Chapter 19 - The New Town
A considerable stir was caused in the Milnerton community in 1954 when, despite a good deal of resistance, the Administrator took advantage of existing legislation to order the Local Board "forthwith to prepare a Town Planning Scheme", thereby emphasising the increasing involvement of this rural area in specifically urban matters.
Urban problems were also reflected in a complaint received by the Company in May 1955 from F. Maxwell Arnot, a well-known publisher's agent, then living in Alamein Road, about the actions of a neighbour "in keeping dogs for breeding purposes on her premises". Inspection showed "Mrs. Marshall is keeping two male and two female Alsatians and their kennels are at least 15 feet away from the common boundary". Accordingly Arnot was informed that the matter would be passed to the Local Authority.
Radical changes of many kinds occurred early in 1955. One of them was a relatively happy ending to a long-standing dispute with the Divisional Council of the Cape, thanks to the support of what was officially described as "certain influential people". One of these was none other than the Rt. Hon. G. Brand van Zyl, already mentioned in these pages, who, in company with one of the chief senior commanders of the South African Forces during the recent War, Major General Frank H. Theron, joined the deputation that waited on the Administrator. Their purpose was achieved, of preventing the Divisional Council from diverting the Main Road between Milnerton and Blouberg Strand, from the coastline to the landward side of the Milnerton Lagoon.
Unfortunately natural forces decided the issue, namely erosion stimulated by new harbour construction. As a result, within another seven years, by 1962, the road had to be relocated in its disputed position along the east shore of the Lagoon.
About the same time too agreement was reached between the Company and the Milnerton Turf Club under which the latter purchased 80 morgen at £2 500 per morgen, involving the cash payment of £30 000 against transfer and the balance of £170 000 on mortgage, available incidentally in those happy days at 5 1/2 per cent per annum!
Under the conditions of this contract, "the land is to be used exclusively as a Course for Horse-Racing purposes and matters directly incidental thereto. No portion of it shall be disposed of unless, (a) the Club is dissolved as a Horse-Racing club, or (b) Horse-Racing is banned by Law or (c) for any other reason it becomes uneconomical or inadvisable for the Club to carry on its activities as a Horse-Racing Club." In such unlikely events the Milnerton Estates Ltd. would have the right to buy back the ground.
But the most important change of all took place with the issue of an historic document, reading:
By the Honourable Philippus Jacobus Olivier,
Administrator of the Province of the Cape of Good Hope.
"Under the powers vested in me by Section 3 (1) (a) of Ordinance No. 19, 1951, I hereby declare that, as from the 1st July, 1955, the areas at present constituting the Local Board of Milnerton shall be a Municipality with the name 'Municipality of Milnerton', and that the number of its Council shall be six.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.
Dated at Cape Town, this 22nd Day of February, 1955,
P. J. Olivier,
For the inaugural election of the Town Council no fewer than 12 candidates came forward. This great occasion took place eight days before the big changeover, at which, in the absence of a Town Clerk for the new authority, the Returning Officer was borrowed from Pin elands, in the person of its Town Clerk, F. L. B. Bouchet.
The votes cast ranged from 422 for the most popular candidate to 39 for the most unsuccessful, and at the close of the poll, the Returning Officer announced, in order of success, the original Councillors to be G. H. Titterton, A. H. L. Burmeister, P. D. Vlok, W. J. Savage, Dr. D. G . Futeran and Mrs. M. Taylor.
The inauguration of the new Municipality on the morning of Friday July 1, took place in the Milnerton Hall in Jansen Road. Such was the interest that a number of personalities from outside attended, including the acting Provincial Secretary, G. A. van Oordt, along with the Mayor of Durbanville, Councillor Van der Westhuizen, also C. V. Emms, Secretary of the Divisional Council, Dr. J. P. de Villiers, its Medical Officer of Health. Since Major Jooste, the local member for the Provincial Council, happened to be unavailable, he sent his wife as his representative, while F. H. Sargeant deputised both for the Milnerton Estates Limited and for Sir De Villiers Graaff M.P., with C. A. Raats there on behalf of the Graaff's Trust Limited. Besides all these we are told "about 50 ladies and gentlemen, being residents of Milnerton, helped to fill the hall when, on the stroke of 11 a.m., Mr. G. O. Owen, took the Chair and opened the proceedings". Having formally read the Proclamation establishing the Municipality, he called for nominations for the position of Mayor. Only one name was put forward, that of Councillor A. H. L. Burmeister, who achieved the position unopposed, while G. H. Titterton became his deputy.
August Henry Ludwig Burmeister belonged to a family prominent in Cape Town, where he had been born on July 28, 1883, and educated at three different well-known old establishments - Doualier's once-famous "Educational Institute", St. George's Grammar School and the South African College School. As a young man he had been prominent both in Rugby and Cricket. Later on he was a leading golfer.
Mr. Burmeister's career had been in manufacturing. Not only had he risen to be General Manager in South Africa of Price's, the country's most important candle manufacturers, but he had been elected President of the Transvaal Chamber of Industries. Since his retirement he had made his home at Milnerton, where he had been manager of Porterfield Estates, then engaged in developing Table View Township. He was also prominent as a Rotarian, had been a member of the Milnerton Local Board, and had been appointed by the Government to the South African Shipping Board. Not surprisingly his election as Mayor gave widespread satisfaction.
Four basic Committees were set up at the same historic inaugural meeting - Finance and General Purposes, Works, Health and Town Planning, while the first Administrative action of the new Municipality, at a cost of £434 a year, was to join the Divisional Council's "Health Control Scheme" and put a representative on its Combined Health Committee.
As for office accommodation, approval was duly given to hire, at £35 per month, the three rooms on the First Floor of Nassau Buildings. Along with this went the purchase, from the well-known furniture manufacturers G. H. Stark & Co., of three office desks and 13 chairs at the cost of £90 12s. 3d., besides a second-hand board-room table for £30 from the Cape Chamber of Industries. Printed letterheads and envelopes to an amount of £8 4s. 6d. were obtained from the Eclipse Printing Company, while, as Acting Town Clerk, G. C. Owen, received permission to buy "the necessary essential law books needed. . . such rubber stamps as may be required; coir mats for the office, curtaining material and fittings therefore. . . and two electric heaters".
Office hours, as far as the public were concerned, were 9 a.m. to 12.45 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m., from Mondays to Fridays, and on Saturdays 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Staff however was to stay on till 5 p.m. on weekdays and until 12.30 on Saturdays. It was also revealed that Mr. Owen, though previously Secretary to the Divisional Council of the Cape, had now agreed to work at an inclusive fee of £50 per month, which even His Worship the Mayor stated was "considerably less than the figure he himself had suggested". At this point Owen gave warning that he was not likely to stay longer than a month, at the end of which he hoped the permanent Town Clerk would take office. The first office employee, Miss Du Toit, also from the Divisional Council, undertook to work as a typist, mornings only, for £25 a month.
Because of its healthy state of growth, Milnerton required the immediate adoption of a system for the approval and passing of plans, a matter brought before the Health Committee appropriately chaired by Dr. Futeran. On the administrative side the old Milnerton Station, now converted into a store for such goods as the Municipality possessed, was, on July 4, 1955, hired for the reasonable sum of £1 a month. A letter arrived from the Cape Asphalting Company of Bellville, enquiring "whether the Council is interested in the purchase of an asphalt distributing appliance known as the 'Patchmobile'. The answer was that, until further notice, the council was "not in the market for such a machine".
As for the second-hand Board-Room table, for reasons not further explained there were difficulties in moving this piece of furniture from the 6th Floor of the Grand Parade Centre, Cape Town, to the Council's offices at Milnerton. Happily, the Secretary of the Divisional Council arranged for a D.C. lorry and a number of their employees to collect the table and deliver it at the Council's offices. The Councillors, destined to sit around the table, were moved to record their appreciation of such brotherly action.
Steps were also taken to acquire the first piece of Municipal transport, a lorry, to replace the existing arrangement, under which "Killa Brothers undertook the collection and removal of the garden and other refuse from the streets of the town". With some perspicacity Councillor Savage pointed out that, once such a vehicle had been obtained, it would be necessary to provide it with some kind of shelter, as well as engage the services of a driver and labourer.
Numerous other matters of basic importance demanded attention, among them the preparation of an up-to-date street plan and a list of their names, to purchase a safe, and erect office shelving. There was likewise the vexed ownership question of the famous wooden bridge over the Diep River, the raising of a possible loan for £131 230 to finance a sewerage scheme and, above all, a Town Planning Scheme. Less essential items likewise took up time - for instance an application from I. N. van der Byl for permission to erect a Wendy House in his garden, and a letter from the Society of Heraldry, regarding the acquisition by the Milnerton Municipality of its own Coat-of-Arms. (Matter postponed for 12 months.) The first attempt to control traffic dates from August 1, 1955 when a notice board was authorised, in both official languages, "indicating that cycling within the Park is prohibited".
In the same month the whole subject of the Railway Service was revived, following the request from the Milnerton Turf Club that "the horse trains be suspended as from the end of September". Accompanying this, went an argument as to the policy to be adopted in regard to racing stables, now that the population was steadily increasing and losing its rural character. "Milnerton's problem," said Dr. De Villiers, "is somewhat different from that of the other Peninsula authorities. It has been developed with emphasis on the country town aspect and its interests are linked with its Racecourse. This has resulted in Milnerton attracting persons wishing to get away from the purely urban areas. . ." To maintain the traditional link of the community with the Turf he suggested establishing a "buffer strip", half a mile wide, to prevent encroachment by flies. Instead however a system of zoning was adopted.
With the appointment of a permanent Town Clerk, in the person of T. A. Koen, the administrative machinery of Milnerton began to move faster, and to widen in scope. Of considerable benefit to the staff was Milnerton's decision, on Mr. Koen's initiative, in 1956 to join the Western Cape Joint Municipal Pension Fund.
Now that its new reservoir at Wemmershoek was near completion, Cape Town was approached with the request for an increase in the water supply. Milnerton's possibilities as a seaside resort were recognised afresh, though marred by several casualties amongst swimmers in the lagoon. Here something of a problem arose through the rights of ownership held by the Milnerton Estates Limited, the Municipality and the Department of Lands. Brought before both Houses of Parliament the settlement also involved governmental policy in regard to lighthouses. When provision was made in the Railways & Harbours Estimates for 1956 for a new, automatically-operated installation on the beach, Milnerton Estates protested that this would interfere with local amenities, but found itself overruled. Fire-fighting too claimed renewed attention from the authorities, the old arrangement with the Cape Town City Council having lapsed. In this, help was provided unexpectedly by the neighbouring Municipality of Goodwood, through its Town Clerk Mr. Treurnich and its Firemaster, Mr. Marais. Both proved "most co-operative". For the time being agreement was reached, permitting the Goodwood Brigade, in case of need, to serve Milnerton, and this state of affairs continued for years. Fresh problems however arose. When it was discovered that the Goodwood Brigade required at least 12 minutes to get to Milnerton, complaints were rife that, in an emergency, this might prove disastrous. Hence, early in 1957, a campaign was launched for volunteers living in Milnerton, but, notwithstanding the appointment of a Chief Fire Officer and of two Firemasters, the response from the public was inadequate, despite the offer of 5/- per practice turn-out and one guinea per turn-out in respect of an actual fire.
From a report-back to the Council it soon appeared that, while improving enrolments, this office had failed adequately to stimulate efficiency. The fact was brought home in a remarkable memorandum from the Town Clerk dated July 15, 1957.
Headed: "Outbreak of Fire: Property of R. V. Ritchie", it deals with events at a house in Alamein Road on the evening of July 3, and embodies information furnished by Mr. G. K. le Grange, the Firemaster.
"At the time of the fire," said Mr. Koen, "I was on my way home from the office. My wife received a call from Commander Wileman, who had been alerted by the Police. I contacted Sergeant Weyers of the police and established from him that the call was received at the Police Station from Mrs. Ritchie at 7.59 p.m. The Constable on duty immediately telephoned Commander Wileman, who in turn immediately contacted my wife. The reason that the Police telephoned Commander Wileman instead of myself (T. A. Koen) was that, in the hurry of the moment, the constable referred, not to the circular giving telephone number, but to a copy of a note to Volunteers which had accompanied the notification to the Police, merely as an example of how the system works. Fortunately the actual loss of time involved was only approximately one minute."
Thereupon the memorandum described how Mrs. Koen phoned through at once to B. F. A. Schumann, whose wife took the message that a fire had broken out. Unfortunately Mr. Schumann, though a member of the crew, was not on duty, so she was referred to Mr. Le Grange. Mrs. Koen rang him and then proceeded to call up other Volunteers, with the result that 13 in all answered the call. In the excitement of the moment, Mr. Schumann apparently did not wait to receive the full message from his wife, but hurried to the Fire Station and took out the machine as driver. Because of this the actual driver on duty, Mr. Ballan-Watson, did not know about the fire until the following day. Strongly reminiscent of the Keystone Cops on the films, were the events at the actual scene of the outbreak.
"Members of the Brigade," we are told, "immediately started searching for the hydrant, and Mr. Schumann tried to take the machine into the grounds of the property, in order to use the auxiliary hose on the machine. In doing so the extension ladder on the machine caught the arch over the entrance gate, with the result that the mountings for the extension ladder and the hose reel were broken and bent. The top platform of the machine splintered at the one end, and one of the rear panels of the machine broke." Mr. Koen added that, on his own responsibility, he had the damage repaired the following day, at the insurers' cost of £22. Despite these calamities the Brigade was on the scene of the outbreak in less than 10 minutes after Mrs. Koen had taken down the message. When Mr. Koen himself arrived, "the Brigade was already in action and handled the matter efficiently and well".
"At one stage," he added, "the Firemaster requested permission to call out the Salt River Brigade (Cape Town), but I refused to grant the necessary permission as I was convinced that our own Brigade was able to handle the matter. This proved to be the case."
From these events the Town Clerk deduced several valuable facts, the most important being that "the Volunteer Fire Brigade, established by this Council, can and does operate efficiently and can give adequate fire protection". Additional fire hydrants however were essential, the nearest to the scene of the conflagration being in Pienaar Road. 1 100 feet of hose were also needed. "The telephone position," Mr. Koen added, "must be improved. An Exchange with a special Fire Number has been allocated to this Council, yet, unless extensions can be put through to the homes of certain Volunteers, the Fire Number becomes valueless. . ."
Ludicrous though the situation was, it was destined to continue, being again brought to a head in August 1957 when a certain citizen refused to allow an extension line to be taken off his telephone for the benefit of one of the firemen. Fresh trouble followed in January 1958 when, during the practice run by Driver W. F. Bellen-Watson, the rear axle of the engine broke. Within a few more weeks, on February 9, 1958, the Town Clerk discovered that the Fire Station, complete with equipment had been found standing open on a Sunday morning. Closer investigation revealed that the building did not, "as appears on the face of it, have a snap-lock but one that has to be locked with a key". "Consequently," said Koen, "I made an entry into the Log Book for the guidance of the person concerned, in response to which, other entries, uncalled-for and rude, were made in the Log Book by the Volunteer driver on duty."
Peace having been at length restored, the Volunteer Brigade continued to lead a relatively uneventful existence, but it was declining in effectiveness and before the 1960's ended was disbanded, its engine, very appropriately, being sent to the Veteran Car Organisation.
For the time being Milnerton depended for its fire services upon an agreement with the Goodwood Municipality for the town itself, while those newly-established industries, the Caltex Oil Refinery and the fertiliser works of Fedmis were, until further notice, protected by Cape Town. Not till June 1970 did Milnerton acquire its own full-time and very efficient Fire Brigade.