The present photo exhibition at the Stellenbosch Museum revives a tradition started forty years ago by Dr Hans Fransen, first Head of the Stellenbosch Museum. Using pictures obtained locally and from the Cape Archives, he mounted an extensive display which for many years served as a stimulating visual introduction to the architectural heritage of the town and district. Since then a number of additional early photographs have come to light, which are included in this exhibition. The financial support of the Friends of the Stellenbosch Museum, the Simon van der Stel Foundation/Stellenbosch Heritage Foundation, and SANLAM are gratefully acknowledged.
The earliest photographs of Stellenbosch (Monochrome Photostats)
The oldest architectural remains of the settlement (founded 1685) are to be seen in Dorp Street, Drostdy Street and Ryneveld Street (formerly: Groote Kerkstraat). The most important building was the fourth Drostdy (1768: photo 49), converted into a double storey in 1868 (photo 57) and altered further in 1905 (photo 64). The oak avenue which led from here to the Company’s menagerie today still provides coolness and shade (12).
The cathedral-like atmosphere of the town’s oak avenues are palpable in many other pictures (e.g. 15, 43) and the relief which the leaves provided from summer’s heat was frequently mentioned by travellers. Trees and property were often damaged by storms (6, 7), while the town at an early date turned its back on the river due to flooding, proceeding to canalize storm and irrigation water in an attractive way (13-16, 21, 36-37). Oil and gas lamps, initially such a charming yet insufficient form of street illumination (12, 34), soon gave way to electric bulbs with an excess of overhead cables – a situation only remedied a few decades ago.
The symmetrical lining of streets with trees and canals emphasizes the importance of buildings as focal points terminating vistas (15, 18-20, 21, 26, 27, 34, 40). The additional advantages of this as regards the jailer’s house was that, from the front stoep (50), its occupant could observe all traffic in Ryneveld and Dorp Streets! The general lack of trees in the town’s few lanes (36, 37) reveals the architectural and human elements less starkly present in many other pictures.
The village green or “Braak” provided mountain vistas which contrasted with the embracing nature of the tree-lined street views. The most splendid panorama of all, however, was to be had from Papegaaisberg. Here E.V. Stade stood in 1710 when making his superb drawing of the pre-fire settlement, and here Naudé put his tripod for the first photograph of the town (9, 10: note that the Dutch Reformed Church terminates the settlement and how the spire dominates the picture). From the same spot the incomparable 1906-panorama was recorded (1 a-d) which shows that, by that time, the Rhenish parsonage (44) was shorn of its gables and the Rhenish School had replaced Krӧnlein’s house on the Braak. To the left in the picture we observe the growth of the embrio University between Victoria Street and Merriman Avenue, and the northern end of town rapidly becoming a village in its own right.
Streets running east-west (parallel with the Eerste River)
Streets running north-south (towards the river)
Lost architectural jewels