Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Market Square

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From a position of being the focus point of trade in Port Elizabeth in the first fifty years of Port Elizabeth’s existence to its position where it now occupies the lowly position as a parking space for the members of the Metropolitan Council.  

Its name change over the years reflected this change. From Market Square to Mayor’s Garden to Vuyisile Mini Square.  

Main picture: Ox Wagens filled Market Square all days of the week except Sundays

The Square is probably the most significant urban space in the City. Originally, the landing beach was nearby and much of the goods arriving at or leaving from Port Elizabeth did so via Market Square. The Square became the focal point for the buying and selling of goods by the local and district farmers.

As the first settlers clambered ashore near where the Campanile is situated, 250 metres in front of them where the Market Square is located, were a few houses and plenty of sandhills covered with tents which would be their temporary accommodation until they departed for Albany.

Market Square-Lithograph by Thomas Bowler

Market Square-Lithograph by Thomas Bowler

The ever changing town would be reflected in the function and use of this piece of land in front of what was to become the Town Hall.

Produce Market

From its bleak origins, it gradually became a focal point and the town’s produce market. With this came rules and its first bureaucratic activity, a bell ringer. Trains of oxen would enter into this space from early in the morning waiting for the bell ringer to announce the commencement of trading.

Per JJ Redgrave, “At the corner of Market Square stood the old bell with its rusty chain suspended between two stout poles surmounted by sloping boards to protect it from the rain. Faithful old Jonas rang that bell for many a long year. Every morning at an early hour, it would peal forth to warn all and sundry that the sale of produce was about to commence.

Market Square in 1875

Market Square in 1875 

Its clanging at any other hour of the day or night indicated that a fire had erupted in some part of the town. This would bring an inquisitive mob onto the streets all agog with excitement at the prospect of some event that would break the monotony of their daily routine.

Obelisk

Friday 22nd May 1863, two years after the completion of the Town Hall, Market Square was to witness the erection of the first modern monument on the site. An obelisk was erected as a memorial to the wedding of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and Princess Alexandra. Made in France out of igneous stone similar to granite, the Obelisk was exhibited at the International Exhibition in London in 1862.

Market Square in 1882

Market Square in 1882

John Patterson bought it and shipped it home on the “Rose of Montrose” as a memorial for the grave of his late partner and brother-in-law, George Kemp. The Kemp family had been opposed to the idea of an ostentatious monument, so it was donated to the town gratis. James Searle supervised the extremely difficult landing of it and James Wyatt erected it.

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In June 1878, four granite troughs, designed by James Bisset and made in England, were placed around the base with drinking fountains.

On 4th March 1921, the obelisk was removed and put in storage, to be finally erected in front of the Museum on 6th May 1975.

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Howitzer

Over March 3rd & 4th 1921, the obelisk over which there had been much discussion and controversy as to its utility, site and attractiveness was removed to be replaced by a howitzer, one of six donated to South Africa by the British government. It was placed on a granite base & known as the Heavy Artillery Memorial.

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For some unknown reason during February 1933, the City Council decided to relocate the S.A. Heavy Artillery Memorial to a site on the edge of St. George’s Park

Market Square with Heavy Artillery Piece

Market Square with Heavy Artillery Piece

Mayor’s Garden

Perhaps the removal was linked to the imminent decision of the Council under the Mayorship of Mr. W.F. Caulfield, to revamp Market Square. On 7th June 1933, the City Council considered a report on the proposed layout of the Market Square, intending to provide a defined route for one-way traffic. Designed by the Superintendent of Parks and the local branch of the S.A. Society of Architects, this became known as the Mayor’s Garden.

City Hall in 1930's

City Hall in 1930’s

The walls were made of Sandfontein stone and ornate light standards stood at intervals along them. These are later relocated to St. George’s Park, near the Conservatory.

In 1936, a charming figure, “The Water Carrier” was imported and placed in the lily pond, but constant vandalism caused its removal, also to the Park, in October 1952.

My mother, Eunice Letitia McCleland sitting on the lawn outside the City Hall

My mother, Eunice Letitia McCleland sitting on the lawn outside the City Hall

When the trams ceased running, the tram lines were removed and the space included in the garden. In 1953, at the time of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, a fountain and coloured lights were added to the pond.

The Mayor’s Garden was demolished in 1978 but the Square itself was declared a National Monument on 29th November 1974.

Brick Square

On 30th October 1980, a steel canister containing contemporary documents was set into the centre of the granite slab on the new brick Square

Vuyisile Mini

Vuyisile Mini

Finally on 6th November 2010, this Square was renamed Vuyisile Mini Square after Vuyisile Mini (8 April 1920 – 6 November 1964) who was a unionist, Umkhonto we Sizwe activist, singer and one of the first African National Congress members to be executed by apartheid South Africa.

 

Replica of Diaz Cross

The first white person to sail in Algoa Bay in 1488 was the Portuguese seafarer, Bartholomew Diaz.

Portuguese sailors like Diaz planted many padrãos along their sailing routes in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were sandstone pillars, often with the cross of the Portuguese flag chiselled into their surfaces to mark their territory.

diaz-cross-current-photo-by-jonker-fourie

The Dias Cross at Alexandria was one of three Diaz-erected crosses when he navigated the Cape coast in the 15th century seeking a route to India. The original cross was erected on 12 March 1488.

This is the furthest East that Bartolomeu Dias (Bartholomew Diaz) reached in 1488 (on the coast between Boknes and Bushmans River Mouth). The original cross was found in about 1938 by Eric Axelson and is in the William Cullen Library at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Diaz Cross in Mayors Garden 1960's

Diaz Cross in Mayors Garden in 1950’s

Also in the Square, is a replica of the Diaz Cross, donated by the Portuguese Government to commemorate the arrival of Bartholomew Diaz in Algoa Bay in 1488. This replica was cut from the same quarry in Portugal as the original.  It was brought out by Gawie Fagan and co on a replica caravel in 1988, the 500th anniversary of Diaz’s trip. It has been somewhat vandalised, unfortunately.

 

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Growth of the Population

 

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Phoenix Hotel

 

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Horse Drawn Trams

 

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Trinder Square

 

The Sad Demise of the Boet Erasmus Stadium

The Sad Demise of the Boet Erasmus Stadium

 

 

The Shameful Torching of Port Elizabeth’s German Club in 1915 

 

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/shameful-destruction-port-elizabeths-german-club-1915/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore Cora Terrace

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-cora-terrace/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore The Grand Hotel

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-grand-hotel/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore White’s Road

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-whites-road/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore The Slipway in Humewood

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-slipway-humewood/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore King’s Beach

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-kings-beach/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore Russell Road

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-russell-road/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore Sand dunes, Inhabitants and Animals

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-sand-dunes-inhabitants-animals/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore The Horse Memorial 

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/port-elizabeth-yore-horse-memorial/

 

Port Elizabeth of Yore Target Kloof

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/short-history-target-kloof-port-elizabeth/

The Parsonage House at Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/parsonage-house-number-7-castle-hill-port-elizabeth/

 

What happened to the Shark River in Port Elizabeth?

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/what-happened-to-the-shark-river-in-port-elizabeth/

Allister Miller A South African Air Pioneer & his Connection with Port Elizabeth

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/allister-miller-south-african-air-pioneer-connection-port-elizabeth/

 

The Three Eras of the Historic Port Elizabeth Harbour

http//thecasualobserver.co.za/the-three-eras-of-the-historic-port-elizabeth-harbour/

Sources:

Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by JJ Redgrave

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine


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