Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Tolls

The Authorities always have to find a source of revenues to cover the costs of the maintenance of the roads. In the case of vehicles and animals using them, they always have a ready solution: charging a service fee in the form of a toll. In Port Elizabeth, the first toll was installed within four years of Port Elizabeth being established. It was located in Queen Street, just beyond the future Russell Road and commenced operation in August 1824. 

Main Street: The old Toll house at the Sunday’s River Bridge on the Grahamstown Road

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Seaview Hotel

This well-known hotel has operated under numerous names over its life. Amongst its guises was a naval training base during WW2. For some unknown reason, the hotel never attracted sufficient clientele to be able to be financially viable. Nevertheless, it is an icon for many of the older generation who would attend functions there, including myself. 

Main picture: The art deco swimming pool in its heyday

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Working in the Vehicle Manufacturing Industry

Just as important as the industry dynamics, ownership and physical infrastructure are the working conditions, demographics and wages in the motor vehicles industry. This importance to many residents is predicated on the fact that they had a strong connection with the industry being dependent upon it directly by working in one of the plants or alternatively in one of their suppliers. So too did our family as a number of my relatives worked directly in an assembly plant as well. 

This blog deals with the human factors within this industry.

Main picture: Tractors ready for export Continue reading

The Uninvited Guest Who Stayed – Part 1

Herbie arrived uninvited at our house one night in 1973 when Dean rocked up with a buggered 1961 1200cc VW Beetle.   We didn’t actually name it Herbie but that name had been made famous by the 1968 movie, The Love Bug, and so I shall refer to it thus from time to time.   The family all trundled out into the dark to watch proud Dean show off his new little baby.  Dad was aghast as, with his superior experience, he knew that it was a piece of junk and washed his hands of it.  Dean’s friend, Michael Baker, owned one and it was he who had convinced Dean to buy it for R90.  I was in Standard 9 and this was a lovely, real life challenge for me.  I had done my apprenticeship on Mom’s sewing machine and Dad’s lawnmower.  Now for the big time.

Main picture: 1960-1969 Volkswagen Beetle – Not my vehicle as only one photo exists of it

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Rise and Fall of the Car Industry

Just as the slump and ultimate decline in the wool industry made the future economic prospects of Port Elizabeth bleak, so too does the motor vehicle industry’s relocation to the economic hub of South Africa portend a grim future for the town. 

After the booming fifties and sixties, the seventies awoke to new realities which the City Fathers had not contemplated: the decline of its manufacturing base. This process was ineluctable as the vortex of demand in Gauteng sucked manufacturers ever inward. Far from its market, aspersions were cast on Port Elizabeth’s manufacturing credentials. Instead of adapting to this reality, it persevered with the previous one. Simply put, its strategy should have been a focus on economic activities decoupled from Gauteng such as tourism, medicines manufacture and development, movie making, technology development et al. 

In retrospect, the stages of development of the motor vehicle industry in Port Elizabeth are now at an end. Hence it allows one to analyse dispassionately it’s still warm corpse. 

This blog deals with its stages of development as a requiem mass is held after the demise of yet another motor manufacturing icon, General Motors, at the age of 95 years. 

General Motors is a fitting metaphor of this process and is replete with all these elements.

Main picture: General Motors’ factory

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Narrow Gauge Walmer Branch Line

Today nothing remains of this railway line which wended its way through the sylvan town of Walmer in the early twentieth century. Not even a memory, the sound of the whistle or the smell of the coal fired engine which traversed the arboreal streets such as Villiers and Water Road all the way to the municipal boundary at 14th Avenue recalls this miniature train. 

Main picture: Narrow gauge train leaving the Main Station in Port Elizabeth  Continue reading

Port Elizabeth of Yore: Victoria Quay

Originally the sea waves crashed to shore where Strand Streets lies today. Devoid of jetties, piers or breakwaters, the beaches stretching from the current Campanile to the South End were used as landing beaches. 

In 1857, this situation was to change. Ultimately the sandy beaches along this stretch of coast was to be replaced by a sea wall. Exactly why it was named a quay and not an embankment cannot be ascertained.

Main picture: Victoria Quay from the North Jetty Continue reading