Schoenmakerskop of Yore: Is it Misplaced Nostalgia?

As my father was raised in Schoenmakerskop, the family was compelled to swim there every weekend. Not for us the pleasures of swimming at Pollock Beach, Willows or, heaven forbid, Humewood. It was Schoenies yet again. As he knew the area intimately and it resonated with him, especially the old days, he would not waver in our destination except on the rare occasion. Deviating was a forlorn hope. Not once did we swim at Humewood. It never cracked a nod.

A taciturn man, he seldom spoke but on the odd occasion he would make a remark about what Schoenmakerskop used to be like. To him it was nirvana. But what did paradise offer the family when in 1913, and my dad was 2 years old, offer them that was so much peace and serenity?

Being compelled to discover the history of Schoenmakerskop for a blog some time ago, this question raised a bemused head. How would I classify existence in the early two decades of the village’s existence?

Main picture: Schoenmakerskop in 1907

Arduous journey

In 1913 the family descended on the village of Schoenmakerskop without a penny in their pockets as they had been bankrupted when the rinderpest decimated their herd of cattle at De Stades near Maitlands. My grandmother must have been a stoic but resolute woman with five children; the youngest, my father, being only two years old, having to be carried. I can only presume that their journey from Mount Pleasant where they had stayed for a year or two after De Stades, must have been extremely gruelling and tiring. Hopefully some kind neighbour lent them a wagon for their scanty possessions. Amongst their sparse items was a prized cow for milk.

Above: Camping at the Tanks in 1937


In 1913 Schoenmakerskop was Crown Land and had not yet been declared a village. If truth be told, what was classified as a house was no more than a ramshackle building no better than a contemporary squatter’s shack. In fact, legally, these shack dwellers were illegally occupying government land and should have been evicted. Fortunately they were not but this premature “invasion” probably goaded the authorities to declare the land as a township in 1918.

Above: The Wood’s cottage in the 1920s in Schoenmakerskop

On the 17th October 1918, all of the plots were sold on an auction. Seventeen of the plots on the western side already possessed fishing or holiday structures on them. These structures were sold with the plots at an upset price ranging from £2 to £500. Being illegal structures, most were not much more that a latter day squatters dwellings.

More shacks would be built in future but instead of flotsam as a building material it became motor parts packing cases used for the importation of knocked-down vehicles. With their corrugated iron roofs, they would have been like a sauna in summer and a deep freeze at night.

First holiday home built in Schoenmakerskop in 1908

Distances to nowhere

For residents there might have been Mrs. Mac’s Tearoom but groceries could initially only be purchased in central Port Elizabeth as Walmer did not have any shops at this stage. With few if any of the inhabitants owning motor vehicles, most like the McClelands either used as ox wagon or a spider, a form of horse drawn one-horsepower cart as transport. Another confounding problem for non-retirees was schooling for their children with the closest school being in Mount Pleasant. As my father was placed in a orphanage in Alexandria, he never experienced this problem until later in life. His younger brother, Bryce did. Initial Victoria Drive to Walmer comprised a lime and sand track until on the 6th December 1922 when the gravel Marine Drive was opened. It was only after WW2 that my father acquired a motor vehicle. That meant that after spending a day as a carpenter employed by Murray and Steward [only later Murray & Roberts] it could then mean a cycle trip from a work site in North End, across to Walmer via gravel surfaced Target Kloof and along another gravel road to Schoenmakerskop.

Lack of services

As Schoenmakerskop fell under the jurisdiction of the Divisional Council, no services were provided. Ablution facilities consisted of the proverbial Long Drop and the Bucket toilet system from 1918 until the 1960s. when septic or conservation tanks were introduced.

Above: No 44 Marine Drive c1918

Drinking water at one time depended upon rain being caught and stored in tanks. Only years later was water piped in.

Until the introduction of electricity in the 1950s, cooking facilities consisted of paraffin, gas and primus stoves.

Badge of honour

Why, you may ask, do I raise the issue of misplaced nostalgia relating to Schoenmakerskop. As I had never experienced the lack of services which the property owners in Schoenmakerskop did, I was puzzled about why people would want to live without them. Furthermore as my father personally used Clarrie Woods’ overgrown lawn as parking space for our canoe in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I grew accustomed to inspecting a genuine relic from the past. The only upgrade over the previous 20 years was a verandah being installed around the house.

But by them it was an anomaly as most of the 17 original shacks had already been replaced with proper brick and mortar houses.

In an article in the EP Herald dated 20th April 1971 by Tony Robinson, he handles the fact that certain people still regarded it as being acceptable to reside in these shacks as long as everybody called them bungalows. From the article it almost appears to be a badge of honour to reside in a ramshackle shack.

Heaven forbid. For me it is misplaced nostalgia for a lifestyle that I would not wish to live.   

History of Schoenmakerskop by Joan Shaw

Drifting sand has always been a serious threat for centuries past. The Dunes or Die Duine visible from the sea could reach heights of thirty feet. Within a few hours, prevailing winds could transform a high dune into a long flat mound or remove it completely. Wind-blown bodies of sand were continuously being swept inland covering more than twenty-two square miles of ground. Gulchways, just west of Schoenmakerskop, was the main source of this sand.

During 1870 it was realised that the sand dunes between Schoenmakerskop and Port Elizabeth were drifting eastwards towards the Bay and that the drift was becoming a danger to the Harbour. Buildings at the Fishery were already buried under the sand.

By October 1872 the Harbour Commissioners were empowered to use funds to stabilise the dunes and buy up land affected by the sand. The initial part of the Harbour Boards’ reclamation work was carried out under the supervision of William Stephen Webber. Webber and his family moved to Governorskop where they lived and worked for twenty years fighting the sand. Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of the Cape Colony at the time had viewed the sand dunes from this point at Bushy Park. It was subsequently named Governorskop.

William Webber at times employed up to 300 convicts to cut bush on Lovemore’s farm, then carted the branches and shrub to the dunes by mule or ox wagon where they were spread with stems pointing westward. Large quantities of willow and waxberry seed were then scattered on the dunes amongst the branches by William Webber and his sons, all wearing special aprons with seed pockets. By 1890 the Harbour Boards reclamation scheme had been carried out to the vicinity of the Willows, still leaving vast areas of the main drift untouched.

By this time, the Harbour Board had erected four buildings, three at Schoenmakerskop, the main convict station. Houses were built for the Officer in Charge of Works, the Superintendent of Convicts, rough stone huts for the convicts and an outstation at Governorskop. William Webber and his son Sydney Webber were in charge of both these stations.

The Rev. P.R. Mollett of St Philips Rectory was appointed in 1890 to visit the convict stations at least twice a month at a rate of 50 pounds a year. The position was temporary. However, in 1893 he was informed that the main convict station at Schoenmakerskop had been abandoned and the officers and convicts removed to the Municipal Lazaretto near the Shark River. Rev. Mollett was to discontinue his visits to the main convict station at Schoenmakerskop and to visit the municipal Lazaretto as the temporary main station. The convicts working at the Governorskop outstation had not been withdrawn and he was still expected to continue his visits there.

Joseph Storr Lister Conservator of Forests was called in by the Harbour Commissioners to speed up the reclamation work and anchor the remaining drift. On the 23rd of September 1890 a report was submitted to the Harbour Board by Joseph Lister with proposals to combat the menacing drifting sand. In 1892 after a council meeting a start was made on the reclamation work.

By 1893 the farms and lands which it had been necessary to expropriate were transferred to the Government and the work to halt the moving sand was taken over by the Forestry Department. This was when the original farms de Fortuin and Gomery as well as part of the Old Fishery became Crown Land.

Frederick Korsten owned a whale fishery in 1821 known as the “Fishery” on the beach adjoining Strandfontein. There was no access to the Fishery along the beach, only overland by a road called Fishery Road. W.B. Frames was the last person to buy the Fishery in 1863. Eventually the buildings

were engulfed by the drift sands. In order to hasten the reclamation work, a refuse train “The Driftsands Special” was used to daily transport and scatter 80 tons of P. E’s. rubbish all over the remaining drift area’ While this work was in progress a party of convicts was employed to complete the barricade at Gulchways and to maintain it.

Governorskop was the terminus of this refuse train operating from the rubbish tip at South Beach Terrace through the dunes to Schoenmakerskop. The train was accompanied by huge dense swarms of sticky buzzing flies. To the Conservator of Forests and his team of convicts the flies were merely an unpleasant side effect. The progress of the extensive rubbish dumping scheme gradually became and eventually it became a complete success. So….the 30-year battle against the drifting sand was finally conquered by, to name a few, William and Sydney Webber,

Joseph Storr Lister and their teams of convicts. “The Driftsands Special” service for refuse dumping was terminated in about 1910.

In 1888 Dr Musgrave Eaton also became involved with the reclamation works as did Thomas B. Hare in 1893. Thomas Hare, a very popular man took his own life in 1898.

Opposite the entrance to the Municipal Pump Station on the road to Schoenmakerskop was a long avenue of old blue gum trees marking the track taken by the “Driftsands Special”. In close proximity to the train line was a low wall of corrugated iron. The wall was two to two and a half feet in height and was probably there to hold back the sand. This wall continued in a North Westerly direction past the present pump station and reservoir. Years later, from about 1970 to 1980, old bottles and other interesting items could be salvaged from this large dumping area, even pieces of coal from the “Driftsands Special”. During these years sellers were a common sight on the roadside with bottles, lids and ornaments on display, all from yesteryear.

In the early years a rough limestone road with sandy patches connected Walmer and Schoenmakerskop, limestone was readily available under the sand. People ventured along this track to the coast in ox wagons, donkey or horse drawn carts. By about 1922 a gravel road was laid out and years later the road was tarred.

Old maps indicate two buildings in the vicinity of the camping grounds not far from the Willows on the seaside of Marine Drive towards Schoenmakerskop. Burchell’s farm and a wool washery operated there at one time. This land was bought by the Government c1910.

Wyatt’s Mill was built by John Wyatt on his farm near the sea at de Fontein on the western side of Strandfontein. The mill used water from the springs on the farm. Mr. Wyatt arrived in Port Elizabeth in 1825.

At the foot of the hill turning left into the Eastern side of the village was a large timber house on the cliff. This was where Sydney Webber and his family once lived. On the west side of the house was a building which was the home of the Diedrich’s family. Mr. Diedrichs, a fisherman owned and launched his fishing boats from a wooden shelter at Sardinia Bay. Until about 1960 the remains of these wood and iron structures were still visible. The shelters were built for the crew who were forced to row for shore during changes in the weather. The catch would be loaded into a horse drawn cart and taken to Mr. Diedrich’s dwelling at Schoenmakerskop where most of the fish were dried and thereafter transported to South End to be sold. Mr. Diedrichs also worked for Sydney Webber.

When a ship was sighted approaching from the west, a flag was hoisted and Sydney Webber would despatch a messenger on horseback to the Port Elizabeth harbour to report the sighting. The flagpole in the vicinity of the Webber’s house was erected c1890’s. Horses could be tethered there. The wooden remains of this flagpole are still visible today. See page 151.

Seasonal camping sites sprang up on the Schoenmakerskop beachfront. These camp sites were mostly situated where water was available from hillside springs. Christmas and Easter were the most popular times. Probably the most sought-after camping site and certainly the best and safest bathing pool on the Schoenies foreshore was what is now referred to as” The Tanks”. It was here that people pitched their tents and made use of the spring water. A simple water supply system was constructed by the Longworth and McWilliam families. The water was collected from the springs and stored in galvanised iron tanks and then fed through pipes to outlets as required. In later years this water reticulation scheme had to be removed when the village of Schoenmakerskop was planned as camp sites were no longer permitted on State owned land. Sadly, the galvanised tanks disappeared.

From this site extending westwards is a high range of ground. The highest point being the well-known koppie Schoenmakerskop described as a conspicuous hill near the beach.

The origin of the name Schoenmakerskop is not known although various theories do exist.

As the popularity of the resort increased illegal structures of all kinds were erected prior to 1916 by holiday makers and fishermen all built on land owned by the State where the present houses have since been built.

A diagram from a survey carried out by Robert Pinchin, a government surveyor in 1885 shows three underground springs on the Schoenmakerskop erf. The spring near the convict station marked as a particularly good one.

In 1916 the township of Schoenmakerskop, division of Port Elizabeth was laid out. It was an area of ground taken from Crown land known as de Duinen.

This land was surveyed, beaconed, and named by the government land surveyor George Oswald Smith.

The name of the township was taken from the highest Hill or Kop behind the village Schoenmakerskop but where did the name Schoenmaker originate?

On the 17th of October 1918 all the laid-out plots at Schoenmakerskop were auctioned for sale.

Seventeen of these plots in the western area already had fishing or holiday structures on them. These structures were sold with the plots at an upset price ranging from 2 pounds sterling to 500.00 pounds sterling.

The Marine Drive was opened on 6/12/1922.

The township was first controlled by a Village Management Board which in turn fell under the Divisional Council until about 1971 when the village became municipal.

Drinking water at one time depended upon rain being caught and stored in tanks. Years later town water was piped in.

The “Long Drop” and “Bucket” toilet system was used from 1918 until the 1960’s when Septic or Conservation tanks were introduced and are still used today. Because of possible seepage from these toilets the spring water is not 100 percent safe to drink. Before 1918 spring water, although hard was drinkable when boiled and did make a nice cup of coffee.

Leading down to the Tanks Bathing Pool in the very early years was a sandy path nicknamed “The Whiteway” so named because of the white sand. This path disappeared when the cement steps were laid out and the present toilets were built in c1960’s.

Between the years 1930 to 1950 four hydraulic rams were used to pump up the fresh spring water into tanks on four Schoenmakerskop properties. These rams were situated at the bottom of the cliff roughly opposite No’s 2, 52, 58, and 70 Marine Drive. A pathway which was nicknamed “The Blackway” because of the colour of the sand led down to the rocky beach at the bottom of the cliff and made easy access to rams No52, No58 and No 70.

Milk was delivered to residents at Schoenmakerskop by Mr. Pearce, who owned a farm where the Arlington Racecourse is now situated. Mr. Pearce had a small dairy herd and carted large milk cans full of fresh milk to holiday makers and residents during the 1920’s. Milk was also delivered c1930’s by Mr. Booth who owned a dairy farm at Glendore. Various dairies continued to deliver milk until about 1976 when the service was discontinued.

Cooking facilities in those early years were in the form of paraffin, primus, and gas stoves. Houses were lit up by gas lamps, candles, and generated electricity.

In the 1950’s the Mayor of Port Elizabeth came out to Schoenmakerskop in pouring rain to officially switch on the one streetlight that had been erected at the foot of the hill into the village. From then on

owners could have their homes wired for electricity. In 1971/72 streetlights on the Marine Drive at Schoenmakerskop were erected and switched on.

Schoenmakerskop was proclaimed a local area in January 1932 with A. Bowren, W. Mangold and H. Pettit forming the first Board.

About 10 meters west of Gordon’s Beach off the grassy path leading to Sardinia Bay are the remains of the SHELL crushing machine which probably operated there during the 1940’s. A hut was built to house the caretaker and his wife. Shells were collected from the surrounding area, fed into the machine and crushed. The finished product was apparently sold as an additive to cement for building purposes and also to poultry feed. It is thought that a Mr. Hedges owned the shell crushing business.

The STONE crushing machine c1958 was built into the bush a few meters from the spring behind the monument. This massive noisy machine was bolted onto cement plinths which are still visible today. The round stones were collected from the shore and conveyed by cocopans up to the machine where they were crushed. The crushed stones were then loaded onto tip lorries and taken along a rough track behind the village to a depot. These crushed stones were probably used for the surfacing of roads. This operation only lasted for about a year.

There was no refuse collection at Schoenmakerskop until about 1950. To solve this problem each resident would excavate a deep pit into the ground behind their cottage. Into this pit all the household rubbish would be dumped and thereafter covered with layers of sand.

From about 1930 to 1976 the party line telephone system was used. There was a “Tickey” box outside the Marine Cafe for general use. In 1976 the old overhead telephone cables became redundant and the new underground cable system was installed.

There was no postal delivery and mail was collected at the Walmer and Emerald Hill post offices. Today there is a biweekly delivery service which was introduced by the Post Office in 2005.

There was no public transport to the village. In January 1976 at the request of a few residents of Schoenies the P.E. Passenger Transport started a bus service on a one-month trial period. It was not well supported and subsequently cancelled.

During the 1940’s a Battery Observation Post was built on a hill to the right of the road leading into Schoenmakerskop. This post was built of reinforced concrete and shaped to blend in with the surrounding bush and shrub. Camouflage paint was used to further conceal the post from U Boats or Japanese submarines during the war. These observation posts were equipped with long range telescopes and were connected to a radio control room in Humewood. The posts were manned by female personnel. Any sighting of ships at sea was transmitted to the duty officer at command headquarters.

Norfolk pine trees were introduced to Schoenmakerskop in the 1930’s by Dr Rogers who owned Sou West. These trees thrived on the climatic conditions and now grow throughout the village.

Schoenmakerskop has been the target of many raging bushfires. The worst being in February 1973 when a bush fire almost treble the height of the houses at Schoenmakerskop was whipped up by a gale force wind gusting up to 87 kilometers an hour to within a few paces of the village. Mr. W. Gooseman, on a visit from England said,” I fought the blitz fires in Liverpool during the war, I haven’t seen anything like this since then”. This fire came much closer than it did, when residents had a big blaze in 1969. Dates of further fires since 1969… 1973, 1978, 1983, 1987, 1993, 1998, 2005. After the 1973 fire a very old skeleton was found in the bush near the fire by the police. Col P.J. Hugo Divisional Criminal Investigating officer told the Herald “We will investigate the matter.”

The sardine run at Schoenmakerskop occurred in 1974. Sardines,…………huge shoals of them overflowing from the sea into the bathing pools. During the run mackerel and elf swarmed in to devour these small fish. Sardine run news spread quickly and by that weekend fishermen flocked to the sea to make fine catches of elf and mackerel.

In 1973 the majestic giant oil rig Actina could be seen towering from the ocean into the sky. The rig nearly as high as the campanile anchored about 15 nautical miles off shore at Schoenmakerskop and was chartered by Soekor to begin drilling. The operation lasted about a year.

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