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The first steps to construct what is today known as the Esplanade was taken in 1885 but it was the onset of a major recession that inspired the move.

The recession -- called the "Great Depression" by contemporaries -- began to affect East London in about 1883 and would last until the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886.

With more and more people being put out of work and needing to do something with their leisure time, the East London Town Council hit on the idea of constructing a road which would give easy access to the beach on the East Bank. The unemployed would then be able to while away their time watching the sad sea waves.

Because the Council could not afford to spend any money on the project, it took up an offer to employ convict labour. Work began in January 1885 from what was known as Ulyate's Cottages (near today's Wimpy Bar), along past the spot known as "the hill" (the sea end of Inverleith Terrace) and on to Limekiln Kloof (what is today Moore Street).

Access from town to this new beach-front road was via Inverleith Terrace.

In January 1900 a tram service was inaugurated, to bring a tram from Oxford Street, down Inverleith Terrace to its terminus outside the Beach Pavilion (what is today the Aquarium).

In 1904 the route was extended, to take the tramcars down Currie Street which was constructed for that purpose, and along the Esplanade right down to the foot of Moore Street.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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