Port Elizabeth of Yore: St. John the Baptist Anglican Church

The suburb now known as Walmer; Port Elizabeth was originally a farm known as Welbedacht. It was loaned to a Johannes Potgieter in 1776 and subsequently granted to a Antonie Michael Muller[1] (B c 1770 married Aletta Maria Potgieter c 1782, died 21 January 1843, Uitenhage who was from Holland). On 24 May 1852, a portion of the farm that was granted to Anthonie Michael Muller in 1815, was divided in one morgan erven by his sons into a township called Walmer. The sons got into financial difficulties, and they decided to sell the farm in lots. Whilst it is not definitely known, a Mr D. MacDonald a Government surveyor probably gave the name. The auctioneers responsible for the sale went bankrupt immediately after the sale and the Muller brothers suffered financial loss thereby although some of the money was recovered in subsequent lawsuits. In 1860, the local newspaper the EP Herald reported tigers (leopards) in the Walmer area. In 1899, Walmer became a municipality. Walmer was named after Walmer Castle, the death place of the First Duke of Wellington 1769-1852.He is buried under the dome of St Pauls Cathedral by the side of another famous Englishman Lord Nelson.

Our story begins in 1870’s when Rev Samuel Brook1 and after him Rev William Greenstock held services at Walmer until Rev Dr Wirgman of St Mary’s Church, at the request of some of the inhabitants looked for a favourable place to build a church. Then a Mr Henry Trotter offered a site for a church (erven 6 and 7) and rectory and a burial ground. A Mr Charles Storey presented some building plans, and a contract was entered into with Messrs Allen and Winter to erect the new building.

The original St John’s Church was consecrated on 3rd September 1881 by the famous Archdeacon Wirgman who was attached to St Marys Cathedral in then flourishing Port Elizabeth. Walmer was a separate town in those days and many famous names spent there early days in this hamlet. At first, it was run on the lines of a Village Management Board but in 1899, it became a municipality. The foundation stone of the Walmer Town Hall was unveiled on 3rd June 1908 by the mayor, Mr F W Ramsy-Denny. The War Memorial reflects 12 names that fell in the Great War and 29 names that fell in the Second World War. It is interesting to note that the names that died in the First World War are the same names cited in the Memorial Hall attached to St John’s. These names are appended at the back.  The town was amalgamated with Port Elizabeth in 1969.

The first mayor was Mr William Alcock who attended the Church regularly. He was the first person to own a motor car in Port Elizabeth. This car was a 4.5hp Benz and took 15 hours to Grahamstown. He was a member of the Walmer Management Board. He is now buried in the church’s graveyard.

According to the records, erven one to five were either vacant or cultivated but erf four belonged to the Fiddian–Green family. They had two boys, Dick and Billy, and two girls, Mary and Peggy. On Erf 8, a house was built for Mr William Smith the first mayor of Port Elizabeth as a country retreat.

St John’s Church was situated on Erven 6 and 7 Walmer. On erf 6 the church with its simple Norman windows and doors stood. There was an open paddock on the corner of 8th Avenue and Church Road. There the horses that the early ministers used as transport grazed. On Erf 7 was the rectory with a large schoolroom attached and the stables and servants quarters. If it was the intention to see the minister, entry was in Water Road where you went through the Lychgate and to the church and graveyard.

On the Saturday before Low Sunday (the Sunday following Easter) April 23rd 1881, the foundation stone of St John’s was laid by Mr C T Mouat with Masonic honours in front of a large crowd. The prayer of dedication was read by Rev Dr Wirgman, District Grand Chaplain. The prayer was quoted as “In the faith of Jesus Christ, we lay this foundation stone, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen” The Masonic part of the ceremony was performed by one of the most prominent members of the Order, Mr C T Mouat, who conducted the whole affair in a dignified manner. During the lowering of the stone the Rev Alexander Grant, the chaplain of the Port Elizabeth lodges recited Isaiah xxvii v 17, and in order to show the practical character of Freemasonry, the Rev T. Bennetts, Junior Deacon of one of the Lodges, was ordered to take round a square box which Mr Mouat called the “symbolical foundation stone” and this upon being opened, was found to have for its members £54 7s 10d (R108.78).  Subsequently Mr Trotter entertained the Brethren and the Choir in a marquee and numerous healths were drunk and responded to, the proceedings closed with the National Anthem. The mention of Masonic honours at the ceremony gives an interesting insight into the religious sentiment that prevailed in those days. In those days the population of Walmer was relatively small but St John’s were an active fraternity.

Entrance to the graveyard alongside the St John’s Church on the corner of 8th Avenue & Church Road in Walmer, Port Elizabeth

On 3rd September of the same year, Bishop Merriman consecrated the Church.

The total cost of St John the Baptist Anglican Church including fittings and fencing was £648 0s 9d of which £178 was given by Mr C. Hannam and £75 is still a debt on the church.

For the first 12 years of its existence, the ministers used to come up from St Mary’s to perform the service.  It can be imagined how long and arduous the trip might have been. Little is known of these early days, but I have included some early photographs, which reflect the hardship these servants of God had to endure. Can you imagine the minister and his wife in the blazing heat and muddy tracks going to church in their “Sunday best”? It was during these early years that the first baptism took place on 20 November 1881.The child, a boy, was Reginald St John Thomson son of Arthur Henry and Emily Thomson. Mr Thomson’s occupation was listed as an aerated water manufacturer. Archdeacon A T Wirgman officiated. The first burial was Alphonzo Taylor who died on 16 September 1881 and was buried on 17 September 1881. He was 36 years old.

The first marriage was on 19 December 1883 between James Matthew William Charles Burchell 1860-1889 (23) and Annie Violet Sophia Daniel (19). Mr Burchell was a farmer and believed to be the grandson of William John Burchell, naturalist, traveller, writer and artist (b Fulham, London 1781-1863). It is interesting to note that in 1819, William Burchell was called before a select committee in the British House of Commons to advise on the suitability of South Africa for the settlement of British emigrants. Some of the older folk will remember Burchill’s Farm at the confluence of the Klein Kabega River and the Baakens River.

A “most successful” bazaar was held on Easter Monday 1887, which realised about 53 pounds.

First minister at St John’s

Arthur Herbert du Pre Cass

The first minister at St John’s was Arthur Herbert Du Pre Cass 1893-1895. It is interesting to note he has the same name as the first governor of the Cape. Perhaps a member of the family? Mr Cass studied at Magdeline College Cambridge as well as the University of the Cape and completed his studies in 1886. He became deacon in 1899 during this time he was a curate at St Matthews Keiskamma Hoek and priest in 1891 in Grahamstown. He then came to PE in 1891 as Curate of St Marys. The effort at Walmer in 1892 to build a parsonage and school was successful through a mortgage bond taken out to enable the building to be completed. This raising of finance proved a burden to St John’s for the next twenty years.

Mr Cass, a generous man, spent his own money freely in improving the Vicarage and Church. He also worked tirelessly at the School. He was a Preacher of considerable eloquence. He returned to his native England on 5th January 1895 and died a few years later.

The first annual Easter vestry meeting took place in the schoolroom at St John’s on the 28 March 1894.Those present were Rev Dr Wirgman, Rev Cass, Messrs Caithness, Longworth, Thorne, Holmes and Boult. Rev Wirgman of St Marys Collegiate Church warmly congratulated Rev Cass as Vicar of Saint John’s and also upon the successful completion of the vicarage and the opening of the school. Rev Dr Wirgman stated that the remarkable increase in the congregation, the successful opening of the school, and the increase of the Sunday School children to 50 is a testimony to the ability and zeal and energy of Mr Cass. He trusted that Mr Cass would continue to receive the support, which his work most certainly deserved from the people of Walmer.

Mr Caithness (in the absence of Mr R S Smith the churchwarden) presented the financial report and told the meeting that the bank balance was £14 7s 9d which was due to a “remarkable increase of offertories since the appointment of Mr Cass and the establishment of the evening service”.

At the meeting it was further stated that the Ministry Fund be raised from the present level of £30.00 per annum. And after discussion it was resolved that the Ministry Fund of Saint John the Baptist Church Walmer be raised to £100 per year. This was carried unanimously. The meeting then noted that the increase was to take effect from Easter 1894. (i.e., immediately)

The 1895 annual Easter Vestry meeting took place on Wednesday 17 April and the churchwarden gleefully announced that the Bank balance was £4-8-9.  Rev Dr Wirgman then referred to the resignation of Rev Cass and the appointment of a successor. The vestry stewards unanimously resolved to advise the appointment by the Collegiate Body of Rev J E Davies. On Saturday 18 April 1896 the Annual Easter Meeting was held, and it is apparent that Rev Evans had resigned and acting on a strong recommendation from the Bishop of Grahamstown introduced the new minister Rev Bertie Kitching MA.

The second minister was John Evan Davies, March 1895 to March 1896. He went to St Boniface College Warminister in 1890 and then University of Cape BA 1900. He graduated with LLB in 1895. It would appear he also was head of St John’s school 1895-1897. He later acted as Chaplain to the Forces in the Anglo Boer War 1900-1901. He also acted as editor of the church magazine Southern Cross. He left the ministry and practised as a solicitor and Advocate in Springs. He died 12 August 1915.

Rev Bertie Lefroy Walting Kitching MA. Rev Dr Wirgman also commented that certain alterations would be necessary and should Mr Kitching decide “to throw in his lot with Walmer….. there would be great change for the better and that the school would be a flourishing one.”

Bertie Lefras Walter Kitching

He obtained his BA from Durham University. Mr Kitching in addition to his duties at St John’s was Priest Associate of St Marys and also succentor. He made considerable alterations to the vicarage during his short tenure at St John’s and laid the foundations to a flourishing boarding school. He had a beautiful tenor voice, which “he used with artistic taste.” He also had an engaging personality, which made him very popular with the congregation. In 1896 Rev Kitching addressed the annual Vestry meeting and expressed his earnest desire to do his utmost for the welfare of St John’s and saying he was prepared to meet to discuss finances and suggested a Building Fund on a £ for £ basis. Churchwarden Girdlestone proposed that a sum of not exceeding £400 be raised on the school building and vicarage and that these funds be spent on making necessary alterations and alterations to the existing buildings. Mr Boult the chief fundraiser was duly thanked for all his hard work. Mr and Mrs Longworth were also thanked for their kind assistance at the organ. On the 14 June 1896 the Building Committee met and accepted Mr Kemsley’s tender for just under £300 and the bond was raised to £900. The committee felt that the work had proceeded without their knowledge or consultations in the matter. Miss Forbes was thanked for her valuable services as organist and the choir was also duly acknowledged.   His early and sudden death from appendicitis on the 7TH November 1897 was a great grief and loss to the community He married Ina Lovemore of Bushy Park, and their daughter was born after the death of their dear father aged 32 years   Ina and her sister Mary attended Collegiate School whose headmistress was Miss Izett. Ina and Mary were very close friends and often appeared in the same musical performances. Mary won a prize in 1881.

John Durno

John Durno was minister from April 1897 to 30 July 1899. (b 30 July 1865 d 20 February 1931) He obtained his MA from Aberdeen in 1888.  Prior to his appointment he was serving in Grahamstown, Burgersdorp, East London and Alexandria. During the Boer War, he became Chaplain to the British forces in Bloemfontein, Norval’s Pont, Winburg and Pretoria. He became after the war Priest in Charge of Native Missions Potchefstroom 1904-1911. He married Ethel Isabella Mildred Adkins (1871-1898). Mrs Durno was connected to the Ball’s of chutney fame. She was laid to rest at St Stephens Church, Port Jackson near East London. They had two sons Alan Douglas born 1894 who married Aileen Phillips and Hector Ambrose (1895-1957) who married Ivy Elizabeth Long, a teacher. Sadly, it was during Mr Cass’ tenure that the school went out of existence. After his tenure at St John’s, he became vicar of Alexandria.  

In 1899 Hubert Gustave Mosel, son of J G Mosel, a pharmacist in Uitenhage became the fifth incumbent of St John’s, Walmer. His tenure lasted from 1899 to January 1946. A staggering 47 years! For many people of St John, the Baptist, his resignation was a sad time as generations were born, married, died under his ministry and even today some of the older folk remember him with fondness. Mr Mosel was born in Uitenhage (there is a suburb named after his family) on 30th October 1863 and when he was 14 years old, he left South Africa to study at Clifton College, Gloucester in North Town, a day house, which educated so many famous generals of the British Army. He completed his studies at St Andrews College, obtaining his colours for cricket and partaking in library duties and debating. In 1880 he was back in South Africa and worked for Standard Bank for two years. He later attributed this period as a time he had to “equip himself with the day-to-day knowledge of men and the world of business”. After two years he went to Selwyn College, Cambridge where he obtained a first class pass in Master of Arts. His records there indicate he was sponsored by his mother Mrs W Mosel that is unusual as the father normally does that duty. He stayed in Nailsworth with a Mrs J S Clissolds.

Herbert Gustavus Mosel

In 1887 Bishop Webb ordained him at St Mary’s Church. His first sermon at St John’s was in October 1887. After being appointed as Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of Grahamstown, he took charge of St Peter’s Convent with the headmastership of the old choir school. He briefly returned to England to raise funds for the Cathedral Chancel of Grahamstown. Before he returned, he did chaplaincy work in Bologna, Italy and was invited to take a permanent post in Venice, which he refused. Returning to the Cape Colony, he became rector in Adelaide. After five hard years he returned to Walmer and St John’s, taking over from Mr Durno – The Rectory until that time had served as a boarding school for boys and one room was set aside as the Walmer Town Hall, The Charter of Independence. Walmer with its splendid tree lined avenues and verdant gardens had become an important place to live. In the Easter meeting dated 2 May 1900, Rev Mosel was in the chair for the first time.

A year later (25 April 1901), it was unanimously agreed that the Churchwardens be requested to write to the Walmer Municipality urging “their Board to provide a suitable public cemetery for the internments of Europeans (sic) as soon as possible” It was further reported that the minutes of the Easter Vestry Meeting for 1899 had gone missing and it was last seen in the hands of Mr Caithness the Churchwarden who undertook to recall the actual facts of the meeting and write same in minutes book. The meeting was told that the Church now had a debit balance of £14.00. In 1900, a library was opened at St John’s in one of the classrooms.

Mr Ingram at a meeting on 23 April 1902 suggested that an effort should be made to reduce the debt and that a special offertory be made as soon as possible. It was around this time that one of the parishioners, Mr William Alcock had acquired the first motor vehicle in Port Elizabeth, a 4.5 Hp Benz. On the 20th August 1902, he and a friend Maurice Gilbert undertook the first trip by car to Grahamstown. It took a mere 15 and half hours. At an average speed of 6 mph. It is the same Mr Alcock, who died 9th April 1911 and is buried in the graveyard at St John’s. He later became mayor and first chairman of EP Automobile Society.

St John the Baptist Church Walmer

Rev Mosel married Edith, the daughter of the Rector of Seymour who was then nursing at the old Provincial Hospital. They got married at St Martin’s in the Fields in London. Mr Albert Bakewell Thomas ((1869-1958), a churchwarden and managing director of SA Milling, Hannam and Co, Guardian Assurance acted as bestman. One elderly member remembers that he used to smoke a “smelly old pipe” Their honeymoon was spent at the beautiful Lake Como northern Italy where they walked and relaxed.

Mr Mosel was an accomplished horseman. He once had a nasty fall, but this did not deter him, and he travelled far and wide on his trusty white steed. Some of the congregation remember him arriving at their home with this lovely horse but thinking it was like a ghost on horseback. In the world of sport, Mr Mosel was an active member and was a founder member of the Walmer Golf Club. He won many cups, and his opponents were always impressed by his straight driving. Besides golf he was a good tennis player and later took to bowls with great success. He read profusely and possessed one of the best libraries in the province. After his retirement, he went to live in Stutterheim. In the EP Herald dated 5th March 1946 it states that Mr Mosel loved children and looked forward keenly to the annual Sunday School sports day which he organised and proudly gave every child in a race a prize.

Miss Shaw Smith ran the Sunday School in those early days. She was the daughter of the gentleman who donated the Lychgates. These Lychgates were designed by Ramsy Deny and the other by Jones and McWilliams.

He helped establish the Anglican Church in the Walmer Township. He died in London on 21st May 1912. Rev Mosel was a very popular minister amongst the congregation and when the new transept was laid by the Archdeacon of Port Elizabeth, many of the town’s top businessman and their wives came in their best outfits to witness the solemn occasion.

St John the Baptist Anglican Church

Many stories abound about him and the church in those early days. One story relates to a Sunday service when due to cold weather not many people attended so Rev Mosel said that because of the poor turnout there would be no sermon that day. The churchwarden from the back pews promptly stood up and said if that were the case there would be no offertory!

Another incident concerned when the churchwarden was told to take the offertory home and bring it back the next morning so it could be banked. So, the churchwarden did this but worried he might be robbed during the night, so he buried it. And during the night it started to rain and so the next day he spent many hours trying to find where the money was hidden. Eventually it was found and banked.

On 28 April 1904 the church was fitted with Acetylene Gas at a cost of £30-17-0. New chairs were presented in place of the old pews. As a result of some generous giving the Bank account at the Bank of Africa had a credit balance of £20-4-2 against an overdraft of £62-4-11 a year earlier.

In that marvellous book on Walmer by F A. Longworth it relates how Sydney Mosel son of Rev Mosel and Peter brother of the author became partial to one of Mr Mosel’s good cigars and as they hid behind a tombstone puffed away in perfect bliss unaware of the suburban train approaching. They puffed in unison but the train that particular day was heavily laden and was puffing prolifically. The two boys could not keep up and so serenely slept the remainder of the day vowing to each other that no more cigar smoking. 

The report also drew attention of the congregation to more systematic alms giving on Sunday so that the offertory fund should not suffer because of irregular attendance. Miss Maud Eton the supervisor of the Sunday School proudly announced that the school was “most largely attended”. 

Also, in 1904 Mr A D Thomas proposed, and Mr H. Longworth seconded at annual   Easter Vestry meeting that application be made to the Bishop to constitute Walmer a separate parish in terms of Chapter VI of the Acts of Synod.

Churchwardens expressed their concern and felt that with the ever-increasing population now living in Walmer something should be done in the way of Church alterations. It was proposed that a Bank account be opened for this purpose and be entirely separate from the ordinary General Expenses Account. This would enable any person so disposed to make donations. It was recorded that the Vicar’s stipend was £175.0.0 per annum.

As the Cape colony was being reconstructed and revitalised after the awful War known as the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902), people resumed their daily business. The British Government sent delegations to the Colony to see what could be done to federate or unify the various provinces. Lord Milner played a big role in this process.

At a special meeting of St John’s on the 13 December 1904 plans were approved for the new Church. These plans were drawn by Mr White Cooper Esq. MA FRIBA. Mr Cooper (see annexure) was the Diocesan Architect. His brief had been to make the Church on the lines of an early Norman building. The outstanding characteristics were walls of concrete and cement and roughcast. The windows and pointings were to be brick or stone.

It was further proposed by Mr Caithness and seconded by Mr Ramsy–Denny that the Rector be requested to approach the family of the Burchell’s and point out to them that the completeness of the design for the new church is affected by the graves of some of the family and would ask their permission to allow these graves to be built over and to commemorate the site a tablet would be placed within the Church on the wall adjoining the graves.

On 7th March 1905 the plans were referred to the finance committee and on the 9 May 1905 the Building Fund had £152-12-9 in the Bank. The ladies had a meeting on Monday the 6th March 1905 at Mrs Mattingly’s home. Mrs Ball a stalwart of the Church for many years proposed that the Society be henceforth be called the Ladies Needlework Guild. After some discussion this was rejected, and the name “St John’s Ladies Guild” was unanimously adopted.

On the 5 December it was announced that Rev Canon Wirgman had donated the altar cross.

In the special vestry meeting dated 2 February 1906 Mr J C Brett secretary of the Finance committee suggested that the Committee does not spend more than 1000 pounds in the erection of a manse and do the tiling on the roof. In a separate meeting of 24 April 1906 Rev Mosel stated that no rent had been received for the use of the schoolroom and that it was decided to close the school. Mr Thomas proposed that the use of the schoolroom be not granted to anyone in future for educational purposes free of charge. Mr Green amended the proposal to allow Miss Robinson to continue to use the room. Rev Mosel gave the casting vote and supported the amendment. He also suggested that the Churchwardens approach the Educational Board with a view of starting a school in Walmer and that the schoolroom would be available for a nominal rental.

Mr Ball then proposed that the Rectory be granted to the Rector free of Charge as from 1 April 1906. Mr Bake countered this proposal by saying the privilege be granted subject to their being no shortfall. On another meeting the same year (17 December 1906) we learn of a Mr Bratt, the Treasurer of the Finance Committee, embezzling a major portion of the New Church Building Funds. It was agreed unanimously that no criminal proceedings be taken. Mr Ingram stated that he had applied for the sequestration of Mr Bratt’s estate.

Mr Thomas, a churchwarden of many years standing, said he had been informed that the finance committee was not legally constituted but the chairman (Rev Mosel) assured those present that it was perfectly regular and legal. Mr Thomas said in view of the unfortunate circumstances Mr White Cooper be asked to suspend all operations relating to the building and alterations. Mr Marriott was appointed Treasurer of the Building Fund. The balance stood at £39 9s and 4d.

On 19th March 1907, Mrs Edith Mosel gave birth to a bouncy girl Geraldine Edith. In 1907 (9 April) Mr Ingram stated he had spoken to the Trustees of the Church and felt matters relating to the theft of the money had not advanced sufficiently but Mr Whyte Cooper said he was prepared to allow matters to be carried over. Mr Thomas asked if a new account could be opened. It was agreed to do this.   

In 1908, a transept was added to the Church, and this was later incorporated in the new Church to serve as the choir vestry. The laying of memorial stone of the new transept took place in the late afternoon (4.30pm) on the 16 February 1908.The following were in attendance Rev H G Mosel; (Rector of Walmer), Rev J F Sindin (Vicar of St Cuthbert’s) Rev Precenter Mayo (St Marys) Rev P R Mollett (St Phillips) and Rev W H T White (Incumbent of Holy Trinity)

The proceedings got under with a fine recital by the numerically strong St Mary’s choir. The devotional hymns with no music accompaniment in the open air must have been a joy to behold. Archdeacon Wirgman used the customary “Office for laying the stone of a church” order. After saying the vesicles and responses the Rector said the collect. Psalm 127 was chanted. Rev Sindin read the lesson from Haggai, Mr Elton acting as a churchwarden then presented the Archdeacon with an attractive trowel with an engraved inscription on it.

The Archdeacon carefully and with great dexterity laid the stone and saying “In the faith of Jesus Christ we place this memorial stone in the name of God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen. Here let true faith, the fear of God and brotherly love ever abide. This place is consecrated to prayer and praise of the most holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Archdeacon then delivered a short address in the course of which he remembered years ago the laying of the foundation stone of the church and indeed the consecration by Bishop Merriman.

The Archbishop related how “the day of small things“ was over had grown into a separate church and that he took pride in constituting the church in 1904. He continued that he was sure that the patience and perseverance of the Walmer people in the face of adverse circumstance had shown itself in the work now being done and would eventually result in the building of a church worthy of the place and its people.

During the collection, the well-known hymn ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’ was sung. The Archdeacon did the final collections and then gave the benediction. Rev Mosel spoke in feeling terms of the long connection that the Archdeacon has with Walmer church and thanked him for being present at the laying of the memorial stone. Rev Mosel also gave high praise to the ladies of Walmer. Then he called upon Mr R Shaw Smith to say a few words in the regrettable absence of Mr Denny, the mayor who was indisposed. Mr Shaw-Smith made an excellent speech and fondly remembered the days when the congregation was so small that the service was held on a Sunday afternoon.

Mr Shaw-Smith gave his hearty thanks and also acknowledged the hard work of the ladies. The ceremony closed with the singing of “God save the King.”

The Water Road lych gate was a memorial to one of the early founders of the Church, Mr Richard Shaw-Smith who died in 1912 in London but was buried in the Church’s graveyard. Another famous parishioner and one-time mayor, Mr William Ramsay Denny, designed the gate for his close friend. The dedication was held on the 27 October 1912. Rev Mosel and his Churchwardens placed it in their custody and accepted by them “to have, to hold and to maintain.”

The clouds of war again began to descend on the new Union of South Africa, and it would be four long years before the war “to end all wars” was over. At the end of this conflict, twelve parishioners had given the ultimate sacrifice. A Memorial war would be built in the coming years to remind us all of that conflict and all other conflicts the parishioners have taken part in and died for the cause. The official opening was the 11 October 1928 and was designed by Messrs Jones and McWilliams. The Rev J Patterson who lost two of his sons in France during the Great War 1914-1919 officially opened it.

The Church underwent a trying time during the Great War as no less than 12 men perished in that “war to end all wars and it fell on Rev Mosel to relay the sad news and that their men folk would not be returning from the battlefronts. Unfortunately, the Church’s official minutes do not contain any record of the war work its parishioners undertook but it can nevertheless be recorded that the ladies of St John did great work in providing comforts and other social services for the troops. In a meeting dated 16thApril 1917 the fencing of the cemetery was deemed to be necessary to be replaced.

On 9 April 1918 a churchwarden of many years standing, Mr A C Ball, indicated that he had received from Rev Mosel a private letter some months before. The letter was dated October 1917. Rev Mr Mosel, the Chairman, stated that he regrettably could not allow the letter to be read and discussed. Mr Ball then stated that if that was his stance, he could not serve the Church as churchwarden.

All the members present expressed their regret that Mr Ball would no longer take office during the coming year. They also expressed their great appreciation and painstaking efforts he had made in the work of the parish during the years he acted as Churchwarden. To this day the contents of the letter are unknown.

The Great War once over (1918) was followed by an influenza epidemic and shortly thereafter the Rand Rebellion and Depression. These events obviously put pressure on the church and businessman and farmers alike had financial trouble. Even artisans were on short time and many people could not get work. The end result was less money for the collection plate and growing demands on the Church.

Meanwhile Rev Mosel became a popular minister of all ages but particularly the children because he also gave them a biscuit when their mothers or fathers paid a visit. It was also a custom to give all the children a prize at the annual Sunday School Prize giving.

Another incident of the period related to Paddy Ball who after a lengthy overseas trip returned to the Church and Rev Mosel boomed out in a loud voice,” Good Heavens, I have not seen you for ages. Who are you?’ Needless to say, the affable Mr Ball was dumbstruck.

With all the activity going on at the Church Rev Mosel and his close friend Mr A B Thomas had time to play a regular game of golf and the two of them were founders of the Walmer Golf Club now known as Little Walmer.

A Miss Crooks was the leader of the Cub troop and by all accounts was a strict disciplinarian but was very well liked. Most of the boys towered over her as she was of slight build. In May 1920, the Rector reported that Longworth’s family were prepared to install a window in the Church in memory of Miss Longworth. In November 1921 the church was spruced up with the churchyard, renovations to the outside and roof undertaken.

New hymnbooks were provided. The St John’s Ladies Guild in 1922 was as usual a hardworking and active group of ladies. A jumble sale was held in the Rectory grounds and all the parishioners willingly gave old clothes and the grand sum of eleven pounds was raised. Another event was the annual produce sale took place on Saturday 7th October 1922 (a week after the Guilds year-end). An amount of 45 pounds was raised including a sum of 5 pounds from Mrs Mattingly who sent the donation from her home in England. The minister was overjoyed when the vestry meeting of April 1922 increased his stipend from £250 to £275pa. The gas plant was getting old, and the committee said it would need to be replaced when funds were available. Mr AB Thomas a very hard-working member’s wife died suddenly. It was also noted that the church had a credit balance in 1923 of £175.

In 1923 it was reported that the churchyard was filling up fast. A 12 x 10 ft grave cost £6.00 and 6 x10 foot grave would cost £3.00. Another concerned parishioner was Mr Ball who advised that the Church Wardens had interviewed the Bishop who had stated that the hall now on the drawings boards (Memorial Hall) would not be allowed by any other denomination. Mr A B Thomas thought it would then cease to be a Parish Hall and had he known that it was to be entirely under the control of the Rector and Churchwardens the original letter appealing for subscriptions would have been quite differently worded. Mr Mosel concluded that letter did not misguide anyone. A new gas plant was requisitioned.

Mrs Scarr, the daughter of another parishioner Mrs Gard, was for many years the music teacher at St John’s and organised the children into singing groups who would sing carols at Christmas. This was the start of the Walmer Carol Singers.

Another parishioner, who was well known during the Mosel years, was Miss Ingram who played the harmonium and it was reliably reported that on one of the journeys from town she landed on a highly embarrassed Mr Ball’s lap as the train lurched off the rails. According to F A. Longworth, a valued member of this church, the terminus was in Station Street across Humewood Road under Forest Hill Drive past South End Cemetery onto Valley Junction almost opposite First Avenue Walmer. The train left the mainline and turned north into Second Avenue crossing Heugh Road and turning west into Villiers Road with a normal stop at Third and Fourth Avenue. At Fifth Avenue it continued in a northly direction into Water Road to end its journey in Fourteenth Avenue where there was a loop to enable the engine to change ends. The Walmer Prep School opened its doors in 1926 in the Walmer Baptist Church Hall and in 1930 moved into the new St John’s memorial Hall. The first principal was Mrs Isabel Jordan.                            

In August 1927 the Church accepted Mr D Fowlds tender of £2094.10 to erect the Memorial Hall according to plans and specifications prepared by Messrs Jones and McWilliams. A further proposal was that the Rector and Sidesman be given authority to borrow the sum of £1200 from the Aegis Insurance Company Limited at 6% pa and that a bond be given as security to the Company upon “all the land and buildings belonging to St John’s Church, Walmer excepting the church and graveyard”.

The railway service to Walmer was abolished in 1928 and replaced by a bus service.

On 11th November 1928, the St John’s Memorial Hall was opened. Despite inclement weather, a fairly large number of Walmer residents attended the opening ceremony. The Hall which was a perpetual memorial to those that served and had fallen.

Jetty Street heading south passing Fleming across the bridge at Baakens River and onto Humewood. (It may be of interest to readers that Humewood was named after William Hume who was the first elected Commissioner of the Harbour Board in 1882 to represent the Wharfage Payers). On the wall of the new building was inscribed the following: “This hall is dedicated to the perpetual memory of those citizens of the British Empire who laid down their lives in the Great War and to the service of the ideals for which they died

And so, on a cold windy afternoon at just after half past three in the afternoon the National Anthem, God save the King was sung to the unfurling of the Union Jack. Mr Douglas Fowlds, a builder handed over the key to Mr Victor Jones of Messrs Jones and McWilliams, the architects,

Mr Victor Jones on behalf of his business thanked Mr Fowlds for the thorough and conscientious manner in which the work had been carried out and thanked the Rector and churchwardens for their invaluable courtesy and consideration during the carrying out of the work. Mr Jones then handed the key over to Rev J Patterson who unlocked the hall door and led the gathering into the building. A hymn was sung, and Rev H G Mosel offered up a prayer.

Rev Patterson gave a very illuminating address and said he qualified for such an event in that he also suffered with those who were commemorated by this Hall. He went on to thank the Almighty for the peace and honour, which the young soldiers brought. Rev Patterson thought it was a time of reflection and that Nan should not go there again. He continued the fighting in German South West Africa or East Africa was one thing but coming home and saying they were off to Europe was another thing. He said how grateful he was to the people of Walmer for such a beautiful hall, which had been erected for those who went away and did not return. He also understood that it was also in memory of those that did return but were broken through pain and anxiety. He assured the guests that the world would be a better place now that peace was here again. He hoped the young would be educated in the Hall and the Hall would stand for “happiness of the young.” The hall was a place that should be fresh and bright in memory of the young men.

Rev Patterson reminded the guests of the story in the Bible of the Rosemary Tree, which was an evergreen, and a tree of remembrance. The memory of the fallen should remain evergreen and their memory should not be forgotten. Rev. Mosel reminded the attentive audience that Rev Patterson had the unfortunate incident that two of his sons had made the supreme sacrifice. The signing of the closing hyme terminated an extremely impressive ceremony.

In the vestry meeting of 5TH May 1929, a Mr Griffiths requested that information from the insurance company if the church burnt down whether Aegis Insurance would pay out the full value for which the buildings were insured or simply the value recorded in the Church’s books. Aegis advised the insured value – no average would be applied.

The start of the thirties was a difficult time for South Africa as there was depression worldwide and the second world conflagration was a few short years away. South Africa was not isolated from these events but the two wars at the start of the century were having a major effect. Many people left their farms and moved to the cities. Afrikaans was adopted as an official language and many of the pioneer Afrikaans businesses had their roots at this time.

The Second World War commenced in 1939 and this saw the same impositions on the Rector and staff that had occurred during the Great War. It was recorded in a vestry meeting dated 4th June 1942 that a monthly newsletter be issued to members of the congregation. Mr Ronnie Coppin, a parishioner, would undertake the printing of the newsletter. 

Mr Searle proposed in a meeting dated 27th May 1945 that the churchwardens be requested to investigate the possibility of enlarging the church as a memorial to those who had made the supreme sacrifice in the recently completed war. At a special meeting on the 11 November 1945 (Armistice   Day) the plans submitted by Messrs Jones and McWilliams were approved and the building extensions were under way. In March 1946, the Church regrettably said goodbye to Rev Mosel who made such an impression over 46 years in the life of the church.Soon after leaving the church Rev Mosel indicated that he would like to place two new windows in the church as a thank offering for the safe return of his sons from the recent War. Mr Sam Pogson also indicated that two rain tanks would be handed over.

Rev.  Mosel  after his retirement went to live in Stutterheim at the Royal Park Hydro where he died in 1950 at the age of 86 years.  The Rev Thornely Jones conducted the deeply moving service.

Rev Harold Peyton Rolfe after being Archdeacon of Cradock and Queenstown in early 1946 took over and remained in office until January 1948. In 1948 he proceeded on transfer to Bede Hall in the Transkei. In February 1946, a committee of church officials stated that the inside of the church was badly in need of repair and would cost £150 to put in order. Work began almost immediately. In September 1946, work commenced on the overhaul of the organ. Mr Rolfe advised he would need a motor car as his present one belonged to his former parish. Typically of St John a generous parishioner offered to loan the money to purchase a suitable car free of interest and repayable when it would be convenient. In addition the Rector was given £3 monthly for running expenses. Mr Ted Searle, a committee member of many years standing, felt that there should be one parish of Walmer. This was never acted upon. At the last meeting of 1946 the Rector raised the question of building of a new church and expressed the opinion that the present church could be extended by 12 feet.

In February 1948 the Rev William Vickers Wrigley took over after being nominated by the Bishop of Grahamstown and he was the Rector until June 1952 having earlier announced his intention that he and his family would be emigrating to England. Messrs Jones and McWilliams advised in April 1948 that the church roof wood require wood shingles and would cost £350. During Rev Wrigley, the bazaars were a resounding success and during one of these events, a mock bullfight was held. Many people thought this was a very successful event and went away full of joviality and happiness.

Another pressing need came to the fore in August 1948 when the Rector announced that the Friday evening meetings of young people would be suspended because after putting in an appearance they got into shiny cars belonging to their respective fathers and disappeared. The Rector proposed a meeting of concerned parents and hoped that a solution could be found. This was the case and meetings were resumed later that month. 

On 4th May 1947 amid preparations for a gigantic bazaar it was announced that although plans had been agreed to for the building no further action had been taken as it would be a pity to spoil the character of the existing church. Mr Searle a churchwarden pointed out that the Memorial Hall was in a very bad state.

In a meeting in September 1949, it was reported that a Roll of Honour of all the fallen during Second World War had been compiled and permission was to be obtained from the Bishop to hang it in the Church.

In 1950, the churchwardens proudly reported that new pews were installed through the unfailing generosity of the parishioners. The company tasked with the manufacture would be Fryer brothers and the cost would be £15 15. The wood used would be Philippine mahogany. A subscription list would be opened in order to purchase a pew as a mark of esteem to the Mosel family. The churchwardens regarded the enlargements as an interim measure until a new and large church could be built. So, the Memorial Hall got new water tanks, gutters replaced, and all the woodwork repaired and repainted.

1950 was a busy year and in November a bazaar was held. It “was not as colourful as the previous year but was equally as satisfactory”. The finances were also sound, and the Sunday School was in a very hearty state.

The reproofing of the Rectory in 1951 cost £200. The work was done by Messrs Hopkins Bros

In June 1952, the Rev Robert Mansfield Parker (known by all as Robin) took up office and he stayed until August 1965 when he went to King William’s Town. Sadly, he was buried on the 24th March 1965. He was 61 years old. In 1953, Rev Wrigley and his family left for England.

The churchwardens reported that two fireplaces be built in the Rectory. The one would be situated in the sitting room and the other in the study –total cost £1239 17 10 The Church roof over the transept began leaking badly as a result of wood rot. The fencing of the grounds under the watchful eye of Mr Bruce Dodds was completed and through the generosity of the parishioners’ costs were negligible.

A rainbow bazaar brought in £458.Mrs Whitehead helped with the construction of the rockery and garden at the lower end of the churchyard.

Mrs. Gilbert and Miss Crooks handled the fast-growing Sunday School with aplomb. As a result of no longer hiring, the Memorial Hall out to outside people or organisations rentals dropped considerably. A happy Rector Parker took possession of a shiny new Morris Minor, which had been bought for £488.

In 1954, Rev Parker left St John’s and went to Kenton on Sea and Rev W H Reynolds took over. The funds for the building of the enlarged church grew dramatically with the news that Mr and Mrs Womersley had donated £1000 and anonymous donor £500.

The Rector Rev Parker took leave over the new year and the Rev H T Matthews the Rector of Fort Beaufort would conduct all the usual church services when Rev Parker returned from his leave he spoke regularly for the need of a bigger church. However, the finances were not sufficient to proceed with the alterations and additions and the church had to register a bond of £1000.

Throughout 1954, fundraisers were being held for the Building Fund and Mr and Mrs Wilken gave a concert in their home. The fun filled evening cost 3/6 including the programme of events. The concert started at 8.00 and ended at 9.30 sharp but a dance was held thereafter.

The stalwart of the church, Mr.  A. T.  Ball, proposed that the churchwardens be authorised to proceed with plans for the erection of a new church costing approximately £10,000. This was seconded by Mr Womersley. The choir under Mr Pritchard consisting of 12-14 members was a very popular contribution to the popularity of the Church and suddenly found themselves without space. Mr Womersley said that he thought no building would commence before £5000 was in the bank. He also confirmed that everything was in a good state of repair. Mr Griffiths expressed his confidence in the project suggesting that if St Saviours could pay for their church so could St John’s. Mr Ball then was thanked profusely by the Rector. It was also proposed that the Longworth window at the end of the side aisle and the Mosel window would be incorporated with the new building. In 1955, tenders ranging from £5,561 to £12,449 were received for the rebuilding of the church. Cash on hand was £6500 leaving a shortfall of £7000.This would facilitate a loan of £7000. A new pipe organ costing £300 from a Cape Town firm would also be installed.

Two hundred prayer and hymnbooks costing £151-16-11 were bought. The Sunday School was attracting 130 to 140 children per week. In 1956, the old church building was demolished to make way for the present building and the project was completed with the addition of a fine pipe organ in 1965.

Mr P K Wolmersley, a sidesman of many years, resigned in 1957. Mr Tanton requested at a meeting if a sign could be erected at the 8th Avenue entrance as many people believed our church to be St John’s Baptist Church. In 1958, a Charlo property was purchased for the Assistant Curate for £3,200.

In February 1957, it was reported that a Mr Hooper, a sculptor attached to Port Elizabeth Technikon, was prepared to make a statue of Saint John the Baptist above the door provided a donor could be found. Estimated cost £110. 

The following year the Rector proudly announced that the church attracted 200 people a week and that the attendance at the Sunday School was equally impressive. Meanwhile the woman members of the church worked four times a month at the old Oceana Tea Room (near Bayworld stands today) making teas and coffee and scones for the many people who flocked over the weekend. The scones were well known right across the Eastern Cape.

In 1961, the Rector announced that Father Jones would be assisting with some parish duties. In March 1961 the high rates of interest on mortgages (7%pa) had caused the church to reflect a loss for the first six months of R31.50. However, the accounts reflected a profit of R1482 for the second half of 1962.  In 1963, the benign, good-natured Father Thornley Jones left the church and headed back to the land of his birth England.

Rev R E B Taylor assumed office in October 1965 and after 15 years at the helm left for Cape Town in December 1980, He was a quiet spoken man and soon settled down to his duties with the extra burden of the political policies of the then government.

The 1960’s were busy times and in 1967 the church bought forty new chairs as a result of a small surplus on the books. Reverend Taylor announced rather surprisingly in 1968 that should there be no organist available at the 8 o’ clock service hymns should the sung unaccompanied. Dr Proctor moved that the Rector and the churchwardens be authorised to build a new rectory. The Diocesan Trust’s Board be approached for a loan of R14,500. After a great deal of discussion with the Diocese’s offices work commenced and in 1969 the Bishop of Grahamstown duly consecrated the alterations and additions. The cost was R13947 (Diocese Loan R9000, Donations R3277 and own resources R1677). All the while the church community involved themselves in fundraising activities e.g., Parish Braaivleis, Bazaars, Garden Teas. In fact, the church was proud to announce that there was a R2,767 surplus of income over expenditure. The new church was consecrated by Bishop Gordon Tindall on 2 June 1968. It was proudly announced in 1969 that the church had paid off its bond.

In 1970 the city was experiencing a drought and naturally enough the Garden of Remembrance was under pressure to reflect God’s beauty. The fence on the lower side of the church became tatty and a lot of hard work was put in to replace it. There was also a delay when the ownership of the abutting property was ascertained. The parish car, a Vauxhall, was giving continuous problems and the Automobile Association was called in to compile a technical report and the repairs were duly undertaken. The car seemed so much better the minister announced at one of the services it had obtained a second wind.

One of the longest serving and hardworking sidesman Mr Searle advised in a Vestry Meeting in March 1971 when the roof and the Lychgate were going to be repaired. Mr Knowles gave the assurance that work had begun and that both projects would be given priority.

A further resolution was passed that the Sunday evening service would commence at 7.30pm all year-round Reverend Cyril Shaw Assistant Priest at St John’s (1 December 1969 –30 June 1972) died suddenly on 29 October 1972. He lived at 56 Thrush Road, Greenshields Park which was acquired by the church in 1970 for R7539. Father Adrian Green from Cradock succeeded him. Rev Shaw’s wife, Clemency, took the news of his passing badly and suffered during this trying time.

So, the church in the 1970s continued with God’s work and many parishioners supported the church during its ninety-year celebrations. The Diocese of Port Elizabeth was created in 1970.  Then early one morning in 1974 a beaming Father Green arrived at the church to announce that his wife had given birth to twin girls Wendy and Linsley. This was in addition to Nichola. Soon after Fr Green took up an appointment in Middelburg Cape.

The church in 1974 produced a tiny deficit but the bookkeepers had decided to make a provision for repairs to the organ. In 1975 the manse at 56 Thrush Road, Greenshields Park was sold. For many years, a short cut between church and Water Road was in operation and at a vestry meeting in 1978 it was proposed that this path/road be closed for one day to prevent possible acquisition of it by the public under the laws of prescription.

Shrove Tuesday was a highlight in the Church’s year as the members of the congregation enjoyed the pancakes that the woman parishioners made. In January 1982 Rev Denison Guy Smith took over in January 1982 and spent the next 13 years with the congregation (he left in 1995) when Rev Robert Claude Penrith took over.

In the mid 80’s the demands of the church became particularly heavy as the country’s economy was battling with unrest, unemployment and high cost of living.

Canon Denison Smith

1981 was the centenary year and the celebrations lasted five days (September). The celebrations started with an inter-denominational service followed by a bring-and-share party in the parish hall. The next day Rev Bruce Evans conducted the Eucharist. On the Friday, Rev Brian Bird spoke at a service.  Saturdays programme started with a Men’s Fellowship breakfast at which the Rector designate Rev Denison Smith spoke. On the Sunday Rev Smith was the preacher at the centenary Eucharist.

 In June 1986, Bishop Bruce Evans at a parish lunch suggested that retirement cottages be erected on the property of the church. This matter was brought before the city council on 13 July 1986, and they agreed to the idea in principle. Mr Roger Scharges a member of the church and a well-known Port Elizabeth attorney presented a feasibility study to the Council on the 13 September 1986. Inter alia, it was stated that a typical cottage would cost R70000 (Cottage R53000, Ground R12000, Garage R5000, Monthly levy R85.00). It was envisaged that 12 retirement cottages would be built, two of which would belong to the church and the other to the province. The Church continued with their mission work at Livingstone Hospital, Vital Link and St Augustine’s Church (Walmer Location). In 1994, the choir vestry was relocated and the old area with its beautiful stained-glass windows was converted into a much-needed chapel and dedicated as “The Chapel of the Living Waters.”

In 1995 one of the pillars of St John’s died. Mr Herbert Tanton (1904-1995).  In his professional life he was an architect and for many years he ran the Punch and Judy show at the bazaars. Children armed with Mrs Loscombe’s toffee apples they sat for many a day entranced. He also organised many memorable trips to the seaside (along the Marine Drive). The children were each given a bottle of ginger beer. Although many children thoroughly enjoyed their day out in the sun, many got badly sun burnt and also suffered from a ginger beer overdose! He was also an active member of the church choir.

Rob Penriff [He also the interim rector for 6 months during 2022]

In 1995, a new minister Robert Penrith was inducted on 29th January 1995. On 3rd September 1996 the congregation celebrated the 115th anniversary of the original church. The service was conducted by Rev Eric Pike, previously a Bishop of Port Elizabeth.

A former minister and much-loved Rev Wrigley died aged 87 years in 2006. Also, in 2006 the Rev Nicolette Leonard became the first woman in the Anglican diocese to be appointed to the position of canon.       


1. Rev Samuel Brook was born in Leeds in 1819   and was educated at the Military School of the Royal Horse Guards in London. After becoming head boy, he went into business and at the age of twenty-two, he was appointed branch manager of a London shop. He was in his teens when he became a Sunday School teacher, and it was in this work where he met his future wife, Emily Dorcas. He arrived in the Cape on   22 April 1857 with Bishop Henry Cotterill and in May of that year proceeded to Grahamstown where he founded the Cathedral Grammar School. Following a lengthy and devoted life in the church he died   on 17th August 1893 aged 73. 

2. Muller was born circa 1770 in Holland and married Aletta Marie Potgieter circa 1782.He died on 21 January 1843 in Uitenhage.               

Claire Phelps [2022 – present]
Canon Denison Smith
Archdeacon Mark Derry [2014 – 2022]

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