Port Elizabeth of Yore: Rishworth’s and other Livery Stables

Until the invention of motorised transport, society had the animal equivalent of the Car Rental Company which offered rental of horses, carts and wagons of a multiplicity of sizes and designs as well as the option of self-driving or chauffeur driven.  Of these Livery Companies, as they were known, the best known was the Rishworths in Jetty Street.

Main picture:  Russell Road circa 1877. On the left is William Rishworth’s livery stable, while on the right is Widdicombe & Sennitt, grocers. Converted from a gorge, Hyman’s Kloof was opened as Russell Road in August 1863 thereby creating new land on either side. The buildings in this street were mainly an admixture of houses and workshops.

Rishworth’s stables
Travellers or visitors to and from Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage invariably used hired conveyances from livery stables in the Bay, the best patronised being those of Mr. Rishworth in Jetty Street. A postcart service was also run daily between both towns as well as being used for the conveying of passengers.

Like the current convention of locating car rental companies at places of entrance or departure such as airports, a similar principle applied in the age of sailing. To ensure its visibility, the site of the popular Rishworth’s livery stables faced both Jetty and Strand Streets. The Rishworth’s stables extended to a street at the back that led down to the sea. Here, spruce riding horses and carriages were kept for hire to the public at any time that they were required. All the other space in this vicinity for many years stood vacant. The old stables were eventually demolished to make room for the spacious stores of H. M. Benjamin & Co., the produce and wool merchants.

Apart from operating a livery stable, Rishworth senior also owned a grocery store and a dairy whose cows were kept at the back of the shop. These premises were located at the south west corner of Main Street and Russell Road. This site would undergo numerous changes over the years. After Rishworth, Whitehead, the provision merchants, would demolish Rishworth’s building and construct a new one which opened during August 1891. This building was later taken over by Kolnick’s and finally it was demolished to make way for the Russell Road interchange.

Fire in Rishworth’s Queen Street property on 28 January 1904

On Thursday night a fire occurred in Queen Street when Mr. Rishworth’s premises, occupied by Singer Co, as a store were gutted. The alarm was given at the Fire Station by the police at 10:27.and the Brigade turned out promptly with their hose cart, and very soon had two branches at work. Mr. Butterworth was also soon on the scene, and took command of the operations. The back portion of the premises consisting of a wood andiron structure, burnt fiercely, and at one time grave fears were entertained that the front portion and also the store occupied by Messrs Platzky and Resenkowitz, adjoining, would be destroyed, but fortunately the brigade were able to check the onward progress of the flames. The damage is considerable, as there  was a large amount of stock in the shop.  It is understood that both property and stock was insured.      

Queen Street before 1906. The breweries with the gasworks behind. On the left is part of “Cannon House”, situated in St Patrick’s Road & owned by William Rishworth.

Prince Alfred’s visit
Tom O’Brien who lived in ‘Erinville’ in Cape Road when only five other neighbours occupied the entire area which was then considered “out of town” was one of Rishworth’s customers. He was a very keen sportsman, his favourite pastime being hunting and horse racing, and he was one of the first members of the P.E. Turf Club. Besides his own racehorses he kept some fine packs of hunting dogs and saddle horses which he was always ready to lend to his friends. It was probably that sporting prowess which sealed Tom’s invitation to a local hunt when he would accompany Prince Alfred in 1860 on a hunt across the Amsterdam Flats near Zwartkops. From which livery stables would he choose to hire a fine mount but those of Mr. Rishworth at the foot of Jetty Street.

The Gates brothers
Four brothers named John Henry, August, Michel and also possibly Johannes kept livery stables in Princes Street, 28 Upper Pier Street, 3 Skipton Cottages on Convent Hill and Western Road. Harry (sic) Gates, the brother of Johannes Gates who kept the Fairview Hotel [located on the site between the future St Heugh’s Church and Pelo’s Cafe] occupied iron buildings at the back of the Masonic Hotel for use as his livery and bait stables. It was Harry who supplied the horses to the sailors from the HMS Raleigh.

Jacobson’s Cabs
Jacobson’s livery stables were located in Queen Street. These stables were renowned for supplying the cab and horse for the opening of the Circuit Court. On this occasion the Sheriff would fetch the judge from the P.E. Club in Bird Street in an open carriage and drive him to court. The attendants were always smartly dressed in top hats and tails.

Photos & newspaper clipping from Butterworth via David Raymer
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).
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)

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