Did you know that one of Stellenbosch’s original wheat mills was located on the ‘meulplein’ or ‘mill square’, today the little square between Vida e Caffé, Mugg and Bean and the ‘Rynse Kerk’ (Google street view here)? This is the reason for names such as De Oude Meul Guest house, Mill Coffee House and Mill Street.
Trivia about the mill:
According to the book Stellenbosch drie eeue, the old mill building was sometimes used as venue for dances and parties (!) with the young people dancing ‘tussen die meelsakke‘.
Sebastian Schröder, the owner of Schröder house (which is the oldest residential house in Stellenbosch as far as we know), was appointed as secretary to the miller for a period of time.
According to legend it was at the mill in Dorp Street where an argument arose between the magistrate Starrenburg and a youth with the name of Hendrik Bibault. Here the young Bibault cried out, ‘Ik ben een Africaander’, the iconic first use of the word ‘Afrikaner’ to indicate a European living in Africa.
The story of the mill
The first ‘trade’ in Stellenbosch was probably that of the miller. Without a local mill, residents were forced to take their wheat all the way to Cape Town, a day’s journey, in order to make flour for baking bread. Stellenbosch’s first mill was most likely built at the lower end of town where the farm ‘oude molen’ (translated “old mill”) is indicated on most of the early maps. Supplied by water flowing from the Eerste River into the Plankenbrug river, the old mill probably stood in Alexander street where Land Rover/Porsche is today (google street view here).
A number of mills were subsequently built, but all have been demolished and many of the original details lost. One mill was located at upper Dorp Street, where the Dutch reformed parsonage would later be and where Utopia home for the elderly is today – a diagonal mill building is shown on most of the early town maps. This Dorp Street mill was dangerously exposed to flooding in winter, which damaged the dam structure, and experts at the time believe it required too much energy and maintenance.
Mill square is founded
In 1749, when the town was about 70 years old, it was decided to build a new mill again. This time a site was identified in central Stellenbosch, close to the Braak or Exercitie plaatz, and 2 morgen (around 1,7 hectares) was granted by the farm Voorgelegen. This area, where the Checkers center, Mugg & Bean and the Rhenish church is today, is still known as mill square (the mill is indicated on Hertzog ‘s map of 1817).
There was quite some politicking about the running of the mill. As the ‘landdros and heemrade’ owned the mill for more than 100 years, the government basically had a monopoly on this service. For many years this caused unhappiness, and many residents tried to negotiate permission to own private mills under certain terms and conditions. In 1804 it was finally decided to privatize the town mill, and the mill was leased yearly at a fixed sum. It was the responsibility of the new miller to maintain the mill stream, which ran from Mostertsdrift to the farm Oude Molen.
The mill stream
In some places the stream is laid out with river stones (such as when passing Heemstede, the botanical gardens and the town hall in Plein Street). In other areas the stream meanders along the ‘oewerwandelpad‘ or ‘lover’s lane’, a small hiking trail starting at Van Riebeeck Street and running behind Rowan street, Thibault Street and Zwaanswyk.
A section of this land was claimed as ‘state or municipal land’ (transported to the ‘colonie van Stellenbosch’), and therefore still known as Koloniesland.
Today the mill stream is declared a national heritage site, from Mostertsdrift to Marais Street, between Van Riebeeck Street and Andringa Street, and towards the intersection of Skone Uitsig Street and Alexander Street. Read here en here for more specific info on that.
Follow the Stellenbosch heritage Foundation on Facebook for updates about the Mill Project!
Also: Did you know that Stellenbosch not only has one River (the Eerste River), but also the Blouklip River, Krom River and the Plankenbrug River? Read here to find out more about these rivers and their names.
Article and photos: Y Coetsee 2016
Sources: Stellenbosch Drie Eeue & www.stellenboschheritage.co.za