Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Westbourne Oval

This sports oval, now host to many school sports days and track and cycle events, was originally a muddy vlei (wetland) known in the late 1800s as “Russell Road Dam”. It is right next to the land which belonged to the London Missionary Society, where bubonic plague broke out in 1902.

Main picture: The Westbourne Oval in 1914

The area at the top of Russell Road, was a natural dam that overflowed during heavy rains, damaging properties and streets lower down towards the sea. During drier periods, the area turned into a swamp causing a nuisance for the encroaching suburbs. In July 1896 the Town Council agreed to a request from the Port Elizabeth Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club to convert the area into a cycling track. The vlei was drained in 1899 and a cycle track constructed. Part of the swamp area was incorporated as a park in Bingley Street across from the Westbourne Oval. In July 1899 the foundation stone was laid. The Club leased the grounds and constructed the grand stand which was paid for by both the Council and the Club.

Westbourne Oval

In 1908 the Club closed and the Municipality took over the maintenance of the Oval. The Club was resuscitated in 1911. The facilities must have fallen into disrepair, because in 1911, the PE Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club [PEAACC] was re-formed. On the 6th May 1911, the reformed Club held its opening meeting at the Westbourne Oval. After reviving the Club early in the year, Harry Mosenthal was appointed as president. The Wanderers Club was dissolved and its members joined PEAACC.

The Oval was gradually restored, the concrete rinking floor was removed and the cycle track repaired. After the 1914 S.A. Championships, the war brought meetings to an end. Athletics did not resume immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1918 and it took until 1922 when they commenced again. 1922 also saw the Eastern Province Football Association and the Athletics Union arranging to share the Oval as their joint headquarters. Meanwhile in February 1929, the Council agreed to lease the Westbourne Oval to the E.P. Football Association for five years. At this stage, the ground was being used for dirt-track motor cycle racing.

Howard Sherman 1861-1935

The ground must have again fallen into disrepair as the Oval had once again to be restored for athletics and cycling. This project was commenced in September 1933 and completed by the 24th March 1934 to be ready for the S.A. Cycling Championships and the Empire Games Trials. At this time, the Council was considering selling the Oval. As another option, the site was also favoured for the construction of a central swimming bath.

On the 3rd October 1936, the Oval was used for entertainment of a non-sporting variety. Playland commenced their summer season using the Oval as their venue. For the first time, the Scenic Railway, or Figure Eight, was brought to PE. The proprietors were the African Amusement Parks Limited.

More renovations have been made over the years, and huge stadium lights added for night sports. Amongst the numerous athletic stars who performed at the Oval over the years, was Paul Nash who competed in the 100 metres.

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)

3 Comments

  1. Thank you Dean! Much appreciated.
    I see that we are using the same pic on our website but I have found one or two old photos of the Oval in “Hills Covered with Cottages” by Margaret Harradine. Not as good as the one above though.
    Regards
    Jan

    Reply

Leave a Comment.

*