The story of the mill stream

The story of the mill stream

Last week I wrote about the origin of Dorp Street, the ‘carriage way to the Cape’.

Have you noticed that Dorp Street isn’t very wide?

This is because there are water furrows on either side of the road.

Why are people so concerned with the preservation of the ‘leivore’ (water furrows) and mill stream?


In 1999 a very thorough study was carried out by CHITTENDEN NICKS de VILLIERS, environmental planning, urban design and landscape architects, about the importance of the Mill Stream in Stellenbosch’s character and heritage.

They found that the open spaces provided by the Mill Stream and surrounds are a great addition to the town.

It will be of immense value to utilize and manage the mill stream spaces well, promoting the environmental quality for which Stellenbosch is so well-known but which is often threatened by development.


A book about the mill stream

In 1967 with the 300 year commemoration of Stellenbosch’s founding, a small book was published about the Meulsloot, written by Annie Hofmeyr. She had a passion for the town and its history and did much valuable research.

In the preface to her book Paul Sauer writes (my translation) :

Running through the whole of Stellenbosch, from the top of Mostertsdrif to the bottom at the railway, flows the historic meulsloot, the lifeblood to Van der Stel’s Colony and reason why Stellenbosch could grow and flourish. It once watered the free burghers’ farms, and on these richly irrigated farms developed a town, a town that made a major contribution to our country and our heritage. The meulsloot still flows – it’ll keep on flowing for generations. Without it, Stellenbosch would be a different and a lesser place.

The ‘free burghers’ and their mills

For the first farmers in Stellenbosch the mill stream was the only way to grind their wheat and provide irrigation water to their far


ms. There were no electrical pumps or plastic pipes.

A furrow was constructed directing water from the Eerste River, down to the rest of town. From this channel smaller furrows were directed towards the farms and free holdings.

It was the first private owner of the mill, J.W. Palm, who in 1804 decided to line the waterway with cobblestones – it made the water travel faster. In places the cobblestones in the meulsloot are still the originals!


Who get so run the water systems?

In the time of the pioneers the usage of water was properly monitored, with fines charged for violations, explains Annie Hofmeyr. Anyone who’s been involved in a court case about water rights will know how important and controversial the usage of water can be.

In 1882, the miller Mr W Hunt filed a lawsuit against the municipality because they wanted to use water from the meulsloot for a storage dam and pipeline. He won the dispute and got R4000 as compensation.

Leiwater Stellenbosch




New technology replaces the old

Eventually modern water schemes followed, and 30 years later, around 1910, the Stellenbosch’s water was diverted directly with pipes from the river, completely eliminating the need for the meusloot.

So although the meulsloot no longer retains its functionality, it serves as monument and reminder. Not to mention it being plenty of fun for children to play with little boats in the water.

A certain Dr. J.E. Holloway writes when he was a child in 1897 he never wore shoes during summer (except on Sundays). If you walked in town on a hot day there were always enough streams in which you could walk.

copyright Y Coetsee

The Mill stream today

Today the meulsloot is a national heritage site


, extending from Mostertsdrif to Marias street, between Van Riebeeck Street and Andringa Street, and to the eastern boundary (property nr 6460) on the corner of Skone Uitsigstraat and Alexander Street. One of the original mills was located on the ‘mill plain’ or ‘mill square’. To read about that, click on our blog here.

To take a look at that architectural study, feel free to follow this link to the pdf published on

Or for more trivia about Stellenbosch, read here about where the name Mostertsdrift came from…



Article and photos: Y Coetsee 2017
Sources: Die Meulsloot (1976) Annie Hofmeyr
Stellenbosch Drie Eeue (1979)

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