The history of Keizersgracht, Darling and Hanover Street

by | 14 Nov 2019 | District Six

This post is about my journey in discovering the importance of a name. Recently the City of Cape Town renamed Keizersgracht to Hanover Street. It sparked a battle in my mind about the history of Hanover Street. This post is more about how names change, but also about how do we say in the end what is original or not.

The hardest part to explain is that Keizersgracht (now Hanover) as we know the double-carriage way today, did not exist pre 1980s. It was a road that was created after most of the homes and businesses were demolished from 1966 to 1983 during the forced removals and demolitions after the Group Areas Act of 1950, where District Six was declared a ‘white’ group area. But interestingly Keizersgracht (it was the road alongside the canal as seen in Jacques-Nicolas Bellin map of 1750 of the Cape ) was originally what we now call Darling Street. So the apartheid government was not incorrect when they brought the name back (the reason for them doing tied to them wanting to erase the recent past). But they just added a whole new road that was never there to begin with, they carried on straight not bending up towards the mountain(as the original street did). As Bonita Bennett says they just followed the contour.

1750 Bellin Map of Cape Town, South Africa - Geographicus - Gundriss-bellin-1750
If you look closely, the open area opposite the castle is what we today know as the parade and to the left and right of it are canals running down towards the castle. The canal bordering the parade ends in a stream. The road alongside the canal is Keizersgracht.
This plan of Cape Town is dated c.1804 and it clearly shows Keizersgracht starting at Heerengracht (now Adderley Street) and ending at Buitenkant street. Note the spelling of the streets.

The original Keizersgracht (canal alongside) followed along the parade up until Buitenkant as is shown in the c. 1804 plan. As Cape Town developed it extended itself over towards the castle and continued till Herman Schutte’s Hanover House. This extension later became known as Hanover Street. This name change happens in 1844. Although it is not named in the plan of c. 1848. In other words we have our first renaming in 1844. The whole of Hanover Street till Sheppard Street does not exist yet, it is still to be built. Sir Lowry road is still called Great Road (reference to the old roman road in England?).

This plan from c. 1848 shows how Keizersgracht has extended and now meets Great Road. The red lines help to mark the street more clearly.

The plan of 1854 reveals the same layout but one can see that more buildings have been built and more streets and blocks are present. It is the first map that shows the change from Keizersgracht to Hanover street.

This map of 1854 shows the renaming of a section Keizersgracht to Hanover Street.
This is part of William Snow’s Survey of 1862 and the red lines represent Darling Street in the bottom left corner joining Hanover Street. This map reveals most just how much Hanover Street had grown, because in the previous maps it only extended till Tennant Street.

William Snow’s Survey 1862 is more detailed than the previous plans and shows all the individual buildings and provides great detail of Kanaladorp (District Six) and the growth of Hanover Street (pre-destruction: c. 1844 to c. 1983), which runs on the same axis as Longmarket Street. Importantly Keizersgracht street has now been renamed Darling Street.

This c. 1863 map is actually closer to the map of 1854 than to Snow’s detailed survey.

The map of c. 1863 is less detailed as Snow’s survey but it shows some of the changes that took place. In the end it is very similar to the plan of 1854.

This map of 1878 shows now a big change with regard to Hanover Street and Darling Street. Darling street has extended itself all the way from Adderley Street to Cannon Street. The section of the street from Buitenkant to Tennant has now had 5 name changes over the years – Keizersgracht to Hanover to Darling to Keizersgracht to Hanover.

The map of 1878 really shows just how much has been developed around Hanover Street and the city’s overall growth. Kanaladorp is now District Six. But importantly in this map Darling Street is from Adderley Street all the way up to the corner of Tennant, Longmarket and Hanover Street. According to the city survey from 1944-1966 (see below) a section of Darling street becomes Upper Darling Street as it connects to Hanover.

Yet if one looks at commercial city maps (1948) the section is still called Hanover Street.

Confusingly the commercial city maps still shows Hanover Street, although this map does contain errors.

There are pretty much no changes through all the various maps from 1913 to 1950. Of course all this changes when the apartheid government destroys District Six.

The yellow lines show the current street grid, and the red lines show where Hanover Street is.

If you look closely Hanover Street is almost a block up from Keizersgracht Street in yellow (now Hanover Street). It was this reason why the District Six Museum suggested ‘New’ Hanover Street.