Port Elizabeth of Yore: St George’s Club

Perhaps younger members of society have always had a different view on how life should be led. It certainly was also apparent in the mid-1800s when they refused to become members of the long-established Port Elizabeth Club. Instead they ultimately formed their own Club; the St. George’s Club.  

Main picture: St George’s Club in Western Road

Gaining momentum

It was the establishment of the Port Elizabeth Club in 1866 which gave impetus to the creation of a separate club for the younger generation. It appears that several meetings were held already dating from 1866, but nothing concrete eventuated. In fact, during the second meeting there was an uproar which prompted the scribe to note the meeting had ended with damage being done “to both limb and property” which today would be described as riotous and unruly behaviour with damaging results.

Furthermore, the idea of creating a second club in the city met with some opposition. It was believed – probably correctly so – that the town could not support two clubs, but the younger generation persisted for they felt the need for a social club more suitable to their years where they could meet and relax without having the disdainful comments and “critical eyes” of their more staid elders.

Stanley House – first home of the The Junior Club that became the St George’s Club

The younger set persisted in their endeavours to establish an alternative club. In the late 1890s several influential citizens rallied to the cause and in January of 1892 the St George’s Club was founded.  Their pleas had come to fruition. On 13th January 1892, the inaugural meeting was held at the Algoa House Hotel at which the initial Rules were adopted.

Portrait of MM Laubser founder of St George’s Club 1898 painted by D. Kay

Stanley House

M.M. Loubser was elected as the first President with John McIlwraith, O.R. Dunell and A. Cowie as Vice-Presidents. The first Club House was the large house in Castle Hill known as Stanley House; originally this house which had been built in the early 1840s, had been the residence of Pieter Heugh and known as Prospect House. Initially known as The Junior Club, the less condescending name “St. George’s” was adopted on the 11th January 1899. The inaugural dinner was held on the 17th March 1892.

St George’s Club in the 1920s on the corner of Western Road and Rink Street

Club relocated to Western Road

The reason for the relocation from Prospect House to bespoke premises was possibly driven by the need for additional space. The location selected for their new premises was the top of Western Road on the corner of Rink Street. The foundation stone was laid on 5th June 1901 by Mrs. McIlwraith, wife of the President. The architects were A.H. and Walter Reid. It was opened on the 19th September 1902.

Club relocated once again

In 1950 property was purchased in the arboreal Park Drive on which a new Club House was erected. It did not comprise any of the grace and elegance of the previous building which was promptly demolished. This box-shaped building of little architecture merit, with its ivy- covered walls until the Club’s demise in 1997.

St George’s Club in Park Drive

Amalgamation

By the 1990s, it had become abundantly evident that the city was not large enough to support two Clubs. Reality prevailed, and in 1997 a merger was arranged between the Port Elizabeth Club and the St George’s Club. The property in Park Drive was sold and St. George’s members relocated into the Bird Street building.

The new home

Personal connection

No, I was never a member but had the pleasure of performing the audit in the late 1970s. The lunch menu was tempting except for a Thursday, if I recall, when tripe and onions was the speciality of the day. Not my favourite!

Portrait of WB Belt painted by D. Kay-Plaque of 1898-Vice President 1922 for the St George’s Club
Portrait of John McIlwraith painted by Walter Gilbert Wiles (1875 – 1966)-1898 president 1906
Portrait of WJ Macfarlane esq painted by D. Kay-Plaque 1913 – president – 1925
Notice of Farewell Dinner to H. Thornton esq., marking his departure from South Africa April 22 MCMXI
Farewell Dinner to PJ Frances Esq., framed centre motif ship. St Georges Club token of esteem and regret. Nov 1st Anno Bell MCMXVI
St George’s Club Building committee members 1898
List of St George’s Club members on active service 1939 – 1945
St George’s Club-Roll of Honour-Members on active service during 1914
Inscription on Barnes Gravestone-Durban. Plaque reads-a gift to St George’s Club to commemorate their centena from members of the Durban Club
Plan of the Ground floor — at P.E. St Georges Club
Plan of Upper Floor — at P.E. St Georges Club.

Sources

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging Pty Ltd, Port Elizabeth)

Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)

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