Chapter 9 - Better Times
Dimly plans for a local administration were meanwhile taking shape, implying the evolution of something of a community. Under the heading "Village Management Board", there was reference, on March 30, 1906, to a possible petition to set up such a body and Langerman informed the Directors on April 10 of the necessary qualifications to become Members. On finding however that such a dignitary must be a "resident of the Estate", it was decided that "the proposed establishment at Milnerton be dropped for the present". So the Milnerton Estates Company continued to handle these matters, a fact to which it gave definite expression when a request arrived from the Woodstock Municipality to establish a burial site for dead animals. "This was not entertained." Considerable suspicion was soon after manifested when Maitland Municipality proposed extending its boundaries, and a sub-committee was set up to prevent as far as possible the inclusion of Paarden Island.
On the transportation side too developments occurred, including a proposal, from the old bill-posting firm of Gilchrist & Powell, to place advertising on Milnerton station, for which privilege they were prepared to pay £10 a year, while in May 1906 the introduction of petrol-driven "Motor Trains" was investigated.
Anxious to be rid of the burden of financing the Railway, the Secretary was instructed to persuade the C.G.R. to take over the Milnerton line, wherein he was ably assisted by a member of the Divisional Council, Mr. Starke, described as "the most influential farmer in the Koeberg district", who joined in canvassing support from nearby agriculturists. Sure enough, at a meeting of Koeberg farmers, a committee was appointed to take whatever steps might be needed, hoping from their own point of view that the railway would then be extended further to their district. But the Cape Government Railways, while still fulfilling their obligations with reasonable efficiency, were not prepared for any such development.
On the other hand the progress of the Horseless Carriage in these parts was unmistakable, one manifestation being a proposition from the Automobile Club (later renamed the Royal Automobile Club of South Africa) to hold a "Motor Carnival". Hence on June 21, 1907, the Club asked permission to hold Speed Trials on the road between the bridge at the Diep River and Paarden Island Road. These necessitated closing the thoroughfare to public traffic for about an hour, while another section of some 200 yards, between the central station and Mr. Gunn's property, would not be available to traffic for two hours "in order to carry out certain tests etc. in connection with Motoring". Milnerton Estates gave their blessing as long as the Company's engineer did not see any practical objections. Obviously the Motor Carnival proved a great success, for a special letter arrived from the organisers, "expressing their appreciation of the Company for the facilities and assistance rendered". Better still, it added that there was every prospect of the Club holding another Carnival at Milnerton during the Gala Season, provided they were allowed to make an admission charge. This too was willingly accepted.
As a measure of economy the Stationmaster was asked also to carry out the duties of Postmaster for Milnerton. More significant still was an all round reduction in salaries in August 1907. Yet hope still persisted that new sources of revenue could be developed, ranging from a scheme to import some 200 live Mossel Bay oysters, "with a view to putting them down at the most suitable spot of the river and thereby inaugurating a colony of these useful and tasty creatures", to selling a plot for use by the Colonial Oil Company for the erection of a store.
Rather surprisingly, although a decision to introduce reduced rates for children on the Milnerton line under the C.G.R. tariff was approved, the Board of the Company considered in February 1907 "the time premature to establish a school", and that notwithstanding approaches made to Dr. Thomas Muir, Superintendent-General of Education for Cape Colony.
Military contacts were stimulated in May 1907 when no fewer than 300 members of the Cape Colonial Volunteers, under Colonel Shadwell, examined the ground as a preliminary to setting up a Rifle Range, which Mr. Laurie, the new Secretary, considered to be "a tremendous acquisition" .
Other sections of the population also began to be interested in Milnerton. Thus during May 1907 a Mr. Smuts wrote in, enquiring "whether the directors would favour holding Coloured football matches on the Football Union's ground", giving as a reason that, while the Western Province Rugby Union had no direct interest in the matter, he (Mr. Smuts) would use his influence in persuading the Coloured Union to play there. In addition he suggested that the Milnerton Estates spend £30 on the erection of a corrugated iron shed. Startled at the novelty of the idea, the Board asked for further particulars, including the days on which the Coloured Union usually held their matches. Mr. Laurie found that they would take place on Saturdays, whereupon the Company gave its approval, "provided that the Rugby Union is satisfied that the playing of Coloured matches and Union matches on the same ground at the same time will not be taken exception to . .. .”
Later in the same year there was a dispute between a Mr. McGregor and a Mr. Reading on the presence of Coloured people in the Milnerton Park, something of which the latter approved and the former did not. In the event Mr. Reading was informed that, "whilst admiring his philanthropy, we have serious objections to his breaking the rule, of which he is perfectly well aware, that he will be held responsible for any claims made onus..."
Otherwise football matches were welcomed, as adding a stimulus to the Railway traffic, with no fewer than 120 players apart from spectators attending in a single afternoon.
Complaints of misbehaviour by the increased number of strangers brought about a visit to the Commissioner of Police in Cape Town by Mr. Laurie. Colonel R. M. Crawford was most helpful, informing his visitor that not only did Milnerton fall directly under his control but that, if at any time it was thought that the Estate should receive additional policing, such policing would be given. In the meantime the Commissioner was in communication with the Heads of Police at Woodstock and Maitland, who would supply him with their reports dealing with policing at Milnerton.
The Company also showed its appreciation of the services rendered by the Secretary, when, on the occasion of his wedding in the same year, he was given the choice of any two plots for his own residence. Having picked Nos. 1503 and 1509 Mr. Laurie enquired at what price he could buy them and was told that the figure would be £60 each, payable only after a year. Incidentally, it emerged that his annual salary was £350.
As for the English Church, this too now acquired an additional plot, "adjoining Mr. Greig's Grocery Store", on which it was in December 1907 "proposed to erect a small hall, in which to hold Sunday School and an occasional Service". To its credit, the Company agreed to make over the land free of charge, on condition the structure was put up within five months.
Imperceptibly the country's economy was improving and the worst of the Slump receding. Although the Railway was still losing money, the traffic created by the new Turf Club was of such great benefit that F. J. B. Langerman, who had succeeded to the position of Chairman, proudly announced on November 26, 1908: "A new road has been made leading from the Koeberg Road to the Racecourse, by means of which carriages and motor-cars have easy access to the Course. In addition to this several other roads have been completed, making a total of 15 Miles on the Estate." Moreover 30 000 trees had been planted, most of which were thriving. He also revealed that "a number of travellers" now employed on a commission basis, had to date sold 45 lots, being assisted by a new system, allowing "instalment debentures" carrying seven per cent interest. Another promising symptom was the arrival of a Mr. Russell, a professional race-horse trainer, whose intention of building his own stables and other facilities was likely to be copied by professional rivals.
To counteract the Depression, the newly-established Cape Publicity Association - the first in South Africa - became responsible at the close of 1908 for the Cape Gala, forerunner of something very similar in modern times. Its official "Guide Book Souvenir", an ambitious and well printed book of over 200 pages, included a section devoted to the new suburb. "On the Eastern shores of Table Bay is the well-known and popular resort known as Milnerton. Some years ago this place was one upon which only shooters and campers found recreation. For, while the scenery was magnificent, access was very difficult. The building of a railway line to Milnerton, however, changed everything. Houses sprang up, on every hand; and the seclusion, added to its natural beauties, drew thousands to Milnerton on each public holiday.
"There are some 15 miles of excellent, gravelled road in Milnerton, and those which lead to it are level enough to please any motorist. As a matter of fact, the road is much frequented by those who like a swift ride without the danger of a sudden death. Many trees have been planted on the Estate, and a fine stretch of water is gradually being deepened by the dredging of the river. The beach is excellent, and good fishing is said to be easily procurable. Of course the bathing is one of the attractions of the place.
"On holidays there are generally a number of events at Milnerton. Special trains with cheap fares run from Cape Town, and visitors picnic, bathe and dance with gusto. Among other things Milnerton has a fine Concert Hall and Club House; a field of the Western Province Rugby Union; a Racecourse. and a first-class hotel. The residences are of a distinctly good class, and a satisfactory supply of water is obtainable."
Along with this the Cape Gala brochure had several attractive pictures and a full-page advertisement:
"MILNERTON THE MAGNIFICENT.
Three Miles from Cape Town.
The Killarney of South Africa.
Racing, Rowing, "Rugger", Recreation,
Relaxation and Rural Rambles.
Unsurpassed as a Health and Pleasure Resort.
SEE YOU GET THERE".
No less noteworthy was the first appearance of publicity in the other official language, not yet Afrikaans but High Dutch, which figured in "Ons Land", the famous paper founded by Onze Jan Hofmeyr, the celebrated Cape statesman. Entitled: "HET PRACHTIGE MILNERTON", this was embellished with five excellent photographs entitled respectively: "Roeien te Milnerton", showing a young lady climbing in her long skirt out of a boat on to the beach; "De Konsertzaal te Milnerton", with an appreciative crowd awaiting a performance outside the wide verandah: "Aankomst van Trein in Milnerton", with passengers emerging on to the very home-made-Iooking platform: "Muziektent te Milnerton", in other words a bandstand with performers; and "Woonhuizen te Milnerton", showing both single and double storied residences of a very superior type. The story ran thus:
"Kaapstad, de Metropolis van Zuid-Afrika, heeft vele voorsteden, oude en nieuwe, die elk op zich zelf aanspraak kunnen doen gelden op zekere populariteit, hetzij door ligging, klimaat of prachtige omgeving, do ch een grote moeilikheid was het tot nu toe, om een voorstad te vinden, welke deze en anders voordelen, gekombineerd aanbod.
"Het gebrek aan een voorstad, binnen gemakkelik bereik van Kaapstad en waar permanente huizen gevestigd kunnen worden onder volmaakt gezonde toestanden en te midden van prachtige omgevingen, werd lang scherp gevoeld. De opening echter van Milnerton, aan het strand van Tafelbaai, dat een prachtig vergezicht beheerst op de grote oude Tafelberg, voorziet de lang-gevoelde behoefte.
"Milnerton kan niet overtroffen worden als plaats, voor wat betreft een permanent verblijf en als verblijfplaats voor gezondheid en ontspannmg.
"De ongewone voordelen van Milnerton werden reeds in 1898 door de invloedrijksten van Zuid-Afrika erkend, toen het landgoed het eigendom werd van de 'Milnerton Estates Limited'.
"Geen kosten werden gespaard ter verbetering, voor welk doel tot op heden een bedrag van £175000 werd besteed. Onder meer werden vijftien mijlen van de weg begruisd en 500 000 bomen geplant. Voorziening werd gemaakt voor gezondheids ontspanning, zoals men die in elk ander deel van Zuid-Afrika tevergeefs zoekt, terwijl grasperken werden aangelegd, die beloven de Promenade des Anglais te Nizza te zullen overtrefTen. Milnerton belooft te zullen worden het roeiers paradijs der sportmannen.
"Het strand is prachtig, terwijl vermeld kan word en, dat de Leander Zwemklub zich te Milnerton he eft gevestigd en dat haar sports, waterpolo, enz., daar gehouden worden.
"De Westelike Provincie 'Rugby Football Union' heeft te Milnerton grond verkregen voor voetbal en athletiese spelen.
"De Milnerton Renbaan behoeft voor geen andere onder te doen.
"De Tafelbaai Roeiers Vereniging heeft Milnerton tot haar hoofd kwartier gemaakt.
"Het Hotel Cambridge, dat te Milnerton gebouwd werd, kostte £14 000 en is zo goed als enig hotel in de Kolonie.
"Tal van prachtige huizen en villas zijn te Milnerton gebouwd, waaronder die van de heer J. W. S. Langerman, de heer Fred Botha en de heer Llewellyn van Breda. Tot diegenen, die voornemens zijn binnenkort aldaar te doen bouwen en die tot dat doel hun plannen reeds voorgelegd hebbes, behoren Sir James Sivewright en de heer Carl Jeppe.
"Milnerton staat bij het publiek dan ook reeds hoog aangeschreven. Op sommige publieke vakantiedagen werd Milnerton per trein bezocht door ongeveer 8 000 personen.
"Zij die zich van het boven medegedeelde overtuigen willen door zelf te gaan zien, zullen niet beter kunnen doen dan gebruik te maken van de uitstekende spoorwegdienst naar Milnerton, en het landgoed persoonlik te gaan bezoeken.
"De Sekretaris, de heer J. F. C. Lawrie, 6, Spaarbank Gebouwen, St. Georgestraat, Kaapstad, zal volgaarne te allen tijde, alle mogelike informatie verstrekken".
Amplifying these particulars in English, was the most authoritative publication of its kind in South Africa, the "Racing Calendar for 1908-09". Under the heading of "The Milnerton (Cape Town) Racecourse" it said: "The Course is situated about 8 miles from Cape Town, in the Koeberg district. It is about one and a half miles round, has a 6 furlong straight, and is 100 feet wide.
"There are numerous training tracks. The Course is easy of access, being connected by road and railway with Cape Town. . ."
A famous institution, dating from the First British Occupation, made its debut at Milnerton in October 1909. This was the Cape Hunt Club, to whose inaugural meeting in these parts the "Cape Argus Weekly" devoted a full page of pictures. These included the Hurdle Race Handicap marred by a few falls by riders, but won by W. T. Wilson's "Waif', the Famous Race, won by C. F. Louw's "Silver Domino", and the Farewell Handicap in which "Paddy", owned by V. van der Byl, proved the victor.
Within a few months another scheme was submitted, namely the establishment of a Golf Club, "on a piece of ground adjoining the Estate and in the vicinity of the Hotel". This was sponsored by A. C. F. Gore,
who asked furthermore that the amenities of the existing Pavilion and Pagoda should be made available to future players. Though a general blessing was given, several years were to pass before anything definite happened.
One change in the community, also in 1903, was the disappearance of the name of Charles Greig as General Dealer, on the Koeberg, Road and the institution of that of Harry Sacks, who likewise became a "Universal Provider". As yet, however, Milnerton was still only a "Post Office Agency. Letters to be addressed via Maitland, which is also the nearest Money Order Office". Fresh developments were to be noted, when Carl Jeppe proposed promoting "camping out", by purchasing and hiring out tents or building small huts. Rather to his disappointment, his colleagues blew cold on the scheme but "felt it would be sufficient to advertise that campers "could erect cheap buildings on the estate at a very nominal rent".