Bridges over the Baakens River and its Mouth

This blog does not represent the story of these bridges. Rather it represents an attempt to link every photo of a bridge to the correct bridge mentioned by Margaret Harradine. This was more difficult that it seems as many bridges were destroyed multiple times. The original caption on a photo never identifies whether the bridge was in fact the second or even third bridge at that location.

Main picture: The bridge shown in this photo has now been identified


There were 4 groupings of bridges.  Starting upstream:

  1. At the bottom of Brickmakerskloof. 
  2. Somewhere in the middle
  3. A series of bridges near the mouth that eventually became known as the Union Bridges
  4. A bunch of mainly railway bridges on reclaimed Harbour board land at the mouth.

Summary of Baakens’ Bridges from Harradine

When Harradine refers to both Baakens Bridges being washed away I had to presume that she refers to one at the bottom of Brickmakerskloof and the other at the mouth.

Sep 30 1847       Heavy rain washed away both bridges over the Baakens and the streets up Donkin Hill and Chapel   Hill were “torn up”. A subscription list was opened for the building of a new bridge.

Nov. 7 1851        Heavy rain washed away the new White’s Road and both bridges over the Baakens, as well as damaging other roads and the foundations of buildings.

Jul 1852               A new bridge over the Baakens River was built from designs by H.F. White and named Union Bridge because it united the northern and southern parts of the town. North Union and South Union Streets were named at this time as well.

Oct 31 1857        Flooding in the Baakens River swept away the five-year-old bridge.

Jan 1864               “Frames’s Reservoir” on the Shark River was complete and the Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse, was taken to see it during his visit in February. This dam was the creation of Clement Wall Frames who leased the land and the river from his cousin, C.E. Frames. He formed the Shark River Water Company and provided the lower parts of the town, where pressure was not a problem, with piped water. The scheme bankrupted him and he returned to working as a plumber and contractor. The Municipality took over the water supply.

Nov 19 1867      Floods. The Baakens bridge was also damaged.

Aug. 25 1892      The foundation stone of the new Baakens Bridge was laid by the Mayor. R.H. Hammersley-Heenan, consulting engineer to the Harbour Board, was in charge of the building of the bridge, which was a joint venture with the Municipality, one third to two thirds.

Sep. 13 1909       The Circuit Court heard the start of the case against the Town Council and the Commissioner of Public Works brought by merchants who had suffered losses in the flood. It was claimed that the low bridge and solid raised roadway had created insufficient opening for the floodwaters, and that building should never have been allowed on the flood plain. After a finding in favour of the Council, there was an appeal, but the verdict was that no one could ever have imagined such a volume of water coming down the Valley at one time.

Jan 9 1913           Ratepayers accepted a scheme to widen and improve the channel of the Baakens River and to build a new bridge to provide a proper outlet in case of future flooding.

Jun. 1922             The Baakens Bridge was completed. The Council originally planned to build a steel bridge (the existing one was cast iron) but the war made it impossible for the designers, the Trussed Concrete Steel Company of London, to procure suitable steel and reinforced concrete was decided upon in 1916. The bridge had to be put aside until the war was over and on 31 March 1920 the tender of Murray and Stewart was accepted at a contract price of 20,564 pounds.

Early Fords

The road on the south side (that leads to Buffelsfontein and Chelsea) intersects the middle of the lagoon and not the mouth as expected.  Maybe the lagoon was wide but very shallow.

1810 map of the Baakens Valley

1837 Royal Engineers map

Group 1:  Bottom of Brickmakers Kloof

Not being the most important crossing, very little info is known.  Harradine notes two wash aways, namely 30 September 1847 and 7 November 1851.

A 1849 map notes a bridge at the bottom of Brickmakers Kloof.  By the 1889 map we see that that bridge, probably after being washed away twice, is still there.  It seems to be no more than a minor, maybe pedestrian bridge, connecting directly to its namesake, Bridge Street.  Meanwhile a proper bridge has been built to connect Brickers Kloof to Lower Valley Road.

Extract from 1889 map showing the two bridges

1928 photo of the municipal workers’ houses been built showing the two bridges

Brickmakers Kloof Bridge in 1954

Both Bridges at the bottom of Brickmakers Kloof underwater during the 1968 floods

 Whether that bridge remained untouched by floods is unknown as a concrete bridge was still extant there in 1954 and probably during my days until I left in 1978.  I think it survived the 1968 floods although the water was washing mightily over it.

Modern Times

Floods subsequent to 1968 further damaged the main bridge and a new one was built to connect to Bridge Street.  Floods on 5 August 2006 damaged the bridge and a new bridge construction started in July 2009 and it was opened on 1 June 2010.  This bridge finally makes sense.  It is a direct continuation of Brickmakers kloof and cuts out the dangerous blind corner where the entrance of the bus sheds used to be.  Perhaps they finally got it right after more than 160 years.

Final bridge under construction 2009/2010

2020:  By now the two bridges downstream of the latest bridge have been removed.

Group 2:  Below the Fort (Folley Bridge)

Since the 1849 map, a minor bridge has been drawn immediately below the Fort.  It was probably no more than a pedestrian or horse bridge.

Possibly the Folley Bridge (looks like South End side in the background with Lower Valley Road)

Group 3: Lower Baakens Public Bridge (Non-Harbour)

Bridge 1: Unknown – 30 Sept 1847

Washed away in floods on 30 Sept 1847.

Possibly Bridge 2.

Bridge 2:  1847 – 7 Nov 1851

A subscription list was opened for the building of a new bridge.  Washed away in flood on 7 Nov 1851.

From 1849 map

Bridge 3, First Union Bridge:  Jul 1852 – 31 Oct 1857

A new bridge over the Baakens River was built from designs by H.F. White and named Union Bridge because it united the northern and southern parts of the town. North Union and South Union Streets were named at this time as well.  Flooding in the Baakens River swept away the five-year-old bridge on 31 Oct 1857.

Bridge 4:   Causeway Bridge, 1857 – 1892

Damaged during 19 Nov 1867.  Superseded by cast iron bridge.

1862 map

1885 map

Wooden Bridge,  Streetlight – probably electric.,   Piped water?

This doesn’t particularly look like the causeway bridge.  Looks too low.  Perhaps it is low tide.  This is post Breakwater and shield debacle given the amount of Cuyler Crescent houses.  Harradine does not mention any new bridges and all maps show the causeway.  Perhaps after the damage that she mentions in 1867 the bridge was modified.

Perhaps Redgrave was right and it was washed away or so damaged that a new one built on the seaward side of the causeway which could be that stone wall behind the bridge.  The 1872 map below shows 2 bridges but it is the only map that does so.

Bridge 5:  Cast Iron Bridge, 1892 – Jun 1922

Bridge had a lattice railing on the sea side only

Bridge 6:  Concrete Bridge

Union Bridge in the mid 1900’s at the bottom – only 2 lanes

Bridge 7:  Concrete Bridge Widened? When?

Mid 1960’s – 4 lanes

Bridge 8:  Freeway, 1970’s

Harbour Board Bridges

Since the harbour spanned the mouth of the Baakens River, there has been a continued frenzy of bridge building and alteration as more and more cargo was loaded and unloaded via the South and Dom Pedro jetties.  In addition, the narrow gauge ‘Apple Express’ had to cross the river.  As motor vehicles and transport became more important after the turn of the 20th century, a vehicle bridge had to be provided.

1885 Map showing the first railway bridge to cross the river to connect to the South Jetty

The ‘Apple Express’ narrow gauge bridge prior to 1908 (given by the equal height trusses)
Damage to the northern abutment of the narrow-gauge bridge during the 1908 floods
Looking from the Union Bridge towards the sea (east).  Debris caught on the low bridge occluded the flow and forced the flood waters to find another path – around the abutment on the left.

Repaired right hand span.  It is longer – hence the truss is taller – to provide more through flow. (photo from 1924)

Bridge at the mouth in 1908 for foot and vehicular traffic

Mid 1900’s: Three bridges on the seaward side of the Union Bridge – Narrow gauge (truss) bridge, bridge for multiple standard gauge tracks and a road bridge at the harbour itself.

At some point the narrow gauge truss bridge (Bridge A) was replaced with a wide concrete bridge on which the artefacts of multiple lines are evident.  Bridge B has been changed to a vehicle bridge and partially deconstructed.  Bridge C is a new railway bridge.  Bridge D remains a vehicle bridge but the northern abutment of the last 2 bridges was modified and the width of the mouth was reduced.

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