Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Mosenthal’s Building in Market Square

The demolition of this elegant and stately building was a loss in two aspects. Firstly in and of itself, due to its architectural merits, the building deserved to be retained. More importantly this building together with the other buildings in Market Square represented an integrated whole. The demolition of an elegant late Victorian building and replacing it with a faux modern prison-like building was unconscionable and unforgiveable. The whole area deserved to be retained as a whole

Main picture: Mosenthal’s building in Market Square

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Uitenhage enters the Industrial Age

By 1806, two years after the town of Uitenhage was founded, the districts of Uitenhage and Graaff Reinet possessed 72.9% of the sheep in South Africa. With only 19.2% of the Cape’s population, and 60.4 head of sheep per person in these districts, one has two wonder why this anomaly arose. It would take another 20 years after the establishment of Port Elizabeth in 1820 before the export of wool would make sheep breeding a profitable undertaking. It is these exports which would provide the impetus for the creation of wool processing industries in both Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth.

Main picture: Springfield – One of the first woolwasheries in Uitenhage

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Disorderly Haphazard Development of Embryonic Town

“Much like a latter-day squatter camp” best describes how Port Elizabeth commenced. Without a master plan or even a local government, houses and other buildings were built willy-nilly. Without standards anything was acceptable. Moreover, embodying this spurt of development was an entrepreneurial vibrancy which engulfed the populace endeavouring to cloth, feed and house themselves. Apart from the Rev. Francis McCleland, the Colonial Chaplain, who was paid a stipend of £150 per annum by the English government, the rest had not only to build their own homes but also to earn sufficient to sustain themselves.

The blog highlights the chaotic initial development of the town.

Main picture: 1822 Sketch by S.E. Hudson showing the shambolic layout of the town

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: From Commandant’s Quarters to Wool Market

Like many other sites in Central Port Elizabeth, this site has undergone a veritable melange of uses and buildings over the years. Originally it was the quarters of the Commandant of the Fort, Captain Francis Evatt. It was then used as the Court House, Jail and Police Station until August 1854 when it was burnt down. Subsequently it was used by a breakaway faction of St Mary’s Church to build their own church. That building was replaced by the Wool Market and in its final iteration, it became part of the market building.

Main picture: 1850 Castle Hill by H.F. White, better known for his construction of Whites Road, with the Commandant’s Quarters on the extreme left. The stand-alone building is the lock-up or jail.

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Union Castle Corner

In the early days, the area was simply known as the Corner of Main and Jetty Streets, descriptive but unimaginative and boring. The name Union Castle Corner only arose once the Union Castle Steamship Company occupied these premises in 1901. From 1820 until it was demolished in 1978 to become a bus terminus, it had effectively only had two buildings on this site but with multiple tenants over the years and one major upgrade. With the harbour being the centre of the town’s focus, this area was prime real estate.

This blog covers the buildings and their major tenants which occupied this site over the years.

Main picture: The original multi-storey building before the extension of the building down Jetty Street

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Commissariat Building

In military parlance, the Commissariat is the department for the supply of food and equipment. Being a resupply point during the Frontier Wars, a Commissariat had to be established in Port Elizabeth. Initially the military rented premises in the town but in 1837 they constructed their own buildings.

Main picture: In the foreground is washed wool being dried. Main buildings in the area are annotated

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Disparate Uses of the Feathermarket Hall over the Years

This iconic building has served multiple disparate roles since its opening in 1885. During the 1970s, I watched the bands Freedom’s Children and the Troggs in action here. In 1993, the original building was extensively renovated and in keeping with this facelift, it was renamed The Feather Market Centre.

Below is a selection of several disparate uses of this building from the early years of its existence.

Main picture: Ostrich feathers being viewed prior to the auction

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Where was the Commercial Hotel located?

On the various Facebook sites related to Port Elizabeth, it is always stated that this well-known hotel from the latter half of the 19th century was situated on the corner of Russell Road yet none of the photographs of that corner actually show this hotel where it is alleged to be located.

After gnawing at him, and with his unpaid job on the line, the Technical Editor made a breakthrough at 4am this morning 18th April 2021. Unlike Archimedes’ Eureka moment, he was not lying in a bath of hot water, Blaine was lying in a hot bed. Neither did he break curfew and run naked through the streets of Plumstead disturbing everyone (and we are not talking about him shouting “EUREKA!” either. It could also have been called a lightbulb moment, but given the vagaries of Eskom, this is a rare event nowadays.

Moreover, why did this misunderstanding arise?

Main picture: Steinmann’s Commercial Hotel

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