WHEN William Henry Freemantle did his inspection rounds in Port Elizabeth’s Tramways building at the turn of the previous century, his employees would signal his arrival by curling a pretend moustache.
Known for his signature curled-up moustache, piercing blue eyes and kind heart, Freemantle was one of the pioneers of the city as the first managing director of The Port Elizabeth Tramway Company.
His granddaughter, Pauline Morris, visited the Tramways building site on Friday as a guest of the Mandela Bay Development Agency and shared anecdotes with the MBDA’s planning and development manager, Dorelle Sapere.
Sapere said that before any redevelopment of the once- derelict building by the MBDA started, a heritage impact assessment was done, on which Bay historian Margaret Harradine acted as a consultant.
This historical research formed the basis of the R40-million redevelopment of the Tramways building – originally home to the tramway company and later an ice rink and a creche – into a tourism, entertainment and office space. The MBDA hopes to move its headquarters to the building once the first phase of redevelopment has been completed towards the end of the year.
Sapere said she had collected some of the remnants from when the building was constructed in 1881 that the building contractors had found – one of which was a horseshoe – and that these heritage treasures would form part of a display in the redeveloped building.
Morris recollected that one of the cart horses that helped to build the tramlines up Whites Road was called Bess. She said the trams, originally horse- drawn, were housed and maintained within the building by her grandfather, who was a marine engineer in Southampton, England, before moving to Port Elizabeth with his wife, Ethel.
The daughter of Freemantle’s second daughter, Madeline, Morris said that after he died in 1940, Ethel moved in with her family and would often entertain her with stories from the olden days.
“During the depression in the early 1930s my grandfather did not want to pay his guys off so he had them make and do all sorts of things. They made linen cupboards, a carriage and even a small replica of the Tramways building,” Morris said.
Some of these items are prized family possessions, while others had been donated to the Bayworld museum.
Sapere said she welcomed any historical items or copies thereof for the new display.
The MBDA also kept some of the building’s original brickwork and steel roof trusses.
According to SAhistory.org The Port Elizabeth Tramway Company was established in 1878 although the first horse- drawn trams only began operating in May 1881. The tramways closed down in the late 1940s.
Sapere said the restored building was designed around the first, second and third phases of the original Tramways building. and that the later, modern additions were removed. – Cindy Preller