In the centuries prior to the establishment of the village of Fish Hoek in the 1920s, much of the lower part of the Silvermine Valley was an area of shifting sand dunes, harsh winds, and sparse vegetation. A little cultivation took place on the perimeters, some sheep and cattle were kept, and fishing and whaling took place in the bay. The river itself wandered unfettered except by winds, tides and rainfall, from roughly its present position southwards to the little lighthouse, and back again.
After the coming of the railway line in 1895 and the subsequent growth of the village of Fish Hoek, measures became necessary to control the river and periodic flooding in the valley. Starting with a dyke extending from the river mouth some kilometers up the valley, these culminated in what has become known as the Lower Silvermine Wetlands. An interesting story in itself, the basic intention was an essential flood control measure.
Extensive bulldozing and levelling was necessary, and the first phase commenced in the late 1990s. Walking my dogs there in the evenings, I found odd relics of the past – fragments of china, a curtain ring, musket ball, a button home-made from a piece of perlemoen shell, a horseshoe…… These may be seen in the Fish Hoek Museum.
One evening I saw something white half-buried in the sand, and picked it up….the bowl of an old long-stemmed clay pipe. Amazingly it had survived the bulldozer uncrushed, though the stem was gone. On the base, there was a clear maker’s mark : a crown over the figures 82.
I eventually found a reference to the Society for Clay Pipe Research in Britain and sent photographs of the pipe. The response was immediate and interesting. The maker’s mark clearly identified it as having been made by Thomas Souffree in Gouda, and it was accurately dated to between 1734 and 1740. Gouda was the largest exporter of clay pipes in Holland, and its products were sent world-wide.
This pipe is perhaps the oldest domestic relic of the Dutch period to be found in the Fish Hoek Valley. But how did it get to such a windswept, virtually uninhabited area 280 years ago ? Military patrols from the Castle would have passed by occasionally, perhaps a survivor from one of the wrecks in the Bay, a runaway slave or forerunner of our “bergies”, a hermit or ahunter….. Who can know?
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