Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Postal Service – Part 1

Before the advent of the internet, the telephone and the telegraph, the state of the art method of communication was the Postal Service. The speed of this service was a function of the speed of the ship, the horse and the cart. History is replete with examples of orders issued being overtaken by events. Take the example of commands from England. They could take five months to reach the Cape. 

Main picture: A Post Cart crossing the drift at the bottom of Van Staden’s Pass

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Sharwood’s Story

Most residents have probably heard of Sharwood’s or even filled up at one of their garages but what most would not be aware of was that Alec Sharwood was both an entrepreneur and an innovator. Prior to Sharwood introducing a fuel pump at his first garage, vehicles were laboriously refuelled by decanting petrol from a drum. 

Sharwood’s was to change all of that. 

Main picture: A great moment in Port Elizabeth’s motoring history as a Whippet motor car on a round-the-Union publicity drive calls at the City’s most modern filling station during the late 1920s. In the white coat, shaking hands with the driver, is Alec Sharwood.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Photographs for William Alcock

In 1891, William Alcock displayed his penchant for photography by attending the inaugural meeting of the Port Elizabeth Photographic Society on the 27th July held in the Algoa House Hotel in Western Road. Alcock was appointed its first Chairman. 

This is an eclectic collection of photographs taken by William Alcock.

Main picture: July 1902. The first motor car to successfully negotiate Van Stadens Pass – a 4.5 hp Benz owned by W. Alcock

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The T. Birch & Co Story

The employees of this venerable establishment will undoubtedly be offended if their shops were referred to a clothing stores. This would lump them together with retailers such as Mr Price, Jet or Ackermans. Instead they should be referred to as outfitters which more befits their role and image in establishment circles in Port Elizabeth.

This is a succinct history of this 150-year-old establishment which still has ties back to its founder, Mr Trenley Birch. 

Main picture: Mr Trenley Birch, founder of T. Birch & Co

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: William Alcock

Apart from being the first person to own a motor car in Port Elizabeth, William Alcock was also the first Mayor of the garden town, Walmer, south of its larger sibling, Port Elizabeth. Even though he was a tinsmith by training, he had extremely eclectic interests and an entrepreneur to boot. He was a member of the Photographic Society, the Athenaeum, the Museum and the Port Elizabeth Automobile Club. In addition, his civic duties relate to the Walmer Municipality, first as a member, then Chairman in 1891 and finally first Mayor in 1899. 

This blog highlights one of Port Elizabeth’s early civic leaders who also had manifold interests in diverse fields.

Main picture: William Alcock as a child in Birkenhead, England, in the 1850s

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Feathermarket Hall

This hall epitomises the agricultural origins of Port Elizabeth. In 1863, a wool market had already been established on the site of the temporary Trinity Church on the corner of Baakens Street and Military Road. With the advent of the thriving sale of ostrich feathers, a market was required, preferably close to the harbour, at which the feathers could be auctioned. Over the years the industry declined, and other uses of it had to be found. To this end, the hall was converted for use as a concert hall or for other public gatherings.   

Main picture: Original sketch of the Feather Market Hall by WH Miles on the Official Guide of the SA Exhibition

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Athenaeum

The 1850s can be categorised as a defining period in the early history of Port Elizabeth. Now that the focus of the inhabitants was no longer survival whether eking out a living or building their homes, Port Elizabeth was in the throes of stirrings of civic pride, and the desire and need for cultural and sporting activities. Foremost amongst cultural activities, was the need for a society to promote science and literature. To this end, the Athenaeum Society was founded. 

Main picture: Athenaeum Institute shortly after its erection in 1896  Continue reading