Franco Frescura and Albrecht Herholdt


Despite what many of its detractors tend to claim, a policy of architectural conservation is not concerned so much with the restoration of old buildings as it is with the preservation of a quality of life for their inhabitants. Most architectural historians are in general agreement with the claim that the built environment is a reliable yardstick of a people's cultural values and most laymen tend to judge a town by the charm and character of its buildings. We can therefore begin to understand the concern expressed by the Uitenhage 200 Committee at its inaugural meeting in September 1985 when they reviewed the long list of historical landmarks which had been lost to future generations through demolitions in the town since 1965, and the quality of the buildings which had replaced them since. It was felt that, at this current rate of development, few if any buildings of historical merit would be left in Uitenhage by the time it celebrated its bi-centennial in 2004.

Yet the story of Uitenhage is the story of most small towns on the southern African platteland where the trimmings and symbols of a more gracious and bygone era are being lost daily through neglect, ignorance or a simple desire for change for change's sake.

Uitenhage is perhaps more fortunate than most in that it still retains much of the charm and atmosphere which made its lifestyle so envied and desired by outsiders some three or four generations ago. Thus whilst it is true that little is left but memories and faded photographs of so many of its major buildings, it is equally true that with a little encouragement and sensitivity much can still be rescued.

This survey was brought about as the result of concern voiced by the Simon van der Stel Society who were the major movers behind the establishment of a Uitenhage 200 committee. The work has also received a measure of support from the Uitenhage Municipality who have funded it and permitted some of its facilities to be used during the course of the field work.

The purpose of this project was four-fold:

  1. To establish a listing of historical and architecturally noteworthy buildings and environments present in the town of Uitenhage. Such a catalogue would assist the further study of these buildings on the part of architectural historians and conservation-conscious civic organisations.
  2. To assist the Town Fathers and decision-makers of Uitenhage arrive at a realistic assessment of the cultural worth of their own built environment. This would enable them to establish and implement, should they so desire, an architectural conservation policy for their town as a whole.
  3. To assist the efforts of publicists of Uitenhage and its surrounds by providing them with material for promotional purposes, and lastly,
  4. To create an awareness of their own architectural heritage among the greater body of citizens in this town, thus increasing their pride in their own physical surrounds.

It should be obvious that whilst the first objective of this survey is fulfilled with the publication of this report, the last three are dependent upon the goodwill and civic pride of the citizens of Uitenhage as a whole. The authors of this project hope earnestly that the cudgels they have now fashioned will be taken up by conservation-minded citizens of the town on their own behalf. In this endeavour we wish them well.


This study was conducted over a period of some ten weeks between March and May 1986. It concentrated upon an area of Uitenhage bounded by Mitchell Street in the south, High and Cannon Streets to the north, Van der Riet Street and Baines Road in the east and Stow Road, Magennis and Graaff-Reinet Streets to the west (Map 1). Isolated buildings of architectural and historical merit outside this area were also identified and recorded but no systematic search beyond the main research zone took place. Thus, because this survey has concerned itself primarily with the town's historical core, its data base should not be considered to be definitive. It is probable that a research programme encompassing the greater Uitenhage area will reveal the existence of further historical examples.

A brief windscreen survey was also conducted in the black suburb of Uitenhage immediately to the north-west of the research area. This revealed a number of early domestic and community structures which, although in poor condition, may warrant closer scrutiny at a subsequent date.

A measure of research was also conducted, during the course of this project, into the nature and quality of street-scape architecture in the town. This applied most particularly to the quality of life perceived to be present in some of the minor suburban streets as well as the architecture of some of the town's more important entrances and exits.

In the main, buildings surveyed ranged in their dating between the early years of the nineteenth century through to the late Victorian and early Edwardian era. Some structures of a more recent vintage, such as the Islamic Mosque on Caledon street, were also briefly documented where they were deemed to be of social, environmental or aesthetic merit.

The study area covered 83 town blocks involving a total of 1983 stands. For the purposes of this survey it was assumed that each stand was occupied by only one building although, in at least three notable instances, two buildings of historical worth were found to be located on the same stand.


Following a measure of preparatory archival research, the project was structured into three distinct stages:

STAGE ONE consisted of a pavement survey during which 385 buildings were examined and photographed individually, all but five being located in the historical core of the town. Buildings were analysed according to the following criteria:

  • location and function - both current and historical.
  • a general description of their built form, architectural style and date of construction.
  • assessed value of structure in its larger urban and environmental context.
  • constructional details, including structural condition and integrity.
  • estimated potential for structural restoration and/or functional revalidation.

As a result of the above data, buildings thus surveyed were graded into the following categories:

AA National Importance
A Outstanding example
B Good example, sound condition
C Good example, bad condition
D Old, low historical value
E Community value
F Intrusive or irrelevant

An additional X-factor was also included to denote a building which in itself may not have been of great historical or aesthetic merit but which, for reason of being part of a larger conglomeration of structures, gained in value through its contextural setting or associations. In this respect it is important to note that a number of streets lacking in major historical or architectural landmarks but nonetheless presenting a charming and well-preserved façade were also investigated as a whole. The buildings involved however were not included in total number of structures surveyed. A listing of such environments is included with this report as Appendix A.

The placing of buildings into such a hierarchy however should not be viewed in hard and finite terms. For one thing categorisation is inevitably the product of the value systems of its authors. For another the creation of inflexible divisions can at times give rise to incorrect assessments. Thus a structure in a poor state of repair but having a high historical and landmark value would not be classified as a C or D building but would be raised to B or even A status. Similarly a building of high historical value which has undergone extensive and insensitive "upgrading" may be considered to be beyond restoration and thus be relegated to F status.

The full documentation resulting from this section of the  work is being appended to this report as a separate volume.

STAGE TWO consisted of an intensive programme of site documentation and photography which covered some 78 of these buildings, all but one, Cuyler Manor, being located in the historical core of the town. These were surveyed and measured up by the third year student group of the Department of Architecture, University of Port Elizabeth, under the direct guidance of the authors. The choice of buildings thus chosen was made according to the following criteria:

  • All AA and most A grade buildings. Perhaps the one most notable omission from this group has been that of the Town Hall which, however, was felt to be already sufficiently well documented as not to warrant our most immediate attention.
  • Most B grade buildings with preference being given to structures in a poor state of repair or those considered to be most vulnerable to the threat of demolition and redevelopment.
  • A number of C and D grade buildings were also chosen on the basis of gaining a better understanding of the range of dwelling forms and environmental textures available in Uitenhage.

The documentation produced as the outcome of Stage Two is being included in this report. A full listing of all buildings assessed to be of A or B grading is also given in Appendix B.

Stage Two involved the formulation of progress reports dealing with conservation. During this stage a number of archival sources in Uitenhage, Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg were also consulted. However, it was found that the data gathered in the process only tended to confirm most of our early field results. It is thus possible to conclude that bibliographical research has played a relatively minor role in determining the course of this project. Included in this category is a small survey report entitled UITENHAGE 2000 produced in 1985 by the Uitenhage Town Engineer's Department whose conclusions were found to be of only marginal interest to this study.

STAGE THREE has involved the formulation of conservation strategies, developmental arguments and zoning proposals.

Stage One of this project was completed by April 1986 and documented as many buildings as it was deemed feasible to cover given the scope and the duration of this study. For the purposes of this work it was not found necessary to build up a definitive listing of every structure within the research area. This report therefore must not be viewed as a total accountancy of the housing stock of central Uitenhage but rather as the record of a number of structures and street-scapes considered to be of importance to the historical fabric of the town.

Stage Two was completed in May 1986 and culminated with the presentation of this project's first interim report to the civic bodies concerned. However it is the authors' hope that the Uitenhage 200 Committee or the local municipality may consider extending this work on their own behalf using this survey as a basic framework for future development.

Stage Three may be considered to have been brought to a final conclusion with the presentation of this report.

The authors of this survey also envisage that a fourth stage will take place at some future date when this material will find wider circulation in book form, subject to an appropriate grant becoming available to subsidise the costs of production. It is expected that this project will also give rise to a number of additional publications, lectures and conference papers on the subject of the Uitenhage case study.


BAINES, Thomas. 1961 and 1964. Journal of Residence in Africa 1842-53. Cape Town: van Riebeeck Society.
BUTLER, G (Editor). 1974. The 1820 Settlers, An Illustrated Commentary. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.
CALITZ, PMH. 1959. Die Stigting en Vroee Geskiedenis van die Distrik Uitenhage (1804-1814). Unpublished MA thesis, University of Stellenbosch.
COATES, PNA. Undated. The Story of Uitenhage 1904-1914. Uitenhage: unpublished manuscript.
FRANSEN, H and COOK, MA. c1980. The Old Buildings of the Cape. Cape Town: Balkema.
LEWCOCK, R. 1963. Early Nineteenth Century Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: AA Balkema.
LICHTENSTEIN, Henry. 1812 and 1815. Travels in Southern Africa ... etc. London: Colburn.
MACKENZIE, John. 1971. Ten Years North of the Orange River. London: Frank Cass.
OBERHOLZER, JJ. 1952. The Historical Monuments of South Africa. Cape Town: Rembrandt van Rijn Foundation for Culture.
PATERSON, J. A 1851. Dissertation on the absolute necessity of Resident Government in the Eastern Province of Good Hope, with an article on the eligibility of Uitenhage as the site pointed out by nature herself for the seat of the supreme power in British South Africa. Port Elizabeth: Eastern Province News Office.
SELLICK, WSJ. 1904. Uitenhage Past and Present, Souvenir of the Centenary 1804-1904. Uitenhage: Uitenhage Times.
SMIT, ds AP. 1967. Ligbaken aan die Swartkops Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk Uitenhage 1817-1967. Uitenhage: NG Gemeente Uitenhage.
UITENHAGE PUBLICITY ASSOCIATION. 1954. Uitenhage: 150th Anniversary Celebrations 31st July 1954 - 7th August 1954, Souvenir Brochure. Uitenhage Publicity Association.
UITENHAGE TOWN ENGINEER'S DEPARTMENT. 1985. Uitenhage 2000. Town Planning Department: unpublished report.


Franco Frescura and Albrecht Herholdt

"The colonial villages or towns - as some of them may now be properly termed - have usually grown up round the Dutch Church as a nucleus;  and it has been remarked that these church or town sites had been chosen with great skill by the Dutch colonists.   I have come into contact with those who had seen the growth of considerable villages from the solitary farm-house of the first owner.   As soon as the church is built, there is no doubt as to a certain amount of business being done where it stands." MACKENZIE, John. Ten Years North of the Orange River. London: Frank Cass, 1971. p.18

One of the earliest effects of white settlement in southern Africa during its first hundred years of existence was the creation of an economic infrastructure within the immediate surrounds of Cape Town. This was to provide subsequent developments in the colony with a solid platform for future growth and the next fifty years were to witness the rapid expansion of population along the southern Cape coast and well into the Karoo region. Although the magistracy and town of Graaff-Reinet were established in 1786 in order to meet the needs of central government in this area, within one generation white settlement had extended so far beyond this point, that the necessity for the creation of another administrative centre in the region became evident. The site chosen for the new town was on a farm owned by the widow of Gert Scheepers and one of the first accounts we have of the event was given by Lichtenstein who, writing in 1804, reported that:

"A mile from hence, at the place of the Widow Schepers, ground has been laid out for a Drosty, and a village adjoining to it, which is to be the centre point of a new district:  it is to be called after the family name of the Commissary-general, Uitenhage."

The proclamation of the district of Uitenhage was made on 25 April 1804 by the Governor of the Cape, JW Janssens. He entrusted Captain Ludwig Alberti, Commanding Officer of Fort Frederick at Algoa Bay, with the task of finding a suitable location for the new magisterial seat as well as with the laying out of the village. The choice of site appears to have been guided by considerations of defence, it being relatively close to Algoa Bay, by its natural beauty, and by the availability of a constant supply of water from the Zwartkops River.

The village was laid out in the form of a perfect square, with the Drostdy at its exact centre. However initial development of the settlement appears to have been limited to its south-western quadrant probably, as is claimed by Lewcock, to enable the Landdrost to supplement his income by farming the land closest to his house in the south-eastern quadrant. Whatever the reasons, this established the pattern for Uitenhage's development for the next hundred years. It was not until the early decades of the twentieth century that the town began expanding, to any major degree, into the surrounding countryside, by which time the intent of Alberti's original master plan had long been superseded.

Two roads were to play an important role in the growth and development of Uitenhage from an early stage in its history: Caledon street, running from east to west, and Cuyler street, running from north to south. These, together with the Graaff-Reinet road to the north represent the major entry points into the town and this fact is recognised in a number of ways by its architecture (Map 2).

Cuyler street became the focus of the town's first residential area virtually at its onset and many of the oldest surviving residences of historic importance are located on either side of it. Caledon street on the other hand became the collection point, at an equally early stage, for the town's civic, administrative and religious functions. Despite the more recent development of a business district in the area immediately south of it, it retains to this day many of its more important buildings. The entry into the town from Graaff-Reinet to the north is marked by the Victoria Tower which, together with the NG Kerk steeple, remains the pivotal point of visual reference for the community and its activities.

Urban growth to the south of the town appears to have been curbed by the presence of the Zwartkops river and this area has effectively only begun to develop since the 1960's.

Uitenhage's marketing functions have, from the onset, centred upon a space south of Caledon street between the Drostdy and present-day Market street (whence it derives its name). With subsequent urban growth this area became formalised as the town's civic heart making it the obvious location for its main library and the present Town Hall, when the latter was built there in 1882. The growth of a CBD about this square ought to be seen as the formal recognition of its former marketing use and its present function as a parking area has deprived the town of a valuable civic space.

The arrival in Uitenhage in 1875 of the rail link with Port Elizabeth was to have profound effects upon the urban fabric of the town. Not only did the location of the station at the southern end of the market square reinforce the civic role of this space, but the subsequent location and development of the Midland system's railway workshops in the area immediately south of the Drostdy began to dictate the location of the town's future light industrial sector. It also created about it an area of lower income housing which survives as a distinct urban component to this very day.

The history of the Malay and black communities in Uitenhage is one that still needs to be comprehensively told. Whatever the reasons for their original siting, the Malay and Islamic community have tended to congregate in an area west of Cuyler street and south of Caledon street whilst a black suburb appears to have existed in the north-western quadrant of the town since at least, if not before, the 1840's.

The historical housing component of Uitenhage is perhaps its most notable surviving urban feature. As previously stated, the town's earliest residential area was centred in its south-eastern quadrant. This was in the nature of semi- rural smallholding development and despite the fact that, by the 1860's, the residential function had spread down to the Zwartkops river and had begun overflowing northwards to Cannon street, the town retained much of its rural rustic charm. Backhouse, who visited Uitenhage in December 1838 was led to comment that:

"Uitenhage ... is a pretty, English-looking town, containing about 315 houses, consisting of a few streets crossing at right angles: it is well watered from a very copious spring, situated on the karroo hills above the town."

whilst Thomas Baines, who fifteen years later made several sketches of the town from the surrounding hills, reported that:

"The town is situated near the left bank of the Zwartkops river, about twelve miles from the sea; but is supplied with water by a small spring which, issuing from the hills, pours through the channels on either side the streets more than two million and a half gallons daily. Rows of beautiful trees overhang the water, and the extensive orchards, teeming with every tropical and European delicacy, almost hide the houses from the view. A small battery, in an unfinished condition, overlooks the town and racecourse"

Casalis, writing in 1889, was led to reminisce that:

"We did not go far that day. The pretty little town of Uitenhage came in sight after three hours of travel. The houses, surrounded by gardens, were all in perfect repair. The population appeared to enjoy great prosperity, the result of a judicious blending of commerce and agriculture."

Although it is true that the urban fabric which charmed visitors to Uitenhage during the last century bears little relationship to the town of today, it should be borne in mind that right up to the 1950's, resident and visitors alike would comment about the grace and quality of lifestyle available to its inhabitants. It is almost certain that much of this had to do with the quality of Uitenhage's built environment, most particularly its public buildings and its housing. The residential tradition did not change greatly with the passing of the Victorian era but when the town spread north and east of the Drostdy and north of Cannon street during the 1920's, the same architectural motifs, the cottage forms, verandahs, sash windows, barge boards and finials, were all carried through to the newer suburbs. A great part of Uitenhage's present charm is that many of these features have survived to the present day. Some, carefully nurtured by their owners, will probably last well into the next century. Others, falling into decay, are being lost daily.

The historical core of the town may thus be perceived to lie in an area roughly bounded by Van Der Riet, Market and Cannon streets and the Zwartkops river. Peripheral developments of historical importance occur immediately north of Cannon street and in the area surrounding the Drostdy. Civic and commercial functions focus upon present-day Market and Caledon streets on either side of the Victoria tower.

Since 1910 most of the town's growth patterns have tended to follow its major arterial links with Graaff-Reinet to the north and Port Elizabeth to the south. More recently the establishment of a dormitory town at Despatch has had the effect of incorporating Uitenhage into the larger metropolital reach of Port Elizabeth thus making its economic survival a matter of regional importance.


Number of stands in the study area: 1983.
Number of buildings surveyed in the study area: 380.
% of sample: 19.2%

Number of 'A' grade buildings surveyed: 26 or 6.8%
Number of 'B' grade buildings surveyed: 36 or 9.5%
Number of 'C' grade buildings surveyed: 85 or 22.4%
Number of 'D' grade buildings surveyed: 233 or 61.3%


A locational plan of the sites as well as the streets concerned ( Maps 3 to 8) presents an interesting picture. It reveals that the historical zone of Uitenhage survives in the form of four major cores (Map 9):

  1. the Drostdy area
  2. the greater Market street area
  3. the Victoria Tower/Park Lane area
  4. he Cuyler street/Durban street area

The first focuses upon the area immediately east of the Drostdy-Railway workshops axis and, apart from these two major buildings, is of a predominantly residential nature. Stands are less than 500 square metres in size and dwellings are, in the main, small cottages indicating a relatively humble working class origin. This area was developed as the result of growth in the town's light industrial sector during the post-1880 era and, over the years has become entrenched as a lower and middle income suburb. Many dwellings have managed to retain some of the decorative architectural trimmings of an earlier and more gracious age. This has allowed the suburb to retain a homogeneity of architecture which has given many of its streets charming vistas. It is likely that, as redevelopment of the railway yards takes place to its south and commercial strip development extends along Caledon street, this area will come under increasing threat from redevelopers and land speculators who will unavoidably seek to destroy its character. This may result in the loss of such worthwhile architecture as 49 Caledon street and the stepped row houses, 8-18, of Rhodes street.

The second encompasses the major part of Market street. Included in this area are the Town Hall, Market Square, the Electricity Department, the (restored) Railway Station, St Catherines Church and some domestic developments south of Durban street. Most commercial buildings located at the north end of this area have undergone extensive and often intrusive alteration. However with careful restoration and, in some cases, reconstruction, they could recreate a charming shopping mall rich in economic potential. The institutional buildings in this area may be considered to be relatively safe from redevelopment, although the Town Hall itself has already been subjected to major extension some years ago. However some thought may be given to the creation of a pedestrian mall in upper Market street and the restoration of Market Square to some of its more civic functions. For the purposes of this study all residential structures in lower Market street were considered to be under danger of redevelopment to either residential or covert light industrial activity.

The third concerns the zone surrounding the Victoria Tower and includes many structures of an institutional nature. Because of their importance these were considered to be under little immediate threat of demolition with the exception of the Victoria Tower whose present functions were considered to be inimical to its standing in this country's architectural heritage. Other buildings also located in this area were the NG Kerk and manse, the Masonic Temple, the Synagogue, 4 Baird street and a number of other smaller but charming buildings of a residential nature. Major threats to their conservation were considered to be forthcoming from the continued spread of the CBD and, equally important, the more recent development of high rise residential structures which are already beginning to overshadow the profile of older and more stately civic buildings.

The last node covers the greater Cuyler street area, including parts of Durban street west and Caledon street west. This incorporates some of the town's oldest surviving residential structures such as 166 Caledon street (also known as the "Slave House"), 11 Cuyler street, dating back to c1815, an 1817 Cape Dutch manor, a number of important and predominantly domestic buildings and a grouping of religious and domestic buildings which play a prominent role in the heritage of the local Islamic community. This node must be considered to be the most important of the four, being both the oldest and the most threatened. Danger to this built environment is currently being presented by an encroachment of light industrial functions, commercial reconstruction, lack of maintenance and a failure by local planners to prevent intrusive developments which threaten to destroy the historical fabric of the area.

Other zones which fall outside these major cores include the residential area immediately north of Cannon street west, which does not appear to be under current threat; and Lower Drostdy street which is highly vulnerable to encroaching industrial development and a lack of maintenance. The black suburb immediately west of the town centre was also considered to be threatened, but by a combination of factors more complex than those of simple environmental control.

Out of a total of 380 buildings surveyed in the town's historical centre, 294 of them, or 77% of the total are located in the four historical cores outlined above. Their distribution may be broken down as follows:

the Drostdy area: 151 or 39.7% of the total
the Market street area: 29 or 7.6% of the total
the Victoria Tower area: 52 or 13.7% of the total
the Cuyler street area: 62 or 16.3% of the total
historical area not covered by above: 86 or 22.7% of the total

It will be seen therefore that, with the exception of the Drostdy area, only 143 structures of architectural importance remain in the town's historical centre. This represents 38% of the survey and, more importantly, only 7.2% of all buildings to be found in this area. Assuming that Uitenhage is to continue losing these buildings at its present rate of one every month, the town shall have lost most if not all of its major historical structures of a non-institutional nature by the year 1998.


Under the town's present land use bye-laws, the major portion of the study area can be seen to fall under a single Residential Zoning. Exceptions to this general rule may be found in most stands located alongside Caledon, Durban, Market, Baird and Constitution streets, all of which permit a Business function. The area south of Mitchell street to the Zwartkops river is zoned under Industrial as is the western side of Cuyler street south of Durban street (see Map 10). A regrettable development in recent times appears to have been the spread of light industrial and commercial functions to Cuyler street north of Durban street and the whole of Durban street. This seems to be partly the result of consent usage or, most likely, the result of covert and hence illegal operations by small entrepreneurs.


Figures given relate to the 1985-1986 financial year.

Total rates collected from whole town: R3,457,965.00
Total rates collected from study area: R130,000.00 (est.)
Total income of town (all sources): R42,466,455.00

The estimate of rates collected from the study area was based on the available data for 361 of the stands surveyed and its total was R101,000.00. The remaining 19 could yield no information and their combined rates were estimated conservatively at R29,000.00 giving the total of R130,000 given above. It should also be borne in mind that a number of structures on this listing, such as the Town Hall, are of a non-ratable nature.

Taking the above data into consideration, it will be seen that the income derived by the Uitenhage Municipality from the rates of the 380 stands surveyed amount to no more than 3.8% of the total income collected from all rates and, more importantly, only 0.3% of the town's total income derived from all sources.


During the course of this study it was found that the condition of structures surveyed varied greatly and no overall trends could be detected in this regard. However it was also concluded that certain classes of buildings serving one set of functions were generally in a better state of maintenance than others. Thus it is believed that most buildings in institutional use are currently in little if any danger of demolition. Because their budgets are funded from civic sources, their state of maintenance and structural integrity was found to be generally high and warranted little concern in this regard. Notable exceptions to this rule were the Victoria Tower, where the threat is potential rather than actual; and the Drostdy whose structure has, over the years, undergone a number of harsh alterations.

A source of real concern to this study was the lack of maintenance and the proliferation of insensitive alterations found to exist in the case of residential architecture across the full range of eras and styles. Much of what is endearing about the built environment of Uitenhage is also ephemeral and the town is losing its verandahs, fretted timber fascias, cast iron work and timber trims on an almost daily basis through public apathy, lack of design, and neglect. These are irreplaceable and need not be lost. We believe that, with proper encouragement, there exists an opportunity for Uitenhage to retain and, in some cases, recreate the moods and architectural styles of a more gracious age which may now have passed but which many people today refer to with a degree of nostalgia.

This study regretfully has to report that it has been unable to discover much architecture of historical note in the fields of commercial and industrial building. Isolated instances of cast iron trimmings, verandah supports and timber shopfronts have been evident from time to time but not in sufficient numbers to warrant more than a passing paragraph in this report. One major exception to this rule is the Railway workshop complex south of the Drostdy area which presents a series of well articulated brick-walled sheds, mostly in good structural order. It is believed that with imaginative design, these could be revalidated to new and exciting community functions. However the authors of this report could not find consensus regarding the value of the relatively modern steel buildings standing alongside their more historical counterparts.


It is possible to report that despite the larger drawbacks which environmental conservation is experiencing in Uitenhage at present, a small number of cases where these trends have been reversed have been recorded during the course of this study. The most notable of these concerns the work of the Uitenhage Town Engineer's Department who, through a mixture of hard common sense and imagination, has brought the Cuyler Manor and Railway Station restoration projects to a successful conclusion. Despite the fact that one is located some 5 km out of town and the other is on a relatively small scale, their contribution to the quality of the town's environment has already made itself felt. Other projects of a domestic scale are currently in progress or were recently completed.   All appear to be the work of enthusiastic amateurs or far-sighted businessmen who have realised the obvious financial sense of siting their premises in attractive buildings of a historical nature which, when properly restored, stand out from the crass aluminium and glass architecture of more recent times.

It is regrettable that in virtually every case the process of restoration has also involved the removal of the front verandah. It should be pointed out that while it is true that in many cases such structures were the result of a later addition or a modification to an early settler cottage, their use was highly functional and particularly well suited to local climatic conditions. The restoration of a historical building need not necessarily attempt to return the structure to some kind of pristine purity. It should rather assess how and when certain changes were wrought to it and decide exactly how far back in time the restoration process need be taken. In many cases the removal of a verandah may also result in the exposure of the base of the house wall to the elements. Should the dwelling be of such a vintage that either the walls were built in an earth technology or be lacking in suitable damp-proofing, then long-term damage to the structure may result.


It is not the duty of this report to preach to its readers on the moral merits of a conservation policy for the town as a whole. Suffice it to say that at a time of economic depression many people may feel that it is the duty of the City Fathers to encourage a diversity of activities which will promote the economic welfare of the community as a whole.

Because in many ways, conservation in Uitenhage is in the hands of gifted dilettanti and public-spirited businessmen it behoves this report to set out some basic guidelines for a conservation policy.

  1. A conservation policy does not set out to create a large number of museums nor a whole museum town. It rather seeks to maintain and restore the character of a built environment and retain a worthwhile quality of life for its inhabitants.
  2. It does not concern itself only with individual buildings but seeks to look at the environment as a whole. There does not appear to be much sense in restoring a national monument only to site a factory next door to it later on.
  3. It seeks to revalidate old buildings, giving them new relevance in line with current economic needs and realities.
  4. It does not necessarily mean restoring the building back to either its original function nor its original forms.
  5. It does not mean creating something that was never there and passing it off as the original and genuine article.
  6. A conservation policy does set out to create economic development in a variety of ways
      • such as making work opportunities in times of economic depression.
      • such as the recyclying of old buildings at a fraction of the cost of new ones.
      • such as encouraging peripheral economic activities as tourism and small businesses based upon conservation work.
  7. conservation policy does set out to preserve and present the culture and values of a place, region or people, thereby allowing them to derive pride in their own achievements.

It is the recommendation of this report that the Town Council of Uitenhage establish as a matter of urgency a conservation policy for the town as a whole. This should take into account short as well as long term strategies.

    1. The Proclamation of a "Historical Area". It is the belief of the authors that whilst an individual may have the right to enjoy the full usufruct of his property within the bounds of the law, this usufruct should not infringe upon the right of his neighbours or the community as a whole to enjoy the lifestyle they wish to pursue. At present the community already has the powers to curb the over- enthusiastic usufruct of land by individuals and delegates these to an elected civic authority to enforce them - usually in the form of building bye-laws and land-use restrictions. However such curbs usually only act as a limit to physical activities and building standards; little is normally laid down regarding the visual impact of buildings.

      When however we deal with the subject of conserving historical architecture, the visual component becomes of paramount importance. This report has already laid particular emphasis upon the concept of contextural setting. It is our recommendation therefore that provision be made in the town bye-laws for the protection of community rights in the special field of the historical built environment.

      This may be implemented through the proclamation, by the Uitenhage Council, of a "Historical Area" within the town. The extent of such an area is open to further discussion but it is our suggestion that its minimum limits cover those established by the extent of this survey, with the exception of certain residential blocks south of Durban street and east of Cuyler street.
      The purpose of establishing such an area would be to create a zone within which all new developments submitted for municipal approval would have to meet certain stringent criteria.
      1. No demolition of existing structures to take place prior to Municipal approval being obtained.
      2. Submission of plans to take place only after the project has been approved in principle at sketch plan stage by the Municipality.
      3. All new projects to submit contextural drawings indicating the impact of new buildings upon the existing environment.
      4. A height limit of three storeys to be observed. This limitation may have to be accompanied by a relaxation in current site coverage and bulk factors so as to not place undue curbs on commercial development in the CBD area. Ultimately it is envisaged that the Council will have to develop a separate strategy towards the CBD area itself.
    1. The Proclamation of "Conservation Areas". It is the recommendation of this report that, as an extension of the concept of a "Historical Area", certain other zones of special importance be recognised and subjected to further stringent controls. Included under such a proclamation would be the following areas or sites:

All buildings facing onto the following streets:

Caledon street, from Dobson street east up to the railway bridge.
Caledon street, between the Victoria Tower and the Congregational Church.
Cuyler street, north of Mitchell street.
Flanagan street, as a whole.
Gates street, as a whole.
Graaff-Reinet street, between Cannon and Caledon streets.
Langdon street, as a whole.
Luyt street, as a whole.
Mall street, as a whole.
Market street, between Caledon and Mitchell streets.
Milner road, as a whole.
Park Avenue, between Cannon and High streets.
Park Lane, as a whole.
Upper Drostdy street, as a whole.
All sites of "A", "B" and "C" buildings listed in this report.

Additional controls envisaged for this area would include the following:

  1. A demolition freeze upon all A, B and C grade buildings. This involves a total of 147 structures located on 144 stands. As however seventeen of these are of an institutional or civic nature, the total number of stands affected is 127 or 6.4% of all stands in the Historical Area.

    Such freeze is to be enforced for an initial period of two years until 31 December 1988 to allow the Council an opportunity to formulate and enforce a comprehensive conservation policy for the town. It may however be allowed to lapse at the Council's discretion should the necessary infrastructure be established before that time.
  2. All structural alterations to the buildings designated above shall be submitted to the Municipality at an early sketch plan stage for their conditional approval.
  3. Permission for all improvements of a non-structural nature upon the buildings designated above to be granted at the discretion of the Municipality. This includes the removal of fretted timber and cast iron trims, roof ventilators, plaster dados, replacement of doors and windows and re-roofing, but specifically excludes repainting and day-to-day maintenance of the structure.
  4. For the purposes of this report any trees or plantings which can be shown to have historical connotations may be included into the concept of a "Conservation Area".
  1. The appointment of a Conservation Steering Committee. This concept replaces that of an "Aesthetics Committee" proposed in our interim report of May 1986. This committee should be multi-disciplinary in composition and include representatives of the Town Council, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, conservation-minded civic bodies and a variety of professional consultants. This body should be established as part of the immediate implementation of a short-term strategy but its work must be viewed in the context of a long-term conservation policy. It is envisaged that this Committee shall have the following brief:
      1. The formulation of a long-term conservation policy for the town of Uitenhage as a whole.
      2. To review the extent and nature of the Historical and Conservational Areas as set out in this report.
      3. The formulation of a new set of zoning, building and land-use bye-laws for the Historical Area as a whole. Special consideration will have to be given, in this respect, to the applicability of the new Standard National Building Bye-Laws.
      4. The creation of a municipal infrastructure which will be responsible for the implementation of the new conservation policy. The Steering Committee may decide at its own discretion that it is the correct body for such implementation or may choose to establish a separate body for this purpose.
      5. To create the machinery which will encourage the participation of rate payers in the conservation process of their built environment.
      6. To review and extend the listing of the Conservation Register referred to in (4) below.
      7. To administer the Conservation Trust Fund referred to in (3) below.
  1. The appointment of a Town Architect for Uitenhage. One of the drawbacks encountered by conservationists in Uitenhage is the lack of local architectural expertise. It is our recommendation that the post of Town Architect be established under the aegis of the Town Engineer's Department. Such an appointment will facilitate the workings of the Conservation Steering Committee. His job description should include the following:
    1. To consider all proposals for the development of new buildings, the redevelopment of conservation-sensitive sites and the revalidation of existing buildings in the Historical Area. His findings in this regard shall be put before the committee responsible for the approval of such applications in order to guide and inform their final decision- making process.
    2. To consider and approve all applications of a minor nature affecting any alterations and additions being proposed to listed buildings.
    3. To create and upkeep a "Register of Historical and Threatened Buildings" referred to in (4) below.
    4. To be involved in the motivation of new national monuments in the town.
  2. To establish a "Conservation Trust Fund". It is expected that finances for the day-to-day administration of a conservation policy will be necessary. This report recommends that a Conservation Trust Fund be established in this regard by the Town Council. It is further recommended that the rates currently being paid annually by owners of the 385 listed buildings, amounting to an estimated R130,000 per annum, be voted over by the Council to this Fund. It is envisaged that such money will be used as follows:
          1. To establish the Register of Historical and Threatened Buildings as referred to in (4) below.
          2. To pay for the services of expert consultants.
          3. To fund research into the conservation of Uitenhage's built environment, such as, for example, this study.
          4. To subsidise publications on the subject.
          5. To subsidise the Steering Committee's day to day operating costs.

            It is envisaged however that, as the scope for conservation grows so then this Fund will be called upon to play an increasing role in the implementation of conservation policies. It is foreseen, for example, that the Fund may eventually provide financing for the restoration of important buildings in Uitenhage
  1. The creation of a "Register of Historical and Threatened Buildings" for the town of Uitenhage. It is hoped that such a register will use this study as a basis for future expansion.
  1. Some General Recommendations. Although this study was not commissioned to submit detailed proposals regarding the conservation of Uitenhage's built environment, we should like to conclude this report with a number of recommendations.
    1. This study believes that the granting of business rights to the site south of and adjoining stands 15737 facing onto Cuyler street was a major error which, if allowed to reach maturity, will result in the loss of one of the town's few remaining potential national monuments and may damage irreparably the character of Cuyler street. We believe that two courses are open to the Council in this regard: to expropriate the site and compensate the owner before development takes place;  or alternatively to demand a high design and landscape component in any future development which may be submitted to the Council for their approval.
    2. The question of intrusive buildings and activities will also have to be addressed as in the case of Centenary Square where a valuable civic space has been given over to motor vehicles and tarmac.
    3. It is imperative that a feasibility study be conducted on the potential for revalidation of historical buildings. This is particularly necessary in the case of the Victoria Tower and the Railway workshops as well as the domestic structures in Cuyler street. In this regard special attention should be given to their potential to accommodate professional functions and speciality shops.
    4. In some cases the Town Council may consider initiating a programme of urban renewal by restoring buildings under their control, by resurfacing selected streets with cobbles, by the use of environmentally sensitive signposting, by the replacement of intrusive light standards, by the screening of intrusive buildings with plantings and by removing unsightly overhead wiring.
    5. The Town Council may also consider the closure of Market street between Durban and Caledon streets and its conversion to a pedestrian mall.
    6. Any future town planning design will also have to address the question of providing the town with suitably demarcated entry points. At present the streetscape of Caledon street near the Drostdy provides such a function.

This article arises from a research project I undertook jointly with my colleague, Albrecht Herald, at the then University of Port Elizabeth. To date it has not been submitted for publication. Nonetheless we gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by Gerrit Swanepoel, Curator of the Uitenhage Museum, Christine Malan, Head Librarian of the Uitenhage Library, and Des Cunningham of the SA Transport Services.

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