Governors Lane

by john van der linde

Historically, the illustrious residents of Newlands Village include no fewer than twelve Governors and acting Governors of the Cape, and the first Governor General of the Union of South Africa. Something could be written about each of these historical characters. For example, the well-known Ryk Tulbagh, built Newlands House in 1751, the official residence of Cape Governers for many years; and Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony from 1814 to 1828.

The last of these “very top people” was Viscount Herbert John Gladstone, the first Governor General of the Union of South Africa, who lived there in 1910/11 as personal representative in Southern Africa of the King of England. This one-time resident of Newlands House had several jobs: he doubled up as High Commissioner for North and South Rhodesia, and was responsible for Swaziland and Lesotho!

Governors Lane, not far from Newlands House, commemorates them all. This short street, characterised by well-kept cottages, is known to many who do their convenience shopping there. The well-known landmark, ‘The Avenue Café and Grocers Ltd.’ has operated for the last 75 years, run by the HE Bahatkar family. The Avenue Cafe is situated at the corner of Newlands Avenue and Governors Lane. These two roads today form part of the boundary of Newlands Village.

The large grounds of Newlands House have been subdivided over the years. The name ‘Newlands’, goes right back to the early days, when Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel laid out a farm in the ‘Nieuweland’, the name being used to distinguish it from the Company’s land at Rondebosch. Under Van der Stel, Nieuwland replaced Rustenburg as the country residence of Cape Governors and its gardens became legendary amongst visitors to the Cape. The original homestead was altered by successive owners and finally destroyed by fire. The rennovated property now houses the official residence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The use of Newlands Avenue dates back even further: it was part of “the wagon road” used by van Riebeeck’s men on their way to cut wood in the forests as long ago as 1653.

If any part of Cape Town deserves recognition as a ‘Heritage’ area, surely it is our Newlands Village!

Sources: Dictionary of South African Biography Peter Hart. Claremont, Newlands and Bishopscourt Street Names