Chapter 5 - An Old Time Outing
That once well-known Cape Town journal, "The Owl", at Christmas 1904, carried a memorable article, "A Flutter to Milnerton", by a writer calling himself "Wayfarer". He began by telling how the Editor, having shown him a press report stating that on the King's Birthday, 5000 people had made their way there, asked him likewise to visit the new suburb.
"I sallied forth to consult with the 'Owl's' cameraman and make enquiries how to get there.
"'You go by train,' said someone, and therefore, down to the Railway Station I repaired, and easily happened upon an obliging guard, who, when 1 told him it was my intention to visit Milnerton on the coming Saturday, enlightened me. .
"'There is a train at 1.20 p.m., another at 3.05 p.m. and another back at 5.35 p.m.'"
Wayfarer next described how he, the photographer and a lady friend, who was there to liven up the pictures, set off from the Main Line platform. "The train, comfortably freighted with pleasure seekers - so much so that we had a compartment all to ourselves - sped along merrily, Woodstock being soon reached and left behind and, then, as the straggling and unpicturesque environs of Salt River hove in sight, the locomotive veered away rapidly to the left and was presently hugging the low, sandy foreshores of Table Bay. Away to the right the village of Maitland receded from view and we were soon ploughing along through a solitary region of rank tussocky grass country, whose general dinginess was, however, somewhat relieved by big patches of bright yellow heather in full bloom that had a gorgeous and pleasing effect by contrast. Hereabouts the country, as my fair companion more than once remarked, strongly resembled the veld, being solitary, treeless and weird. Away to the north-west, as the train rushed along, we caught glimpses of curling rollers running up the white sands of Blouberg Beach, so playful and harmless on this serene and beautiful day, but capable of cruel destructiveness on occasion, as testified by the grim looking wreck of the 'Hermes'*, lying not many cables distant. . .
"The eastern aspect of the country now presented a marked change, dense belts of Port Jackson willow and Minnatucka trees taking the place of the musty-coloured moorland and giving grateful shade, in which groups of sleek dairy cattle grazed or chewed the cud with an air of sweet content".
The journalist described their arrival: "Milnerton Station. We alight upon a well-constructed platform, adorned with a small but picturesque and convenient station-house built of wood and plaster, and, while taking in the rural surroundings, find it difficult to remember that we are but 20 minutes journey from the heart of the Metropolis. Following a narrow pathway through the dense vegetation, swarming with chameleons, beetles and other creatures dear to the heart of the entomologist, we presently emerged in an open space upon an eminence where the Tea Bungalow and the Concert and Dancing Pavilion** are located. In front of this a terrace had been formed, and this, with its gravelled, level surface, its many rustic garden seats, its grassy banks, evergreen shrubs and clumps of beautiful marguerites, like great balls of snow, with their many and brilliant white flowers, is one of the prettiest portions of the Estate. The prospect from this commanding elevation is remarkably fine. . ."
After a further account of the view Wayfarer continues: "No point can be so comprehensive. . . We lingered here a while to get a thorough mental picture of the unique scene, then sought relief from the Sun's rather marked attentions in the cool recesses of one of the leafy arbors nearby, where we were regaled with delicious tea and cake in Messrs. Humphrey and Martin's best style. This well-known firm is entrusted with the whole business appertaining to the wants of the inner man at Milnerton, and their methods, even to the smallest detail, must gain approval from the most fastidious, everything being apparently of the best, nicely served, and at most reasonable charges."
Fresh improvements were under way.
"The hotel***, which lies in the rear of the Tea Bungalow, I was informed, is to be completed in a month or two and should prove a decided boon to visitors, especially as it is intended to cater for family visitors. After tea we visited one of the swings, of which there are several in different parts of the Estate, and later on traversed a breezy strip of moorland dotted with many varieties of lovely wild flowers and reached a sandy bank of the river, where we forsook terra firma and embarked in one of the many river punts, flat-bottomed, roomy, uncapsizable concerns, provided, for the pleasure of visitors, at a moderate charge." Wayfarer regretted not having brought along fishing tackle. "Nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed our outing in the calm waters of the river. A word or two about the Pavilion. This structure is in keeping with the general effect of elegance and thoroughness about every improvement in the estate. The interior is decidedly handsome, the coved ceiling and the many columns supporting it being of alabaster whiteness. The central portion of the floor has been specially laid for dancing, and the devotees of the Terpsichorean art will find ample space in an area that is 60 by 30 and both smooth and fast, while the many anterooms, the bandstand, and the long, deep stoep, commanding a superb view of the city and its surroundings, complete the equipment of this building the place of future amusement in almost all conditions of weather. "
Brief reference is also made to future plans. "It is intended to dredge the river for a distance of five miles, and, when this is done, there will be provided an ideal course for boat races. I suspect the daytime is not too far distant when Cape Town's two boating clubs will hold their annual regattas at Milnerton. Close to the mouth of the river and hard by the railway line, the Western Province Rugby Union are preparing a football ground and the near future should see many of the important engagements of the Union carried out at what promises to become one of the most popular watering places in the Cape Peninsula.
"It should be mentioned that intending visitors to Milnerton on Sundays can leave Cape Town by train at 10.05 a.m. and return by one leaving Milnerton at 6.02 p.m.; while on ordinary weekdays the timetable is fairly convenient for those who desire to spend a longer time there." The article closes with a word of final praise: "Go to Milnerton, I say, but for one day, and then you will comprehend, as this scribe now comprehends, why 5000 persons wended their way to Milnerton on the King's Birthday."
Along with this account appear some charming old photographs, done by no less a celebrity than the late Arthur Elliott, whose name is remembered for his unique record, now carefully preserved in our National Archives, of South African History. On this occasion he was happy when the train reached Milnerton, to do a view of Cape Town, besides shots of the swings, the river boats and of the tea drinking.
As for the catering, a Mrs. Grunberg paid £2 10s a month for the privilege of the Pavilion during the first year, her rent rising to £5 10s in the second year. Increasing demands for transport now prompted the provision of a special train for Sunday School Picnics, but a proposal that a "Railway Velocipede", in other words a bicycle on rails, be acquired for the convenience of the Company's directors, was turned down.
Meanwhile the train service was increased, additional boats were acquired for holidaymakers and improvements suggested along the course of the river, in the construction of which the Woodstock Municipality was asked to participate. On the other hand a Mr. O'Brien, who wished to install a form of amusement, then very popular, known as a Water-Chute, was told that the Company would not entertain his proposal.
*The British steamer "Hermes", of 3 500 tons, with 11 passengers and a cargo of forage from Argentina, for the British Cavalry horses in the Anglo- Boer War, dragged her anchor in Table Bay on May 12, 1901 and was wrecked on Blouberg Beach.
**Both are still standing and very little changed, in Jansen Road.
Cambridge Hotel, now Centre Point Shopping Centre.