Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Loton Tipper Families of P.E.

Like all families in which multiple generations share the same names, confusion reigns but doubly so when two are equally well known. So it was with the Loton Tippers of Port Elizabeth. The father was a merchant operating in Main Street whereas his son, also Loton Tipper junior was renowned as an athlete and as an administrator. Now probably only known for a steep road in Amsterdamhoek called Tipper’s Creek.

This blog is largely derived from an article entitled The Two Loton Tippers of Port Elizabeth by Margaret Harradine. Perhaps due to being related, even if distantly to the Tippers, her insight into the family is profound.

Main picture:  Weekend and holiday cottages along the Swartkops River more than a century ago

The Tipper family originally came from Cheadle in Staffordshire and records as far back as 1726 show that many of them had the Old Testament name of Loton. One particular Loton Tipper born in 1828 in Longton near Stoke-on-Trent, not all that far from Cheadle, was the son of Thomas Tipper and his wife, Mary Cyples. Loton Tipper married Jane Hayes at St Peter’ Church, Stoke-on-Trent in 1853 and brought his new wife to Port Elizabeth soon afterwards. The Cape of Good Hope Almanac and Register of 1855 and 1856 lists Loton as a shopkeeper of Queen Street, and in 1857 of Main Street. In that year he either bought or built a shop with living quarters above at what was then 66 Main Street, one plot from the comer of Donkin Street. Remarkably the building is still standing and today houses a branch of African Bank. The extra floors were added much later. Shopkeeping was always to be the family occupation; crockery, glassware and furniture being their main stock. One of Loton’s brothers, Howard, also emigrated to South Africa and for a time the two ran the Port Elizabeth shop together, but Howard later opened a shop in Adelaide. In 1862 the partnership was dissolved (Herald 18 April 1862), and Howard ran the Adelaide shop as his own concern. He eventually left South Africa and settled in Australia.

Main Street with horse drawn trams. Loton Tipper’s Furnishing Shop is on the right after the auctioneering business and the second building after the corner of Donkin Street. Note the company’s name on the upper floor of the building.

Schism within St. Mary’s Church
Spiritually, the Tippers appear to have sided with the group of dissidents who broke away from St Mary’s Church in 1854 to form their own congregation. Initially there was no Minister for the group which held lay services. When the Tippers’ first child, Lydia, was born, she was baptised in the embryonic St Paul’s Church, a barn or shed type structure belonging to a Mr Tee. She is one of the first babies in St Paul’s baptismal registers. In 1857 the breakaway group was given a minister and Lydia ‘s four brothers, Jesse, Loton, William and Thomas were baptised as members of Holy Trinity Church between 1857 and 1862, Jesse in the Kemp Street room and the others in the temporary building erected on the corner of Baakens Street and Military Road.

Temporary Trinity Church in Baakens

Return to the home country
By 1863, probably because of the educational needs of the children, the family had decided to return to England, but they planned to return to the Cape. The Herald of 9 January 1863 carried the following advertisement:

In the Herald of 12 June there was this notice:

At this point Loton made a will, witnessed by Robert Pinchin, leaving his estate to Jane with instructions on bringing up of the children. He added a clause dividing everything among his brothers and other relations in the event of the whole family’s being drowned during the voyage back to England. That voyage could not have been a pleasure with five children to watch over and on top of it all, a sixth was due soon. Bad weather prevented the ship from docking on time and Mary Harriet only just managed to be born on land. Aunt Polly, as she was known, attributed her subsequent poor health to this rushed beginning, but nonetheless lived to be 86.

The family settled in Peckham, London. Loton opened a crockery shop and acted as a buying agent for Port Elizabeth firms. One of the English firms he dealt with was Rylands and according to Margaret Harradine, his granddaughter remembers being warmly received there when she first visited London.

Four more children were born in Peckham: Jane, Eliza, Samuel and Oliver. Here the older ones went to school and Loton Junior developed his lifelong love of athletics.

An illuminated address presented to him by members of the Argus Amateur Athletics Club in Peckham records his efforts in helping to form the club. It is dated February 1877, the year in which Loton Sr. and his four elder sons returned to Port Elizabe and has the words “on his departure for the Cape.” For the time being Jane and the younger children remained in London, and she took charge of the shop. Lydia got married.

Loton Sr. intended to establish his sons in business, and when he reopened his business in Port Elizabeth it was at 27 Queen Street and not in his old premises at No.66 Main Street. Perhaps the reason for this decision was since the lease that he had given on his Main Street premises had not yet expired. To make his business known again, Loton placed an advertisement in the P.E. Advertiser on the 5 May 1877 Loton as follows:

Another advertisement on May 16 listed the various articles he was offering for sale, including reticules, sponges “and a variety of fancy articles.” By 1879 they were re-established in Main Street. Two storeys were added to the building and the words “Tipper’s furnishing warehouse” painted on the northern wall. Loton Jr seems to have managed the shop from the beginning, with Jesse and Thomas working with him briefly but ultimately choosing other careers. William opened a furniture shop in Cathcart Road, Queenstown (W. Tipper and Co.) which after his early death was run by Oliver.

Loton Junior’s “inappropriate marriage”
The 21 -year-old Loton was meant to continue his business education, but soon after returning to South Africa, he met Elizabeth Harness and, in December 1879, married her instead. It seems that the Tipper family disapproved of the match, partly because the two were very young but also because Lizzie’s father was only a saddler, coach painter and trimmer. Joseph Harness had come from Hogsthorpe in Lincolnshire in the late 1850s, married a Cape Town girl, Martha Catherine Keet (also written Keets and Keats), and set himself up in business at 65 Queen Street. An old photograph shows a two-storeyed house built right on to the pavement with an upstairs veranda. There the family – 5 daughters and two sons – was to stay until Joseph’s death in January 1904. He presumably made some small contribution to early Port Elizabeth, for his death is recorded in the P.E. Directory of 1905 among other “noteworthy local occurrences“. One of his granddaughters, Nellie Tipper, remembered him as being kind and affectionate. Her Tipper grandparent was quite different. On one occasion she saw him while walking in Main Street and duty demanded that she approach him: “Good morning Grandfather”. “And who might you be?” “I am your granddaughter, Nellie. “Walk to that post and back”. And a few moments later – “You have an excellent carriage. Good day to you.”

Ten days before the wedding Loton Junior wrote to his fiancée as follows: “Dear Lizzie, I want you to change the day of the wedding until Friday as Jess could get off to mind the shop on Saturday so that it would enable us to go away. Tell your mother that I wish it and also that I cannot see that it will make the slightest difference to your arrangements. Send a decisive answer by – as I must ask the shopmen whether they can come on that day as there may be some doubt about it being mail day. Yours faithfully L.T.”

Main Street and the corner of Donkin Street c1876. Loton Tipper bought the middle building in 1857 to use as a shop as well as a home. He added two more storeys in 1882.

Loton senior’s final years
Loton Sr did not remain in Port Elizabeth. In 1879 he went to Somerset East and remained there until he retired. From August 1899 to August 1900, he was Mayor of the town. In due course Jane and the other children joined him and their home in Somerset East and Queenstown to which Loton and Jane retired and where they died on 11 October 1910 and 24 July 1911 respectively.

The sport enthusiast
Loton Jr was to enjoy athletics and walking all his life, whether as participant or spectator. He was a founder member of the P.E. Amateur Athletics Club, formed in July 1880, and over the years was to serve as committee member, treasurer, and active and honorary Vice-President. In the Herald in 1940, Mr. John Storey recalled some of the names and events of sixty years earlier. The first committee meeting was held on 26 June 1880. The Chairman was C. J. Carvey, and the committee members as follows: A. Francis, W. Anderson, L. Tipper, J. Monty, J. Finlay, S.E. Trench, J.C. Parkin, R. George, G. Sutter and W. Kelly. Storey said of Loton: “He was a member of one of London’s most famous athletic clubs and was the moving spirit in the foundation of the P.E.A.A.C., and Mr Howard Sherman, who although not actually at the first meeting, joined a month or two afterwards, and it was owing to the spadework of these two gentlemen that Port Elizabeth, and in fact South Africa have attained their present high standard of athletics.” He remembered that in the early days training consisted of running around St. George’s Park in a heavy overcoat, followed by a rub down with Elliman’s embrocation, and the eating of half a pound of raw steak daily.

The new club’s first sports meeting – the first ever held in South Africa under British Amateur Rules – was held on 11 September 1880 in St George’s Park near the Union Cricket Club ground and was run on natural veld. The hero of the day was G.H. Farrar, but Loton won several second places including the long jump and half-mile steeplechase. At the summer meeting he was again placed second in several events, his brother Jesse winning the sack race and egg-and-spoon race, his prizes being a dressing case and “handsome meerschaum” pipe. Loton was best at middle distance and walking races and some of his descendants still have cups which he won. At a sports meeting in November 1883 there was a “one-mile scratch, Natives.” The prices were a silver watch and chain, meerschaum pipe and case, a new hat, and a digger’s belt. One competitor was Mr L. Tipper’s Toby dressed in orange. By 1895 the Club had become the P.E. Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club, (they had a clubhouse at Hunter’s Retreat), and on November 3, 1900, their new cycle track, off Russel Road on the site of the old dam, was opened. This site would become the Westbourne Oval. The ground belonged to the Municipality who leased it to the Club and provided part of the money required to build the track – described as “one of the best tracks in South Africa” and ”up to date in every respect” in the Directory of 1901. The grandstand could accommodate 2,000 people and there was space in the various enclosures for 25,000 spectators.

Rowing was another of Loton’ s interests and the Directory of 1892 lists him as a member of the rowing committee (there was also a yachting committee) of the Zwartkops Boating Association, with its clubhouse at Zwartkops. The 1896 Directory lists him as Rowing Captain of the P.E. Rowing Club and states that the P.E. Rowing Club, Algoa Rowing Club and the Zwartkops Rowing Club are all affiliated to the Zwartkops Boating Association. A medallion in the shape of a Maltese Cross with the letters Z.B.A. on it and the year was handed out.

In Loton’ s obituary mention is made of a yacht of which he was part-owner and the Herald of I June 1898, under the heading “Racing at Zwartkops” has the following statement: “It was decided to leave the grand race for the ”Tipper” cup till Whitmonday”.

Little Bess locomotive used at the opening of line to Swartkops.

Loton also enjoyed hunting. Buck were plentiful in the bush beyond Amsterdamhoek in those days. A photograph in the Grahamstown Museum displays Loton as a member of an elephant hunt at Addo. His obituary recorded that it was a “rare thing for him to miss a buck within shooting range” Hunting was to cause the family sorrow too. In July 1887 Loton’s younger brother Samuel died at the age 18 as the result of a gunshot wound in the hand. His tombstone in St Mary’s cemetery tells that “He was an affectionate and dutiful son“.

Initially home for Loton and Lizzie was the living quarters above the Main Street shop but by 1884 their address was 14 Richmond Hill Road “at the back of the house of F.O. Sweeney”. In 1885 they lived on St Patrick’s Hill and in 1892 were living in Tredega House, a double-storeyed house near the corner of Princes and Cawood Streets, set well back from the road behind trees and a wooden fence. In 1903 they were back on Richmond Hill in a house called Buckingham Lodge, and in 1912 they made their permanent home at Amsterdamhoek (always referred to in those days and by the Tippers well into present times as “Zwartkops”). In June 1891 Loton bought a quarter of the land at Amsterdam, the other quarter going to James Green and half to Nelson Pearson (Deeds Office, Uitenhage). Apparently, the plots were owned alternately by Green and Tipper. Soon after this Loton built a hunting lodge, known as Buffalo Lodge, on the riverside. His niece, Louisa Durkin, said in an interview (Evening Post, 24 June 1967) that this was the first house in the area and was built from· the timber of a Norwegian shipwrecked on the coast. By this time the Tippers had a family of six, known to their relatives and friends as Lotie, Nellie, Bessie, Mary, Louie and Tibbie, and an old photograph shows a large group of adults and children seated in front of the Lodge dressed in holiday attire. Later a house was built on the left-hand side of what is now Tipper’s Creek Road, a sheltered spot with a pleasant outlook, and the foundations of the house are still there. Originally there was a garden on top of the ridge above the house but even long after the house was abandoned, there were still grassy places where the bush had not yet taken over again.

Tippers Creek at Amsterdam Hoek showing Linton Tippers house on the right

On the property graves of Khoikhoi servants who had died during the 1918 ‘flu epidemic, some decorated with seashells, and in another spot were the graves of hunting dogs are still visible. Loton attempted, unsuccessfully, to breed oysters in the· river just below the kloof and at one time the posts marking the beds were still to be seen. He was one of those who advocated the siting of Port Elizabeth’s new harbour at the mouth of the Zwartkops River.

Life at Amsterdamhoek

There was a long flight of steps up to the house in the kloof and one of the family recalled in vivid detail the description of the old man setting off on a trip to town and stopping after each couple of steps to turn and call further instructions to his wife standing on the veranda: “Now Lizzie, don’t forget . . . ” and the exasperated reply, ”Yes, Loton.” The Tippers owned a horse and conveyance of some kind. It was said that when Loton approached the Zwartkops Hotel when driving, the experienced horse automatically turned in and stopped. In the first decade of the 20th century when Margaret’s grandmother and her sister Tibbie were courting and the two young men, Bert Armer and Percy Knight, spent the weekends at Zwartkops with the family. The girls were milliners and worked at a shop not far from the North End Station. The shops closed very late in the evening, and this meant a rush to the Station to catch the train. The men would meet their fiancés at the shop and half carrying them, would whisk them off as fast as they could manage. From Zwartkops Station they walked to the river where Loton waited in the boat to row them across. Lizzie would be standing on the opposite shore with a lantern to guide them. Zwartkops provided a wonderful holiday home for the Tipper grandchildren who loved the hunting, the fishing and the swimming in sea and river.

An unmet promise

In 1906 the shop in Main Street was sold and the business moved to Strand Street. By 1913 Loton had retired (Voters’ Roll). Never having been a successful man in financial matters, Loton was unable to fulfil an earlier promise of a plot of land to each child on his or her coming-of-age. Only the first two children received one. Margaret’s grandmother the third child instead built a cottage near the main house where she and her family could spend weekends and holidays. Loton died on 18 July 1933 and is buried in the North End cemetery. The remaining Tipper land at Zwartkops was bought by Sid Wells and became part of the Wells Estate. It is satisfying to know that part of Loton’s land behind the house in the kloof, is the Aloe Reserve and that it will retain that peace and perhaps some of that sense of infinite vastness which the bush there once had.

Loton Tipper’s shop at No 66 Main Street used to be located in what is now an African Bank branch

The Two Loton Tippers of Port Elizabeth by Margaret Harradine [Looking Back, Vol 20, No 3, Sept 1980]
Loton Tipper – Pioneer by Eric Vos

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