Russell Road Church, though not the original home of Methodism in Port Elizabeth, is the Mother Church of those now extant. The first Methodist Church was erected in Queen Street in 1841, on the spot where the settlers had pitched their tents, and where the Reverend William Shaw, standing upon a rock, had preached in the open air.
This is the history of the church that my maternal grandparents attended.
Main picture: Russell Road Methodist Church
The dedication services of this church were conducted by the Reverends William Shaw and WB Boyce, the former of whom became President of the British Conference in 1865. This homely sanctuary served the needs of the growing Methodist community for thirty years. It later belonged to the Salvation Army and was demolished only a few years ago.
In 1870, under the ministry of the Rev. Thomas Guard, the erection of the Russell Road Church, whose architect was John Thornhill Cook, was commenced. The foundation stone was laid by Mrs S. Hill, whose husband. Mr Sydney Hill, was not only a generous promoter of the effort, but also an active worker in the church.
The chastely built edifice, with its beautiful interior arches, was commenced in 1872, the cost of erection being £5,000 of which £4,500 was raised before the opening ceremony. The congregation marched in triumph from the old church to their new spiritual home where the service of dedication took place.
The beautiful stained glass window was donated by Mr Sydney in memory of his wife who died in Bournemouth in 1872. The present organ was installed in 1892 and an opening recital was given by Mr WH Lee-Davies, organist of the Collegiate Church.
The Church was opened in October 1872 with the minister at the time being Rev Thomas Guard. The Church was closed on 7 December 1969 and demolished to make way for the onramps to the Settler’s Freeway along the shorefront.
To replace it, the Centenary Methodist Church, designed by Garth Robertson, was opened on 14 December 1969 on the corner of Edward and Cross Streets, Richmond Hill. The memorial window in the original Russell Road Methodist Church, is incorporated into the new building’s Northern façade. The foundation stone of the original Russell Road church is now displayed at the Centenary church entrance.
History from the Jubilee Sketch
Russell Road Church, thought not the original home of Methodism in Port Elizabeth, is the mother church of those now extant. At first, the Port was visited twice a quarter by the Wesleyan Ministers of Grahamstown. This laborious arrangement lasted until 1839 when the Rev. John Edwards was appointed to the Bay as its first resident Minister. He began his work in a hired house on the beach, no trace of which now remains. In 1841, a church was erected in Queen Street, on the spot where the Settlers of 1820 had pitched their tents, and where the Rev. William Shaw, standing upon a rock, had preached in the open air. The dedicatory services were conducted by the Revds. William Shaw and W.B. Boyce, the former of whom became President of the British Conference in 1865. For thirty years this homely sanctuary, of the early Methodist type, supplied the needs of the small but growing community of Wesley’s adherents in Port Elizabeth. It now belongs to the Salvation Army.
In 1870, under the glowing ministry of the Rev. Thomas Guard, who was one of the finest pulpit orators of the day, the erection of the Russell Road Church was commenced. The chastely built edifice, with its beautiful interior arches, was completed in 1872, the cost of erection being £5,000, of which £ 4,500 was raised before the opening ceremony. The remaining £ 500 was not allowed to stand as a debt, but was taken vigorously in hand by the Rev. James Fish and Mr. Sydney Hill, who waited upon the merchants of the town, and in a few hours the sum was raised.
As a result of the rapid development of the work it soon became necessary to go further afield, and in 1878 a new Gothic church was erected at North End at of cost of £2,300, a schoolroom and vestries being added a few years later.
For nearly forty five years, the work of God has been carried on in that place of hallowed associations, but the time has now arrived when the buildings are no longer adequate to the needs of the Church, and the premises and situation are no longer suitable. This being so, it is not surprising that the finger of Divine Providence has pointed us elsewhere. At the right moment, the J.R. Wills bequest became available for the erection of a new church, and the energetic and capable pastor, the Rev. A.J.O. Killick, was not slow to take occasion by the hand; with the gratifying result that a handsome school church and Young Men’s Hall are now in course of erection, and will probably be ready for opening be ready for opening at the end of the present year.
Whilst Methodism was being planned at North End over forty years ago, a similar forward movement was in progress at South End. Services were commenced in a humble building called “The Bethel,” which was erected in South Union Street, on a site given by Mr. Bishop. In 1881, the Rev. Oliver Carey was appointed as its first pastor, and under his ministry the present commodious church in Pier Street was built. The foundation stones were laid in 1882, and in the following year the dedicatory services were conducted by the Rev. John Walton, M.A., President of the first South African Conference, and subsequently of the British Conference. The total cost of the building was £ 3,000. During the pastorate of the Rev. W. Wilkinson Rider, South End was constituted a separate Circuit, and appeared in the Minutes of conference for 1898 as Port Elizabeth (South), whilst the original Circuit was designated Port Elizabeth (Central).
The offshoots in the directions of North End and South End did not seriously weaken Russell Road, but in 1894 the opening of St. John’s Church in Havelock Street deprived the Mother Church of a large proportion of her adherents, and of her premier position in the Circuit. St. John’s was built during the Superintendency of the Rev. William Wynne, at the cost of £9,000, and is now, thanks to the zeal and generosity of the people, and to the J.R. Wills bequest, entirely free of debt. At the side of the church a substantial shool-room was erected in 1901, and was subsequently enlarged. A delightful Hall, for the accommodation of the Primary Department has also been added, greatly to the advantage of the work. The three buildings form a fine continuous block in a conspicuous position and in an attractive neighbourhood.
Of the original members of the Russell Road Church the only person remaining on the Roll is Mrs. William Griffin, whose photograph, after some gentle persuasion, is reproduced in this souvenir. Through the years Mrs. Griffin has been an ardent lover of the Church and a devoted worker, and her active interest is still maintained so far as her health permits.
Since the opening of St. John’s Church, and the changes consequent thereupon, the history of Russell Road presents an inspiring example of strenuous and fruitful service. The financial burdens of the Church have been somewhat heavy, but they have been cheerfully borne, and gradually reduced, and are now brought to the point of extinction in the Jubilee effort.
Without attempting to apportion praise where all have done well, special mention should be made of the Women’s Auxiliary, which has wrought steadily through the years and achieved such excellent results. By also patient and loyal service of these devoted ladies, the Trust Properties Committee has been enabled to meet with promptitude the periodical demands for Interest and Sinking Fund and to provide for the upkeep of the Church. The present officers of the Auxiliary are: Mrs. Rogers (President), Miss Griffin (Secretary), and Miss Dollery (Treasurer), Including the officers there are 22 members of the Auxiliary. In connection with the Auxiliary is a Flower Mission – a generous and loving ministry, of which Mrs. Bagnall has been superintendent for the past fifteen years.
Amongst the activities of Russell Road, none is greater importance than the Sunday School, which is one of the largest and most completely organised by the city. Its operations are at present in the following capable hands: Mr. Thomas Teasdale (Superintendent), Mr. H Pegg Hurd (Treasurer). Mr J.M. Gouws (Secretary). Miss Nora Foster (Superintendent of the Primary Department), with a number of other officers, and a competent staff of teachers.
Another outstanding feature of the work at Russell Road is the Mother’s department, of which Mrs. Teasdale is the esteemed President, supported by Mrs. Wallace (Secretary) and other valued officers. This department over-runs denominational limits, and is largely cosmopolitan. Its monthly meetings are well attended by the various mothers, who find them exceedingly helpful and enjoyable, whilst the Animal Social Evening, to which the fathers and friends are invited, is profitably spent in reviewing the year’s work and in musical entertainment, brief addresses, and friendly intercourse.
The office-bearers of the Church at the present time, in addition to those already mentioned are as follows: Society Stewards: Messrs H.P, Hurd and B.H. Currin. Stewards to the poor” Messrs W. Wiblin and C.E. Spence. Trust Properties: Secretary. Mr. B.H. Currin. Treasurer, Mr. A.G.B Currin, Trust Properties Steward: Secretary Mr. H.P. Hurd Choir Master: Mr William Dent. Organist: Me A.L. Wood.
The present Ministers of the Circuit are the Revds G.W. Rogers and A.J.O. Killick
The Circuit Stewards are Messrs. Geo Preddy and S.J. Goldsmith.
Thanks to John Smallwood for assistance with information and some of the photographs.