New farming lands opened up by Governor Simon van de Stel in
1700 retained much of their rural atmosphere when the new line of
1864 passed through vineyards and Letterstedt’s woods. The farms
have gone but arguably the wettest place in the Peninsula still has
a verdant image. The area immediately around Newlands Station is
fringed by internationally famous Newlands Rugby Stadium and
Newlands Cricket Grounds, both established over a century ago. The
Mariendal Brewery begun by Letterstedt in 1859 and continued by
Ohlsson in 1881, still brews with fresh spring water. Cape Town’s
only surviving and functioning watermill – the Josephine Mill built
in 1840 – is also close by.


Claremont station was the first of the 1864 lien stations to be
completed. The suburb took its name from the Cape Colony Premier,
Sir John Molteno. A bustling commercial center today, Claremont was
always a busy little village situated at the junction between Main
Road and Lansdowne Road which served Philippi, the community of
German market gardeners who were imported in 1883. The Claremont
Town Hall, pride of the independent municipality that lasted from
1886 to 1913, once stood facing the station forecourt. It was
demolished in the 1950’s. Aljamia Mosque built in 1911 is one of
Cape Town’s largest and can be clearly seen from the station.

As Protea, Claremont was the official diocese of the Bishop of Cape
Town who lived at Bishopscourt. Sophy Grey, wife of the first
bishop, designed St. Saviour’s, Claremont, among many other
Anglican churches throughout the Western Cape.


Opened in 1931 as a direct effort to compete with the trams and
busses of the Main Road, Harfield Road differs from the other
stations in that the single island platform is set between the up
and down tracks and is reached by Subways. The booms just before
reaching Kenilworth Station are the last of 61 level crossings.

The name comes from Harfield Cottage built in 1831. It was visited
by the famous explorer David Livingston.


The farm lands originally granted to Jacob Vogel became rapidly
parceled out for suburban growth once the line reached the small
stopping place originally called Mortimerville. In 1882 it changed
its name to Kenilworth, a nearby grand house inspired by Kenilworth
castle, famous setting of a Sir Walter Scott novel.

The Kenilworth Racecourse on Rosmead Avenue has been there since
1904 and was the home of the premier Cape racing event known as
‘the Met’.


De Wijnberg – the wine mountain where van Riebeeck successfully
grew grapes – included a small military outpost in Dutch times. A
permanent camp was established after the First British Occupation
in 1795. Gradually land was sold off to churches and officers and
a village developed. Pretty Regency cottages became popular leave
venues for poorly paid military and civil officials from India. The
arrival of the railway line in 1864 radically altered the
community. Much larger barracks were constructed and the village
became a dormitory suburb of Cape Town. It is still a richly
endowed architectural precinct.

The site of the Wynberg Station was donated by J M Maynard, a
wealthy local who was also a major shareholder of the Wynberg
Railway Company. Maynardville Gardens – venue for open air
Shakespearian productions for the last 50 years – is named after

The cost of the original five station buildings – Mowbray,
Rondebosch, Claremont, Newlands and Wynberg – was the equivalent of
R14 000. Still serving their purpose a century and a quarter later,
they were undoubtedly a sound investment.

Wynberg is the highest point on the line.


Maps of the 17th century indicate the area was named after the
silver trees that grew there. The station was opened in 1931 also
as a result of the bus fare price war and was originally called
Constantia Road. part of the Dominican School for the Deaf
established in cape Town in 1863, moved to Wittebome in 1937.


When the line from Wynberg to Muizenberg was extended in 1882, it
was decided there should be a stopping place two kilometers beyond
Wynberg. It was called Plumstead and eventually became a station.
It primarily handled the fruit traffic of the Constantia Valley.
The goods sheds near the station are a reminder of what was still
largely agricultural land until the 1920s. The suburb of Plumstead
mushroomed after the Second World War.


Opened on Christmas Eve in 1934, Steurhof was meant to serve the
residential area that was beginning to grow between Plumstead and
Diep River.


The line crosses a shallow stream called Diep River just after
Steurhof. In the 17th century most of the thatching grass used by
the Dutch East India Company, came from here. The station was one
of the only two built on the line between Wynberg and Muizenberg in
1882 and passengers sometimes broke their journey at Ratherfelders,
a coaching inn which stood near the present-day Eaton Convalescent


Named for the many varieties of heath that grew and still grow
here, Heathfield Station was opened in 1913 to assist passengers on
the interchange of the line to Ottery. The suburbs of Bergvliet and
Meadowridge have grown around the station.


A series of advances and retreats during the Battle of Muizenberg
in 1795 took place between the Dutch and British troops in this
area and incidentally gave it a name. It is one of the two original
stations on the Wynberg – Muizenberg line and even until after the
Second World War, was set in a rural backwater. Retreat is the
mid-point of the line to Simon’s Town.


As early as 1657 the Dutch attached the name of the stone mountains
to this place. The scenic Boyes Drive with its spectacular views of
False Bay can be seen quite clearly. The plain station originally
called Military Road, opened in November 1929 to serve the largely
industrial area that remains today.


The line crosses the northern end of Sand Vlei, a very large
estuary teaming with bird life and popular as a boating facility
since the middle of the 19th century. The Marina da Gama housing
development was a pioneer of its type in South Africa. Some older
houses below the mountain are a reminder of the days when a holiday
retreat here was truly isolated. A former landmark, the Blue Moon
Hotel, was a popular dining and dancing venue between the wars.


Early Portuguese mariners often mistook Cape Point for Hangklip
(some 40 kilometers apart) and turned north too soon. Cabo Falso or
False Bay has been the name applied to the whole bay since. It was
also known as Golfo dentra das Serras – the bay between the
mountains. The station was opened in 1936 and was originally to
have been called Albertyn Road after the road that crosses the


Moetjesons – a Khoi group living in the area in the late 18th
century may have been the origin of the name recorded on a 1782
map. It was certainly used as a Dutch East India Company winter
anchorage and cattle post in 1782 and the man in charge – Willem
Muijs – may also have given his name to the place destined to
become an extremely popular seaside resort. The present station –
by far the most splendid on the line – was built in 1913 to replace
the original simple structure of 1882. The station building is a
proclaimed national monument. The magnificent beaches and surf have
attracted holiday-makers and the rich and famous since the end of
the 19th Century. Palatial homes and historic buildings are strung
out along the road to St James. Among them are the Posthuys
probably built in 1673, the Fort – the former Labia palazzo and now
an annex of the National Gallery, the magnificent Rust en Vrede of
Sir Abe Bailey and the simple seaside cottage where Rhodes died.
Muizenberg was also the destination of the first South African
airmail – sent from Kenilworth on 27 December 1911.


When the line was extended to Kalk Bay in 1883, a stopping place
and platform were erected near the St James Church built in 1858.
The destination became so popular a proper station had to be built
in 1900 when the Church was demolished and replaced across the
road. The station kept the name at the suggestion of the parish
priest, Father Duignam who built the second St James as well as the
Star of the Sea Convent School next to it.

The tidal pool is said to be a very old fish trap and the
distinctive bathing boxes are all that remain of many that belonged
to families who were regulars on the beach. For the first 40 odd
years of this century there was an old marine station with a
popular aquarium and research laboratory.


The lime kilns which operated here in the 17th Century gave the bay
its name. Always a fishing ground, it was a busy whaling station at
the beginning of the 19th century. the line reached Kalk Bay in
1883 and was the end of the line until 1889. A turntable for the
locomotive was built at the north end of the station building,
originally a private house. the present-day Brass Bell was the site
of the old pavilion. It was only in 1913 that work began on the
little fishing harbour and life was made marginally easier for the
fisher folk.


Opened in 1936 to service the residents of Mayfield Estate (later
Clovelly), the station was built right on the rocks and became a
favorite but illegal fishing spot. The concrete footbridge giving
access from the road to the beach was built in 1930 and demolished
in 1990 when the station was also closed. The station was at the
foot of the perilous Trappieskop, for long the only access across
the beach to Fish Hoek.


Visch Baay was being used for cattle grazing at the end of the 18th
Century and in 1818 Bruyns applied for a 1300 morgen quit-rent
farm. Governor Lord Charles Somerset granted it with several
conditions including a ban on the sale of alcohol which is still in
force today. Subsequent owners developed the fishing industry of
the area including a prosperous whaling station. By the end of the
19th Century it was a popular venue for Cape summer picnics but the
owner Oom Jacob de Villiers would sell no part of his property.
After his death in 1916, 3000 plots were auctioned and the town of
Fish Hoek was born. When the line came through in 1890 it was
continually plagued by sand drifts which were carted away and
dumped at various sites including the reclamation of Salt River.
The station – actually below sea level – was built in 1928. A year
earlier international fame was achieved with the discovery of the
skeleton of a Middle Stone Age man of 15 000 years ago in Peer’s
Cave above the town.


The small unmanned halt was built in 1928 at the whim, some say, of
a senior railway official who lived close by. It is built on top of
iron tanks filled with concrete that form a sea wall on which the
railway runs. The line crosses the mouth of the Elsje’s River.


Elsje’s Bay was home to vegetable, wheat and cattle farmers at the
beginning of the last century and may have taken its name from the
many els trees that grew here. The quicksands of the beach were
hazardous to traffic en route to Simon’s Town and boats to Kalk Bay
were regarded as safer. In 1901 a syndicate of Scots got together
and called their enterprise after the pile of stones at the one end
of the valley – Glencairn. 56 plots were sold. The brewer Ohlsson
built a glass factory that thrived for a few years at the beginning
of the century. The present modest station was built in 1905 to
replace one at a lower altitude.


The white-washed cottage before entering Simon’s Town was called
Klein Vishoek and belonged to the same Bruyns family associated
with the beginnings of Fish Hoek. Next to it is a reminder that one
is entering a naval base. The lower North Battery began as Zoutman
Battery and was designed by Thibault in 1793. It is the oldest
fortification in South Africa that is still armed. The bay was
visited by Governor Simon van der Stel in 1687 and later became the
winter anchorage for vessels of the Dutch East India Company. A
village grew around it. After the second British occupation, it
became a Royal navy base and remained so until it was handed over
to the South African Navy in 1957. The town was proclaimed a
municipality in 1883 and is the second oldest in the Peninsula. It
has a rich architectural heritage and one of the best preserved
streetscapes in South Africa. The station is situated at the end of
Long Beach and next to historic Admiralty House.

Blogger Barry: Thanks for your time. Hope you enjoyed. Please
use the comment and follow buttons.

Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
Professional Public Speaker, Trainer and Corporate Entertainer,
Motivational speaker, Guest & Key note speaker, Seminar &
Conference speaker, Team Builder, Comedian, Master of Ceremonies,

For your Strategic Planning sessions, Management or Sales meetings,
Conferences and/or Seminars, Award functions, Year end parties,
Christmas parties,

Cape Town, South Africa.

Leave a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s