The houses in Donkin Street add to the charm of the area bracketed by the Hill Presbyterian church at the top and Nedbank building in Main Street and bounded by the Donkin Reserve in the east.
Main picture: Painting of Donkin Row, as it is called
Before the arrival of the Settlers, Donkin Street was an insignificant Kloof dwarfed by its larger siblings, White’s Road, Russell Road and Albany Road. What it did supply initially was water from a perennial spring. Apart from a well in Market Square, it provided the water for the town until Frame’s Reservoir on the Shark River was constructed.
Sale of land
The original historic documents dating from the 1800s at the main library detail all the grants of land by the Colonial Government to the town. They are hand written in flowing copperplate, and accompanied by hand drawn maps by the Surveyor, to detail the exact positions of the properties. These ones are for the Donkin Terrace and are dated 31st January 1856.
Buildings abutting Main Street
Initially the “New Church” occupied the site on the northern corner of Donkin & Main Streets.
Port Elizabeth’s First Bard
In 1854, the Kloof was filled in. The only elegy was a poem written by a William Selwyn, a resident, entitled “The lament of the Donkin Street streamlet, on being entombed by an Unpoetical Municipality.”
O list good folks a tale of woe
A tale of dark oppression;
Let briny tears your cheeks down flow
In sorrowful procession.
Till late I trickled down the glen
In sunbeams gaily sparkling;
But now entombed by heartless men
I creep on cold and darkling.
Beneath a huge chaotic mass
Of rubbish vile I mutter;
‘Mid frogs and fungi rank alas
A melancholy gutter.
The rustic bridge that bound my banks
In brotherhood together
Is torn away and its rude planks
Are gone, the “Board” knows wither.
Away! A dire revenge I’ll brew
My rage meanwhile I’ll bung tight
That sordid Board the day shall rue
When next I see the sunlight.
When turgid torrents rushing past
Adown my peeping square holes
Right through this execrable mess
I mad-man like will tear holes
I’ll heave aloft this lumb’ring load
And crashing down I’ll toss it
Till in the middle of the road
A mountain I deposit
Sale of reclaimed land
On the 28th December 1955, the sale of the reclaimed land was sold in the newly created Donkin Street.
The Donkin Street houses were built between 1860 and 1880.
The whole site was declared a National Monument in 1967.
The first houses (Nos 29-55) appear to have been declared as National Monuments in 1967, whereas Nos 21-27 were only declared as National Monuments in 1984 per the NMC Report for that year.
The houses, and those around them, have recently been restored, making a great attraction for tourists interested in Port Elizabeth’s early housing. Not wanting to be labelled a Cassandra, but while the restoration might have vastly improved the houses, what I question is whether the original design was replicated meticulously in the process.
Across the road
Strictly speaking, the Hill Presbyterian Church is on the corner of Belmont Terrace, now renamed Athol Fugard Terrace, and Alfred Terrace. To me, however, it adds the sauce to the houses below.
Cape Carols and Miscellaneous Verses by William Selwyn (1891, Argus Company, Cape Town)
Looking Back, Vol IX No 1 (March 1969) Page 32
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)