Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Resurrection of St. Peter’s Church in South End

South End, its people, its mosques and churches were all sacrificed on the altar of Apartheid. The people were relocated, a settled harmonious community was cast asunder, the buildings bulldozed. All except some places of religion escaped the carnage. Now in an island of destruction they represented no congregation as they had been transported to the northern most part of the metropole.

But survive they did. The Pier Street mosque suffered further threats as it forlornly stood erect in the path of the proposed freeway. It survived its near death experience as the route was amended to skirt the mosque but St. Peter’s Church barely survived as it was vandalised to within an inch of its life.     

Main picture: A wantonly vandalised St. Peter’s Church

History of St. Peter’s Church
St Peters Anglican Church in South End overlooking the harbour of Port Elizabeth was founded in temporary premises as a daughter church of St Mary’s in 1871 under the missionary Rev. William Greenstock. The church purchased part of the St Mary’s cemetery land and built a permanent church building just above the cemetery in 1875. On the 30th October 1876, the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Merriman

It was designed and built by Rev George Smith, who became the first minister. The church was inaugurated in 1877 and served the culturally mixed community who resided in South End. The church also housed a school for coloured and Malay children, as they had no school of their own. St Peters was the first school in South End to educate up to standard 6 (grade 8) which was the maximum level available for coloureds at that time. In 1878, St. Peter’s became a separate parish.

A rare photo of St Peters Anglican Church before going to ruin

Father Paddy served as minister and principal of St. Peter’s Church and School respectively. He was a legend in his own right in the history of the church and took an active part in sport. He was instrumental in the formation of Paladins Soccer Club and St. Peter’s Hockey Club.

Other priests who followed over the years also made their mark on this church. For instance, Rev. Saeger, who succeeded Rev. Harrison in 1954 as minister of the parish, established the Sea Scouts. This organisation was not confined to boys from St. Peter’s church only, but was open to all interested youths.

Aerial view of South End after the buildings were demolished

St. Peter’s made its mark as a church, school and sports centre. However a tragic chapter in its history unfolded after the wave of Group Areas removals forced congregations out of the area by the 1970s. The church was vandalised after most of the congregants had left South End. The scattered congregation was dispersed all over the Northern Areas. Groups of former congregants came together and organised  religious worship services in homes, school halls and community centres in different parts of the suburbs. The majority joined up with  Anglicans from other areas in Port Elizabeth who had been affected by the Act. These were later instrumental in forming Christ the King Church in Gelvandale, St Mark and St John’s in Parkside and St. Magdalene in West End.  

During the 1960s, the apartheid Government declared South End as a white area and the existing residents were forcibly removed. The Government decreed that some churches, mosques and schools would be spared the demolitions, and initially St Peters church survived. By 1970 most of the congregants had been forced to leave the area and the church was not much in use anymore. It was deconsecrated in 1972 and the empty building was vandalised to the extent that little is left of it today.

The Fisherman’s Cross
The ‘Fisherman’s Cross’ in front of the church stood in the grounds of St Peters Anglican Church and was so called because it stood as a symbol of love and hope for the men in the trawlers and line boats in the bay. It could be clearly seen from all parts of Algoa Bay and faced across the mouth of the Baakens River. The Cross was unveiled and dedicated on 25 November 1928 as a memorial to those who served in the Great War of 1914-18.

The figure on the cross was a life-sized one and had been imported from Belgium. Kohler Brothers supplied the 12 foot high teak cross, and a parishioner John Hendricks, did the concrete work and stone masonry. Somewhere in the late 1950s the figure, for some unknown reason, fell and broke and it was replaced by a cement sculpture. The Cross survived the rigours of apartheid laws and the bulldozers of the Group Areas Act in the late 1960s and early 70s. It was then taken to the church of St Mark and St John in Parkside in the Northern Suburbs. As an acknowledgement to the fishermen of yesteryear, the cross has been recreated on the site along with a sculpture of a fishermen and son bringing home their catch.

Restoration of church buildings
By 1983, the St. Peter’s building had reached such a state of ruin that the roof of the building was gone. Part of the thick stone walls was all that survived among the ever-encroaching weeds. Mr. George Holliday, Director of Port Elizabeth’s ST. George VI Gallery, was so impressed by the ruins that he proposed a restoration to some like-minded people in that year.

View of the St. Peter’s Church with the harbour in the background

The proposal was that “what was once the spiritual home of the fishermen of Algoa Bay is o become the spiritual home of the residents of Port Elizabeth as a special museum depicting the history of the city. The art gallery’s trustees supported the move and the trustees of the Anglican Diocese agreed to sell it for R30,000. Two anonymous donors offered to meet this cost and further donations were also pledged. Mr. Holliday commented: “This place is a history book in stone”. The ruins of St. Peter’s Church stand above St. Mary’s Cemetery whose history dates back to the 1820 settlers. Although the old buildings were skeletons, their concrete structures had weathered extremely well and the foundations were as solid as rock.

St. Peter’s Precinct
After years of approval delays, the Mandela Bay Development Agency is putting the final touches to the St Peters Precinct. The MBDA purchased the land and has partly restored the historic St Peter’s church. The partial restoration started with a timber walkway that provides visibility of the ruins of the church and a beautiful view of the ocean.

St Peter’s Heritage Site

A wooden deck covers an amphitheatre and buildings will house a coffee shop and curio shops with ablutions. The view from this spot is magnificent and is within walking distance of the Cruise Liner disembarkation point within the Port of Port Elizabeth along with being an easy walk to the South End Museum.

Aerial view of northern South End

St Peters Anglican Church Precinct August 2023
On Gardener Circle in South End, the St Peters Anglican Church ruins are coming to life again and offer a most magnificent view from the wooden deck and coffee shop taking shape.


Restored St Peters Church Will be THE SPOT Come October 2023 by Alan Straton dated 22 August 2023
Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton (Packaging (Pty) Ltd, Port Elizabeth, on behalf of the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth).
South End as we knew it by Yusuf Agherdien, Ambrose George, Shaheed Hendrick [1997, Port Elizabeth, Kohler Carton & Print



As a town, Port Elizabeth in 1871 was beginning to grow, having had a boost to its population by the arrival of the Grey Settlers some 10 years earlier, as not all of these settlers left the Bay for the hinterland. South End became a very suitable area for artisans, fishermen, boatmen and other people whose trades were allied to the sea because of its proximity to the harbour or rather, anchorage. With this growth there became an obvious need for the spiritual welfare of the residents of South End. The Church of England had already established itself in Port Elizabeth at St. Mary’s Church on the Market Square and already had land over the Baakens River for a cemetery. A Mission was established to cater for this area and Archdeacon White purchased a room in Pier Street to be used for services. This became known as St. Nicholas or the South End Mission.

Tne first minister who looked after the flock across the river was the Reverend William Greenstock, for the period 6 August 1871 until 2 June 1873. He was succeeded by the Reverend Douglas Dodd unti1 his resignation at Easter 1875. In October of the same year• the Rev. George C Sm1th was orda1ned as Curate of St. Mary’s and Priest in Charge of St. Peter’s district. It was also in this year that the Rector of St. Mary· changed the name of the name of South End Mission to St. Peter’s. but still within the Parish of St. Mary’s. The Reverend George C. Smith    was installed as rector of    this church on the 24 February 1880. In this year the first appearance of St. Peter’s as a separate parish is noted in the Diocesan Acts. The rectory was completed 1n 1904 and was blessed by the Lord Bishop on Holy Cross Day of that year. I include an excerpt from a newspaper clipping of that occasion w1th all           its flowery description. “The procession left the church porch headed by over a hundred of the children of St. Peter’s Public School, the1r voices in the hymn sounding very sweetly“. The next minister who appears in the registers is Reverend L.W. Liddell, who relieved George Smith between March 1896 and April 1897. The Reverend George Smith left St. Peter’s in June 1902 and was succeeded by George C. May from July 1902 until April 1906. On the 2 July 1904, the Archimandrite Stefanos Macaroni held the very first service in Port Elizabeth for the Greek community, of whom about 70 attended. O.W.L. Skey served as minister from April 1909 until January 1910. He left St. Peter’s to become the first 1ncumbent at the newly founded St. Philip’s Mission. The Reverend E.E. Lilley did duty from April 1909 until January 1910. Alfred E. Padday from February 1910 until May 1938, a period of 28 years, a long time in one parish. There were some Locums tor A.E. Padday while he was away for various reasons. They were the Reverend Percy M. Adler from July 1920 until November 1922. He later became the assistant Priest at St. Peter’s. The Reverend A.L. Barry from November 1922 until February 1923, the Reverend Donald Pickering from January 1930 until August 1930. The last incumbent was the Reverend Harrison Thompson from the 21 May 1938 until his death. From that date unt1l the closure of the church in 1973, the needs of the commun1ty were tended to by the Reverend A.E. Harrison

In 1908, an appeal was made by the then rector for a mission hall to be erected. This project was completed in 1909 and became known as the Goad Shepherd Mission situated in Mitchell Street. During the ensuing years the fortunes of the church were many and varied. The major worry appears to be    financial. Many fund-raising events took place. The most common were church dances, which were regularly held at such venues as the Feather Market and City Halls, with bands such as M.Naidoo and Company doing the honours. These events [missing]

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