Take a virtual stroll through Cape Town as it was in 1862

24 September 2020 - 11:10
By TimesLIVE
Part of William Barclay Snow's 1862 map of Cape Town.
Image: City of Cape Town Environment and Heritage Resource Information Centre Part of William Barclay Snow's 1862 map of Cape Town.

Cape Town as it looked 158 years ago will soon be revealed in a digital version of a historic map.

The city map viewer on Cape Town's municipal website is being upgraded to include old maps dating as far back as the mid-19th century.

They include an 1862 plan by William Barclay Snow which covers an area from Camps Bay in the west to the military lines at Woodstock in the east, and from the slopes of Table Mountain and Devil's Hill (today Devil's Peak) in the south to the coastline.

“The significance of Snow's plan is in the detail to which the survey is done,” said a City of Cape Town statement on Thursday.

“It shows all buildings with specific reference to churches, military, and government buildings, as well as all topographical and cadastral information [about the extent, value and ownership of land].”

Marian Nieuwoudt, the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said it was fascinating to see the 1862 route of the railway line and the location of the shoreline.

“The old barracks [built as a hospital in the latter 1700s] was on the site of Cape Town magistrate's court and SAPS Cape Town central. The Grand Parade has remained in the same place,” she said.

Another plan being prepared for the map viewer was drawn by Alexander Wilson, manager of Cape Town's gas works from its opening in 1845 to his death in 1890.

On January 31 1860, the Cape Argus reported: “Mr Wilson, the engineer of the Cape Town Gas Works, has completed a superb topographical map of Cape Town and the whole of Table Valley.

“It presents a most accurate picture of the whole valley from the sea to the slopes of Table Mountain, giving the mountain streams and water leadings with great precision.”

Nieuwoudt said Wilson's map revealed the strategic placement of the Castle. “In the present, it is so central, but seeing the old map one can see how important it was as a defensive building on the coast,” she said.

“In fact, at one time much of what is now Strand Street was where the sea once was. And the Civic Centre was right out in Table Bay.”

The map viewer will also include a 1900 plan by ordnance surveyor Walter Thom which remained in use until about 1963.