Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Destruction of the Architectural Integrity of the Market Square Precinct

Many people once pejoratively called Prince Charles a sentimental old fool for deploring the destruction of the architectural coherence of an area by demolishing an old building within a section of a town or street which epitomised a particular architectural style. As such, Charles was roundly condemned for wanting to stifle progress and advancement. Instead, it was an earnest plea by Charles to preserve such sections of the town where there was merit to do so. For not to exercise caution would destroy the architectural integrity of that area.

Sadly, Port Elizabeth has witnessed the destruction of such an area which would fall within the remit of Charles’ rebuke. Without a doubt, this area encompasses the old Market Square and includes Jetty Street and the old Customs House. To this we can add the demolition of the Fleming building and the old Collegiate School for use as a parking area

Main picture: The Main Library in 1939. All of these buildings whether they were constructed in 1859 like the Grey Institute or the Donkin lighthouse in 1861 are still standing. At this date if one had to turn around and look across Market Square, all of the original buildings would still be standing. From Castle Corner to the Mosenthal and Richardson buildings, they would all be present. Then as in in fit of pique, in the 1970s they would all be demolished.

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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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