History bits: Somerset West

Somerset West was initially bought from local tribes and a cattle post was established here by Dutch soldiers in 1672.

Somerset West was initially bought from local tribes and a cattle post was established here by Dutch soldiers in 1672.

A town developed around the Lourens River (originally “Tweederivier”) and the farm of Vergelegen (Dutch: “remotely situated”), an 18th century farmhouse built in the historic Cape Dutch style by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, governor of the Cape and son of Simon van der Stel, who gave his name to the nearby town of Stellenbosch. Willem Adriaan was later sent back to Holland after being charged with corruption and cruelty towards local farmers. The farm is now owned by a subsidiary of the large mining company Anglo American, who have restored the farmhouse to its original magnificence and continue to produce some of South Africa’s best wines there. The farm is open to tourists.

The town was named Somerset after an English governor of the Cape Colony during the 1800s, Lord Charles Henry Somerset, with the suffix ‘West’ being added after 1825 to differentiate it from Somerset East, another South African town in the Eastern Cape. In the 1830s, Sir Lowry’s Pass, named after later governor Sir Lowry Cole, was constructed to link the town with outposts further east over the Hottentots-Holland mountains.

In the 1960s, the AECI factory between Somerset West and Strand was the second largest dynamite factory in the world. Today the town boasts the largest concentration of millionaire residents in the country

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