Chapter 13 - The First Local Board
By far the most important event of 1926 was the establishment of the Milnerton Local Board, with effect from December 31 of that year. Pending its inauguration far-reaching subjects came up for prompt discussion by the Company, one of the first being put forward by Sir David Graaff on October 14, 1926. "Though the time," he said, "when sewerage for Milnerton will be essential is still some way off, it is necessary to look ahead. I think the Board should consider obtaining the advice of the City Engineer on the matter, so that a plan may be prepared which can be worked to in future developments." Along with this went a complete revaluation of plots. Completed by January 20, 1927, this showed a total figure of £124 830 with a rateable value of £123 190. Milnerton Estates Limited accounted for 61.6 per cent, representing £75 895.
Much to the regret of all concerned, Sir David Graaff now decided that his other commitments prevented his continuing as Chairman, but there was corresponding satisfaction when Major G. Brand van Zyl agreed to take over from him. Another traditional link was broken in February 1927, when Louis Marks, son of the redoubtable Sammy, who had passed away in 1920, also severed his connection.
The social standing of Milnerton was being raised by the advent of prominent men as inhabitants - among them T. S. McEwan, former General Manager of the Cape Government Railways, who retired here.
Matters of basic significance confronting the Milnerton Local Board included a proposal for a bus service to Cape Town.
Hopes of an improved train service rose during 1927 when Dr. H. J. van der Bijl, Chairman of the Electricity Supply Commission, provided an estimate of the cost of electrifying the Milnerton Line, to fit in with the similar conversion in progress in other parts of the Cape Peninsula and Western Province. When economic factors prevented its inclusion, the Company tried to persuade the S.A.R. to take it over as it stood, but that day too had not yet dawned.
For the first time an accident was recorded, on September 5, 1929, when "a train approaching Mi1nerton Station from Tygerberg collided at the Cambridge Road level crossing with a motor van belonging to Garlick's Limited". According to an eyewitness, Mr. Rust, "the responsibility lay entirely with the driver of the motor van," but the Magistrate charged with the investigation ordered the warning boards at the crossing to be illuminated.
Relations between the Milnerton Local Board and the Milnerton Estates remained amicable, and when the former, at the beginning of 1929 suggested the Company's providing some bathing boxes on the Milnerton beach, "either of wood or of other material, one containing from four to six cubicles, the answer was in the affirmative.
Reviewing the whole situation in regard to the Milnerton line, Sir William Hoy, General Manager of the South African Railways, wrote on May 3, 1930: "It is the opinion of the Railway Department that the loss is occasioned solely through bus competition and not through excessive working costs. . . The present rail fares are over 100 per cent above the bus fares, but I do not think that any appreciable increase in traffic will result if the rail fares are reduced, because of the unattractiveness of the train service. . . I am unable to recommend any of the proposals submitted by the Company, namely:
A. The acquisition of the line by the Government.
B. The working of the line by the Government on its own behalf, at a basic rental for the land and buildings to be agreed upon, or
C. The institution of a road motor service by the Government."
Returns on goods traffic as far as Paarden Eiland would also involve a loss. Directly as a result the Company took legal opinion as to its position.
Henceforth the affairs of Milnerton were for a long time dominated by the weal and woe - mostly woe - of the Railway. Unsatisfactory as the returns had been for a long time they were to be rendered even worse by the onset of the Great Depression, which, starting in October 1929 in the U.S.A., swept round the world and was already very much in evidence in South Africa within less than a year. With the entire South African Railways losing millions, the average shortfall of £300 to £400 per month on this particular route appeared trifling - but not to the Company, and all kinds of expedients were proposed as a remedy. One idea was to limit the trains to Race Days only, in return for which the Club was to provide a minimum of 23 meetings a year, with an expected average of 1400 passengers each time. As an experiment, it was suggested that trains should travel at not more than 20 miles per hour.
As against this V. S. Hughes, proprietor of the Cape Town Motor Omnibus Company (Pty) Ltd., one of the many independent and privately-owned concerns engaged in a furious internecine war prior to the introduction of the Road Transportation Act, had an interview with the Secretary of the Milnerton Estates, "in regard to the establishment of a bus service to Milnerton and Tygerberg, in the event of the Railway Passenger Service being suspended". Mr. Hughes expressed his willingness to set up an adequate service provided the Company guaranteed a minimum revenue of £8 per day for each bus. He was also ready to put in an additional vehicle at peak hours, not falling under the guarantee and to make provision for the conveyance of light parcels. Passenger fares, as suggested, were 8d for a single trip, or 6 shillings for a book of 12 tickets as far as Milnerton and one shilling to Tygerberg or nine shillings for a book of tickets. Despite a friendly reception, the Company made it clear that any guarantee would be merely in the nature of an experiment, "to afford the local residents another opportunity of making the transport service a payable proposition". Should the returns prove inadequate after two or three months' trial, the whole idea would be stopped.
Surveying the situation generally on June 2, 1930, Major Van Zyl, as Chairman, declared: "Three points emerge with clarity:
1. The continued heavy loss in running the Railway service cannot be accepted.
2. In the interests of the Company's efforts, some alternative transport system should be seriously tried before the district is cut off from an adequate means of access to the city.
3. At worst - that is, even if the guaranteed bus fails to earn any revenue - the Company will be better off financially than if it continues as at present. . ."
Efforts were accordingly made to mobilise the support of the Milnerton Turf Club, which was in itself considerably more prosperous than the Estates Company! What really brought matters to a head was the news that, as from July 31, 1930, normal passenger traffic by the Bus Service would cease. This could only be averted if the Club and the Milnerton Estates made good half the loss by operating only on race days, and even this would be subject to six months' notice. Regretfully the arrangement was accepted, while simultaneously the new service of the Cape Town Motor Omnibus Company came into operation with effect from August 1, 1930. Subject to three months' notice on either side, Milnerton Estates guaranteed an average revenue of £8 a day per bus.
Inevitably there were regrets among the inhabitants, particularly those who remembered the beginning of the century when the Railway had first come into operation. But the facilities provided by Mr. Hughes were greatly welcomed and altogether there was a note of philosophical acceptance. Unfortunately this note soon changed, for, as early as August 12, Hughes complained that his bus, via the Marine Drive, was being so poorly supported that it ought to be withdrawn, leaving the one via Koeberg Road to cope with the entire traffic. At the same time the price of monthly season tickets was reduced to 30 shillings between Cape Town and Milnerton.
Three months later, Milnerton Estates were asked to take up £5 000 to £6000 worth of shares in the Cape Town Motor Omnibus Company's new issue of capital. Alas - Mr. Hughes was duly thanked but informed "The Company is not at present in a position to entertain your proposal". Moreover, as the reduction in season ticket prices appeared inadequate, prices were cut still further to 21 shillings a month, while single fares fell from 8 pence to 6 pence.
With the decline in general prosperity and nationwide unemployment, sales of plots dropped, yet, to its credit, both the Company and the Local Board did their best to maintain development. Thus on August 12, 1930, Graaff's Trust Limited submitted a sketch plan "of a sceptic tank approved by Dr. De Villiers, provided that he is satisfied that suitable soil is available for a French drain". While road-building unfortunately had to be reduced as part of the economy programme, some effort was made to fill in "stagnant pools" below the weir, and to remedy the more than primitive conditions prevailing at the station lavatory, even if it was only used on race days.
For the first time too there was mention of a Ratepayers' Association, which in June 1931 held a meeting in connection with the possibility of diverting the bus to another route. Not only did V. A. Hughes reveal that it was costing him 10d a mile to operate the service, but that pirates were also running. Since two of them, however, had their Transportation Certificates cancelled, "owing to malpractices", he now hoped to put in two more of his own.
At last, and with some hesitation, the South African Railways agreed to take an option to purchase the assets of the Milnerton Railway, which, at any rate from a legal point of view, still belonged to the Milnerton Estates, but with the continuance of the Depression, Sir William Hoy gave the owners to understand they must await payment for many a day.
Losses on the bus service, and corresponding inflow of deficit accounts, forced the Company, towards the end of 1931, to withdraw its guarantee to Hughes, a step which aroused considerable anxiety among the inhabitants, few of whom were possessors of motor-cars. To make matters worse, the S.A.R. informed the Milnerton Estates that, "owing to a series of errors in estimating the train mileage, waiting time etc., the rate per train mile had erroneously been estimated at 4/6d whereas the actual cost was approximately 9/- a mile. In consequence of these errors the Company has been undercharged an amount of £800 from 1st August 1930 to 31st October 1931 . . ."!
As though this were not sufficient, notification came from the Cape Town Motor Omnibus Company that the Transportation Board had refused to renew the certificates for two of its buses on the Milnerton route, leaving them with no alternative but to withdraw the service as at the end of January 1932. A petition from the inhabitants to the Road Transportation Board bore no fruit, and altogether the picture continued as one of increasing gloom. Yet the Company agreed to contribute, for the first time, to the revenue of the Cape Peninsula Publicity Association an amount of five guineas!
An offer to purchase this property, made by the late Sir David Graaff in November 1928, was accepted by the Board of
Directors, under the chairmanship of the late G. B. van Zyl, later Governor-General of the Union of South Africa. The purpose: "To erect a high class private residential property at an estimated cost of £10 000 as practical proof of Sir David's confidence in Milnerton Estates Limited and in the belief that such development should provide an incentive to development generally". The architects were Messrs Waldgate and Elsworth and the builders Messrs H . Wier & Co.
The house was built in 1929 and used by Sir David Graaff and his family as a seaside residence until his death on 13 April 1931 . Thereafter it was leased to the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom , Sir Herbert Stanley. In 1951 a portion of the land, including the buildings, was sold to the late David Graaff, the second son, who occupied the property until his death.