Port Elizabeth of Yore: From School to Synagogue, Then Church to Café

Not many buildings in Port Elizabeth have experienced such a varied usage over their lives. If buildings could divulge their secrets, this humble unprepossessing tiny building on the corner of Belmont Terrace and Western Road, would have many tales to tell.

Main picture: The Diocesan Grammar School on the corner of Belmont Terrace and Western Road

Diocesan Grammar School

The Anglican Church was always a pioneer in education.  To further this mission, St. Mary’s Church began what became known as the Diocesan Grammar School under the auspices of St. Mary’s Vestry. The actual date of its establishment cannot be ascertained but according to W.F. Bunyan it must have been between the Bishop Gray’s first visit to Port Elizabeth in 1848 and his second visit in 1850 whereas Harradine states that it was founded in 1853. Bishop Gray was the first Anglican Bishop in Southern Africa. It was during Bishop Gray’s second visit that he discovered that the school had a membership of fifty scholars and three Masters. At this stage, the school was housed in temporary premises.

St Mary’s Grammar School. Later used as a Jewish Synagogue. Now the Belmont Cafe.

In 1853, the diocese of Grahamstown was formed out of the vast area which had been the oversight of Bishop Gray. The first Bishop of this new diocese was the Right Reverend J. Armstrong who in October 1855 laid the foundation stone of the Diocesan Grammar School. The site granted was that of the earlier Government School on the corner of Belmont Terrace and Western Road, and Sophy Gray was said to have designed it. The Headmaster was H. Hardwicke. With the opening of the Grey Institute, support for the school dwindled and it was finally closed in 1862.

Post card showing top of White’s Road Dated 1907.Show’s Grand Hotel and old grammar school building.

First synagogue

The building became the first Synagogue and then in 1878 the school was re-opened. The building was enlarged in 1880 and closed in 1893. The Lutheran community used it as a church between 1902 and 1907. and until becoming the Belmont Cafe in 1930, it was used for various educational purposes. The bell turret was removed in 1900 when the roof was being repaired.


The Story of the Collegiate Church of S. Mary the Virgin, Port Elizabeth. Short History and Pictorial Record by The Venerable W.F. Bunyan, Vice-Provost and Rector

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

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