CELEBRATING 190 YEARS OF ST PAUL’S RONDEBOSCH
Writing on Easter Day 1934 to the people of St Paul’s Church, Rondebosch, on the occasion of their centenary, Archbishop Francis Phelps had this to say: “The purpose of God’s church in a parish is for the conversion and sanctification of those who live there and worship in the parish church. As there has been growth in the past, so, by the mercy of God, there will be in the future. As those who have gone before us have sacrificed greatly, so let us offer our sacrifices, which must not cost us nothing. And, as the endeavour of the past has been richly blessed (as these records show), so let us be of good cheer and continue our service with brave hearts.”
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the church in the Cape Colony was in a parlous state. The clergy were unlicensed and subject to no control. For any episcopal ministration it had to rely on the visits of the Bishop of Calcutta who called in on his way to and from England. It is to one of these visits that we have to attach some importance.
On 31 August 1832, Bishop Daniel Wilson visited the Cape on his way to India. Over the next ten days he confirmed 300 persons, preached four sermons, celebrated Communion twice, ordained two priests, and consecrated two church sites, one being for the erection of a church in Rondebosch.
The building of the new church was completed early in 1834 and was opened for Divine Service on Sunday, 16th February 1834, in the presence of His Excellency the Governor and Mrs D’Urban. The church was designed by Major Mitchell in the Gothic style, roofed with thatch and was able to accommodate 150 people. On its ninth anniversary, a collection was made for the purpose of providing a gallery. This gallery was completed in 1845 and provided accommodation for a further 100 people.
On 29 June 1847, Robert Gray was consecrated in London as the first bishop for Cape Town. He travelled around England for the next few months, speaking about and collecting money for his new diocese. On 27 December 1847, with his family, Robert Gray boarded the “Persia” and set sail for the Cape, arriving on 20 February 1848.
St Paul’s, like some of the other churches already in existence before the arrival of Bishop Gray, adopted a less than cordial approach towards the new bishop. As a result, they refused to attend or send any representative to the synods summoned by Bishop Gray.
On 6 November 1872, St Paul’s elected a lay representative to attend the assembly called to elect a successor to Bishop Gray, who died on 1 September 1872. These events were preceded by the creation of the Church of the Province of South Africa in 1870.
In 1848, it was proposed that St Paul’s be enlarged to seat 450 people. However, financial constraints meant that not all the proposed changes could be made.In 1865, a porch was erected.
St Paul’s church, as it stands today – excepting a few minor changes, was completed in 1884, when a new chancel was added, the nave extended, and what had been called the south aisle became the Lady Chapel. The bell turret was given by the children of John Bardwell Ebden as a memorial to their father.
In 1864, the idea of a mission chapel on the Camp Ground was first mooted. A sum of three hundred pounds was collected and it was decided to ask Mrs Sophie Gray, wife of the bishop, to produce a set of plans. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid by Mrs Gray on 22 October 1864 and the building was completed and formally opened by Bishop Gray in July 1865. It was used primarily as a mission school and chapel for many years.
In 1865 a school and church services began at Black River, in a building constructed of wood and iron called “the Pondok”.
The need to enlarge the mission chapel on the Camp Ground became pressing and work began in April 1903. This eventuated in St Thomas’s, much as it stands today. Further expansion took place at more or less the same time in the area then known as Milner, now Athlone. Services began to be held there in 1902, first in the open air and later in tents. In 1904 a commodious wood and iron church was erected and dedicated by Archbishop West Jones on 25 April, the Feast of St Mark.
At the older mission station of Black River, the original “Pondok” was replaced by a well-constructed chapel called St James and dedicated by the archbishop on 23 June 1905.
As a consequence of the enormous growth of the population of the Cape Flats, there was a need for a further mission station in Rylands, four miles east of Rondebosch on the Klipfontein Road. A site was acquired and, on Saturday 5 June 1920, St George’s Church Rylands (now Silvertown) was opened for worship by Archdeacon R Brooke.
Such was the development of the mission work on the Cape Flats that the need to separate the mission churches from the parish proper began to be the subject of urgent debate. This led to the Flats becoming an independent charge. In May 1925 it was constituted as the parochial district of Athlone and a former assistant priest of St Paul’s was appointed priest in charge.
It is worth noting that from a very early stage the parish had established schools at St Paul’s and St Thomas’s and also at the three mission stations of Black River, Athlone and Rylands, At the same time, however, St Paul’s had long cherished the dream of having its own parish hall.
It was only in 1922 that a hall was then built. It was formally opened by Archbishop WM Carter on 29 May 1923. The organ still in use at St Paul’s was a gift made in 1884 by Mr TJ Anderson in memory of his wife. The reredos over the high altar was given by Archdeacon and Mrs Badnall in memory of their daughter Blanch Elizabeth. The choir stalls were a gift from Mrs Badnall.
In its centenary year, Captain WD Hare provided St Paul’s with a lych-gate in memory of his ancestors who are interred in St Paul’s churchyard.
The next major event in the life of St Paul’s was the decision to allow St Thomas’s to become an independent parish. This took place in May 1947.
The University of Cape Town has been an ever-present neighbour of St Paul’s, hovering as it does over the parish. However, the parish has never made any claims of association with the university other than through its Anglican chaplaincy, whose chaplains on occasion have been part of the St Paul’s staff.
One hundred and ninety years is not far from two hundred. I expect that it will not be long before you as a parish begin to turn your minds to how it is you are going to celebrate the bicentennial of St Paul’s Rondebosch. God bless you all!
– John Ramsdale, January 2024