One of the reasons for the popularity of Fish Hoek has always been the beautiful beach with safe bathing. However, as more visitors began using the beach, although the residents wanted it to remain as natural as possible, more facilities needed to be provided. When Villeria Flats were built, in the 1920’s, on what is now the open space behind the first subway, bathing cubicles were built underneath them. People were more modest in those days and would not have dreamed of changing public or going home in a wet bathing costume. So in 1927 the Local Board decided to build some bathing boxes on the beach. The residents were informed that they could be hired at a monthly rate which varied, with the time of the year, from £2 per month in December and January to 5 shillings per month from June to September. The first six bathing boxes were built in 1929, more being erected as visitors from Cape Town, and further afield, discovered how useful it was to have somewhere to change.
About 1922 a large raft, from a ship, was bought at an auction in Cape Town and moored off the rocks. It was a big box-like structure kept afloat by empty drums and was much used by bathers. Unfortunately, being rather heavy, it tended to break loose in rough seas and wash up on the beach where it eventually broke up. Later a diving board was erected there but was removed after a bather was injured by diving off it at low tide.
The first tea room was built in 1925, a wooden building known as the Pavilion. It was built on stilts to allow extra high tides to wash underneath and many of our older residents remembered scrabbling in the sand under the Pavilion looking for coins that had been dropped through the gaps in the floor boards as people pocketed their change. It was replaced by the first part of the present building in 1954 and this has been added on to several times. In 1957 the Fish Hoek Women’s Association presented the clock on the front of the restaurant. Although this was regarded as a useful addition by most people the local children now had no excuse for being home late for supper!
In 1931 the Village Management Board employed a chartered engineer to draw up plans for a cement path from the beach to Sunnycove. The rocks along the side of the bay were a favourite spot for sunbathing and swimming and the easiest way to get there was to walk along the railway line, which for safety reasons was not a good idea. Nine people submitted tenders for the first section, to be built as far as the second subway. A tender of £440, from J. H. Tyler, was accepted with the work to be completed by 31 October 1932, in time for the summer season. Eight tenders were received for the second section, which would complete the walk. It was built by J. Gordon at a cost of £275 and completed on 9 January 1933. The new walkway was named the Jager Walk after H. S. Jager, the Chairman of the Village Management Board. Who first called it the Catwalk is not known, there are several claimants, and although there is a name board up with Jager Walk on it, it is always known locally as the Catwalk. A 1785 map marks a path along this area called “Diamanten Pad”. A possible explanation of this is the presence of crystals in the granite boulders along what is now the Catwalk which sparkle in the sun, alas, no diamonds have ever been found there!
To accommodate the gentlemen a changing booth, open on the sea side, was built on the first section of the Catwalk and labelled “Men Only Changing Booth”. Many visitors to Fish Hoek used it, including General Smuts. On hearing this Mr Jager offered him the use of his bathing box which was gratefully accepted. “Men Bathers”, as it was known locally, was part of the history of Fish Hoek until the Fish Hoek Municipality was replaced by the South Peninsula Municipality. Suddenly it was remodelled, a wall being built down the middle with ladies being permitted to change on one side and gentlemen on the other, perhaps the authorities felt that Fish Hoek was being sexist! Whatever the reason, it created a problem as the beach law enforcement were having increasing trouble with vagrants and drinking and drug taking on the beach. When challenged wrongdoers soon discovered that the place to take cover was the ladies side as the male law enforcement officers were not supposed follow them in there. There was talk of demolishing the building but instead it was decided to take out the dividing wall and restore it to the original “Men Only”.
In 1935 a local resident submitted plans for a new foreshore development. This was to provide a promenade, a pavilion and a tidal pool. Steps would lead up from the beach to a sundeck and restaurant and a second storey would have a hall suitable for dances, films and other entertainments. At beach level there would be two hundred bathing cubicles. Each of the corners of the sun deck would have a tower housing a water tank. This was to be in about the same position as the present restaurant. Other areas would be developed for parking, games and walkways and the water from the tanks in the towers was to be used to wash away piled up sand. A grandiose scheme indeed, which would have been completely impractical when the high spring and autumn tides washed up. Perhaps it is just as well that the estimated cost of £30 000 was way beyond anything the Village Management Board could raise, even if the scheme had been practicable.
In the 1920’s the beach was the centre of entertainment for those living in the village. Hockey and cricket were played on a gravel pitch at the back of the beach opposite the station, known as “the black pitch”. The local children learned to swim at an early age and as they grew up spent many hours at the beach. Impromptu games of touch rugby were played in the summer evenings, as they still are today. On 5 November, Guy Fawkes Night, a huge bonfire would be lit and everyone in the village gathered to watch the fireworks.
Donkey rides were very popular. In 1940 Mr and Mrs Ayres, who ran a private hotel, Bellaire, in Second Avenue, bought two donkeys and named them Hurricane and Spitfire after the aeroplanes used by the Royal Airforce during World War 2, which had just started. The Ayres thought that donkey rides would be a good way to raise funds for the war effort and the Municipality agreed, so every morning, Tek, who looked after them, could be seen, in his white coat, taking the donkeys to the beach. For almost twenty years they, and later their baby, Meteor, were a source of pleasure to many children, with all the proceeds going to charity.
But by 1958 Fish Hoek was no longer the small village it had been and quite a large fee was being demanded for the right to take the donkeys on to the beach. As all proceeds from the rides had always gone to charity their owners were not happy about this, so the donkeys were retired to their paddock on the site of what is now the Second Avenue carpark. Such a quiet life was not to their liking, and after several “escapes” and the accusation by one irate gardener that they had eaten his dahlias, they were sent to live out their lives in a field at the SPCA. Many local residents were very annoyed about this and visited them regularly with sympathy and bunches of carrots.
In January 1954 the Fish Hoek Echo advertised — “See a moving picture of real life in colour at the Camera Obscura on the beach. Admission 6d, children 3d.” The camera obscura is a fascinating show consisting of a round table on which a moving picture of what is actually happening around the building at that moment is projected from a periscope on the roof. A small building was specially erected but presumably it was not a paying proposition as it lasted for only one season.
The swings, slide and roundabout provided enjoyment for children for many years before a climbing frame and a boat named “Samson” were added to the playground. Samson Mankai was employed by the Fish Hoek Municipality for more than thirty years, clearing the seaweed and litter from the beach. He was well known to all the locals, particularly the children. When he retired, in 1987, the Council decided to name the boat in the children’s playground after him. Perhaps an ironic decision when you realise that for all the years he worked there Fish Hoek was a “white” beach and neither he, nor any member of his family, could use the beach for recreation.
By 1958 the members of the P Sea Scout Rover Crew were performing unofficial lifesaving duties at the beach. The idea of Lifesaving Clubs with the members being trained for duty came from Australia, and in March 1958 the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club was officially registered. Initially they had no facilities and it was not until 1963 that they were allocated land to build a hut. The club members built this themselves in the workshop at the Windsor Hotel on Beach Road. It was then taken across the railway in sections and erected on the beach. Although, in time, it was extended it did not compare with the facilities at other clubs and providing hospitality for visiting teams, when it was Fish Hoek’s turn to host competitions, became quite an embarrassment. It was not until 1993 that their present clubhouse was built.