Light on forlorn ropeway

2016-03-01 06:00
 The engine room of Simon’s Town’s aerial ropeway was situated at Chapel Hill.

The engine room of Simon’s Town’s aerial ropeway was situated at Chapel Hill.

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The remnants of the aerial ropeway along the cliff at Simon’s Town has for years posed more questions than provided answers.

But recent research by the Simon’s Town Historical Society has begun to shed some light on the silver-painted steel pylons.

Its findings were presented by society chairperson David Erickson at a talk at the Simon’s Town Museum last Wednesday.

The aerial ropeway transported patients, staff members and materials from the West Dockyard to the Royal Naval Hospital at Cable Hill and to the sanatorium above.

The alternative transport was a slow and arduous journey by ox wagon up the old Red Hill Road.

The Simon’s Town ropeway was preceded by one in Gibraltar and on Table Mountain – built around 1892 to transport equipment and materials to construct dams on the mountain. The British Admiralty in Simon’s Town visited the ropeway on Table Mountain before beginning plans for one in Simon’s Town, Davidson explains.

But designing a route for the Simon’s Town ropeway proved challenging – the carts passed over St Georges Street, creating a concern for enough headspace of pedestrians and carts. It would also pass directly over three houses in Cornwall Street.

The owner of these houses was paid a yearly fee of £1 per house for “the right of way”.

In the West Dockyard, where the ropeway started, the buildings were too close together to allow the cables to pass through. This was solved by cutting a hole in the walls of the storehouse building, Davidson says.

The engine driver, stationed in an engine room at Chapel Hill, had no vision of the beginning and end of the ropeway. He relied on painted areas on the cables – when seeing the colour pass into the engine room he knew to stop the carts.

The ropeway operated with six carts: two for passengers, with seats for six people; two for patients, with two cots in each, and two tarpaulin-covered carts for carrying goods.

The ropeway stopped operating in 1927, due to what Erickson describes as a “misunderstanding”. Every Friday, the ropeway was closed to passengers and only goods and stores were transported. The officer commanding the dockyard would send a routine signal to all stations and ships about this.

An unknown official interpreted this as a system that seemed to break down each week. The order was issued to shut down the ropeway, Davidson explains.

The wire ropes were removed in 1934, and the pylons have stood, unused, ever since.V A repeat lecture on the aerial ropeway will be held at the Simon’s Town Museum in Court Road on Wednesday 9 March at 14:00.

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