Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Pictorial History of Willows

I would have preferred to have written a history of Willows, albeit short, but as I have been unable to uncover any information about this iconic resort, I will invoke my right to present a pictorial blog only. Even as regards photographs, there is a dearth of them covering the early years.

Like many Port Elizabethians, the McCleland family stayed at Willows at some point in their lives. In our case it was over the Easter holidays. Sometimes we even took our home-built canoe along but as the main pool was miniscule, it could, in all honesty, only be used when the facility was not crowded.

Main picture: Two views of Willows separated by 50 years

The idea of having rondawels instead of rectangular cottages might have been inspired by the Xhosa huts in the Transkei but from a space utilisation point of view, they were inefficient. Perhaps this design was selected for a more prosaic reason: the ease of construction. Presumably the skill level and calibre of person required to construct these cottages more than compensated for their lack of useable space.

Camping at Willows

Without any documents or other proof of when this resort was constructed, one can assume that it must have occurred over the period from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. Nonetheless, my best guess would be the late 1950s. As the rural areas during that era fell under the jurisdiction of the Port Elizabeth Divisional Council, it must have been constructed under their auspices.

Camping at Willows in 1929

In an era prior to the introduction of television, film shows formed a part of one’s entertainment bouquet albeit only once per week. To cater for this demand, the café cum restaurant, offered shows on a Saturday night using reel-to-reel projectors. These machines would whir and click as the tape was transferred from one reel to the next but did not detract from the magic of the moving images on the white screen, usually a sheet.

 

The Willows in the 1950s

Willows in about 1963

 

From sunrise, the day was spent in swimming, exploring the rock pools and building huge dams out of sea sand in order to prevent the water from the showers reaching the pool. By dusk one was thoroughly exhausted, ready for a hard coir mattress bed.

Willows in the 60s and 70s

Willows being used for an advertisment

 

Willows in the 1960s with coloured rondawels

 

Willows

 

Recent

Willows – Enclosed Verandah’s have been added to the rondavels

Video of the Willows in the 1950s:

 

 


3 Comments

  1. It must have been constructed earlier than you suggest. My family spent happy weekend afternoons at The Willows in the 1950s and we left PE in 1956.We lived in Walmer and it was not a long drive to get there in our A40. It was well established by then but I dont recall as many rondavels as I am seeing in the photos. I remember an open air shower to get rid of the salt and a rill of some kind that took water (?from the shower) to the beach and was always covered with algae, which always seemed to be irresistible to children for some reason. It was a very nice place but my memory is of a very cold and windy site.

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  2. I enjoyed your pictorial visit to Willows. I holidayed there in tents with cousins in 1950s and 60s. Aunty would be with the kids and Uncle went to work each day. All the boys (6) had a tent to themselves and the girls slept in the folding camper tent. What wonderful, carefree fun we had. Also remember building dens and climbing the Port Jackson willows around the site. Is that why it is called “Willows”?

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