Port Elizabeth of Yore: The MacArthur Baths

In the case of a City now 200 years old, an artefact only built 60 years ago must surely be classified as recent, but a title of Port Elizabeth of Recent Times – The MacArthur Baths – does not possess the same cachet as PE of Yore. So I will stick with my accepted nomenclature.

Main picture: The MacArthur Baths shortly after its construction with the original Elizabeth Hotel in the background

The Humewood area has always been acknowledged as the playground of Port Elizabeth with its elegant hotels and safe beaches suitable both for swimming and for surf boarding.

In the City’s fathers far-sighted endeavour to promote tourism, during the late 1950s the Council adopted a resolution to upgrade the beachfront. This would comprise two elements: a spacious tidal pool and an adjoining kiddies’ paddling pool while Phase Two would be the construction of a children’s entertainment area at King’s Beach. Even though no reference can be found to confirm that the original tidal pool was constructed prior to this major upgrade, if memory serves me correctly, the initial tidal pool was constructed some time before this major upgrade.

The mayor of Port Elizabeth from 1952 to 1953 was one, Cecil Frank MacArthur. It is in all probability that these swimming pools were named to honour him. Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that the reason for the selection of a rocky portion of the shoreline for the construction of the tidal pool, was that it could not be used for swimming. Another important reason was probably that it enabled the construction of the wall without foundations by casting the concrete directly onto the rocks. On the other side of Beach Road was the original Elizabeth Hotel and south of it was Brooke’s Caravan Park both with an abundance of tourists. The old Elizabeth Hotel with its hinged wings would shortly afterwards be replaced by the towering new Elizabeth Hotel. As it was constructed further up the hill, it afforded most rooms, even on the lower floors, with a panoramic view of the beaches and Algoa Bay.

Officially known as the MacArthur Bathing House, this facility was capable of catering for 2,000 bathers per day. Included in the facilities were a feature which was in vogue at the time: hot sea water slipper baths. These were believed to be beneficial in the treatment of rheumatoid complaints. This tidal pool with a rock island in the middle was 90m long by 30m wide. In depth it varied gradually from 1m to 2m.

Alongside this pool, but separate from it, was the kiddies’ paddling pool varying in depth from 7cms to 30cms.

After the recent upgrade


The Port Elizabeth Municipal Centenary Souvenir Brochure, (1960, E.H. Walton & Co, Port Elizabeth)

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