This is an important moment in which we celebrate the recovery of an element of Cape Town’s lost transportation heritage: milestones. And it coincides with the bi-centenary of their installation along Main Road: milestones exactly like the one pictured below (located opposite the well known Olympia Cafe Main Road Kalk Bay) were first placed along Main Road in 1814 – 1815 during the governorship of Lord Charles Somerset.
A Replica of Milestone XVII
The reason stemmed from the decision by the British in 1814 to make Simon’s Bay their naval station; that in turn necessitated the upgrading of Main Road from Wynberg through to Simon’s Town. The roadworks were undertaken concurrently along three sections: Wynberg – Diep River, Diep River – Muizenberg, and Muizenberg – Simon’s Town, with the Muizenberg – Simon’s Town section being the most important because of the difficult terrain and poor quality of the road. So it got started first in June 1814. The whole programme was probably completed by August 1816.
With the roadworks came the milestones. Installation of milestones along main roads had become mandatory in the home country, Britain, fifty years earlier and the practice was adopted here. Their purpose was both to mark the edge of the road and also enable accurate estimation of distances, travel times and fares for services running between Cape Town and Simon’s Town. They were probably designed by the famous engineer-surveyor Louis Michel Thibault and were most likely cut from slate quarried on Robben Island. It is known that British convicts awaiting transportation to Australia worked in those quarries and they may have been responsible for cutting and inscribing the stones.
The original milestone appears clearly in a photo from the 1870s and may have survived here as late as the 1920s when major road improvments were undertaken. It may have been damaged or buried at this time, or perhaps even earlier. We were hoping it might be found during the recent roadworks and the contractors Civils 2000 searched diligently but in vain to find it.
Historic Photo of the Milestone (Western Cape Archives)
This milestone XVII is an accurate replica of the original and stands close to the original site. The stone is Malmesbury slate and probably came from the Strand Street Quarry. It stands about 1 m tall, has a 45 cm face-width, and is 18 cm thick. It weighs about 350 kgs. The lettering is Times Roman exactly as on the original. It stands 17 miles (27.4 km) from the then-centre of Cape Town – the Town House on Greenmarket Square. The Town House was the seat of civil government until the City Hall was built in 1905.
The creation of this replica, and also Milestone XV at Muizenberg, was made possible by the efforts of a number of people. Paul Booth, City Engineers Department, secured the funding to cut and inscribe the stone; this was carried out by Trevor Clift of Clift Granite, stonemasons of Paarl who had some blocks of slate in their yard. Installation was carried out by the road contractors Martin & East in conjunction with Andy Rush of Knight Piesold, project engineers.
Replicating the missing milestones has been a Kalk Bay Historical Association (KBHA) objective for the last 15 years and we are grateful to the City for its vision, Clifts for the craftsmanship for which they have been famous since 1905, and Martin & East for installing this stone.
Main Picture: The main road to Simon's Town with the Harbour Beach and fishing boats pulled up on the sand. This was before the coming of the railway obviously. The large thatched building was for fish drying. The sea is quite rough and you can see a small open fishing boat making its way out, protected by the headland of what was a natural harbour.