Port Elizabeth of Yore: Market Square used as a Market

For the first forty-five years of Port Elizabeth’s existence, Market Square was the focal point of trade in farmers’ produce in Port Elizabeth.  During 1865, the Municipality relocated the Market close to the Law Courts’ Building, but subsequent civic pressure forced them to relent. This was a temporary repieve as it ultimately had to be permanently relocated elsewhere. 

This blog covers the period to 1868 when the Market was held in Market Square. 

Main picture: Market Square and Castle Hill circa 1860 painted by Mrs J Clark. The free-standing house was the original dedicated Post Office

The Market Square is probably the most significant urban space in the City. Originally, the landing beach was nearby and much of the goods arriving at or leaving from Port Elizabeth did so via Market Square. The Square became the focal point for the buying and selling of goods by the local and district farmers. As the first settlers clambered ashore near where the Campanile is situated, 250 metres in front of them is where the Market Square was located. Scattered around were a few houses and plenty of sandhills covered with tents which would be their temporary accommodation until they departed for Albany.

Initial operation

Like flowers pushing through the earth after the first rains of the season, so it was with the first market which was probably held shortly after the arrival of the first settlers. When the local farmers became aware of the existence of the tented camp that held potential customers, their entrepreneurial instincts came into play. On that unknown day probably sometime during April 1820, the first market came into being.

Market Square. Lithograph by Thomas Bowler

From its bleak origins, it gradually became a focal point and the town’s produce market. With this came rules and its first bureaucratic activity, a bell ringer. Trains of oxen would enter into this space from early in the morning waiting for the bell ringer to announce the commencement of trading.

Per JJ Redgrave, “At the corner of Market Square stood the old bell with its rusty chain suspended between two stout poles surmounted by sloping boards to protect it from the rain. Faithful old Jonas rang that bell for many a long year. Every morning at an early hour, it would peal forth to warn all and sundry that the sale of produce was about to commence.

Its clanging at any other hour of the day or night indicated that a fire had erupted in some part of the town. This would bring an inquisitive mob onto the streets all agog with excitement at the prospect of some event that would break the monotony of their daily routine.

Rules and Regulations

It is not recorded when this market became subject to various rules and regulations in order to control and facilitate business. Nonetheless by 1868, the book by William Fleming entitled Algoa Bay. Trade and Statistics of Port Elizabeth, the Sea-Port of Algoa Bay, records what the existing rules and operations were in that year.

These are stated as follows: “The Market at Port Elizabeth is held every morning, Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day excepted. The market commences precisely at 7 o’clock during the summer months, and at 8 o’clock in the winter months, and continues until every article is sold. All sales are for Cash, except when a departure is made at the special request of the vendor, who in that case, bears responsibility for payment. For all cash sales the Municipality is responsible – payment to be made to the vendor at 2 o’clock daily, at the Market Office.

Wool and Produce Sales

Held at 12 o’clock every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Fees: 1 per cent on Wool, 2 per cent on other Produce; on Wool and other Produce withdrawn, half fees.


Algoa Bay. Trade and Statistics of Port Elizabeth: The Sea-Port of Algoa Bay by William Fleming (1868, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London)

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

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