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An early East London village

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Panmure is the most misunderstood of East London's early suburbs. Some have said it was North End, others that it was the old name for Vincent -- but neither of these claims is true.

The original village of Panmure is now the heart of East London's CBD, stretching from South Street and overlooking the harbour, to North Street where the post office is. In fact, that's why they were called North and South Street -- because they marked the two furthest boundaries of Panmure!

Like Cambridge, it was a legionnaire settlement, surveyed in April 1857 by Lieutenant George Pomeroy Colley. The village was named after Lord Panmure, British Secretary for War who had been responsible for sending the British German Legion to South Africa. Confusion over its name, however, came about because of an unfortunate series of events.

In 1873 a municipality was created which included both East London and Panmure. Since this new entity also took the name East London -- the same title as the original village on the west bank -- the old names could no longer continue. Instead people started referring to the two villages simply as West Bank and East Bank.

In 1881, however, East London was big enough for a third municipal ward. The East Bank was divided, with the boundary following the line of Union Street. The new ward included North End and Southernwood and it came to called "the Ward of Panmure". This has caused many people to think that North End and Southernwood were the original Panmure -- which they were not.

By 1896 Ward 3 itself was divided and the term "Ward of Panmure" was discontinued. Much later, however, a railway station was built near North End and it was now named Panmure. And so yet another place called Panmure came into existence. Confusion indeed!

What would life have been like in early Panmure? Not easy at all. First, there was no water supply. In fact, the surveyor had actually wanted to establish the village on the west bank where there was plenty of water but a conflict with the CO at Fort Glamorgan had stopped that plan.

There were two wetlands in Panmure -- one where the Market Square is today and the other at the site of the City Hall. This water, however, could only be used for animals. The German settlers had to use rain water to drink, and the intermittent Quigney Stream for washing.

Originally Panmure was a very poor village. The business centre was on the west bank. Things however changed rapidly after 1873, when the Queenstown railway was built -- with its terminus at Panmure to avoid the cost of a bridge across the river. The result was a rapid relocation of businesses from the West Bank to the East Bank.

Within a very short time, therefore, the poor legionnaire settlement evolved into East London's CBD. The West Bank, with no bridge over the Buffalo River, then degenerated rapidly to become a poorer sister.

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