A postcard tour of old Cape Town
Twenty-one old postcards of the Cape
A bunch of 21 old postcards of various scenes in Cape Town gives a fascinating insight into what Cape Town looked like about 100 years ago.
The postcards come from the collection of my great aunt Hettie McGregor, who lived for many years in a house in the suburb of Tamboers Kloof, Cape Town. The house, in Hillside Road, had been bought by her father the Rev. Andrew McGregor, who called it, rather grandly, Rob Roy Villa.
As far as I can ascertain from post office date stamps (the cards have all been postally used) the oldest cards date from 1903 and the latest from 1916.
The cards all show scenes in and around Cape Town except for three that show scenes from further afield on the Cape Peninsular.
The Table Mountain cards
Two of the cards show scenes from Table Mountain, the reservoirs on the top of the mountain and the popular route for climbers up the mountain called Platteklip (literally "Flat Rock") Gorge, up which I have climbed many times myself.
The views from the sea
Two of the cards show Cape Town from the sea, one entitled "The first sight of Cape Town" and the other showing Mouille Point Lighthouse. This latter card was sent to my great-grandmother on her birthday in 1904. The view of Mouille Point is rather what we might call these days "Photo Shopped"!
Cape Town buildings
The next group of cards shows buildings around Cape Town. One, dating from 1905, shows St Stephen's Church on what used to be called "The Old Slave Market" and is now known as Riebeeck Square. This building is little changed today, although the surrounding buildings have all disappeared.
The next card shows the
Cape Town City Hall and was posted on 21 February 1906. The City Hall
was at that time not yet one year old. It was designed by architects
Harry Austin Reid and Frederick George Green of Johannesburg and the
foundation stone was laid on 29 August 1900. The building was
inaugurated on 25 July 1905. As a young boy I was taken to many
symphony concerts in this grand old building as it was for many years
the home of the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. Nelson Mandela made his first public address after his release from prison in 1990from the balcony of the City Hall.
The next card is of the Grootte Kerk, the mother church of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. This church was dedicated in 1841 although the foundations had been laid in 1700. A church had been built on those foundations where the Grootte Kerk now stands, but it was completely remodelled before the 1841 dedication, only the clock tower remaining of the earlier building.
The Houses of Parliament on Government Avenue are the subject of the next card, with the statue of Queen Victoria dominating the gardens in front of the building. The building was completed in 1884 and was designed by Henry Greaves, based on an earlier design by Charles Freeman. This card was posted on 20 October 1904.
Other sights in Cape Town
The flower sellers in Adderley Street are still an attraction today. In this card they are plying their trade on the sidewalk, while now they have permanent stalls next to the old Standard Bank building. This card was posted in 1909 and shows Adderley Street as a busy thoroughfare with a horse-drawn cart and two electric trams. What a different place it is now, with cars in their thousands thronging the road.
On the opposite side of Government Avenue from the Houses of Parliament are the old "Company Gardens" started by Jan van Riebeeck soon after he landed at the Cape in 1652. The next card, which was posted in October 1916, shows the old sundial and the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with the inscription on its plinth: "Your hinterland is there."
The next card, dated 1908, shows a view across the city from Signal Hill towards Table Mountain. In the foreground is the burial ground which the City fathers attempted to close down in 1886, an action which caused great unhappiness among the mostly Muslim inhabitants of the Bo-Kaap, the suburb on the slopes of Signal Hill.
The next card, entitled Cape Town and Table Mountain, actually shows Devil's Peak rather than Table Mountain. This card was posted in 1904 but I think the photo is considerably earlier than that date.
Kloof Road is the road over the "neck" between Table Mountain and Lion's Head. This card is, I think, the oldest of the bunch, having been posted in December 1903.
The photo of fishing boats landing their catches at Rogge Bay is interesting in that the pace no longer exists as a bay having been "reclaimed" from the sea when the Cape Town Harbour was built. The reclamation project started in 1937 and continued into the 1960s, opening up huge areas known as the "foreshore". Where this photograph was taken is now close to the Cape Town International Convention Centre and some major international hotels.
The next two cards, one of which is postmarked 1914, show views across the city into the bay. Interestingly the one postmarked 1914 was published by Valentine's Cape Town branch. Valentine's was a large Scottish publishing company and I was not aware that they had a Cape Town operation.
The South African College, of which the gates are the subject of the next card, was the forerunner of the University of Cape Town (UCT). It was situated at the top of Government Avenue. Great aunt Hettie was in the first class of women graduates from this university.
The next card is of Grave Avenue in the suburb of Rondebosch. It is postmarked 1916.
The last card in the Cape Town proper series is of the statue of the leader of the original settlement in the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck. This statue now stands on an enlarged plinth on the Heerengracht, a street which is a continuation on the reclaimed foreshore of Adderley Street, the main street of Cape Town.
South of Cape Town
The next card is of a typical small Cape Dutch house. It was published by Raphael Tuck and Sons and printed in Berlin.
The last card is of the Naval range in the Royal Navy base at Simon's Town towards the southern end of the Cape Peninsular. The rocky hill in the background is typical of the area, although where this particular photo was taken is now most likely very built up.
The Naval Base at Simon's Town was established by the Royal Navy in 1814 and only handed over to the South African Navy in the 1960s.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2008
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