Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Railway Line to Humewood and the Driftsands

Of all the Branch Lines in Port Elizabeth, this one appears to be the least known. Initially it was laid as part of the project to tame the supposedly deadly driftsands which would encroach and smother the site chosen for the harbour. To prevent this apocalypse, it was decided to cover this moving sea of sand with the garbage generated by the residents of Port Elizabeth. The garbage was required as fertiliser for the planting of the chosen species of grasses, bushes and trees, the sand being further stabilised by spreading tree branches and erecting wooden fences at intervals as required.

This standard-gauge railway line was constructed in late 1892 or early 1893, and the use of the coastal section of this railway for passenger traffic followed the sale, on 30 May 1893, by the Harbour Board of 20 marine villa sites between the original Happy Valley (where the Apple Express railway line now runs) and Klein Shark River.

Main picture: The platform adjacent to Customs House to embark on the journey to Humewood

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Tin Hat on the Humewood Promenade

What is the significance of this roof structure which looks like a soldier’s helmet? Does it have any connection  to the organisation known as the MOTHS – Memorable Order of Tin Hats? This Promenade Dome is commonly known as “The Tin Hat” from its resemblance to a First World War helmet but could not have had any connection to the Moth order as it was only founded in 1927 whereas this structure was built in 1923.

Main picture: Humewood promenade in 1909

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Museum and Snake Park

The precursor to the establishment of the museum, was the founding in April 1856 of the Athenaeum Society whose purpose was “to promote the interests of science and literature.” The journey from this humble beginning to its present home at Bayworld, Humewood, is indicative of a society’s striving for knowledge and a sense of wonderment. 

Main picture: Museum in the Wool Market

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Beach Hotel

The opening up of the shore south of South End to development in the late 1890s, ultimately culminated in the building of holiday hotels along the beach front. The first of these was named the Beach or the Humewood Beach Hotel. In doing so, confusion has subsequently reigned amongst historians as it was confused with the later Humewood Mansions Hotel in Beach Road. 

Confounding the issue, was the building of separate Beach and Humewood Hotels after the original Humewood Beach Hotel on the site of the original Elizabeth Hotel was destroyed by fire in December 1915. 

Main picture: The second hotel to bear the name of the Beach Hotel

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: Berry’s Hotel in Walmer Road

In its early days, Port Elizabeth was like a magnet attracting many entrepreneurial types. This is what made it so vibrant and dynamic. Amongst those were the Berry’s, two unrelated families. One made its fortune in contracts with the Divisional Council and the other as a hotel proprietor.  

This blog covers the travails of Walter Horace Berry, the Hotelier. 

Main picture: Walter Horace Berry, son of Walter Horace Berry senior

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Bus Intrudes into the World of Trams

It was not that the bus was not available for use by 1913 in Port Elizabeth, but probably that the Tramways were myopically fixated on the tram as the primary mode of transport. The buses that they did possess, were instead used for excursions and not as an extension of their tram business. 

This was about to change. Given the buses flexibility regarding routes, they gave the Tramways a run for their money. Then the inevitable occurred. The Tramways adopted the motto, “If we cannot beat, join them.” 

Main picture: Buses and trams co-existed for numerous years

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: The Bathing House at Humewood Beach

Tempis fugit – Time flies. I am unsure whether one would refer to the 50th anniversary of this building’s demolition as its golden anniversary, but I can vividly recall the floods of 1968 and this building even though I never once used the facilities. 

Probably one of the only elegant buildings constructed in Humewood during the turn of the century, it evinced an era of formality in beach attire more akin for modern day formal attire.

Main picture: Humewood Bathing House in the background

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Humewood Hotel

The history of this beachfront hotel is shrouded in mystery. Details of its past are sketchy. Unlike other prominent and venerable old hotels in Port Elizabeth, I am unable to produce a complete history of this hotel. Suffice to say that this is an attempt to lay out the facts that are known.

Various establishments over the years bore the word Humewood as part of their name. Some of them are unrelated to one another. This blog serves to set out what these establishments were and their connection if any to the others.

Main picture: The Humewood Beach Hotel was located where the current Garden Court is situated before it was burnt down

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Lost Artefacts of Port Elizabeth: Octagon Café & the Bathing Pavilion

Many of the buildings constructed nowadays have little to recommend them. Being merely rectangular blocks, they do not enhance life through their aesthetic appeal. Maybe this is acceptable for industrial buildings but for structures along a beachfront, the bar needs to be set higher. Two buildings of yore met that criterion: the Octagon Café and the Bathing Pavillion. Sadly both are no more.

 Main picture: The Octagon Cafe on the Elizabeth Promenade

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Slipway in Humewood

Most residents of Port Elizabeth are unaware what the purpose of the concrete pillars jutting out of the sand between Hobie and Humewood Beach represent. It was a slipway built in 1903. By the 1850s Algoa Bay was attracting swarms of vessels of all shapes and sizes. Many used the Bay as the location to effect minor repairs before proceeding on their voyage.

It took an entrepreneur by the name of John Centlivres Chase to envisage constructing a slipway in Port Elizabeth to provide this vital service.

Main picture: Humewood 1910 with what appears to be a fishing boat being hauled up for maintenance

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