Uncover the secrets of Stellenbosch Staaltjies
What are Stellenbosch Staaltjies? Anecdotes, stories and secrets shared by Stellenbosch locals. Listen spellbound as you discover our warmhearted town as you’ve never heard it before. Dive into tales of living history, art and wine brought to vivid life by our local storytellers. Perhaps you’ll even unearth a few skeletons in the closet!
We’re put together a stunning treasure trove of Stellenbosch stories. Join us and go beyond the scenes into the most incredible tales you’ve ever heard from proudly Stellenbosch locals – our friendly local personalities.
So far, we’ve heard from Pietman Retief and Siertske van Wyk sharing the incredible history of some of the houses in Stellenbosch, stories of the Stellenbosch Village Museum and 20 years of working as a tour guide in our warmhearted town.
Here are a few snippets and interesting did-you-know’s from our first episodes.
In the first chapter, Pietman tells us the story of Simon van der Stel and how he came to be in Stellenbosch. Find out more about this famous figure’s personal and political life through the stories of our local storyteller.
“One evening shortly after arriving in the Cape and on his 40th birthday, van der Stel went on a little excursion inland,” says Pietman.
“He eventually made his way to the area now known as Stellenbosch. He spent the night on an island in this area and people might think that that is a strange concept, but the Eerste River had a northern point around which it ran and formed a little island. What we must remember is that it was a time where there was a lot of wild animals, like buffalo, lions, etc. Franschhoek’s first name was Olifantshoek (Elephant’s Corner), so there were elephants roaming around. One morning he woke up here and saw how beautiful it was and for that reason he decided to name this area after himself. The Van Der Stel se bos.”
In the third chapter, Pietman tells us a bunch of interesting facts about the houses in Stellenbosch. We find out the history of the owners, when the house was built and what you can tell by the style of the house. “One of the most beautiful stories of Stellenbosch is that you never live in your own house.”
Siertske van Wyk, qualified tour guide in Stellenbosch for 20 years
Siertse was the 87th qualified tour guide in South Africa – at the moment there are about 14 000 tour guides across the country.
“When I retired in 1998, I realised that everywhere you walk in Stellenbosch, whether it’s the trees, buildings or streets, everything has a story to tell. To me it felt like the guests who did the walking tours with me, were the ones who were really interested [more so than bus tours, for example].
For 2 years I worked on this old glass tram, together with Johan [from the Adventureshop], that was pulled by a tractor through the town of Stellenbosch. The trip through town included all the stories as well as a glass of wine from Zorgvliet.”
Speaking of walking tours, “Stellenbosch on Foot walking tours are available today and is definitely something to experience.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for the next episode.
To give a short little introduction to our beautiful town, here is a little short story of Stellenbosch. These tales and more will be uncovered and told in depth from our story tellers…
A Short History
Three Centuries of Growth
Following the discovery of the valley by Simon van der Stel in 1679 the village of Stellenbosch was founded in 1685. Buildings were traditionally constructed of available local materials and thatched roofs. The organic layout of the central core of Stellenbosch is an unusually successful town structure. Over centuries residents and visitors commented on the town and its surroundings. In the previous century, when cars became common, the town expanded vastly. The geographic expansion and rapid influx of people from diverse cultures present both challenges and dynamic opportunities.
1679: A new name on the map
It was on 8 November 1679 that Governor Simon van der Stel came upon a fertile valley, through which rab “a clear river… adorned with fine and lofty trees”. He and his party camped for the night on a little island in the Eerste River. He named the place Stellenbosch (Van der Stel’s Bush), commemorating his own name and the wealth of natural vegetation growing there. He straightway decided that this beautiful valley called for settlement and within a year there were already a number of farmers in the Colony of Stellenbosch.
1685: A seat of justice, a house of God and human dwellings
As early as 1683 there must have been a little school building, though the site is unknown. It was not until 1685 that the hamlet of Stellenbosch was formally demarcated in the instructions which Commissioner Baron van Rheede tot Drakensteyn issued in consultation with Simon van der Stel. He indicates four sites, (a) The Seat of Justice (Drostdy) on the little island, where the Theological College now stands: (b) a House of God, surrounded by its churchyard – the area now bounded Plein, Andringa, Church and Van Ryneveld Streets: (c) plots for the village inhabitants between these two points; (d) a street running parallel to the river with grounds extending down to the water (Dorp Street). The Drosdy and the church were built immediately; the first plots were distributed in 1686 and very soon afterwards houses were being built at what is now the intersection of Church and Van Rhyneveld Streets. It was not until 1710 that the first plots on Dorp Street were appointed though in those days it was known simply as “the wagon road to the Cape”.
1710: The oldest picture of Stellenbosch
The little village of 17 to 18 houses is portrayed in a drawing done by a certain E.V. Stade in 1710 – a fortunate record, for in that very year a fire laid the whole village waste. The Drostdy was rebuilt forthwith on its old site, but the little church was dedicated on the site where the Moederkerk now stands. With the building of this church a new street was demarcated, Drostdy Street, originally known as “Beplante Plein” (square planted with trees.)
1776: Fifty years of limited growth
A drawing by J Schumacher dated 1776 shows that the village has grown very little in the preceding half century. Plein Street has become an avenue of oaks, Dorp Street has many more houses, the Braak is becoming divined to the east by means of Bird Street, then just a wagon track, and to the south the “new mill” (c. 1750). The year after the drawing was made the Company erected a Powder Magazine on the western boundary of the Braak and so this village green began to take shape.
1776-1817: Faster development
After 1776 growth was accelerated, but in 1803 a second great fire damaged or destroyed something like forty houses. Fortunately repair and re-erection soon took place. An alteration in building style becomes apparent in an attempt to reduce fire hazard by doing away with the thatched roofs, and in accordance with the fashion of the time many a one-time gabled house was given a second story (e.g. Grosvenor House).
1817: The Hertzog map, a valuable topographical document
Growth during the forty years 1776-1861 is clearly shown when we look at the detailed map made by the suveyor WF Hertzog. Houses have filled up many an empty block; the old churchyard abondoned since 1710 was sub-divided and offered as plots in 1783; the same happened to the garden of the parsonage bordered by Church, Bird, Dorp and Andringa Streets. The contours of the centre village were now established : they form roughly an oblong beside the Eerste River: Dorp Street and Alexander Street (if it were lengthened to join Van Ryneveld Street) from the two long sides, the two short sides being Drostdy and Market Streets. The Avenue (” Die Laan”) with its oak trees is marked on the map andthe Brak is already a well-defined village green framed in a double row of oaks. Van Ryneveld Street, also with its oaks, is shown running as far as where Victoria Road now crosses it.
1859: The Hager map – new development
In this year the Town Council had a new plan of Stellenbosch drawn up with the object of selling off more building sites. The old village has obviously grown very little: a few open sites of 1817 are now built upon in Dorp, Herte and Bird Streets, in which rows of semi-detached houses are sonto be seen. A few interesting buildings date from this period: the Neethling parsonage (1859) built as the vista-end of Dorp Street; Devonshire House (c. 1851); the Rhenish Church (1823, enlarged in 1840); St. Mary’s Church (1852) and the Lutheran Churn ( 1853). All these buildings still stand, except the “Old Parsonage”. The intention of the Town Council was to encourage settlement to develop away form the long stretch of fertile land along the banks of the Eerste River, out of the dry northern “plain” in the region of the present Du Toit Station. This plan did not really succeed; what did happen was the erection of long rows of semi-detached houses, so that the character of the streets here was quite unlike that of the old village with its huge gardens and shady trees. This are is at present being developed, except for the section of Van Ryneveld Street between Merriman Avenue and Banhoek Road, which has been restored to recreate a typical street scene.
Oldest photo of Stellenbosch
Back to the river bank
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the town began to revert to its old pattern of growth and to develop along the fertile land near the river, east of Drostdy Street, in the area between The Avenue and Van Riebeeck Street. In the one direction this stretched towards Mostertsdrift and in the other down towards Stellenbosch Station. In this section of the town we still come across interesting examples of Victorian houses as well as those of the early years of this century.
Further development is outside our terms of reference, suffice it to say that the valley Simon van der Stel saw stretching out before him in November, 1679, is now almost fully built up or has been proclaimed as townships.
Stellenbosch is beginning to climb the surrounding hills and occupy the adjoining valleys – exemplifying the character of our time.
Short story reference: A Short History – Stellenbosch Heritage Foundation