Port Elizabeth of Yore: When Beach Holidays meant Camping even at Humewood

Prior to the 1940s, holidays at the coast for those of modest means would automatically imply a camping holiday. It was the rare exception that a family’s coastal holiday would be in an hotel of which there was a dearth. By today’s standard’s the majority of these hotels would not even be rated as today’s One Star accommodation.

For the average family, it was either a canvas sail over one’s head or nothing at all.

Main picture: Camping at Humewood in 1910

Humewood was opened up only in 1893 with the construction of a direct road connecting South End with areas south of that. Prior to that, there was only the circuitous Fisheries’ Road which did a Cooke’s Tour of the hill area behind Humewood prior to descending to the coast at the Fisheries, today’s Hobie Beach.


Above: Bungalows with canvas sides

What the initial spark was to organise a Camping Ground at Humewood has been lost in the mists of time. Nonetheless the Town Council was stirred into action during 1906 when the Council ackonowledged the potential of the Humewood area as a holiday area. To this end, a Beach Improvement Committee had been created. In terms of their mandate, on the 14th 1906, the Committee as well as the Town Engineer and the Harbour Board Engineer inspected three sites in order to determine a suitable location for a camping ground. The Committee duly made a recommendation that a site between the Little Shark River, today’s Happy Valley, and the slipway was the most suitable for this purpose. Subsequently the Council voted that £500 be made available for bathing houses, toilets, a water supply and an artificial lake for children.

The proposed Camping Ground was situated on an elevated plateau overlooking the beach. Campers may here erect their own tents on payment of a small weekly rental for the site occupied, or they could hire bungalows, marquees, or tents from the Town Council at weekly rents ranging from 5s to 12s. 6d. An unlimited supply of water was furnished to the camp ground from the town’s mains, and during a season about fifty of these structures or tents were in occupation.

This site would be the first official holiday camping ground in Port Elizabeth.

Upgrades to more permanent structures
The first upgrade to the basic tent arose when, on the 6th October 1909, the Town Council voted to erect wooden frame huts with canvas sides at the Humewood camping ground.

Three years later on the 7th May 1912, a further upgrade was accepted when the ratepayers agreed to the borrowing of money to carry out the Council’s Town Attractions Improvement Scheme. In terms of the scheme, 150 more bungalows were to be built at Humewood. An attractive wooden cafe was built just south of the Shark River mouth. Robert Cells’ old wood-and-iron Beach Cafe was demolished in September to allow for road widening. A pavilion was erected at the top of the completed terrace made in the hillside.

Seven years were to elapse before further action as regards the bungalow issue were taken. On the 16th April 1919 the Town Council called for tenders to be invited for the erection of a model bungalow at Humewood subject to a maximum cost of £300. What happened to this proposal cannot be ascertained.

Camping at Schoenmakerskop

Bungalows exit left

Within 16 years, the Town Council revealed that local residents took precedence over holiday-makers. Playing a part in the decision to let them out on a permanent basis was the fact that the bungalows probably stood vacant out of the holiday season.  In light of the housing shortage in the city, on the 8th February 1928, the City Council voted to let the Humewood bungalows to local residents. By March 1929 all of them were let on a permanent basis.

Economic reality
Despite camping as a form of holiday accommodation becoming less desirable, the camping ground survived mainly because the popularity of caravanning as a cheap form of holiday accommodation. That could never last. Progress would overturn the status quo. As the site of the camping ground represented prime top-dollar land, it would face the developers with an empty hand. Economic realities struck hard. This land would ultimate be sold for upmarket condominiums.

Holidaymakers on Humewood Beach with the terrace in their rear

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)
Cape Colony: its history, commerce, industries and resources compiled by Somerset Playne [London 1910, JC Juta & Co]

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