Muizenberg’s railway station presides over the vista of the sea the traveller perceives as he heads from town along Main Road.
The station is imbued with the dignity and stature of the railway era. Into this station rode as many as 5 000 people a day on their way to the country’s primary beach – even Agatha Christie, who wrote in 1922: “Whenever we could steal time off… we took the train and went to Muizenberg, got our surf boards and went surfing together.”
The railways, as part of Cecil John Rhodes’s ambitious plans for the Cape, reached Muizenberg in 1882. The line was direct from Park Station in Johannesburg through to Muizenberg without passing through Cape Town.
The present station, in recognition of the wave of people heading for the then most popular resort in South Africa, was able to cope with both upcountry and local influx, which its predecessor could not.
Architect JC Tully, designed the building “in a modern style of architecture”.
It has all the hallmarks of an Edwardian building with red brick prominent but with a nod of recognition to the Cape Dutch style.
The station building (1911 -1913) fell to W Delbridge, a Cornishman whose family had achieved fame for their stonework in the area and whose descendants still live locally in the South Peninsula.
Dr Hans Fransen, the famous architectural historian, describes the building in his survey of the built environment as: “Impressive, festive two-storeyed building with single-storey wings, in unplastered brick and dressed quarry stone for trimmings, quoining, window surrounds, gables. Timber turret. Entirely unrelated to the standard railway-station style and more like a town hall (which Muizenberg never had)”.
The rock was quarried at Elsies Peak in Fish Hoek and the dressed stone came from Kalk Bay.
One of the unique features in the interior of the station building is the circular steel staircase.
The station was made a national monument and enjoys Grade I Status (National Heritage Site) and Dr Fransen notes that architecturally, socially and historically it is “very significant”.
Two cannons stand on the platform pointing out to sea to remind visitors that the Battle of Muizenberg raged here in 1795. The Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society cleaned and painted them in a youth project in 2017.
The Minister of Railways and Harbours, Henry Burton, opened the station in 1913.
There are now signs of neglect, like the manual signal box and the turret is also in a bad state.
The society has offered to repair the clock, which has not worked for decades, and to renovate the beautiful Asian teak of the turret in which the clock is housed.
The society chose the turret and clock as its letterhead in a line drawing by Meg Jordi.
Before motor cars, carts surrounded the station, which were provided by 32 Muizenberg hotels to carry the hotel guests to their hotels and take their heavy trunks.
Now in the same parking area you can see how the focus has changed – a huge mural of a surfer with dreadlocks (definitely not an Agatha Christie character) runs across the wall with the word “Stoked” painted next to him, and, at any time from the station, you can see 200-odd surfers in the water.
New life has come to Surfer’s Corner and the station still presides over it.
Glenn Babb is the chairman of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society.