It is probably no consolation for Port Elizabeth to claim that it was the first town in South Africa through which a motor vehicle was shipped. It is only Pretoria that can rightfully make the more prestigious claim that it was first town in which the first car was driven in South Africa. This occurred in 1897 at Berea Park.
Nevertheless, Port Elizabeth would not be far behind.
Main picture: Mr William Adcock, Mayor of Walmer, in his 1896 Benz Velo with his passenger Mr Charles Lovemore
Regardless of the reason why Captain Evatt was stationed in Port Elizabeth, his civic minded mien ensured that he would forever be feted with the sobriquet as the “Father of Port Elizabeth.”
For that reason, he deserves to be recalled and commemorated.
Main picture: Captain Francis Evatt
This blog is based upon an article in the Port Elizabeth Historical Society’s Journal, “Looking Back”, June 1978.
Main picture: North End of Yore
The Authorities always have to find a source of revenues to cover the costs of the maintenance of the roads. In the case of vehicles and animals using them, they always have a ready solution: charging a service fee in the form of a toll. In Port Elizabeth, the first toll was installed within four years of Port Elizabeth being established. It was located in Queen Street, just beyond the future Russell Road and commenced operation in August 1824.
Main Street: The old Toll house at the Sunday’s River Bridge on the Grahamstown Road
One of the landmark hotels in Port Elizabeth has to be the King Edward Hotel which opened for business on 21st November 1904. Surprisingly it did not start life as an hotel. Designated the King Edward Mansions, it housed medical practitioners in suites. In addition various private tenants rented rooms.
Main picture: By the time that The Edward was converted into an hotel, the age of the carriage was over and the age of the car had arrived
These recollections are those of a Mr Josephus Winter who occupied various civic positions during his 82 years.
Main picture: Mr Josephus Winter
This well-known hotel has operated under numerous names over its life. Amongst its guises was a naval training base during WW2. For some unknown reason, the hotel never attracted sufficient clientele to be able to be financially viable. Nevertheless, it is an icon for many of the older generation who would attend functions there, including myself.
Main picture: The art deco swimming pool in its heyday
Just as important as the industry dynamics, ownership and physical infrastructure are the working conditions, demographics and wages in the motor vehicles industry. This importance to many residents is predicated on the fact that they had a strong connection with the industry being dependent upon it directly by working in one of the plants or alternatively in one of their suppliers. So too did our family as a number of my relatives worked directly in an assembly plant as well.
This blog deals with the human factors within this industry.
Main picture: Tractors ready for export Continue reading
Like all towns, it is fair to say that Port Elizabeth had its fair share of “unusual” characters. These are some of the best known “personalities” during the 1960s and 1970s.
Main picture: Ruthrapathy “Peanuts” Pillay with his wares
Just as the slump and ultimate decline in the wool industry made the future economic prospects of Port Elizabeth bleak, so too does the motor vehicle industry’s relocation to the economic hub of South Africa portend a grim future for the town.
After the booming fifties and sixties, the seventies awoke to new realities which the City Fathers had not contemplated: the decline of its manufacturing base. This process was ineluctable as the vortex of demand in Gauteng sucked manufacturers ever inward. Far from its market, aspersions were cast on Port Elizabeth’s manufacturing credentials. Instead of adapting to this reality, it persevered with the previous one. Simply put, its strategy should have been a focus on economic activities decoupled from Gauteng such as tourism, medicines manufacture and development, movie making, technology development et al.
In retrospect, the stages of development of the motor vehicle industry in Port Elizabeth are now at an end. Hence it allows one to analyse dispassionately it’s still warm corpse.
This blog deals with its stages of development as a requiem mass is held after the demise of yet another motor manufacturing icon, General Motors, at the age of 95 years.
General Motors is a fitting metaphor of this process and is replete with all these elements.
Main picture: General Motors’ factory