East City walk

This route could be followed after visiting the Castle.

We walk up Buitenkant Street. On our left is the Old Customs House. It was completed in 1814, and later used as a granary. In 1824 it was converted to be the Caledon Police Court and used for that purpose until the 1920’s. This is one of Cape Town’s most interesting buildings. The entrance is approached by a double stairway, and the pediment enriched with a fine freely sculptured British coat-of-arms.

At the corners of the building, on the skyline, are the seated figures of Britannia and Neptune, the work of Anton Anreith. It is possible that the original design of the building was by Louis Thibault.

We continue up Buitenkant Street. On the corner of Albertus and Buitenkant Street standsthe District Six Museum. It was formerly known as the Buitenkant Street Methodist Church,andserved the people of District Six. It was a thriving congregation until District Six was declared a White Group Area in 1966. Thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes. During this time of upheaval the congregation participated in the growing resistance to apartheid and in particular to the destruction of District Six. A Plaque of Shame was mounted on the church building to remind passers-by of the injustice that bad taken place (the plaque is still in place). Despite attempts to break the spirit of the people through forced removals, detention and harassment, the congregation continued to commute from the suburbs to Buitenkant Street on Sundays and a lively congregation of more than 100 people still worshipped regularly in the late 1980s.

The congregation never lost its passion for caring for people, and in 1976 the Stepping Stones Children’s Centre was started to cater for the children of working parents. In later years the church was a venue for many anti-apartheid meetings.

These two congregations maintained their separate witness until 1988 when they decided to amalgamate and form the Central Methodist Mission. This commitment to be obedient to God’s call to unity has borne much fruit, and today a vibrant congregation with more than 200 members worship at the church on Greenmarket Square. The Buitenkant Street church accommodates a number of outreach projects to the people of the city, including the Ons Plek Shelter for Female Street Children, Stepping Stones Children’s Centre and the District Six Museum.

Many regarded Buitenkant Street Church as a place of sanctuary during the turbulent 1980s. Families of detainees and victims of police brutality were offered sanctuary whilst trade unions and other community-based organisations used the venue for public meetings.

District Six was a multi working-class area just off the centre of Cape Town, to the south of the Castle. Today it is an almost vacant lot, shown on maps as the suburb of Zonnebloem. Before being torn apart by the apartheid regime during the sixties and seventies, District Six, was an impoverished but lively community of 55 000, predominantly coloured people.

It was once known as the soul of Cape Town, this inner-city area harboured a rich cultural life in its narrow alleys and crowded tenements. After its demise, the district became mythologised, as a rich place of the South African imagination, inspiring novels, poems, jazz and the blockbuster musical, by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, District Six. The latter being an ex resident.

It was named the sixth district of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. District Six was a centre with close links to the city and the port. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the history of removals and marginalisation had begun. The first to be “resettled” were the blacks, forcibly displaced in 1901. The more prosperous began to move to the suburbs and the area became the neglected ward of Cape Town.

In the 1940s plans were formed by the Cape Town municipality to demolish houses under slum clearance, but it was only after the declaration of District Six as a white area under the Group Areas Act in 1966 that extensive demolition began. Resistance by inhabitants was intense and the last residents only left in the mid-1970s.

The area, together with Sophiatown, in Gauteng became a local and international symbol of the suffering caused by apartheid. A ‘Hands Off District Six’ campaign prevented private development and for many years the land remained vacant, until in the 1980s housing for police and army personnel and a Cape Technical College were erected. After the 1994 democratic election, claims for restitution were made by families, which had been forced out of District Six. A large number of them have been given the option to resettle in District Six, or accept financial compensation.

We leave the District Six museum, and continue our walk up Buitenkant Street.

On the corner of Buitenkant and Commercial Street stands the Tafelberg Dutch Reformed Church. The complex consists of the church, Cornelia House and the William Frederick school building, all designed by GM Alexander, The cornerstone was laid on 19 February 1892 and inauguration of the Mission Hall, as the building was then known, was held on 27 January 1893 This predominantly late Victorian church complex is situated on property purchased by Susanna Hertzog, who donated it to the Nieuwe Kerk in a trust deed later in 1893.

We now walk up Commercial Street, and turn right into Harrington Street. The double-storey building at no. 109 Harrington Street is probably the only remaining Georgian granite-faced house in South Africa. It was originally built as a dwelling house for Sir Anthony Oliphant, Cape Attorney General at the time. Between 1839 and 1845 it belonged to Henry Sherman, and from 1845 to 1864 to the painter Otto Landsberg. In 1864 the St George’s Orphanage bought the building, and the adjoining double-storey building was erected in 1915 by the firm Forsyth & Parker as an extension to the orphanage. Today it houses the offices of the South African Heritage Recource Agency.

Looking across and up Roeland Street, from the corner of Harrington Street and Roeland Street, we can see theoldRoeland Street Goal. Only the facade and stone boundary walls of the original gaol, built on this site during 1855-1858, remain. The gaol was demolished in the late 1970s, but it was agreed, that because of its landmark quality and architectural and historic interest in terms of the Victorian prison ethic, the Roeland Street facade and stone boundary walls be retained as part of the Western Cape’s Archives Building.

We walk down Roeland Street and turn left into Buitenkant Street. On the next corner is Rust en Vreugd, one of the finest surviving town houses that survived from the eighteenth century. It is situated on land that, according to old maps of Cape Town, had already been granted to a free burgher in the 17th century as a “private garden “. It remained an extensive estate until late in the 19th century.

The date of the house cannot be established, with certainty, but it is assumed that it was given more or less its present form by the notorious Fiscal Willem Cornelius Boer, who owned the estate from 1777 -1782.

Although this house is much grander and more pretentious than the average, it was built to the plan of a typical double-storied, flat-roofed 18th century town house. The most distinctive feature of the house is its stoep and it is the highly ornamental fascade that draws immediate attention. Steps paved with blue slate from Robben Island lead to the raised or “high” stoep under which there are cellars. On the stoep there is a colonnade supporting a balcony resting on four massive, fluted columns of teak with Corinthian headpieces. This balcony is very reminiscent of the famous “kat” in the Castle. The front door and the balcony door are also of teak and the decorative fanlights are unique. They are not only regarded as the best examples of the sculptor Anton Anreith’s sculptures in wood, but as the finest specimens of architectural woodwork that have survived. In other respects the house conforms to the plan of an 18th century town house. From the stoep one entered the “voorhuis” with a reception room on either side, from there one passed through to the “agterhuis” which usually served as a dining room and opened out into a courtyard. On one side of the courtyard was the kitchen and pantry; on the other were the bedrooms. On the upper floor, reached by means of a stair from the “agterhuis”, were a drawing room, bedrooms, bathroom and a storeroom.

At the entrance Boers installed fine wrought-iron gates with the name Rust en Vreugd and the date 1778 worked into the design. These gates were sold a hundred years later in 1878 during the governorship of Sir Bartle Frere and now form the chancel arch and gates of the parish church in Penkridge, Staffordshire, England.

Lord Charles Somerset occupied it throughout the period of his governorship. After this it served as a government building, at first to houseguests who could not be accommodated in Government House, and then as part of the old Roeland Street Normal College. In 1925 it became for a time the main building of the Cape Town High School.

In the course of time the building deteriorated, but the late Dr. Otto du Plessis, as Administrator of the Cape, decided to have it restored for use as an art gallery. He did not live to see this aim fulfilled, but his successor, the Hon. Dr. D. F. Malan, generously carried out the project as a mark of honour to him so that the building has to a large extent been restored to its erstwhile glory. It was declared a Heritage Site in 1940. It houses the world renowned William Fehr Collection. The period-style garden was recreated in 1986, from the original layout.

Proclaimed 1940

We now walk back towards the City, and turn left into Roeland Street, towards the Paliament complex. Opposite the Parliament complex, on the corner of Roeland and Plein Street, is the St Mary’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral is located on the historical “Stalplein” (Stable Square) opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Having been granted permission to build a Cathedral, Bishop Griffith purchased a piece of land, in 1839, from Baron van Ludwig. The foundation stone was laid on 6th October 1841, and consecration took place on 28April 1851.

It was designed by the architect Otto Hager, in the offices of Carel Spaarman, who was responsible for the design of quite a few churches in the Cape.

Its design reflects a reserved Neo-Gothic style, with characteristic pointed arches. The building measures 37.5 metres by 19 metres on the inside, and has a ceiling height of 20 metres.

Funding of the church came from as far as Calcutta, Mauritius and Pernambuco in Brazil.

When the building was 5.5 metres high the builder, Mr Skirrow died, and Mr James Begley, who was a member of the congregation, completed it.

In 1926 the tower was added to house a bell donated to the cathedral. The sanctuary was remodelled in 1947. The altar of black Italian marble was completed in 1950, as a memorial to parishioners who had lost their lives in the Second World War. Inside the porch is a large painting of the crucifixion presented by Emperor Napoleon 111 in 1869. In 1951 the Archbishop McCann consecrated St Mary’s as a cathedral.

In 1997 a process of upgrading and restoration started. Lighting became an important design tool. A 5-metre chandelier, named the “Crown of Thomas” was installed. This accentuated the many components of interest such as the altar, paintings, Stations of the Cross and statues. Strategically placed spotlights enhanced functionality and also created an atmosphere of calm in the church.

At the entrance to the Parliament complex stands an equestrian statue of General Louis Botha in full military uniform.

Born 1862 near Greyton, Natal. He joined the Boer forces in 1899 and played a leading part in the battles at Spioen Kop, Colenso and Ladysmith, during the Anglo-Boer war. Eventually, he was appointed Commandant-General or the Transvaal Forces and elected the first Prime Minister of the Transvaal in 1907. In 1910 he was chosen as the first Premier of the Union of South Africa. He signed the Peace Treaty of Versailles on behalf of South Africa in 1919, at the end of the First World War. He died in the same year near Pretoria at the age of 57.

The western corner of Stal Plein, inside the Parliament complex, is formed by a group of old buildings historically and architecturally unique in Cape Town. To the right is Tuynhuis, formerly Government House. To the left of it is the former Banqueting Hall of the Lodge de Goede Hoop. This hall housed the Cape Parliament for many years, but it was later turned into the Goede Hoop Theatre. To the left of the old Banqueting Hall, stands the masonic building-the Lodge de Goede Hoop.

In 1772, the foundation, of the Masonic order in South Africa, was laid by the establishment of the Lodge de Goede Hoop. It received its warrant from the Grand Lodge National of the Netherlands. At first the Brothers had their meetings in a building, which they hired and adapted to their requirements. After 1794 they hired a building, which stood on the site of the former Lion Hotel in Plein Street. This site belonged to Abraham de Smidt, a prominent Freemason of that time. They subsequently bought the building, but it soon proved to be inadequate for their purpose. In 1800 they purchased the grounds, on which the Lodge now stands.

The Freemasons converted the existing buildings on the premises into a Temple and a Club Room, but soon decided to erect a proper building in which to meet. For this purpose they had at their disposal the services of three men from their own ranks: Louis Michel Thibault, architect; Herman Schutte, builder, and Anton Anreith, sculptor.

In 1810 Louis Thibault drew the plans for the Masonic buildings. A contract was entered into with Herman Schutte to erect it for £6 0OO and Anton Anreith was instructed to make four statues of symbolic figures, larger than life-size, to put up along the walls in the Temple and three more to use in other rooms.

While the Lodge was in course of construction, the Cape was given back to the Batavian Republic in terms of the Treaty of Amiens. Adv. J. H. de Mist was sent to the Cape as Commissioner to put the administration on a sound basis. His arrival was of great importance to the Freemasons because in the Netherlands he was the Deputy Grand Master National and he was instructed to inquire into Masonic affairs at the Cape and to put things right if he deemed it necessary. He had the honour to consecrate the Temple on the 7th July 1803.

De Mist himself described the Lodge as the most beautiful in the world. The strong and bold facade of the building was, and still is, very striking. The interior was indeed impressive. From the entrance hall steps led up to the Temple-a huge hall with a florid, barrel-vaulted ceiling and the four statues of Anton Anreith against the wall.

During the forties of the nineteenth century the Freemasons had the Banqueting Hall built next to the Lodge. This hall housed the Cape Parliament from 1854 till 1884 when the House of Parliament was built.

In 1892 the old Refectory was burnt down, and in its place the Good Hope Hall was built. Of the Lodge only the Master’s Room, the vestibule, the waiting room and one of the other apartments were not destroyed. The loss of Anton Anreith’s four statues was incalculable, but fortunately the other three statues in the undamaged part of the building remained unscathed. These three statues-a standing figure with the finger on the mouth, a dying figure and a grieved mother with a child-are representative of Anton Anreith’s sculpture at it’s zenith and they symbolise Silence, Death and Bereavement. The Freemasons had the Lodge rebuilt and in April 1893 it was completed and consecrated. While the Banqueting Hall was being repaired, it was turned into a theatre till 1916 when the State acquired the building.

Proclaimed 1968

We continue our walk up Plein Street (the street name now changes to St John’s Road), and enter the Jewish Museum complex. (see Central City Walk)

We can now enter the Company’s Garden and continue our walk as per the Central City Walk.

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