The intention of the British government was never to create a town on the coast at Port Elizabeth. Instead it was meant to be a disembarkation point for the Settlers on their travels into the hinterland. The fact that many of the settlers had little, if any, agricultural experience meant that many gravitated back to Port Elizabeth. That is why the town was created at the foot of a hill. That meant that every kloof would ultimately become a major road. So it was with Burial Kloof and later Hymanskloof but now better known as Russell Road.
Main picture: The oldest extant picture of the Stranger’s Location at the top of what was to become Russell Road showing the Chapel of the London Missionary Society in the background.
Before the arrival of the Settlers in 1820, the whole area from Cape Receife to Van Stadens comprised only some twenty farms. The occupant of the farm in the present Russell Road to Albany Road area was a certain Meneer Hartman. At the top of the kloof was the Chapel of the London Missionary Society adjacent to Stranger’s Location.
Initially the gully which was to become Russell Road was given the name of Burial Kloof for on its upper right slope was the burial ground of the early Settlers. It was later renamed Hyman’s Kloof after Mr. Hyman, leader of the Hyman Party whose isolated dwelling at the lower end of Main Street faced the kloof.
It was a natural kloof with high grassy ridges and boulders on either side, forming a long narrow ravine down which flood waters from Cape Road and the parklands rushed into the sea. A stream of water always flowed through it which in heavy rains was converted into a dangerous torrent. When it subsided, large deep pools remained and were used by the black maids for washing the laundry of the town’s folk.
A narrow footpath led up through it to Stranger’s Location, where a great number of blacks were housed in squalid huts and miserable shanties. Much of this land belonged to the London Missionary Society and was occupied by the Blacks who used Hyman’s Kloof as a shortcut to and from the town below. On the site of the present Richmond Hill was the Fingo Location or Fingo City as the Settlers styled it with its poor dwellings.
The kloof also afforded a secure hiding place to truant schoolboys who frequently resorted to its peaceful solitude in order to escape for a day from the tedious lessons of schoolmaster Reid. With the exception of a few cottages in Lower Hill and Municipality Streets and a couple of yellow buildings on the corner of Chapel Street, there were no other buildings in these localities.
Converting the Kloof into a Road
In November 1862, construction of the road was commenced under the Engineer, Robert Archibald. Land on either side of the road was donated to the Municipality and sold in July 1862 in order to pay for the new road. At great expense and manpower, Hyman’s Kloof was eventually converted from a rugged kloof into an important thoroughfare. Upon completion, this new road was christened Russell Road after Lord Russell, the British Foreign Secretary at the time.
It was finally opened to traffic on the 6th August 1863.
To celebrate its opening, this event would be preceded by the stately Town Councillors marching together with clergymen and heads of departments from the Town Hall to Russell Road. A multi racial crowd thronged the pavements with a carnival atmosphere. The whole town are out in force. At the head of the procession was the Town Engineer, Mr Robert Archibald, mounted on a steed. This contingent was followed by the Volunteer Rifle Band with their Bandmaster, Harraden, playing martial airs. Then came the Artillery Corps, the Naval Brigade, the Councillors and all of the motley crowd.
After the Mayor’s wife, Mrs Smith had cut the silken ribbon, the first to have the honour of using the road were the labourers who had built the road.
Half way up Russell Road on the right hand side was what came to be known eponymously as the Russell Road Cemetery. For many years, the old Settler’s Cemetery remained unenclosed being desecrated by being a short cut for the locals and cattle grazing in it.
Right at the top of the hill on the right hand side was a huge muddy vlei called the Russell Road dam. Eventually it was drained and converted into a cycling track known as “The Oval”.
In order to finance the construction of the road, some of the land adjacent to the road had to be sold off to raise funds for the construction.
During the great flood of November 1867 which almost obliterated South End as that was the epicentre of the storm, also put Russell Road to the test. According to JJ Redgrave, “Russell Road, which up till then had been regarded as the masterpiece of the Town Engineer, was reduced once more to its pristine ruggedness and was little better than an impassable kloof [once more], so smashed up that even a horseman could not pick his way over it.
A flood of water was rushing down it in headlong fury and the inhabitants of houses at its foot had enough to do to save their lives and furniture from between cracked walls.
The rush of water here carried away the walls enclosing Mr Powell’s cow-house, but fortunately the cow escaped unhurt although exposed to consider danger.”
James Langley Dalton
Driving down Russell Road towards town, the Russell Road Cemetery is situated on the left hand side. On the hillside in amongst what is left of the grave sites there is one that stands out clearly because of the fact that it is painted white. The grave belongs to James Langley Dalton. Dalton was a survivor of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift and the recipient of a Victoria Cross. Dalton died on 7th August 1887.
The battle at Rorke’s Drift took place from 22 to 23 January 1879. 139 British soldiers defended a supply station against about 4 500 Zulu warriors with about 500 Zulus dying in the battle and only 17 of the defenders being killed. The remarkable fact about Rorke’s Drift was that 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded after the battle – the highest number ever awarded to a regiment for one action.
In 1924, a Port Elizabeth icon, Mastertons, opened. The following information has been extracted from their website:
The founder of Masterton’s Coffee & Tea Specialists, Ronald John “Jock” Masterton, born 13 November 1897, came to South Africa from Scotland in 1920 at the age of 23 after serving as an officer in the Black Watch regiment during the First World War. During the war, a fellow officer from South Africa persuaded him to make a new beginning in the land of sunshine. As soon as the war ended he did just that. “Jock” worked as assistant manager on the farm “Three Rivers” in Vereeniging where he met his future wife Marjorie, who at the time was visiting her uncle the farm manager. In love, he made the logical move to Port Elizabeth, Marjorie’s home town, where her father was the Harbour Engineer in charge of building the breakwater, which still protects the Port Elizabeth harbour to this day.
With the aim of establishing his own business, “Jock” travelled to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka), where he studied Tea Tasting, sampling more than 400 varieties of tea in a day. Returning to Port Elizabeth he opened “The Tea and Coffee House” at 33a Queen Street (now Govan Mbeki Avenue) 4 December 1924, and later moved to 114 Russell Road from where we still operate today. In the early years of the business, Masterton’s specialised in supplying the Port Elizabeth with top quality leaf teas, as tea was the “drink of choice” back then. As the demand for coffee began to grow, we extended our range to include coffee, which today what we are famed for throughout South Africa.
Our very first bag of coffee was a Brazilian, costing 1 Pound 18 shillings and sixpence. Today we have a large variety of in-house blends to suit all palates, specially roasted and blended by the proprietor and roast master, James Masterton.
Other key dates
In 1877, Steinman’s Hotel which was situated at the corner of Russell Road and Queen Street was burned down.
On 28 August 1916, work begins in Russell Road to introduce a sewage removal system to the city thus phasing out the old bucket system
According to Margaret Harradine in her impressive chronicle of the Social Life of Port Elizabeth, on the 28th August 1916 she notes that “Trench work in Russell Road signalled the start of the drainage scheme, 14 years after being sanctioned. Apart from the water supply, what to do with the town’s sewerage was the most serious problem that faced the municipality over the years. After abandoning the very early arrangement of depositing it on the beach below the high water mark, the bucket system was used with variations in the manner of organisation as time passed. The Council had pressed for proper drainage, but the Ratepayers, though well aware that typhoid was endemic here, had consistently refused to agree to the borrowing of the large amount required. The service lanes which still exist in the older parts of the City are a reminder of the outside toilets and its bucket.
In June 1932 a tram went out of control in Russell Road. The vehicle finished up inside the Masonic Hotel, in Main Street.
In September, 1938 the city’s first automated traffic signal is erected at the intersection of Russell Road and Main Street.
Russell Road Methodist Church: 1872 to 1966
My maternal grand-parents were Methodists. As they lived at number 37 Eastbourne Road, I assume that they attended this church.
Russell Road Church, though not the original home of Methodism in Port Elizabeth, is the Mother Church of those now extant. The first Methodist Church was erected in Queen Street in 1841, on the spot where the settlers had pitched their tents, and where the Reverend William Shaw, standing upon a rock, had preached in the open air.
The dedication services were conducted by the Reverends William Shaw and WB Boyce, the former of whom became President of the British Conference in 1865. This homely sanctuary served the needs of the growing Methodist community for thirty years. It later belonged to the Salvation Army and was demolished only a few years ago.
In 1870, under the ministry of the Rev. Thomas Guard, the erection of the Russell Road Church was commenced. The foundation stone was laid by Mrs S Hill, whose husband. Mr Sydney Hill, was not only a generous promoter of the effort, but also an active worker in the church.
The chastely built edifice, with its beautiful interior arches, was commenced in 1872, the cost of erection being £5,000 of which £4,500 was raised before the opening ceremony. The congregation marched in triumph from the old church to their new spiritual home where the service of dedication took place.
The beautiful stained glass window was donated by Mr Sydney in memory of his wife who died in Bournemouth in 1872. The present organ was installed in 1892 and an opening recital was given by Mr WH Lee-Davies, organist of the Collegiate Church.
In 1966, the church was demolished to make way for the onramps to the Settler’s Freeway along the shorefront.
Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by JJ Redgrave
Hills Covered with Cottages by Margaret Harradine
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine
Photographs of current Russell Road are by Jonker Fourie on https://portelizabethdailyphoto.blogspot.co.za