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Road Bridge over the Buffeljags River - 'Sugar Bridge'
Swellendam district, Western Cape

John SKIRROW: Engineer
William ATMORE: Engineer



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34°02'43.26" S 20°32'05.17" E Alt: 67m

The bridge was designed by SKIRROW but since he died in 1846 before the construction on the bridge even started, ATMORE was probably in charge of the design later.

The old bridge dates back to 1852. The piers were built of huge sandstone blocks hewn from a nearby quarry. The teak used for the superstructure was salvaged from a shipwreck, the Robert, which ran aground at the mouth of the Lourens River in 1847.

What was needed was a suitable mortar to cement the sandstone blocks firmly to withstand the potential flood-waters of the Buffeljags River. Portland cement had only begun to be made commercially and it was not yet available in Africa. The traditional local mortar was made from a mixture of sand and lime, the problem with this was that it develops its strength very slowly and there was a danger that the structure would be washed away by floods before it reached full strength. It was decided to use gypsum, imported from France. The problem with gypsum is that it sets very quickly and there would not be time to position the large sandstone blocks before it dried. In order to retard its setting household sugar was used as an admixture.

Thus, when the bridge came into use in 1852, it became known as the 'Sugar Bridge.' It carried road traffic between Cape Town and the eastern seaboard of South Africa for 101 years until the new road was opened in 1953.

Status Update:

In 2012 Fassler Kamstra + Holmes initiated a move to reinstate the Sugar Bridge to provide the Local Community with an independent pedestrian crossing of the River during flooding. The completed bridge would also provide the area with another tourist site. Comprehensive documentation has been prepared by a Professional Team. The Project is on-going but awaits the commitment of the State and confirmation from the sponsors.

A drawing of a replacement structure was prepared to permit the use of Sugar Bridge for pedestrians only. The stone piers, embankments and approaches are shown on the attached drawings as 'as-built' to be restored. The new structure, deck and balustrading are shown as 'Proposed' which elements would be pre-fabricated off-site and then installed.

(Marcus Holmes, October 2017 - submitted by William MARTINSON)

These notes were last edited on 2020 05 12

Writings about this entry

Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pg 466
Murray, Tony . 2015. Megastructures and masterminds : great feats of civil engineering in southern Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg. pg 60-65