From the outset, Park Drive was envisaged as having large erven so as to accommodate “villa sites”. Many of the initial homes could be classified as mansions owned by the haute monde but the succeeding generations could either no longer afford such luxurious accommodation or they cashed in their inheritance.
In the manner, the original inhabitants of Sundridge strode the same path: from manor house to nursing home.
Main picture: The
original Sundridge mansion
Origin of St George’s Park
Councillor Henry Pearson first put forward the idea of a park for Port Elizabeth. The first trees were planted in what was to become St George’s Park by enthusiastic citizens in August 1861, the first anniversary of the visit of Prince Alfred to the town. The site of the Park, with the land surrounding it, was only formally granted to the Port Elizabeth Municipality by Governor Sir Percy Wodehouse on 23 February 1864.
The plan drawn by surveyor, Robert Pinchin, shows a large piece of what was then veld (including the existing Presbyterian cemetery). Bounded by a carriage drive and large erven. From the beginning these were envisaged as “villa sites”: they were not to be subdivided and it was planned that substantial buildings, with their own large gardens, would one day grace the embryonic park and the whole town.
The first sale of park lands took place on 16 September 1863. The income from the sale of the lots was to be used for the development and maintenance of the park. The first owners to build on these lots were Samuel Bain and William Pattinson. They were regarded as living in the country because their homes were some distance from the town.
One of the lots sold in 1863 had been bought by Lydia S. Smith for £88. This was possibly, Lydia Susannah, daughter of the town’s first mayor, William Smith. But it was not until 1st February 1897 that plans for the construction of a two-storey, brick under slate home on this lot, number 25, were submitted to the Board of Works. The architect was George William Smith and the builder was to be Lennox Mackay of the Excelsior Steam Joinery Works, Queen Street. The plans were approved two days later.
The existing owner of the plot, Alfred Edward Allen Smith, was related to the Port Elizabeth Savage family. His mother was Priscilla Savage, and he had come to join the firm of William Savage and Sons. William Savage was born at Sundridge, Kent and in 1849, with his wife, Emily, had come to Port Elizabeth and opened a business. Originally apprenticed to a paper maker, he became a successful merchant, first in partnership with Sydney Hill, and then with the adult members of his family. Emily Savage died in England in 1862 and William re-married. Altogether there were seventeen children in the family.
Emily, the eldest daughter by the first marriage, was born in Port Elizabeth on 1 June 1850. Her youth was marred by a diseased hip bone and she had spent some time living in Guernsey. Indeed, the family had travelled a good deal between the Cape and Europe. She met and married Alfred Smith at a relatively advanced age. Sundridge, the spacious, wide-verandahed house, built in the Colonial vernacular style of architecture, with its mock-Tudor facade and splendid ‘Arts and Crafts’ rendered interior, was built for her. She furnished the house with a collection of Jacobean period furniture of which only a few pieces remain.
During 1908 the Smiths left their home and returned to England, where they settled at Groombridge in East Sussex.
The following residents of Sundridge were A. E. Philip and Charles Hannam, respectively. By 1921 the owner was Charles Don Wessinger, whose son lived in his own house further around Park Drive.
The Park Hotel
The establishment of the Park Hotel appears to have been barely noticed by the local press. The EASTERN PROVINCE HERALD of 4 February 1923 simply had a short item about a new city hotel created by adding to the existing house. Later, the hotel was well advertised in available publications. A 1930 advertisement called it “South Africa’s newest and most up-to- date hotel”. It boasted 300 bedrooms, 37 garages, a filling and service station, 5 tennis courts, a miniature skating rink, billiard room, spacious park-like grounds, Turkish and Russian baths, dinner music and a regular bus service. For most locals, the Park Hotel with its sprung-floored ballroom complete with minstrel’s gallery, was synonymous with dancing.
Sharley Cribb Nursing Home
In spite of its attractions, the hotel was apparently not successful. In 1949 it was bought out by the Cape Provincial Administration and became a nurse’s home, library and administrative office for the training college. It was named after Sharley Mary Cribb (born Steere), the first Organising Secretary of the South African Nurses’ Association, who had died 1946. She is remembered for her tremendous service in the cause of nursing reform which led to the Nursing Act of 1944, and the establishment of the South African Nursing Council which enabled the profession to govern its own affairs.
At one time in 1970 the Provincial Administration considered demolishing all the buildings and developing an entirely new complex. Because of its uncertain future, the building was allowed to deteriorate somewhat until 1985 when it was finally decided to restore the building. All sections of the main building were renovated inside and out, and as many services as possible replaced. In the restoration the architects respected the historical context of the building and tried to unify the different styles that had been added down the years.
Sundridge – A House in Park Drive by Margaret Harradine (Looking Back, Vol 27, No 1 (March 1988)
Hills Covered with Cottages: Port Elizabeth’s Lost Streetscapes by Margaret Harradine (2010, Express Copy & Print, Port Elizabeth)