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Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape

JONES and McWILLIAMS: Architect

Date:1922 : c2017
2017SAIA EC Award for Architecture
2018SAIA Commendation


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33°57'39.17" S 25°37'30.09" E Alt: 5m

Erected to commemorate the landing of the British Settlers in 1820. This dignified memorial, a type though common in Latin countries of Europe, is probably unique in the Southern hemisphere, and certainly unique as an isolated memorial in South Africa.

It is erected on the spot at which the landing of the Settlers took place before the town of Port Elizabeth was built, but the landing may be considered as the event from which the town has sprung.

Probably more criticism, chiefly adverse, has been levelled at this monument than any other in South Africa. This, perhaps, is usual with all structures that are novel in a district, but those who have travelled over Europe and have seen the numerous plain and decorative campanili, the chief features in almost every old town, have learned to appreciate the dignified Settlers' Memorial at Port Elizabeth.

(Cumming-George 1933:138)


The Campanile Restoration

Commendation Citation

The Port Elizabeth Campanile was designed by local architect WJ McWilliams of Jones and McWilliams and erected in 1923 to commemorate the centenary of the landing of the British Settlers in 1820.

The Campanile, the Donkin Reserve and Fort Frederick might be the quintessential symbols of colonial Port Elizabeth. In a similar, but very sad manner, the forced removals of South End and the Red Location shack settlement of New Brighton might be viewed as some of the evidence of the apartheid era. Since the Campanile was constructed, its physical context has been altered fundamentally. It is now overpowered by the high-level highway and an equally large-scale road connection to the harbour, leaving it stranded on a small piece of land dominated by busy roads. The structure and its famous carillon of 23 bells displayed equal levels of strain.

When the decision was made to restore the Campanile, it was also decided that it should be updated to bring it in line with these changed circumstances. The conservation philosophy (of the architects) is one that recognises, respects and conserves the building's history while ensuring its longevity. With this in mind, the architects did the minimum that was necessary while identifying that which is new with contemporary materials and methods of construction. In this process, the carillon has also been renewed with the addition of new bells, a self-supporting lift has been added while all elements that were replaced were clearly identified with new materials- mostly stainless steel. A new window has been created on the top public level with a magnificent view over the harbour, also reinforcing the memory of the Settlers' arrival by sea.

The Campanile is now incorporated into the tourist route. It has also become far more accessible to the general public. This enables it to communicate its history to a broader public in a much easier manner. The architects also did their best to create a sensible environment where the structure meets the ground plane. This is the area that was most compromised by the intervening changes that occurred over time. In total, it is a commendable effort by both the client, the Mandela Bay Development Agency, and THE MATRIX ... Urban Designers and Architects.

Writings about this entry

Cumming-George, L. 1933. Architecture in South Africa - Volume One. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pg 138
Hatfield, Denis. 1967. Some South African monuments. Cape Town: Purnell. pg 49-51
South African Institute of Architects . 2018. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2017/2018. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 78, 79 ill