Chapter 6 - A Rugby 'Ground' and other schemes
Attention was now concentrated above all on the auction sale of plots, for the advertising of which in the daily and weekly press the large amount of £300 was earmarked. Another stunt was the employment of photography and the display of pictures in "prominent parts of Cape Town". In addition no fewer than 1 000 printed plans of the township were distributed.
Occupying an entire page of the "South African Review" in December 1904 was the inaugural advertisement for the next big event.
"MILNERTON ESTATES LIMITED
IMPORTANT! IMPORTANT! IMPORTANT!
Preliminary Notice of
GREAT AUCTION SALE
UNEXAMPLED EASY TERMS
"The above Company have now decided to place a number of their magnificent Sites at the disposal of the Public, and an Auction Sale will be held at an early date.
"The Land to be offered will comprise Residential Sites, along the river and sea, Business Sites, specially suited for Shops, along the Main Koeberg Road, and Sites for Warehouses, Factories etc., adjacent to the Railway and only about two miles from Town.
"No Site of any kind will be offered which does not adjoin a Street 40 Cape feet wide, 24 feet of which is metalled. Twelve miles of streets are now being made.
"The Company's Boring Operations have fully proved the existence of an abundance of Pure Water, the first four boreholes yielding about 200 000 gallons daily.
"An efficient Railway Service has been inaugurated, and will be expanded when necessary, to cope with the anticipated increase of traffic.
"The Dredger to be used for the purpose of deepening the river will be landed within a week, and Dredging Operations will commence at once.
"Unparalleled Terms. Conditions of Payment to be 25 per cent Cash, and the Balance in Three Equal Instalments at four, eight and 12 months.
"The Sale will be a conditional one, with the option to the bidder of declaring that he will enter into a 20 years' Lease that will then be equal to six per cent of the bid, with the right of purchasing at the amount of bid, at any time during 20 years. The Company will also accept part payment, and make a corresponding reduction in rent.
"The Company is willing to assist lessees or purchasers to improve their property, inter alia, by constructing and maintaining fences for them at cost price, and by supplying them with a reasonable number of young trees from its own nurseries, gratis, for planting on such fenced ground.
The Company also proposes to advance, on reasonable terms, the major portion of the cost of approved Buildings.
"A limited number of Lots are available now for Lease and Sale out of hand on above terms.
J. W. LANGERMAN (Secretary).
Savings Bank Buildings,
St. George's Street,
Further details were released on April 21, 1905:
"MILNERTON ESTATES LIMITED
GREAT AUCTION SALE
Unexampled Easy Terms
"The above Company has now decided to place 107 of their Magnificent Sites at the disposal of the Public and an Auction Sale, Without Reserve, will be held on the 27th April, 1905, at 3 o'clock
"A SPECIAL FREE TRAIN will leave Cape Town for MILNERTON at 2.30 p.m.
"The Land to be offered will comprise:
RESIDENTIAL SITES in the vicinity of the River and the Sea;
BUSINESS SITES, specially suited for Shops, along the principal streets.
... "THE COMPANY'S RIVER IMPROVEMENT OPERATIONS are now in full swing, and a powerful Steam Dredger is daily at work to ensure an average depth of four feet of water, on completion of which a two-mile boating stretch will be assured.
"THE WESTERN PROVINCE RUGBY FOOTBALL GROUND promises to be the best in the Peninsula, and ample provision will be made to encourage every branch of sport.
After setting out again the basic plans of sale already given, the notice mentioned that the reduced prices were not applicable to shop sites. The sale was again entrusted to J. J. Hofmeyr & Sons. On the previous day, April 26, 1905, the weekly edition of the "Cape Argus" devoted a special write-up to Milnerton, headed" An Ideal Marine Resort".
"Nature has provided South Africa with a splendid natural watercourse - the mighty Zambezi - upon which a race of South African oarsmen may in time be developed, of a quality fit to hold their own against the pick of the amateur oarsmen of the Old Country and Australia. Unfortunately Nature has not been generous to us at this end of the Continent, but the energy and enterprise of man is rapidly doing its best to nullify this shortcoming.
"By aid of dredgers, a splendid two-mile course of still water is being provided within 10 minutes of the city, and when that is accomplished, which, according to general opinion, seems possible of attainment in the course of a few months, the suburb of Milnerton will afford attractions that will be formidable rivals to those of other marine resorts.
"Five years ago Milnerton was waste land, but its proximity to the city, its splendid sweep of sand, the possibilities of the Diep River, which runs through the estate, and its general excellent situation, caused attention to be directed to the possibilities of the district. Consequently a syndicate was formed, who, since the purchase of that extensive tract ground, just across from the Salt River, have worked wonders. The completion of the Railway and the inauguration of a regular service of trains at once assured its ultimate success, and even in the teeth of the Depression one thing is certain, and that is that, in one short year, Milnerton has become a rising suburb of Cape Town and one of the most popular pleasure resorts.
"Strong opposition was expressed, but in spite of all that could be brought to bear against the development of the property, it is now patent to all that Milnerton now has a great future before it.
"One of the first to realise this was that powerful athletic body, the Western Province Rugby Union, which has acquired 13 acres of land, which is being laid out as an up-to-date football ground. Villas are springing up everywhere - and little wonder when the Company offers such favourable terms. On Thursday next further opportunity will be afforded of obtaining a suitable residential or business site, in close contiguity to the River, the Railway and the Beach.
"Milnerton itself is well-sheltered from the North West gales, far more so than is. Sea Point, while the South Easter has practically expended itself before it reaches that part. Trees have been planted in every direction, and with the regular service of trains it is inevitable that a demand for building sites should be experienced. This demand has led the Company to offer some of the best sites at the extensive estate on Thursday next.
"The sale will take place on the ground…”
Having set out the terms offered, the "Argus" commented: "Anyone with reliable credentials can acquire a most desirable plot for practically nothing save the interest on the amount of his bid, while the Company will advance, on reasonable terms the major portion of the cost of approved buildings. These are terms that are bound to attract the thrifty purchaser, who desires to live in his own house in one of the healthiest marine suburbs in the Southern Hemisphere. There is no reason why in time Milnerton should not be the Brighton of South Africa, as the proximity to Cape Town - 9 minutes train journey - places rivals at an immense disadvantage.
"Today a Sacred Concert takes place at the Pavilion and grounds during the afternoon, while on Monday the attractions are such that a huge crowd of holiday-makers is bound to assemble."
The great day came and went, duly again recorded in the "Argus" of May 3, 1905:
"MILNERTON LAND SALE.
GOOD PRICES REALISED.
"The special free train, which left Cape Town for Milnerton on Thursday afternoon, was crammed with passengers, some intent on business, and others merely influenced by curiosity to see whether the new marine suburb possessed the natural advantages that have been claimed for it. The run-out was uneventful and convinced all that Milnerton is no further removed from the heart of the metropolis than is Observatory Road, while the added attractions of beach and river at once likely to become one of the most popular suburbs of the capital.
"Many persons came for an afternoon's enjoyment, and these thoroughly explored the extensive estate, watching the steam dredger at work on the river, the building up of the sluices, the draining of the backwaters of the river and the improvements which are being placed in operation in every direction. Others again inspected and admired the Rugby ground, which is rapidly being covered with a splendid green carpet of turf, and adjoining which some of the best plots of the estate, when put up for auction, attracted special attention.
"The bidding, though never at any time brisk, was always high; those who had come on business intent had come to purchase, and thus at the end of the afternoon, 63 lots had been disposed of at an average of £92, the gross total realised being £5 714 which was deemed in every way satisfactory.
"The first bid of the sale was £40 for a residential plot near the station, and this was finally knocked down at £105, while seven other adjoining plots realised an average of £80 each. Thence a move was made to some plots overlooking the Football Ground, where some capital prices were the outcome of steady bidding, the prices ranging from £85 to £110 each.
"The lots put up for competition were dotted about in all parts of the estate and another group of 10, between the Football Ground and the terminus, brought an average of £96. Four stands for business purposes were offered, of which two went for £113 each, while the others found purchasers at £93. Four plots near the sea front brought £364, a very satisfactory result, which is proof conclusive of the opinion of business men as to the future of Milnerton. The opinion of all on the return journey was unanimous, that other seaside resorts will have to look to their laurels. "
Amplifying this report was a whole page of pictures in the weekly edition of the "Cape Argus", showing inter alia "Sale of Plots by Auction",. "Dredging Operations", "On the River", "The Hotel Cambridge", "The Pavilion", "On the Way to the Sale", and "The Dredger at Work".
As far away as .London the "African World", published by the well known Leo Weinthal, who had been closely associated with President Kruger, devoted a four-page report to Milnerton, illustrated by photographs and written by another pioneer journalist, Charles Cowen, while its rival London weekly, "South Africa" on September 9, 1905, produced something similar.
Now that development at Milnerton had really begun, a special Railway Timetable was issued for commuters, featuring additional trains. "The Milnerton line promises well", said Mr C. G. S. Clerk, Traffic Manager for the Cape Government Railways, in his report for the year 1905, "and the advent of buildings, the opening up of a Football Ground, the lake and the Racecourse should attract a large number of people. To show the enterprise of the Company, we are now running a daily luncheon train, which is fairly well patronised. . ."
Hitherto the Estate Office had been housed in the homestead of the original farm, Paarden Island, but in June, 1905, was moved out to Milnerton itself, Mr Easton, the engineer, advising the Board that "the cost of fixing the telephone will be about £8".
Particularly encouraging, in view of the prevailing slump, was a report by Mr Langerman that "frequent enquiries are being made for land," but he added that the lack of an up-to-date detailed plan for customers was still something of a handicap.
Eager to encourage developments, the Milnerton Estates approached the Government for the establishment of a post office, to which the Postmaster-General, Sir Somerset French, responded on June 30, 1905: "The postal business at Milnerton is not yet sufficient to warrant this expenditure." He suggested however that the Company subsidise the Department in the appointment of Mr Greig - the shopkeeper cum postmaster - who should be entitled to a remuneration of £ 12 per annum, subject to one month's notice. For the first time, in the "General Directory of South Africa", published that year, Milnerton is classified as: "Post Office Agency. Letters to be addressed via Maitland, which is also the nearest Money Order Office." Of inhabitants only two names are listed - that of the Cambridge Hotel and that of Charles Greig, General Dealer, his Manager being D. W. Ganton.
Although Charles Greig remained in business for several years, he had in 1907 moved to Koeberg Road, and in 1908 was replaced by Harry Saacks, also a general dealer.
Notwithstanding the primitiveness of conditions in the township at this early stage, an application had already been received for the commencement of a major industry. Langerman reported in J ul y 1905 that he had "interviewed the representative of the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage Works on the subject of the purchase of land at Milnerton". At least 1 0 acres would be needed and the Secretary explained: "They propose to erect a huge factory, which will necessitate the employment of about 800 men!" Nothing remotely on this scale then existed in South Africa and the prospect grew even more glamorous on account of the severity of the Depression. Yet there were already elements of doubt. "It has come to my knowledge," said Langerman, "that Mr Moore, the Carriage Works Representative, is also negotiating with the Kensington Estate Company (Cape Town) for the purchase of land, which has been offered at £50 per acre." He even produced a plan of the rival firm's properties. Discussion followed and then the Milnerton directors decided: "The advantages to be reaped will in no way warrant them in quoting a price in anything like that named by the Kensington Company", though they authorised the Secretary to negotiate on the basis of £100 per acre, subject to the condition "that a factory will be erected within an arranged time and that the land offered. . . will be utilised for factory purposes only and not to be sold, as against the Company, for residential purposes".
Hopes rose high, when in September 1905 the principle of purchase by the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage & Wagon Company Limited, was accepted, though it still needed ratification by the London Board of that enterprise. Sir James Sivewright and Carl Jeppe were granted full powers to finalise the deal and on December 1, a letter arrived "from which it would appear that, as a result of the negotiations. . . there is every prospect of the Carriage Company becoming landowners of Paarden Island".
Within a few more days there came further notification that "all that now remains to be done is the drawing of the Deed of Sale". That document was finalised in February 1906.
Alas, the fates were against fulfilment of the scheme: South Africa was not yet ripe for the local building of rolling stock.
On the other hand the township now acquired at least one railway official, namely its own stationmaster, Mr McLeod, of whom we learn that he had "been in charge of Lourensford, Somerset West for a considerable period". In his occupation, Mr McLeod explained, he would also be able to "devote to the interests of the Estate during the hours of 9 to 5, as well as attend to his railway duties". For all this he would receive £11 a month, besides permission to occupy J an Biesjes Kraal homestead, two rooms of which however were to be furnished by the Company and reserved for the use of directors!
So rigid, incidentally, was the control of operations from Head Office that one reads with some astonishment on July 28, 1905: "The Secretary was instructed to purchase a suitable hat-rack for the Company to be placed in the Board Room!" Much to the regret of those who remembered his role in early Rhodesia, Major Frank Johnson now decided to give up his seat on the Board.
By this time six miles of road had been added to the existing network, while the extended train service was in full operation. Of the 114 lots so far disposed of, no fewer than 86 were represented by the "Football Ground", though the World was assured it "promises to become the finest in the country".
With two miles of navigable waterway now available, the Milnerton Estates gave £10 towards the costs of a Regatta for the World Sculling Championship, due to be held up North, on the Zambezi River. Not only was what was described as "a satisfactory Agreement" reached with the Table Bay Boating Association but no time was lost in erecting a boathouse, while assurances were received that regattas would shortly also take place on the Diep River. Thus stimulated, the Company ordered a second suction dredger and gave its blessing to the Model Yacht Club, which also chose Milnerton as its future home. Incidentally one of the two rooms in the Paarden Island homestead was given over to this institution in return for the cover for storage purposes, "at a rental of 2/6d per month"!