The Glencairn Wetland

A map taken from GoogleMaps, to show the Glencairn vlei or, better-named, Glencairn Wetland:

Note that Glencairn Road should read Glen Road!

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Some History...

From Aderne Tredgold's book 'Bay Between the Mountains'...

"Between Simon's Town and Fish Hoek the train stops at a place called Glencairn, at which a rising township has sprung up. There is no booking office, platform, or protection of any sort, nor naturally under conditions of this sort any official. If the place is worth stopping at it is worth caring for."  So wrote the Peninsula Herald
in its district news on 16 August 1902.

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Glencairn was then the newly given name for Elsje's Bay, or rather for the cluster of houses that was being built there. The new residents had chosen a beautiful valley to build in. The beach of white sand at the edge of its blue-green sea spread away up the valley to the high dune piled up against the lower slopes of the mountain and the driven sand had been plastered by the wind in patches on the mountains that enclosed it. In the winter the Elsje's River, which sprang from high up in the hills near Simon's Town spilled its brown floodwaters over the floor of the valley before it reached the sea. In the summer the river kept to its channel on the southern side.

On its banks there used to grow many els trees, their candles of white flowers scenting the air in the late summer and autumn. Mr Dawid de Villiers, the former owner of Welcome Farm in the valley, said that in his grandfather's time a number of these trees were still growing there, but, unfortunately for them, the wood is both useful and attractive, and the trees have fallen to the axe. They must have given the name to the river and its bay and the tall peak.

Throughout the early days of the Cape settlement Elsje's Bay had been known mainly as the last hazard on the difficult road to Simon's Town, with its heavy sand which sometimes developed quicksands. Fishermen trekked from the beach but otherwise it was little disturbed. In the upper reaches of the valley, however, where the mountains levelled out into plateaux and lower down the river, farmers had found grazing for animals, and land to cultivate.

One of the first people to take advantage of the valley was Christoffel Brand, the Resident at Simon s Town when the British took the Cape in 1795.
In the Opgaaf Rolle of 1810, the report of the field-cornet the owner of the farm Elsje's River, is given as Fred. Hofmeester, with "aan C Brand" added, which may mean that Hofmeester was managing the farm for Brand or was selling it to him. The farm was granted formally to Brand in 1811. Its main product was vegetables.
Another property in the Opgaaf Rolle is called "Elsje's Baai", and there Jan Frederick Salinger had a tannery. There is no mention of any other farm in that area. It does not mention an earlier farmer called Hartenbosch whose lands included the area where Da Gama Park is today.

Other old farms that were established there were Brooklands which belonged to De Stadler and then to de Villiers. As time passed these two families seem to have owned most of the farming lands. Another farm was Oaklands, which has also been incorporated into Da Gama. The homestead has been demolished. When it was owned by George de Stadler, its lands stretched over the mountains to Noordhoek.
These farmers grew vegetables and wheat and ran cattle. Lower down the river stood Welcome Farm and here, in the last century, there was a mill to which farmers in the surrounding areas brought their corn to be ground. These farmers also planted trees round their homesteads, and these spread along the river banks. Venerable oaks and great stone-pines still hold their branches high up against the sky.

Among the early visitors to Elsje's River valley were the famous astronomer, Sir John Herschel and his wife, Maggie. They drove down to Farmer Peck's Inn at Muizenberg in their coach from Claremont one April day in 1835. At the inn they mounted the horses they had sent on in advance and rode along to Kalk Bay, then Fish Hoek and on to Elsje's Baai. Here they turned up the valley and followed the river. Sir John remarked in his diary that the "invisible river was only proved to exist by a stripe of garden ground in a ravine caused by it". They ascended "a dreary and rocky waste where, however, in sheltered nooks Captatn Wolse (?) and Mr . . . and Mrs . . . (his . omissions) have got `places' - i. e. houses, with a few stumpy oaks and firs. Near Mr . . . . 's (his omission) noticed immense numbers of beautiful green sugar-birds which haunt the rich scarlet ?hlomis leonurus. Beyond the pass a few wretched huts forming a kind of village of Hottentots and Malays and then after leaving on left the descent to Simon's Town and a fine view of the Bay - descended on the West side into a Table flat the most barren, rugged and desolate it is possible to imagine. Yet the distant Atlantic gives it a grandeur and two lonely houses (at one of which we stopped) recall human associations and there is a wagon track. Here saw a regular Bosjesman and Boy. Very short and small. Matted crisp-curled hair coming over eyes - desperately high cheek-bones and most ugly face! Both were lying only not asleep by the road when we passed - Both Ditto Ditto when we returned two hours after!! - Maggie took some rest and some Bread and cheese at the house of . . . (the Mistress was out and the key not at first to be had, but she returned tired from a walk). Received hospitably, house room and washing basin (and very clean towels) allowed me, who had been bulb-gathering Antholyza, but : she (the Mistress) nor her slaves could speak English nor understood my German - so, no communication'.

Having seen the coast to the south of Hout Bay, they continued by Red Hill to Simon's Town and then rode back along by the sea to Muizenberg. Herschel comments that on, the sand along the coast were "abundant Ribs, Jaws and vertebrae of whales, whitened '.. by the weather. It is a desolate scene - Fish Hook (sic) Bay and the road between it and Kalk Bay is skirted with houses of the Whale fishers, and a terrific display of Skeleton shapes it exhibits - Ribs, Jaws etc. form great fences and Enclosures - nay houses Roofs, Walls etc.".

Perhaps the roofs and walls of whale-bones were a little exaggerated. It is unfortunate that Herschel did not remember the names of the farmers up the Elsje's River valley, except for Captain Wolse, who was no doubt Captain Woolls. the harbour master at Simon's Town who used to stay at Welcome Farm.

Somewhere about 1875 there arrived a pioneer and his family to make their home, not as farmers, but as ordinary residents of Elsje's Bay. Mr John Brown had served with the 1st Warwickshire Foot in India and took part in the relief of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny, for which he received a silver medal. His regiment was then transferred to the Cape, to fight in the Kaffir Wars.

When Brown retired from the army, he and his wife opened an inn in Barrack Street; Cape Town. They had a large family, six daughters and one son. After a few years Mr Brown decided that the growing, busy city, full of perils for the young, was not the best place in which to bring up a family. He looked around for some safe haven to take them to, and found the far-off unspoilt valley of Elsje's Bay. He sold his inn, built a house in the valley and moved the family there. He then took a job as a road builder and helped to build roads in various parts of the Peninsula. He rode over the Flats on a big horse supervising the making of roads there and knew the Flats like the back of his hand, his granddaughter, Mrs Paddy Brazer of Paarl, told me.

Once a year, as the girls grew up, the house was thrown into turmoil. Shopping excursions produced lengths of dress materials and for days there was much measuring, stitching and fitting. The girls were going to a ball at Farmer Peck's at Muizenberg. Hair washed and dressed and new gowns billowing, and wrapped round with cloaks, they climbed into a carriage and drove off in excitement to spend an evening of gay social life. Four of them found husbands but two remained Miss Brown, Elizabeth and Amelia, and they opened a draper's shop and tea-room at Kalk Bay, near the station. Elizabeth was the business head and she owned the shop and in time most of Norman Road. But that is running ahead.

According to the report of the field-cornet of Elsje's River in 1883 and 1884, Brown had among his few neighbours George de Stadler, jun., and David Cornelis de Villiers (at Welcome Cottage).

Visitors began to come to the valley from Simon's Town and later from up the line after the railway reached Simon's Town in 1890. They came to picnic and fish off the rocks, but for some years the Browns and the farmers were the only residents there, as well as fishermen who trekked off the beach. They were joined in the 1890s by a farmer from Durbanville, Johannes Gerhardus Stegman, who built a strandhuis above the valley on the side facing Simon's Town. Here he took his family for summer holidays. He had been brought to this country, I was told, from Holland as a road engineer and to build the road from Simon's Town to Wynberg, and had afterwards gone farming.

It was not really until the start of the 20th century that the Elsje's River valley ceased to be simply a farming and fishing area. Then two important things happened. In 1901 a group of men formed a syndicate, and on 21 January bought part of the coastal farm Elsebaai for £5 000. The men were all Scots and they called their enterprise the Glencairn Syndicate because, it is said, there was a great pile of stones, a "cairn", at the upper end of the glen (valley).'

The men were Donald McKay, John Forrest, the minister of Rondebosch, Andrew Burnett Reid, a master-builder, mayor of Mowbray and mayor of Cape Town from 1904 to 1906, Robert Scott Whyte, a baker, and Robert Williams.In June the same year, the syndicate became the Glencairn Estates Ltd., with a capital of £15 000. The first directors were John Forrest, R. S. Whyte, R. Williams, D. McKay, J. Cran, R. A. Mitchell, A. B. Reid, John Parker and P. J. Mackie. The secretary was A. B. Low, subsequently a mayor of Cape Town.

On 23 November 1901, 56 plots were advertised for sale. They lay along the southern end of the valley for there there was some protection from the wind and the hours of sunlight were longer.
The plots sold well and soon Glencairn began to gather its devotees as the other resorts along the coast had theirs.

The other important event in the development of the valley was the building of a factory for making glass. Mr Anders Ohlsson, the Norweagian brewer of Newlands, needed hundreds of bottles for his thriving business and decided it might be more profitable to make them on the spot instead of importing them. There was plenty of sand in the Peninsula and specimens were sent to the experts in England. The sand at Glencairn was pronounced to be eminently suitable for the manufacture of glass. Water was also plentiful, and it would be possible to link the factory with the railway line.

The site chosen lay on the floor of the valley, not far from the railway. The land belonged to the Salt River Cement works and in 1902 it became the property of the Cape Glass Company and additional ground from the Glencairn Estates was added (Deed of Transfer No. 5098 of 1902, V.TS4).

There were few men at the Cape skilled in making glass, so a number of glass workers were imported from England and offered twice the wages they had been getting. Within a year the glass works, under the management of Mr Briarley, were in full swing and the factory was extended and more workers were on their way from England. The company also had to import from England the chemicals used in the glassmaking process, and coal from Lancashire to supply the gas for the furnaces. The limestone, clay and sand for the bottles were all found locally.

By 1904 the company had 18 machines and was producing 100? bottles every 24 hours. There were only two tanks so that only two colours of glass could be made, but a third tank was being constructed in which a kind of dull metal would be produced for the manufacture of wine and mineral bottles, rough plateglass, figured glass and ordinary blown window-glass. Two large warehouses were also being built.

The railways had at last recognised that more than a casual passenger or two wished to alight at Glencairn, and had put up a few wooden boards for them to step out on, but they still gave the stranger no indication of where he was. From the main line a spur line led up to the glass factory.

When Cape Town organised a grand International Industrial Exhibition on Green Point Common from November 1904 to February 1905, an exhibit by the Cape Glass Co. was advertised, though there is doubt if they did exhibit. If they did, that must have been their last flourish. The factory had made a propitious start but its life was short. Bad management was alleged and there was just too much sand that drifted in everywhere. The workmen brought out from England, from crowded industrial areas, refused to settle down, it was said, in what they considered 'a wild, barely inhabited part of the world, bereft of the company and distractions to which they were accustomed' and the expense of bringing the coal from England was much too high.

By the end of 1905 a special meeting was held in London and it was agreed that the company would be wound up voluntarily. The English workers returned to their crowded streets and the cosy pub on the corner, and finally the land was transferred to the Glenciarn Estates on 22 January 1908.

The sand swept on unchecked, and the building gradually fell into ruin. All that is left today are some spilty chunks of beautiful bottle-green or black glass lying among the broken masonry which is hidden by a thicket of rooikrans.

The Glencairn Estates fared much better and houses soon began to appear. Among the first buildings were the Glencairn Hotel and the homes of the Mackies (Keithinch), the Leiths (Corrie), the Parkers (Airlie) and the Forrests (Monktown). These families were soon joined by others: Mr and Mrs J. H. Cartwright and their three sons, Mr and Mrs C. Earp, from Rondebosch, Sir William Thomson, registrar of the University of the Cape of Good Hope, and Lady Thomson, Mr and Mrs Tugwell, Major Wheeler, the McIlraiths, Rodgers and others. They all settled down happily and soon developed a keen community spirit.

Gradually Elsje became Elsie.

In 1903 the Glencairn Estates granted a large portion of land to the Cape Town presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa to put up a building that would be suitable for church services and other purposes. The plans were prepared by Messrs Parker and Forsyth and the church and manse huilt by A. B. Reid. The foundation stone was laid in 1903.

In 1905 the first baby was christened in the church, Norman Glencairn Mackie, son of Mr and Mrs P. J. Mackie. The party afterwards was held at the Glencairn Hotel and the cake was made by the baker, Robert Whyte.

In 1925 the church was transferred back to the Estates and was opened to all denominations and it was also a meeting hall for the community. In 1950 it was purchased by the Anglican Church and was dedicated to St Andrew, many of its furnishings being donated by members of the congregation.

Glencairn had several distinguished visitors. One was Rudyard Kipling who stayed at the Cape for his health several times between 1891 and 1907. He knew Simon's Town well and the False Bay coast and it is considered that his description of part of the coast in his story "Mrs Bathurst", in Traffics and Discoveries must have referred to Glencairn or Fish Hoek. He spoke of "moulded dunes, whiter than any snow, rolled far inland up a brown and purple valley of splintered rocks and dry scrub"; and described how "the strong south-easter buffeting under Elsie's Peak dusted sand into our tickey beer".

Another distinguished visitor was Olive Schreiner. She was the aunt of Mrs Charles Earp and sometimes stayed with her. Mrs Earp herself was a public-spirited woman who worked hard for the welfare of those around her. In 1932 she was elected to the Simon's Town town council, and was one of the first women councillors in the Peninsula.

Glencairn was a lovely place for a holiday. The bathing was good and the beach of clean white sand. The wattle had not yet invaded the area and throttled the natural vegetation, and beautiful yellow heath and other varieties grew near the river and afrikaners, painted ladies, proteas and many other flowers on the hills. There were shady picnic places up the glen by the river, and mountain slopes to explore. In those days it was quite safe for even small girls to ramble round the countryside by themselves.

The great flat stretch of white sand at the end of the valley, like an extension of the beach, and called the Vlei, as the river overflowed on to it sometimes, was, when it was dry, an excellent field for sports. The residents formed a hockey team that was so successful it became the backbone of the Fish Hoek Hockey Club. Golf was also played on the Vlei, but with red balls.

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Photograph by kind permission Simon's Town Museum                      
             
A further sporting enterprise in 1922 provided the residents with a tennis court. Being a self-reliant community they made it themselves. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, who could wield a spade or fork or just pick up stones was roped in to help. The court was opened in 1922 by Sir William Thomson.

Water for the growing community came from a group of springs called Ohlsson's and Forrest's springs and was piped into a large cast-iron service tank that could hold 100 000 gallons. There was enough over to supply the railway with water for their steam-engines at Glencairn and Simon's Town.

The place where the trains stopped had been given a rough platform made of wooden railway sleepers. It had been placed in the middle of the bay but there was so much trouble there from the sand that it was moved in 1905 to the corner at the Simon's Town end of the beach, out of the sand.

What had been happening meanwhile on the other side of the valley? When Mr Stegman retired from his farm he settled permanently into his Glencairn house: The Lido. He was very tall (he outgrew the coffin he had stored in his loft) and his wife was barely five feet, but she ruled her family with a rod of iron.

When the Anglo-Boer War broke out Mr Stegman supported the Boers and Mrs Stegman the British. This did no harm to their marriage but led to a problem on flag flying days. Mrs Stegman would run up the Union Jack on the flagpole. Mr Stegman, seeing the red, white and blue flying over his house, would promptly haul the flag down : and raise the Vierkleur.

A number of coloured families lived in cottages not far from The Lido and there were others up the glen on the farms. Some of the men were fishermen, particularly the Filipinos like the Delcarmes, others worked on the farms. Mrs Stegman built a small shop onto the side of the house and stocked it with the simple things the coloured people needed - rice, flour, sugar, soap, lampolie and lekkers. Pennies, tickeys and sixpences were the coins most frequently put down on the counter. One penny would buy quite a number of lekkers out of the big glass jars. Mrs Stegman ran another small shop at the quarry on Elsie's Peak for the black labourers who lived and worked there. She was more than just a shopkeeper to her customers. She was guide, philosopher and friend and they brought all their troubles to her, the "Ou Missus".

Mr Stegman had an admirable habit of carrying seeds of trees in his pocket when he went for walks and scattering them in likely places. He planted a row of cypresses between Glen Road and the river but, like the other trees, they have been swept away by the zeal for widening roads.

About the turn of the century another Scot, Mr James Cunningham Graham, had arrived at Glencairn to install the machinery for the quarry on Elsie's Peak. A slip rail was built to the railway line to carry away the stone. At intervals blasting would shake the neighbourhood, sending up clouds of dust and rattling window-panes and teacups. A great deal of the stone was used for road building and some went to the dockyard at Simon's Town.

Mr Graham married one ot the Stegman daughters, Betsy. They had six daughters. After serving in World War I Mr Graham farmed in Orange Kloof and kept an eye on Cape Town's pumping station there, but Glencairn called him back. Mr Stegman had died in 1912 and the Grahams returned to live at The Lido. Mrs Stegman died about 1930 and Mrs Graham took over her mother's shop and also her role as friend to all her customers. The family is still represented at Glencairn by the Grahams' youngest daughter, Mrs Betsy Minnaar.

The coloured people were full of character, Mrs Minnaar told me, and some of them like the Delcarmes, were not only clever fishermen but were clever generally. They were good friends of ours and we always visited them on Christmas Day. Most of the fishermen at Glencairn served in World War II. When World War I broke out, on 4 August 1914, martial law was proclaimed at Simon's Town and a guard post was set up close to Glencairn station. No one was allowed to go through to Simon's Town without a permit. The men at the post had a busy time checking up on passers-by and explaining to some indignant ones who did not know about the permits that, even if they had come all the way from Cape Town, but had no permit, they would have to go back again.

Three months after war had begun a Clan line ship, the Clan Stuart, went ashore near the Glencairn end of Long Beach. She was lying in the roadstead waiting for a berth when a strong south-easter blew up. She dragged her anchors and, before anyone could do anything, was grating on the rocks. Many attempts were made to get her off, by towing with tugs, by patching up her damaged bottom, but nothing was successful, and she was abandoned to the waves. Her engines were taken out by Mr Graham. The whole of the teak deckhouse and captain's quarters were also brought ashore and reerected behind the Glencairn Hotel, making a comfortable home for the manager. Many pieces of cabin furniture were bought by Glencairn residents. Part of the ship's skeleton still shows above the sea.

In the 1920s Glencairn was given a tidal pool, near the station. As the years passed more and more non-Europeans, as people who were not white were then called, began to flock to Glencairn at weekends and on public holidays. So, after some discussion in the town council and stressing the need for the "widest possible spirit of compromise", it was decided in 1937 to give the non-Europeans a special section of the coast from the electricity substation for about a kilometre and a half to the Dido Valley beach, with a large swimming-pool at Shelly Beach.

Glen Farm that lay along the lower reaches of the river had become the site of holiday camps for young people. Between the wars it was bought by Mr W. G. Haines, a schoolmaster who was a founder of the Gordon's Institute, now at Mowbray. Mr Haines was a bachelor and when he died, in 1942, he left a large portion of the farm to the Rotary Club of Cape Town, stipulating that it was to be used for a holiday camp for children whose parents could not afford to give them a seaside holiday and where they could benefit by leadership courses. In ? General Smuts opened one hostel that bears his name.

After World War II the MOTHs established another children's camp on part of the farm but a few years ago this was handed over to Rotary. Lower down the valley the Gordon's Institute runs yet another holiday camp. Thousands of children and young people have benefited from these camps.

 




Read more: Some History...

Glencairn Vlei


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Here's a view down our valley: Glencairn on the right, Glencairn Heights on the left and Simon's Town in the distance



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Glencairn Vlei as seen by Google Earth


 

Read more: Glencairn Vlei

River catchment

Here is a map of the Else river catchment area (black dotted area).

Millions of years ago the catchment area was much bigger, collecting water from above Simon's Town as well. Then the river broke through the mountains, forming the waterfall above Simon's Town. Today some of the water from this catchment area is collected in two reserviors, the Jackson Reservoir and the Rawson Reservoir, and then piped to the Brooklands water purification plant (dotted line to the pink star).

The remaining river catchment is mostly from the nature reserve (green line) and runs through nature areas almost along  it's entirety. 

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Interesting maps of the valley

These maps of the Els river valley were prepared by Roger Jaques as part of his masters thesis on Landscape Architecture. If you click on a map, you will see a larger image. You can cycle through all the maps by clicking on the left or right side of the map.

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