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The Circular Drive

A tram service had been introduced at East London in 1900, with just three cars in operation. This was increased to six later that year and to fifteen by 1903. A new route down Currie Street and the Esplanade was opened in 1904. The entire system was then reconstructed between 1910 and 1912.

Although other routes were contemplated in 1913, the outbreak of the Great War put paid to any further development until 1923 when the "Circular Drive" was built. Its main purpose was to increase the value of property along the track and speed up the growth of the town.

The plan was to extend the track to the top of Oxford Street and then to follow a route through the commonage, hugging the municipal boundary.

The track would take a path from where Botha Road is today, angle past today's Ham's Club and Stewart Drive, cross the veld from Pearce's Corner to the East London Golf Club, then down the hill hugging the golf course until it reached the Blind River.

A teak bridge would take it across the river, where it would pass behind the dunes at the Eastern Beach and finally rejoin the existing track at the foot of Moore Street. A sum of £17,000 was borrowed for this purpose.

An application was also received from the Cambridge Municipality to run the Circular Drive from Botha Road up Frere Road and along Devereaux Avenue instead of its following Stewart Drive. It would then have passed along what is now Old Transkei Road and on to the golf club.

The proposal was naturally rejected. After all, the new tramway was meant to develop East London, not Cambridge. And had not the Cambridge Municipality refused to unite with East London in 1914?

At the time of construction of the Circular Drive, South Africa was in the midst of a post-war recession. The tramway extension therefore also became a means to job creation. This in turn drew a 33% subsidy from the Government.

It is true, however, that, unlike other towns such as Johannesburg, the tramway was never really successful in East London and the whole system was closed down in 1935 to make way for a bus fleet whose routes would be more extensive and more versatile.

Keith Tankard
14 October 2009

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