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Oxford Street
1900 to 1926

Growth in Oxford Street went in cycles according to waves of economic surges.

The street was established when a contingent of German military settlers were located there in 1857, supplemented in 1858 with the arrival of groups of German agriculturists.

Lieutenant George Pomeroy Colley drew a plan for Panmure based on a grid formation, with its main road running from north to south. In 1877 this road would be named Oxford Street.

Rapid initial development ensued between 1873 and about 1880 when it was discovered that East London was the closest port to the newly discovered Kimberley diamond fields.

Progress then ground to a halt between 1880 and 1886 when the so-called "Great Depression" gripped the world.

When gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886, an economic surge overtook East London. This would last until about 1905 when a post-Boer War recession would temporarily slow progress.

Those two decades, however, marked the golden age of East London. Oxford Street was the image for this age. Never did so much growth take place, and never again would it happen. East London's commercial centre simply boomed.

The year 1900 in particular was memorable for the switching on of electricity, the establishment of a tramway system and the opening of the town hall.

Progress would not stop with the onset of the post-Boer War recession. It would simply slow. Nevertheless, new buildings would appear and the tramway would acquire a double track.

A minor upsurge would occur from 1910 through to 1914 but this would be followed by the Great War and then another post-war recession. By 1923, however, this downturn would itself be a thing of the past and a new prosperity would ensue -- to last until yet another major recession in 1929.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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