The wooden bridge of Milnerton that decided the South African War in 1900s

Stephen Nartey October 27, 2022
Old wooden bridge over Milnerton Lagoon. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The wooden bridge which was built by the Fortress Company of the Royal Engineers during the South African War is over 100 years old. It was closed to traffic in 1990 and opened to the public to use as a walkway in 1995 but as a result of its poor state, the state authorities closed it again in 2007. 

The bridge which is situated in Milnerton between Otto du Plessis Drive and Woodbridge Island was built with jarrah wood, according to Sabris Sahra. Though this wood species is no longer in vogue, it was popularly used in South Africa for railway sleepers. 

The bridge was built purposively to enable the military to make inroads into Woodbridge Island and provide a gateway to a cannon trench. Until a new bridge was constructed, the Wooden Bridge was the only link for the military and the public who wanted to go to the island. 

The bridge has been a historical relic and it has become an important monument with regard to its military history and that of Milnerton township. It is the only lasting legacy of the South African War between the British and the Boers. It is battling to survive the vagaries of the weather and long years of serving the military and pedestrians.

Despite the deterioration of the Wooden Bridge, it continues to play an important role in the social, recreational and economic life of the people of Milnerton. The historical landmark continues to attract scores of tourists who want to share in the Wooden Bridge’s rich history. It is considered a Grade 2 provincial heritage site and it has a legal binding to the state to maintain it. 

The bridge continues to court public interest and appreciation of its unique architecture. Most importantly, this interest in the health of the bridge centers on its importance to the motoring public, military and scenic effects. There are calls for the government to save the integrity of the bridge which they say is fast deteriorating.

The South African government says it has budgeted 3.3 million rand ($183,000) to put the bridge into good shape to improve the beautification of the Milnerton community. Milnerton came about from a project started by Milnerton Estates Limited which bought lands for commercial farms in 1897. 

They intended to build a city which was to be called Milnerton and set up railway communications from Cape Town to the heart of their project. In 1903, the railway project materialized and was open to the public that year but it was operated on a private basis until it was closed in 1956.

The original layout of the present-day Milnerton was captured in a 1932 survey which mapped out the railway line, the wooden bridge and the old weir across the lagoon. The architecture was built on ancient Italian designs which dwelled heavily on timber bridges which take a long period of time to deteriorate.

The architecture is reminiscent of the designs of the Ponte Coperto Bridge by Palladio in the 16th Century at Bassano in Italy. Oral tradition has it that the Italians are good with maintaining bridges which are built with timbers for a long time. The bridge designed by Ponte still stands in the present day.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 27, 2022


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