Chasing Avenues in the Cape of Good Hope

Of all the pictures that I've looked at, the one that has caught my attention the most is "An Avenue : Cape of Good Hope" Most of the other pictures of the Cape of Good Hope have the mountain in the background, and it will just be a case of leg-work to triangulate the correct spot. But this one has no geographic markers. It could be anywhere - and it's a beautiful photograph.

In the Cape there are commonly three types of trees you'll find in avenues: Oaks, Bluegum and Stone Pines. Those in the picture are undoubtedly Stone Pines. And here is the first challenge. Stone Pines are not long-living trees, and it's rare for them to survive over 150 years, so the reality is that the actual tress in the picture are unlikely to be around. But is there still an avenue? I know that a Stone Pine Avenue at Bishops School in Rondebosch was blown down by a storm just before the second world war - and was immediately replanted. My Dad went to school there after the war, and remembers playing hopscotch over the saplings. Today the avenue is majestic.

Another issue that bothers me is the likely route the crew would have taken. Records show they went by cart to Wynberg, and then caught the train to Town. I've always understood that the current "Main Road" runs largely where the original cart road ran, so is it not likely that the Avenue was on what is today Main Road?

I took a trip down Main Road this morning, and took the following pictures:

(All on Main Road: Lower Wynberg; Bergvliet; Retreat)

Nothing convinced me that I was seeing the remains of an old avenue of Stone Pines. The last picture is taken opposite Zwaanswyk, in Retreat. But the trees look young enough to have been planted when the sports fields were established, rather than being a hang-over of wagon-cart days.

I decided that I had to learn more about where the actual road was that the carts would have used, and, prompted by the Simon's Town pictures that need IDs, went down to Simon's Town to have a look.

First choice was the panorama that's taken from high up, with vegetation in front.

I started at the railway station, and immediately realised that I had to go higher up the hill. My first turn was blocked by Able Seaman Manzi who informed me that Palace Barracks is out-of-bounds for civilians. He was charming and very interested in the picture and suggested I call on Admiral Law (get to him through Commandant Pillay) who would give the necessary permissions. On the way to try and find the gentleman I saw the sign to the Simon's Town Museum, and decided to stop there and ask if they had any pictures from the same angle which would help.

What a wonderful place ... actually, it's the people. Margaret Cromhout is the Assistant Curator, and she immediately took me into the back room to look through the research files. We found this picture, which indicates that Paradise Road (and now possibly Red Hill) will be the best place to start:

Then a local member of the historical society arrived, and started pointing out those buildings that are in the pictures that still stand, which will help with pinpointing the location - Studland and the Admiralty House. This lady turns out to be none other than Margaret Cartwright, for many years a librarian at the South African Library, responsible for the photographic material. She confirmed that the picture "Commodore House" what is known today as "Admiralty House" and this picure is taken in the side garden. Another picture with Table Mountain in the background and streets is of Adderley Street, probably from Shortmarket.

Then the breakthrough came with the avenue. She didn't bat an eyelid "That's the Stone Pine Avenue at Feldhausen" she told me. "It no longer exists. It ran at 90 degrees to the oak avenue that ran down to the Vineyard ... the oak part that's still there is Feldhausen Avenue in Claremont." So, ignoring Admirals, I beetled up to Claremont and this is what I found:

It's NOT the Stone Pine Avenue, but what I now know is that the Feldhausen Estate became a school which is today Grove Primary School. I will contact them to see if they have any old photos, and can tell me where the avenue used to stand.

I also learned something interesting as I read Grove School's history. Late in the 1800's the Feldhausen school joined with what is today Bishops, and the older boys moved to the current Bishops school campus. Around this time the original Stone Pine Avenue was planted at Bishops. One wonders if it was prompted by the Feldhausen Stone Pines?

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