Located between the Papenkuils and the Swartkops Rivers, New Brighton was established outside the Municipal Boundary of Port Elizabeth in 1903 in order to house the black residents of the inner-city locations such as Stranger’s and Gubb Locations’. That begs the question of what it was used for before its conversion into a location.
This blog will cover the history of New Brighton from its earliest settlement to its current status as a black township.
Main picture: Semi-detached houses erected in New Brighton in 1912
Prior to 1780, no whites resided in this area and neither did the khoikhoi. Being peripatetic by nature, the khoikhoi were itinerants who never settled in one area but moved on whenever natural resources became depleted. The first whites in the Port Elizabeth/Uitenhage area were the Trekboers. The earliest farm in this area was that of Ferreira on the Papenkuils River. After being purchased by Frederick Korsten, it was developed into a thriving enterprise supplying salted beef to British troops in Mauritius.
In June 1820, Sir Rufane Donkin granted 1300 acres north of the Papenkuils River to Charles Gurney and the settlers from Deal in Kent. Initially, eponymously called New Deal, later it became known as Deal Party. This group of boatmen planned to establish a fishing village, and two of them returned to England in order to acquire whaleboats. Their venture was not ultimately successful, and they were insolvent by August 1828. The families had dispersed before then, but some remained in the Port Elizabeth area, at least for a time. The property passed to Frederick Korsten.
In 1860, the Government allocated the responsibility for the maintenance of all outspans and trek paths to the Divisional Councils. In line with their new responsibilities, during 1861 the Divisional Council issued a set of requirements that a contractor would have to comply with. First the Council had to select the land on which the outspan would be built and then it had to certify that the applicant was “a fit and proper person to become an innkeeper.” The applicant, in turn, had to meet various requirements.
In return for meeting all these requirements, the innkeeper was entitled to charge 6d per span of oxen or horses using the water. It was the enterprising Mr Richard John Berry who was first off the mark to construct a public road inn. On the 6th July 1861 he submitted his application for a 33-year lease “on a piece of land forming part of the public outspan situated between the Deal Party farm, Fishwater Flats and the sea i.e. on the main road from this town to the Rawson Bridge at Zwartkops, for the erection of an inn or a hotel.” Enclosed in his letter was a plan of the proposed Inn which was to be all brick construction under a slate roof, with stone foundation. It contained six bedrooms, a dining room, lounge, kitchen and stables at the rear for six horses. The buildings were to be completed within twelve months and one of the dams would be ready within one month of execution of the contract.
What is clear is that Matthew Berry must have either made a fortune himself or inherited the money from his father, John James Berry, as he purchased the Deal Party farm in 1879, renaming it soon afterwards as Beaconsfield Manor on which was erected the Beaconsfield Hotel. In the 1880s, the Sportsman Hotel was built in Swartkops and was also granted a liquor licence. This meant that there were three hotels along this short stretch of Grahamstown Road.
On taking over the Deal Party farm in 1879, he immediately changed the property’s name to Beaconsfield Manor. In 1883, Matthew advertised that he had extended the house and offered fashionable sea-bathing at “New Brighton.”
Origin of the township
The New Brighton Township grew around the railway station built in 1877. It includes Red Location, White Location, McNamee, Boastville, Elundini and KwaFord. Red Location is a settlement of mostly tin shanties; the name originated from the red oxide paint used to protect the corrugated iron structures and roofs from rust, which have become a trademark in the area.
An interesting Court Case arose in the mid-1890s involving hunting and shooting rights over the farm “Deal Party” at New Brighton. At this time, this area fell outside the municipal area and had not yet been converted into a black township.
In this Court Case, Mr. Thomas O’Brien, the plaintiff claimed £50 from the defendants, Hansen & Schrader, as damages, and as well as applying for an interdict restraining the defendants from interfering with the right of hunting and shooting over a certain farm Deal Party. Sarah Berry, the owner of the property, was paid by O’Brien to have sole and exclusive rights in 1892 (for a period of 5 years) for hunting game which included some buck imported from England, as well as some pheasants and partridges which were released on the New Brighton farm.
Central to O’Brien’s complaint was that when a racecourse was built on the New Brighton farm, apparently a large area of bush and vegetation was removed which made the birds move away to the more attractive and adjacent Deal Party farm. The Deal Party & the New Brighton farms were divided by a wire fence which extended down from the east of main road of Port Elizabeth. To the west of the main road ran the Railway line. To the north – Deal Party farm – was bounded by the Fish Water Flats farm and towards the South in the direction of Port Elizabeth, the farm was bordered by the Papenkuils Creek. A wagon road diverted from the main road where the police barracks were situated, leading to the New Brighton Hotel adjacent to the sea. Near this hotel was another wagon road running at right angles with the railway line coming from the siding. Near the siding was 2 cottages, an old one & a new one.
On the 6th April 1896, a race was held at the New Brighton oval race course where a large number of indigenous people as well as Europeans filled the stand the whole day and the plaintiff O’Brien argued that the race course as well as the crowd attending, infringed on his sole/exclusive rights. It is said that before this date, that there was a large amount of game on the New Brighton farm.
The Deal Party farm
At one stage belonging to Galpin, this farm, of about 1000 acres, was situated between the main road and the sea:
– was divided into two parts which included the New Brighton farm as well.
– situated between Papenkuilsriver and the ocean (North End Cemetery) – further up this river (now industrial waste dumps) leads to the ruins of Cradock Place, where once the Prophet Makhanda was held before he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
– by the 1890s, it had 2 cottages – one very old and one of long standing.
– according to Herbert Berry who had lived in one of the old cottages since 1879, partridges & pheasants which were originally imported to the farm, preferred the New Brighton Hotel area.
– Richard Berry – uncle of Herbert & Charles Berry, lived on this farm for 60 years.
– Originally Deal Party farm was named ‘New Deal Village’ where about 24 settlers chose to stay under Boatman Charles Gurney (from the Kentish Coast by 1820)
– Provided a good cover for game & birds.
– All along the sea were sandy hills covered with scrubby bush, referred to as Doornbeeze.
– By December 1903, 30 stores sites were earmarked along the railway line.
The New Brighton farm
Of 400 morgen (1 sq. km = 116.75 morgen) was a holiday resort and included the:
– New Brighton Hotel.
– New Brighton Race Course (The New Brighton Sporting Club), being of oval shape & a quarter mile in circumference.
– Originally had a fair supply of buck and hares as well as a few birds.
– By February 1895, at the Creek on the New Brighton farm was a bonded warehouse, being the magazine for explosives (Hansen & Schrader).
– On the 6th January 1896, The New Brighton Sporting Club (horse racing) was formed with James Wynne jr as first President. The racecourse at New Brighton, today part of Deal Party, was a popular racing venue until the Second World War. In 1907 there was also a P.E. Sporting Club, but both were superseded by the Suburban Sporting Club.
– Between August 1898 and November 1899 various bonded warehouses were built on this farm,
– in 1899 the Port Elizabeth city purchased the farms Cradock Place and New Brighton for the relocation of “natives”. This was before the 1901/2 Bubonic plague outbreak, which provided additional momentum for this relocation.
– After considering several sites, the Government bought Dr G.L. Galpin’s property, portions of Cradock Place and Deal Party, on which to establish a “model Native settlement” during January 1902. Wood-and -iron buildings from the closed Uitenhage Concentration Camp were re-erected here and painted red. In June 1903 the first residents moved into ‘Red Location’. The name ‘New Brighton’ had already been coined by Matthew Berry for his part of Deal Party.
During the South African War, the British military authorities imported a large number of horses from Argentina. Unfortunately, their fodder was infested with vermin, which carried bubonic plague and, between 1901 and 1903, most of South Africa’s major towns recorded outbreaks of this disease. The plague erupted in Port Elizabeth in 1901, and although its spread affected all sectors of the population, it was the black community who bore the brunt of the Plague Health Regulations.
Relocation to New Brighton
According to the E.P. Herald of week ending 10th October 1903, on a Saturday afternoon Sir Gordon Sprigg met the residents at Korsten to hear their views about planned changes. The objective of this meeting was to convince the black inhabitants of this area to be relocated to New Brighton.
In the hot afternoon sun, Sprigg addressed a large gathering of blacks as well as numerous Europeans. The meeting was held outside the Independent Church. Sir Gordon proclaimed that the Government had established a location at New Brighton for the blacks to live there by themselves. Sprigg’s use of the words “by themselves” referred to the fact that Korsten at that stage was a multiracial area. He explained that houses would be built in New Brighton for which rent would be charged. The Government would also supply them with water and there was sufficient wood available in the vicinity for their fires. Furthermore, a hospital would be built, and medical treatment would be provided gratis.
Sprigg also revealed that it was the government’s intention to request that all the black inhabitants in the Port Elizabeth district, who were not in domestic service, live in the location at night. In addition, they envisaged that all the blacks in Korsten, which was not then within the Port Elizabeth municipal area, would also be relocated to the proposed New Brighton location. To encourage the process, Sprigg informed the attentive audience that special houses would be provided, and if 10,000 were moving, then there would be plenty of room to accommodate them. Given the fact that some of the blacks in Korsten owned plots of ground with houses built on them, Sprigg committed the Cape Government to make the inhabitants of Korsten an offer. In exchange for their plots in Korsten, they would be given a plot of the same size and value in New Brighton. Still dubious, the residents of Korsten raised the issue of the houses already erected. Sprigg assured the sceptical audience that if the inspector viewed a house as worthy of moving, the government would bear the cost of relocation. If not, they would re-imburse the inhabitant the cost of the materials. As an added incentive, he reminded the audience that a railway service was available unlike Korsten where the residents had to walk to town.
Then, as if as an implied threat, in the “carrot portion” of Sprigg’s offer, he mentioned in passing that the Glen Grey Act might be amended, thereby providing the Government with the power to force the people to be resettled. For many this offer in its totality had little to recommend it as they would forfeit a freehold right in a non-government controlled area for rental accommodation within the municipal jurisdiction. For many, the words, “This cannot end well,” came to mind. Given the fact that the balance of power was firmly rooted in that of the colonial authorities, what option did the residents of Korsten have but to comply.
After the South African War [Boer War], the “Blacks” from Bubba’s location were housed in New Brighton. By 1904, Africans from Strangers’ Location, Russell Road and Coopers Kloof were relocated there. In effect, the offer to provide every Black family in Port Elizabeth with a house in New Brighton implied that a major construction project extending over numerous years would have to be undertaken. To any neutral observer, that begs the question of where the residents would be accommodated in the interim. Nowhere is this conundrum discussed.
“Shocking conditions” revealed
What is notable is that various white dignitaries of this period utilised whatever influence that they possessed to present the unvarnished truth about conditions prevailing in the townships. One such person of this era was the Port Elizabeth Member of Parliament and editor of the E.P. Herald, Sir Edgar Walton, who raised questions about the “shocking conditions in the Locations”. This arose during a sitting of the House of Assembly in August 1908, during which Walton moved that the attention of the Government be directed to the administration of the of the Native Location Acts of 1902 and 1905; Walton provided a number of examples where the liberties of the black resident had been impinged upon. Foremost amongst their complaints was they were treated differently from other people due to the colour of their skin. He raised the situation in which children were compelled to reside in the new locations rather than with their parents in the old locations. A similar problem arose when friends or relatives from outside Port Elizabeth visited them. They were not allowed to stay in the inner-city locations with their hosts.
On the 9th February 1909, the Resident Magistracy at New Brighton was abolished as the area henceforth would fall under the Port Elizabeth Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate.
On the 1st August 1923, the Port Elizabeth Municipality took over the responsibility for New Brighton from the Government and in 1925 £18,000 was borrowed to build more houses to be known as “White Location”. This was the first economic housing scheme that was built there after the Urban Areas Act of 1923.
During June 1927, the City Council bought the New Brighton Estate from the New Brighton Estate Land Co, proprietors Hansen and Schrader, for £17,500. This included the dynamite magazines, racecourse and sanatorium.
During April 1928, new cottages and single men’s quarters were completed at New Brighton.
On the 5th August 1928 the new administrative buildings at New Brighton were opened by the Mayor, A.H. Brookes. It was also in this year that the New Brighton Native Welfare Association was formed to monitor and report upon the physical and social welfare of the inhabitants.
On the 27th February 1930, the formal switching on of lights in New Brighton was performed by Mr W.C. Adcock, Chairman of the Electricity and Industries Committee. On 2nd April Redhouse was “switched on” too.
The Wall Street crash of 1929 had worldwide repercussions. On the 27th July 1930, a meeting was held to form an organisation to alleviate distress among working people caused by the world-wide economic depression which by this time was reaching its peak. The existing charitable organisations were simply not equipped to cope with the calls made on them for help. The Mayor’s Emergency Fund came into being, with Albert Jackson as first Chairman (later W.C. Adcock) and an office in the City Hall. Relief works around the City and in New Brighton were planned. The fund was closed at the end of January 1933.
The T.C. White Hall at New Brighton was opened on the 3rd April 1935 by Sir William Clark (His Majesty’s High Commissioner in South Africa) and Lady Clark, in place of the Governor-General. The Hall was named by the Native Advisory Board. Almost two years later, on 2nd March 1937, the Mayor opened the New Brighton Library in a room in the T.C. White Hall. It was the work of the local European-Bantu Joint Council – L.F. Addis-Smith, President, and Miss Violet Couldridge, Secretary. In May 1939 it was reported to have 11,000 books.
On 21st November 1937, Councillor A. Schauder, Chairman of the Housing and Slum Elimination Committee, turned the first sod of the planned 3,000 houses at New Brighton under the Council’s five-year plan. The money was borrowed from the Government at three-quarters of a per cent interest. Just over a month later on the 22nd December 1937, the City Council approved a plan for housing the aged poor at Gibsonville, Korsten and New Brighton.
An outbreak of bubonic plague was reported on the 23rd March 1938. The Council immediately swung into action and initiated a campaign for the control and eradication with inoculation, fumigation and the destruction of rats. By 30th June, twenty-one cases had been reported and 19 had died. The old sanatorium at New Brighton was taken into use as a Formidable Epidemic Diseases Hospital; formerly Matthew Berry’s hotel, it was a TB Hospital from 1942 until was demolished in 1959.
The New Brighton Presbyterian Church was opened on the 5th March 1939. It was dedicated by Rev A. Ashenhurst, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa.
On the 20th April 1939, the Co-operative Trading Movement was formed at a meeting in the T.C. White Hall in New Brighton, presided over by W.W. Jabavu.
During WW2, a Joint Air Training Scheme, known as 42 Air School, was established at Driftsands under Group-Captain J. Cottle. They operated in various buildings including a hospital. In May 1947 the hospital was taken into use as a TB convalescent home and later that year hutments from the Park were moved to the Formidable Diseases Hospital at Deal Party (New Brighton) as a temporary TB hostel there.
Between 1940 and 1945 the School Board opened the Pendla and Kama Lower Primary Schools, the Molefe Higher Primary and the Newell Secondary School in New Brighton.
During January 1945, the building of a creche at New Brighton was commenced and it was opened by the Mayoress on 20 June. It was run by the Charity Welfare Organisation in the municipally-owned building.
Any increase in property rentals was guaranteed to “raise temperatures” and provoke protest action; that in1945 was no different. A plan to increase rentals in New Brighton was the cause of protests and a procession to the Donkin Reserve on the 27th January 1945.
Jun. 30, 1945: The total population of Port Elizabeth was given as 133,878, comprising 64,468 Whites, 26,424 Coloureds, 3,793 Asiatics and 39,193 blacks (including New Brighton’s 29,633).
In heavy fog on the 21st February 1917, the troopship SS “Mendi” collided with the “Darro” off the Isle of Wight. On board were officers and men of the Volunteer S.A. Native Labour Contingent. 625 men drowned, some from the Eastern Cape, and a memorial was erected in New Brighton. It had disappeared by 1997 and a new memorial, designed by municipal architect, Danny Dreghorn, was re-dedicated on the anniversary of its sinking.
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
100 Years Ago – 10 October 1903 by Ivor Markman (E.P. Herald, week ended 10 Oct 2003).
MP from Bay details shocking conditions in locations by Ivor Markman (E.P. Herald, Friday 15th August 2008).
Article in the EP Herald dated 9th June 1959 on Matthew Berry & the New Brighton Hotel.