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History of Delfshaven


Delfshaven is the name of a Rotterdam suburb and since 1994 of a official borough of  the city of Rotterdam. But in fact it is a historic place full of old buildings with pittoresk names. The history began in 1389, when Delft was allowed by the then Count of Holland to dig a canal to the Meuse river. This was necessary for Delft to remain independent of Rotterdam. This canal was dug after 1389, and runs from Overschie to the Meuse. Where it reached the Meuse arose ‘the port of Delft’ or Delftshaven. The first houses were built along the Aelbrechtskolk and the harbour. Two important buildings soon determined the sight of Delfshaven: the town hall and the church. In 1451 a new harbour was dug, called The New Harbour. This points to economic growth, by that time mainly caused by herring catches.


Fire and occupation  

In 1488 Delfshaven went up in flames, and growth ended. The fire was mainly caused by the altercations between Hoeksen and Kabeljauwsen. All houses and ships were set on fire by the Hoeksen. However, Delfshaven succeeded in recovering, and when in 1536 the greater part of Delft itself went up in flames, the importance of Delfshaven increased. Only by preventive measures like the forbidding of ship repairs in Delfshaven Delft succeeded in remaining on top.

A new blow occurred in 1572: five days after the liberation of Brielle Delfshaven was also liberated by the Sea Beggars led by Lumey;  but within a week’s time roles were reversed. The Spaniards came back and destroyed many buildings. But they departed again after four months of terror, and the population could relax. In order to prevent further enemy activities Delfshaven was then surrounded by earthen walls.

In 1577 Piet Heyn was born, Delfshaven”s most famous son. He conquered the ‘Spanish silver fleet’. In 1870 he was honoured with a statue in his place of birth, unveiled by King William III. In 1871 a new house was built with his weapon in front, as the old house itself had been destroyed fifty years before.


Herring and gin 

In 1634 another altercation arose. Because of this some ten great herring fishermen decided to move their ships to Rotterdam, where they were given a big welcome. To prevent further disturbances Delfshaven got more economic independence, so that new industries arose like wharfs, tanneries and cooperies.

The United Dutch East India Company (VOC) also brought many activities with it. In Delfshaven Indian spices were put on canal barges to be transported to Delft. On the Buizenwaal, a harbour dug in 1602, the VOC had a shipbuilding yard, next to which in 1672 a storehouse was built.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Delfshaven became known for its corn and gin distilleries. The most famous one is J.H.Henkes on the Voorhaven, founded in 1824. The flourishing of this industry brought malt mills into the town. Only the mill called De Distilleerketel of 1727 can at present still be admired in its full glory after restoration.


Independence and annexation 

The revolution of 1795 brought Delfshaven something it had so far never succeeded in obtaining on its own strength: independence from Delft. The new patriotic authorities under Jan Kruijff  broke away in 1795. But this independence lasted only for eight years. In 1803 Delfshaven had come again under Delft, but again after eight years Delfshaven formed a municiplal entity of its own, together with Schoonderloo. To this entity also belonged the Coolpolder (now New West), and the Bospolder. In 1825 Delfshaven became a town in its own right, but at that time there was an economic malaise due to the end of VOC in 1798 and the closure of many wharfs. In 1841, driven by debt and poverty, Delfshaven sought annexation with Rotterdam. But this did not immediately happen; only after 40 years Rotterdam finally gave in, driven by the need for building ground which happened to be plentiful in Delfshaven. So on January 30th 1886 Delfshaven became part of Rotterdam. Because of the rapid extension of Rotterdam Delfshaven then became hemmed in between new housing estates and harbours, and in the twentieth century it suffered more and more as a result of modernization. For example in 1909 a new road was constructed, for which some old historic houses had to be removed. This also happened when in 1923 the Coolhaven was opened.


Only after the Second World War people became aware that Old Delfshaven had to be conserved as it was, especially since Rotterdam’s heart was destroyed by German bombing. In 1969 part of the old centre became a protected area. Delfshaven was not a harbour any more at that time. The lock between De Kolk and the Achterhaven had already been closed in 1836, and after annexation by Rotterdam the whole harbour had virtually gone. At present the New Meuse can only be reached from the Aelbraechtskolk by means of a roundabout. The direct link with the river was lost in 1966 through the damming up of the Schiemond.