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​​Why Bree Street has that 'kink'​

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One of the eccentricities of central Johannesburg is the way streets north and south of Bree Street fail to meet up correctly. Driving North or South across Bree Street requires negotiating around an awkward bend, known as the Bree Street Kink, and the cause of many a fender-dinging accident.

The kink has given rise to a number of city folktales, the most popular of which goes something like this. Two teams of surveyors were charged with setting out early Johannesburg. One team worked from the north end, the other from the south. The two teams met at Bree Street - and discovered that their measurements failed to tally. The one team were using Cape feet, the other English feet (A Cape foot is 1.003 longer than an English foot). It was too late to redo the work - so Johannesburg was left with a "kink".
It's a nice story, but apparently untrue, according to GA Leyds in his "A History of Johannesburg" (Nasionale Boekhandel, 1964). For the first year of Johannesburg's existence, Bree Street marked the northern boundary. A short-lived syndicate actually tried mining along the street, but with little success. But by 1887, Johannesburg had outgrown its roots, with a population of over three thousand. The government authorised the laying out of more stands north of Bree Street.
 
The surveyor charged with laying out the streets started at the western end of Bree Street, where it meets Harrison Street. To the west of Harrison Street was an uninhabited, muddy area known as Brickfields, where Johannesburg's first bricks were quarried and baked - today it is known as Newtown.
 
Leyds explains the error in the following mundane terms: "The surveyor, instead of finding the south-eastern peg at the corner of Harrison and Bree Streets, took the width of Harrison Street from the peg at the north-western corner, which was some five feet more eastward than on the opposite side of the street, and thus all streets, down to End Street, crossing Bree Street, have that little bend."
 
The city was not extended much further north - just three blocks further, with the new boundary given the name Noord Street. Today, Noord Street is a short and awkward dead-end street, crowded with taxis, immediately south of Joubert Park.
 
Bree was one of the few early Johannesburg streets which was not named after some minor official. Bree means "Broad Street", a common Dutch name for a major street. As Leyd points out, New York's Broadway was originally called Bree Street by the city's Dutch founders.

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