St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The Park St George's Park - Pearson Conservatory
Pearson Conservatory

This fine example of a Victorian Conservatory was opened on September 12, 1882 by the Honourable John X Merriman, the then Commissioner of Works for the Cape Colony at a cost of £3,800. It is named after Mr HW Pearson, the Mayor of Port Elizabeth at that time.

OPENING OF THE PARK CONSERVATORY

Yesterday afternoon in the presence of the Mayor, H W Pearson, Esq., the Town Councilors, our leading merchants and several ladies, the new Conservatory at the St George's Park was opened by the Hon. JX Merriman. The following description of the building will prove interesting to our readers.

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The Pearson Conservatory in St Georges Park at the turn of the last century.
The structure consists of a centre building and two wings. The central building measures 25 feet by 50 feet by 29 feet high to the centre of the skylight.

The roof is supported on eight lofty columns with marble shafts and ornamental heads picked out in gold and dark green.

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The interior of the Conservatory.
The wing buildings each measure 21 by 44 feet by 17 feet high to the centre of skylights.

The roofs of these buildings are also supported on ornamental columns, and over theses as also the centre building the iron ribs of the roof are strengthened by means of ornamental wrought iron scroll work.

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The interior of the Conservatory.
The whole of the buildings with the exception of the plinth are constructed of glass and molded teak wood  framing, the roof ribs being of light iron.

The interior is decorated as follows: a warm grey ground picked out with pale blue and light chocolate lining, and the scroll iron work with light flesh colour lining columns all marbled and mouldings guilded, and the glass on the sides exposed to the sun is frosted with ornamental lines and corners.

The roofs have also been frosted in light blue to subdue the vertical rays of the sun and keeps the place beautifully cool.

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A crowd listen to the band of the Prince Alfred's Band outside the Pearson Conservatory in St George's Park in 1939.
The exterior is decorated as follows: Light stone colour ground with chocolate and white lining.

The gutters have a small chocolate stencil pattern, and the sashes all white, the ornamental iron cresting and terminals are painted dark blue, picked out with white and gold.

The ventilation of the building is complete, being arranged as follows: Ivory alternate sash at the bottom opens, being hung on pivots, and the sky-light sashes throughout are opened simultaneously by a lever apparatus, worked by a hand screw.

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An old photo of the fountain inside the Pearson Conservatory.
The arrangements of the interior are as follows: Round the whole building a raised bed is built with a retaining wall for plants, and at the centre of the two wings a double tier of shelves of perforated iron, supported on miniature columns for the reception of plants.

The centre building has a very handsome centre fountain with large basin, and on either side enclosed spaces for plants.

There are also four very handsome bronzed seats for visitors.

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The statue "The Water Catcher" which originally stood in the fountain in the Mayor's Garden in town and was later placed outside the Pearson Conservatory. It was removed after it was broken by vandals.
The glazing, painting and decorating has been executed by Mr Johnstone, of Port Elizabeth, under the instruction and superintendence of Mr W H Miles, Consulting Architect to the municipality.

At four o'clock a large number of ladies and gentlemen having collected in front of the Conservatory, the Mayor, H W Pearson, Esq.,and the Hon. X J Merriman, ascended the steps of the main entrance, and the key of the building was handed to the Mayor by the architect, Mr W H Miles.

The Mayor said they had met there that day for the purpose of opening the Conservatory, and he felt thankful - to the Hon, the Commissioner of Public Works, who was on a short visit to Port Elizabeth, on coming there to take part in the ceremony of opening this little addition to the public gardens (hear hear).

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An early photo of the Pearson Conservatory.
The gardens he need not inform them, and doubtless it was within this recollection of the Hon, the Commissioner, were formed from ground that was a few years ago a barren desolate place, but, by the dint of the perseverance of the community of this town, in addition to the untiring industry of Mr Wilson, they have arrived at their present perfection (hear hear).

For Mr Wilson's constant attention to his duties they were indebted for what they saw around them, and Mr Wilson, too, has enjoyed the reward of his long labours in seeing the result of his works.

The Mayor thanked him personally, on behalf of the Town Council and of the people of Port Elizabeth for his labours.

The Mayor said he would now ask the Hon. the Commissioner of Public Works to perform the ceremony of opening the Conservatory.

With regard to the Conservatory itself, it has been going on for some years, but it was necessary to get the money together to carry on the labour.

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Gerrit Strydom, senior horticulturist based at St George’s Park, admires some of the plant specimens in the Pearson Conservatory.
The following was the financial statement:-

The Conservatory was designed and material supplied by Messrs. J Boyd & Son, of Paisley.

The glass was supplied by Messrs Chance Bros.

The foundation was laid by Mr J Marshall, of this town.

The Conservatory was erected under the superintendance of Mr Fraser, one of the employees of Messrs Boyd and Son, who was sent out for that purpose.

The fountains were obtained through Messrs J Boyd and Son, and cost 71. Both are supplied with Van Staaden's River water.

The vases were imported from Messrs J Rosher & Co., of London.

The eight iron seats were obtained by Messrs Birt and Nephew from the Colebrook-dale Company, England.

The late Mr Wicksteed was the architect until the period of his death, and since then the works have been under the supervision or Mr W H Miles, architect, of this town. Mr Bullen has acted as clerk of the works throughout.

The cost of the construction in England was ¤1,560
Freight and Duty 336
The cost of foundation and erection here 1,904
Making a total cost of 3,800

Whereof the Parliament in 1876 voted a sum of ¤1,000, but owing to the omission of the annual vote for parks, only 750 was available for the Conservatory.

The interests thereon and votes of the Town Council provided for ¤1,050, leaving ¤2,000 which has been borrowed from the Town Improvement Fund on an engagement to repay 250 per annum with interest during the ensuing eight years.

The Mayor believed that he could assure them that they would have 250 worth of amusement out of the Conservatory, and concluded by again thanking the Commissioner of Public Works for his attendance there that day.

The Hon J X Merriman, who was very warmly received, said he felt deeply grateful for the kindness done, and the honour conferred on him, by asking him to take part in the ceremony there that day, and to be connected with the opening of so useful and ornamental a work.

The work was ornamental, every one could see that, and that it was useful no-one could doubt who considers the refining effect the higher class of gardening has upon any community, from the mere artisan who cultivates a few flowers, to the Duke of Devonshire who cultivates acres.

We had no Dukes of Devonshire in this country, but there was what was better, a public spirit, and Port Elizabeth had set a grand example to the whole of the colony.

It was a pleasure to have to come to Port Elizabeth to see what the public spirit of the community could do, and not asking the Government to do what people ought to do for themselves.

In this respect he thought Port Elizabeth affords an admirable example to many other places in this colony (applause).

As their worthy Mayor had said, the place where they then stood was, a few years ago, a howling wilderness, and no one thought they would ever have gardens there like the present, and any one who said so would be laughed at.

But all these difficulties were overcome by the public spirit of Port Elizabeth, without appeals to that much burdened entity, the Government, that is called upon to do things (laughter).

He hoped they would continue to act in the same way, and whenever they ask the Government for assistance the Government will be inclined to  listen to them (hear hear).

He liked to see people helping themselves.

It has been said by Faith all things are accomplished, and he was sure by Faith Port Elizabeth had set an example to other communities.

Referring to the water supply, he said Port Elizabeth was one of the best supplied towns with water in South Africa. It would be a credit to any town of even six times the size of Port Elizabeth (Mr W Jones: Hear, hear).

In the present Mayor they had the right man in the right place.

From another hand (doubtless Mr McGibbon's of the Botanical Gardens, Cape Town), we have an account of the park:

"Leaving Main-street, the place 'where merchants most do congregate,' and proceeding up the steep ascent known as White's Road, passing the handsome Catholic Church on the left, and at a distance of less than a quarter of a mile from the Town Hall, a flat table-land is reached, locally known as 'The Hill.'

Scattered irregularly over this locality are many fine villas and houses in almost any style, and no style, of architecture, the abodes of the aristocracy of the place.

Here merchants, bankers, 'newspaper people,' &c., have their dwellings, where they can breathe a pure bracing atmosphere after the business of the day is completed in the town below, which from this point is almost hid from the view.

At some distance beyond this pleasant locality, and yet at a convenient distance from the town, is situated the Park - one of the lions of the bay, and a most agreeable public place for strangers to visit at Port Elizabeth, and where fair faces, the grace and beauty of the bay, may be seen at all hours, from early morn to dewy eve.

'G-d helps those who help themselves, is a proverb as old as the hills, and the park at Port Elizabeth is a capital illustration of the truth of it, and what may be done by local energy from local resources.

These gardens have been wholly created and maintained in their present excellent state of cultivation by the corporation of the town for the use and benefit of the people, - not for a class, but for black and white, rich and poor alike.

They are open at all reasonable hours.

No whining solicitations for Government aid are ever heard in the Executive or within the walls of Parliament House.

The Bayonians are justly proud of their Park, and contribute freely the necessary means for its support.

The extent of land allotted for the Park is large, a portion of which only is fenced and laid out as a garden. Additions will be made from time to time, as circumstances admit.

Between three and four acres are now in course of being added.

Some portions of the Park have been sold in allotments for villa residences; these yield a quitrent which go to the revenue for the maintenance of the garden.

A considerable number of the allotments still remains unsold. In course of time, these will become very valuable, and be eagerly taken up as the progress and importance of the place increases.

Being as yet the great outlet for the produce of an extensive back country, and the only port for imports in vessels of heavy tonnage, Port Elizabeth must always be a progressive place.

Never having been fostered by an Imperial military expenditure, it has nothing to fear from the withdrawal of the troops.

Like all commercial cities, it has had and will again have its periods of depression and revival.

With the progress of the town, villas and residences will spring up on the Park lands and cluster round the garden, realizing an ample revenue for its support.

On approaching the enclosure, and glancing at the surroundings, it is at once seen the site of these gardens is not naturally adapted for artistic effect in landscape gardening, but the most has been made of what existed.

Entering by the principal gateway, a broad walk leads to and encircles an ornamental basin for retaining a supply of water for the garden.

The surface of the water is covered by aquatic plants; but it strikes the visitor at once that something else is wanting to fill up the pretty picture of the fountain, and we cannot help suggesting a rock-work for the centre as one thing needed.

Eastern Province Herald
September 13, 1882.


PEARSON CONSERVATORY UPDATE

The wings are still used for displaying the types of plants which were popular in that period. The plants displayed do vary slightly throughout the year, especially in the cool wing, which is particularly colourful in spring.

Other plants, such as ferns, the collection of epiphytic bromeliads abd tropical foliage plants including the crotons, calatheas, pepperomias, philodendrons etc., are semi-permanent plantings.

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Pupils from St George's Prep School in Park Drive dressed up for their annual Victorian tea and walk in St George's Park. Dressed up as demure Victorian youths outside the Pearson Conservatory are, left to right: Lara Wellner, 9, Bradley Botha, 9, Nasreen Dolley, 9, and Nicholas Audley, 10.
Orchids from the Parks and Recreation Department's small but varied collection are displayed when in flower.

The lights in front of the buiding were recovered from the old Mayoral Garden in front of the City Hall and re-used here, as was the sandstone paving on the internal pathways.

The central fountain is still the original one that was imported from the United Kingdom in 1882.

Horticultural grade glass is used in the building while the central dome was replaced with fibreglass in the early 1970's.

Conservatories from the Victorian era give every appearance of being fragile, light and airy structures, but are, in fact, remarkably stable.

To many horticulturists they represent an absolutely ideal example of a building designed to look beautiful and fulfil the decidedly utilitarian function of growing plants from a variety of climates.

Ventilation is by geared, hand operated roof ventilators and individual side windows. There is now a back-up electrical fan system for ventilating and heating when no staff is on duty. Normally there would have been heating by boiler and hot-water pipes, but this was omitted.

It is a sad fact that many buildings from this period have been lost, mainly as a result of hasty decisions based on the assumption that repairs would be prohibitively expensive.

In Port Elizabeth's case, demolition was briefly considered in 1972, but rejected by the City Council.

Given reasonable and sustained maintenance there is no reason why this structure should not last for a long time and the present condition gives no cause for undue concern.

All of the ironwork and over 98% of the woodwork are original, whilst a goodly proportion of the glass also dates back to 1882.

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