St Georges Park

Having watched a couple of games recently at this venue, I decided to look up its history of not only the cricket ground itself but also the park that is adjacent to the stadium itself. Here is what I came up with thanks mostly to the cricket clubs own website as well as Wikipedia.

St Georges Park is the second oldest cricket club in South Africa, was 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 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. 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 (that is still there) on a hill outside the harbour town of Port Elizabeth.

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.

Legends still do the rounds even 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. 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, 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.

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 Williams 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.) Even as far back as 1867, a band performed to further entertain the crowds. In those days it was a military band. Today there is 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. 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
The Springbok Story - from the inside. (Citadel Press, 1960, pg 33.)
"One can be grateful that the writing and ethical standards of South African sports writing 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 officials of Port Elizabeth for honorable mention.

St Georges Park is not just the cricket ground, the park itself is the oldest in Port Elizabeth and in it there are many places of interest as there are in the immediate surrounds are a number of other places of interest these being.

1) Prince Alfred's Guard Memorial is a provincial heritage site in St George's Park in Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape province. In 1983 it was described in the Government Gazette as

The Prince Alfred's Guard Memorial is one of the largest and heaviest architectural products in the Victorian idiom manufactured by the Saracen foundry of Walter MacFarlane of Glasgow in Scotland. The structure is a fitting tribute to the memory of the officers and men who made the supreme sacrifice in the Transkei War (1877), Basuto War (1880-1881), Bechuana War (1897) and the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) as a matter of interest the Prince Alfred's Guard Museum in Port Elizabeth houses military exhibits in the Regiment's Victorian Drill Hall (built in 1880). It is a national monument and one of the finest surviving examples of its type in the country today.

2) 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. 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. 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.

3) The Horse Memorial: While not in the park itself, it’s a short walk down Rink Street to what was at one stage the only memorial in the world erected to honour horses. The unveiling of the monument commemorating the services of the horses which perished during the Anglo Boer War, 1899-1902, took place on Saturday afternoon, February 11, 1905, with His Worship the Mayor, Mr A Fettes, performing the ceremony. The statue used to occupy a very suitable position, close to the junction of Park Drive and Rink Street, next to St George’s Park, but was moved to its present position in Cape Road in the 1950s. One of the principal reasons for Port Elizabeth taking such an interest in the movement, which started in 1901, was the fact that most of the horses brought to this country were landed here. A ladies committee was formed with Mr’s Harriet Meyer as president and £800 was collected for Messrs Whitehead and Sons, of Kennington and Westminster, to erect the statue. The
horse stands 16 hands 2 inches and the figure of the soldier is life size. The inscription on the base reads:
“The greatness of a nation depends not so much upon the number of its people or its territory,as in the extent and justice of its compassion.”

4) The old graveyard: Situated next to the cricket ground hast gravestones date back as far as the mid 1800’s

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