An East London suburb
Updated: 14 October 2009
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East London was founded in April 1847 to provide a port for the new crown colony of British Kaffraria that was being created. The original village was situated on the western bank of the Buffalo River.
East London's early growth, however, was very slow. A full ten years would pass before any major development took place and, when it did, expansion would be on the other side of the river, on the eastern bank.
In February 1857 Sir George Grey, who was Governor of the Cape Colony, brought some 2,300 German soldiers into British Kaffraria in an attempt at preventing another frontier war.
Some were settled near East London, forming two new villages that would be called Panmure -- now the city centre -- and Cambridge.
Each soldier was provided with a building lot in either Panmure or Cambridge, but was also given an acre plot nearby.
These one acre lots began to be named according to their geographic positions. In this way, the lots "to the north end of the town" became known simply as "North End".
In 1873 the villages of East London and Panmure combined to form a municipality. There were two wards: Ward 1 (West Bank) and Ward 2 (East Bank). North End was part of Ward 2.
In 1881, Ward 2 was divided. East Bank now referred only to the area south of Union Street. The area north of that street became Ward 3 which was called "the ward of Panmure". North End naturally was now part of Ward 3.
Another subdivision took place in 1896. This time, North End alone made up Ward 3 while Southernwood and the Quigney together comprised Ward 4.
Because of a failure on the part of the Town Council to draw up regulations preventing the subdivision of property, the acre lots in both North End and Southernwood quickly became sub-divided and sold off, causing a rapid devaluation.
Indeed, the District Surgeon's report for 1882 pointed out that the two suburbs should have formed the finest building sites in the town but the plots had already been sub-divided to such an extent that there were ten or twelve to the acre, with narrow paths down the centre.
The streets, he said, had become no more than tracks which were only twelve feet wide and many ending in a cul-de-sac. The lots would therefore in times to come form the "vilest rookeries" where the "most disgraceful scenes" might be expected in the "dark corners of the town that is to be".
North End was the closest suburb to the East Bank Location. Because there was no regulation to prevent Black persons from renting houses in the town if they had sufficient means, most Black people tended to migrate to North End because of cheap rents and its close proximity to their kin living in the "location".
North End was therefore East London's first mixed neighbourhood. It was also the home of some of East London's most conservative and segregation-minded townspeople.
Councillor Henry Willetts represented Ward 3 for many years and was behind most of the calls to have all the Black people expelled from the town which, he believed, should be kept as a "European only" domain.
These attempts failed because of a colonial law which protected Black people who had acquired the franchise.
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