The Feather Market Centre in Port Elizabeth is located on the corner of Baakens Street and Military Road, Central opposite the City Hall and was an extension of the original commercial activities once carried out on Market Square (now Vuyisile Mini Square).
The center gets it’s name from the Feather Market Hall, which owes its existence to Ostrich feathers. Its history goes back to the 1870’s, when the City Council decided to build a trade centre for the booming ostrich feather industry. The Feather Market Hall was completed in January 1885 and the first auctions started on 2 February. The new market buildings including the Feathermarket were officially opened on 10 December 1885. The opening of the South African Exhibition, which lasted a full month and was visited by approx. 60 000 people, marked the occasion.
Oudtshoorn’s First Ostrich Boom dates back to 1864. The main reason for the surge in Oudtshoorn’s prosperity was the ostrich, whose feathers had become fashionable accessories among European nobility. Feather exports saw a sharp increase from the Cape Colony during the mid-1860s, which is generally accepted as the launch of the industry in South Africa. By 1870, feather auctions were being held in Mossel Bay. In 1875, the census counted the town’s population to be 1,837. Between 1875 and 1880, ostrich prices reached up to GBP 1,000 a pair. The value of ostrich feathers, per pound, equaled almost that of diamonds. The farmers of the region, realising that ostriches were far more profitable than any other activity, ripped out their other crops and planted lucerne, which was used as feed for the ostriches. By 1877, feather auctions were also being held in Oudtshoorn itself. The rising wealth also finally allowed for the completion of the Dutch Reformed Church, which was opened on 7 June 1879. Such was the worth of the white ostrich feather, that it was dubbed “white gold”.
Owing to overproduction, the ostrich industry experienced a sudden slump in fortunes in 1885; the town’s misery was compounded when it was hit by severe flooding during the same year, which washed away the nearby Victoria Bridge, which had been built over the Olifants River only the year before.
A Second Ostrich Boom occured after the ostrich industry recovered slowly, owing in part to the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902. A second and bigger boom started after the war. It was during this period that “feather barons”, ostrich farmers who had become rich, built most of Oudtshoorn’s famously opulent “feather palaces”, their houses, most of them on the west bank of the Grobbelaars River. The town grew even more, and in 1904 it claimed 8,849 residents in the census. This boom peaked in 1913, during which year the highest-quality feathers cost more than $32 a pound in 2012 prices. Ostrich feathers were outranked only by gold, diamonds and wool among South African exports before World War I. The market collapsed in 1914, according to The Chicago Tribune, as a result of “the start of World War I, overproduction and the popularity of open-topped cars, which made ostrich-feather hats impractical.” 80% of the ostrich farmers were bankrupted, and the ostriches were set loose or slaughtered for biltong.
Feather Market Centre, which has played host to glamorous business and cultural events for over a century, was proclaimed a national monument in 1980.
It has since been beautifully refurbished and transformed to offer a unique mosaic of venues for conferences, concerts and exhibitions of every size and nature.
The Feather Market Centre’s Selley Hall houses a magnificent concert hall pipe organ which was inaugurated in June 1999 and cost R2,6m at the time. The organ stands 14 meters high, 10 meters wide and 4,5 meters deep, weighs 20 tons and has 5508 pipes.
Selley Hall was named after Robert Selley – the late Grey High School Director of Music in whose name the annual Robert Selley Memorial Concert is held. The Selley Concerts were inaugurated in 1986 in conjunction with the Founder’s Day celebrations. The Selley Concerts recognises the contribution Robert Selley made to the school’s music department. The event is hosted annually in the Feathermarket Centre, on the second Wednesday evening in May. The Grey Symphonic Winds, conducted by Grey High’s present Director of Music, Mr. Shawn Lyon, performs first, wearing the “reds” uniform.
The renovated Feather Market Centre boasts a beautifully appointed multi-purpose hall designed to serve as a concert hall, conference centre, city hall or as a venue for other prominent functions. The Hall features a majestic double volume foyer, with upper and lower level houses, exquisite chandeliers, sweeping staircase and luxurious decor. The main auditorium can seat 1 187 people and, with seats removed, is ideal for hosting large banquets for up to 550 guests. The Selley Hall, the original feather market, has been refurbished to accommodate functions such as exhibitions, product launches and industrial theater.
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