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Oxford Street
1857 to 1900

The two main streets in East London's city centre -- Oxford Street and Cambridge Street -- were named after England's two leading universities.

East London had been founded as a port on the western bank of the Buffalo River. Its initial three decades of growth were slow, however, until a contingent of German soldiers were settled close by on the eastern bank in 1857.

Two new villages were now formed: Panmure which was East London's counterpart on the east bank, and Cambridge which lay a couple of kilometres further inland.

With the construction of a new harbour at East London starting in 1872, together with a railway line to Queenstown, rapid growth began at the port. Because the railway station was situated at Panmure, however, development on that side of the river began to outstrip the original village on the West Bank.

There was an initial spurt of development between 1868 and 1873 when diamonds were discovered in Griqualand West and it was discovered that East London was the closest port to Kimberley. The onset of what contemporaries called the "Great Depression" during the late 1870s, however, brought growth to a standstill.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 thereupon brought a sudden spurt of wealth. Indeed, the 1890s became East London's golden age with massive development of shops in Oxford Street which had now become the port's commercial centre.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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