Welcome to the St George's Park history website.
by Debbie Derry and Ivor Markman.

The grounds of the second oldest cricket club in South Africa, the venue for the first Test, the first women's international Test, the last Test before South Africa's expulsion from world cricket, the first ever Test series win against Australia, the first Rebel Test, the first Test victory for South Africa with the resumption of 'normal' cricket. . . and the sixth oldest cricket ground in the world - that's just a bit about St George's Park.

Add to it South Africa's first rugby test and the numerous other events that have been staged at this historic venue.

St George's Park is also home to the Port Elizabeth Bowls Club, founded on August 14, 1882, and known as "The Mother Club of Bowls in South Africa" as it was the first bowling club in the country.

The first lawn, or "green," as they are known by the bowling fraternity, was opened on January 5, 1884.

The first trophy presented to and played for in South Africa was a pair of bowls presented to the club by one of the enthusiastic founders, Mr Ebernezer Webster.

There is no record of the actual date for which the bowls were played for, but at the first annual general meeting on 23rd August; 1883, the secretary was instructed to write to thank Webster for the bowls.

In another first for St George's Park and Port Elizabeth, the first South African inter-club bowling tournament, the South African Inter-Colonial Contest was contested from April 11 till April 18, 1894 between the Port Elizabeth and Kimberley clubs.

Not bad for a stadium that started out in 1859 on an open tract of veld alongside a cemetery on a hill outside the harbour town of Port Elizabeth.

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Members of Prince Alfred's Guard form up on the field at St George's Park in 1907.

Today, of course, the world-class 18 500-seater stadium, set within the grounds of the beautiful St George's Park, is slap, bang in the middle of the city whose love of the game began with the arrival of the British settlers.

Stories still abound today about one of the Settlers wading through the surf of Algoa Bay to the shores of his new homeland, cricket bat held aloft to ensure that it would not get wet.

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An aerial view of St George's Park taken from a Junkers aircraft during WW2. Note the pilot in the foreground.
True or not, since reports conflict as to the identity of the willow-yielding individual, there's no denying the tenacity with which the immigrants pursued their hopes of establishing cricket in Port Elizabeth and indeed, elsewhere in the Eastern Cape.

When they weren't playing quoits (a club game that only died out with the Second World War), the "Married Gentlemen" and "Bachelors" of Port Elizabeth called for participants to play in this "truly noble past-time".

Such newspaper reports date back as far as December 10, 1845 - the same year that, the country's oldest daily newspaper, the Eastern Province Herald, was started.

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A Miles Master II banks steeply during an aerobatic display over St George's Park during the opening of the Liberty Cavalcade in July, 1943. The Cavalcade was officially opened by General Jan Smuts and was an impressive fund-raising fair at which each of the Allied countries had a stand. This painting, by the late Ron Belling, is just one of the unique paintings housed in the Ron Belling Art Gallery right opposite St Georges Park at 30 Park Drive. The condition of the stand in 1943 is not correctly depicted in the painting. To see the correct view, please click here.

A few months after the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club was established in 1859, the Port Elizabeth town council agreed to lease two acres of land to the club.

The barren piece of veld was cleared by the members who also paid for the ground's upkeep.

Thus the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club was founded, becoming the oldest cricket club in the country still playing from the same venue today.

Shortly after the cricket ground was laid out, the Town Council decided to establish St George's Park, enclosing a huge tract of land with sufficient space for various other pastimes,

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St Georges Park - March 6, 1982

The Knickerbockers (later the Union Cricket Club) leased some adjacent land, along with several other sports, such as tennis (1878), athletics (1881), lawn bowls (1882) and rugby (1887).

All found a home at St George's Park with Crusaders Rugby Club and PECC sharing their turf during winter and summer respectively. In fact, 2003 was only the second season in more than a century that both sporting disciplines were not played on the same ground in the same year.

The Eastern Province Cricket Board couldn't afford to have the field badly churned up by rugby boots just before the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

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St George's Park cricket ground, June 15, 1996.
It was a wonderful opportunity to go ahead with R20m renovations and improvements that provided more seating and made the media enclosure one of the finest in the world. It gave the city, via this world-class sporting event, the international exposure it deserves.

In the past, St George's Park has played host to it all. It's even laid out the red carpet to royalty. A young Queen Elizabeth was among them in 1947.

Only once fencing had been introduced around the field in 1864, did the town council give PECC permission to charge an admission fee. And even then, it was just sixpence "and not more than once a fortnight".

It was all part of the Port Elizabeth town council's aim to promote the game. They even donated The Champion Bat in 1876, the forerunner to today's Currie Cup competition.

The famous bat, which was competed for by "the cricketers of the Cape Colony" - Cape Town, Grahamstown, King Williain's Town and Port Elizabeth - can still be viewed at the PECC.

The first international rugby match followed on July 30, 1891, at the same ground between the same nations, South Africa and England. (The women played their first test in 1960.)

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St George's Park - 2003
Even as far back as 1867, a band performed to further entertain the crowds. In those days it was a military band. Today it's an up-beat brass band of young performers, who typify the rich "rainbow" cricket traditions of the Eastern Cape.

While the Settlers were establishing grounds at Salem; Sidbury, Port Alfred and the like, English missionaries were padding up (and preaching) elsewhere in far-flung towns like Alice; where a new ground was recently established in anticipation of the world cricket showcase.

St George's has also been home to some world-class cricketers (and rugby players) including the Pollock brothers, Peter and Graeme. Graeme, 58, was recently voted cricketer of the century.

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Young Peter and Graham Pollock on the turf at St George's Park.
Former South African cricket captains Peter van der Merwe and Kepler Wessels also have strong ties to St George's Park.

Of course we are proud of our history and of the treatment we have dished out to visiting teams. This is what Eric Litchfield said about Port Elizabeth hospitality in his book

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An aerial view of St George's Park taken shortly before the 2003 Cricket World Cup. The freshly re-tarred road can be clearly seen.

The Springbok Story - from the inside. (Citadel Press, 1960, pg 33.)

"One can be grateful that the writing and ethical standards of South African sportswriting remain on a high plain. But if some professional relationships between the writers and the officials are not always cordial, tribute must be paid to the majority of the same officials for the lavish hospitality that is thrust upon the Press in most centres.

"British sportswriters do not enjoy anything like the same hospitality.

"No personal reflection is intended upon any other sports ground or group of sports officials when I single out the cricket oficials of Port Elizabeth for honourable mention.

"Officials like Billy Woodin, "Pep" Fraser and Lawton Fourie treat visiting pressmen like long-lost brothers, only too willing to assist the visitors' welfare even at the expense of personal inconvenience.

"Port Elizabeth has the reputation for being South Africa's "Windy City."

"Such inconvenience can be overlooked, for in all other respects it is the "Friendly City."

We are striving hard to uphold that reputation by maintaining this user-friendly website for you.

It is our intention to provide you with glimpses into our cricketing history, and as more research is completed, we will be placing more articles about our sporting past and St George's Park on it.

If you would like to be kept informed about new articles on our site as they are placed, then please fill in the email box on this page.

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