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The Quigney

An East London suburb

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The Quigney was East London's first suburb. Its name was really a geographic description, known initially as "the area to the east of the Quigney River" but soon truncated into "the Quigney".

The "river" in question is the stream which flows past the Lock Street gaol and along which runs the railway line to the harbour. It's shown on early maps as the "Gwygney River", although there is absolutely no evidence how this name originated.

The suburb, however, had a most inauspicious beginning. When East London formed its municipality in 1873, it urgently needed money for road making and the creation of a water supply. Even after 26 years, the town still did not have constructed streets. Sale of land would therefore generate crucial funds.

Despite the urgency of the occasion, the new municipality found itself in a very strange predicament. When it sought government permission to sell the Quigney plots, authorisation was refused on the grounds that the Local Council did not actually own any land. Although a legal boundary had been drawn, this apparently did not grant the Council control over its own commonage.

The legal process to alter that situation would take all of three years, during which time there could be no land sales -- and therefore no capital expenditure. To add to the debacle, the first Town Council also failed to collect any rates during its initial three years -- and so remained absolutely broke!

The expected land sales eventually took place only in 1877 -- at which point the Quigney was born. The area chosen was that narrow strip directly opposite the railway station and up to today's Currie Street. The access route was Caxton Street -- which is why a road by that name is found in both the CBD and the Quigney.

East London's first suburb, however, did not attract serious buyers. The siting of the railway station was probably the problem because trains often blocked the Caxton Street crossing. The Quigney was therefore an inconvenient place in which to live.

The suburb began to grow only after 1900 with the construction of another access route via Fleet Street -- which also saw the building of a tramway to the beach.

The wealthier, however, preferred to buy properties closer to the tramline which followed a route down Inverleith Terrace. They soon began to refer to this area as "The Beach" to differentiate it from the now much poorer Quigney at the crown of the hill.

The suburb was also doomed from the start by the municipality's failure to prevent the subdivision of properties. The editor of the East London Dispatch pointed out in the 1890s that the Quigney should have been East London's shining jewel because of its most attractive location -- but by then it was already too late.

Further building restrictions -- even to the present day -- would ensure its uncertain future.

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