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Commemoration Methodist Church
Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape

Thornley SMITH: Architect

Type:Methodist Church
Style:Gothic Revival
Street:High Street


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33°18'32.66" S 26°31'42.55" E

Known as the City of Saints, Grahamstown boasts a variety of beautiful churches and one of the country's most splendid cathedrals. Delightfully Neo-Gothic though classically proportioned is the John Piper-like Commemoration Church, in High Street, not far distant from the Cathedral. As early as 1844, a meeting had been held to consider ways and means of celebrating the Silver Jubilee of the 1820 Settlers, and it was decided that a church would be built to commemorate this event. On 10 April 1845 the foundation stone was laid by 'the Lady of the Rev William Shaw. Beneath this stone a leaden casket was placed, containing a complete set of coins and specimens of the languages English, Dutch, IsiXhosa and Sichuana', used by the Wesleyan Missionaries in south-east Africa. Five years later, on 24 November 1850, the opening ceremony was performed by the Rev William Shaw, when the church was filled to capacity for the rejoicings.

Proclaimed: 27-12-1985.

(Picton-Seymour, 1989:112)

Liz de Wet of the Cory Library at Rhodes University in Grahamstown provided the following information on the Church.

The brochure brought out for the Church's 150th anniversary in 2000 includes a brief history, in which it states:

"The building to be known as the Wesley Commemoration Chapel was designed by Thornley SMITH, the actual drawings being done by Sergeant Hopkins, ROYAL ENGINEER. The building of the chapel was a long and costly exercise and by the opening, 5000 pound of 9000 pounds had not been paid. The Colonial Treasury helped with 1000 pounds. The completion of the building was due largely to Mr. T. KING who took over the contract from Mr. T. Walker. With the addition of the imported iron railings and the gas lamps, pew rents went up 3d per sitting!" (Cory Library Ref: Methodist Pamphlet Box 13)

The Centenary Appeal Brochure confirmed that the Foundation Stone was laid on 10 April 1845, beneath the north east corner of the building. The dedication services for the opening took place between 24 November and 1 December 1850, with Rev. William Shaw, father of Methodist Missions in the Eastern Cape, officiating.

Shaw's own description of the building, included in the Appeal Brochure, reads:

"The building is in the pointed style, well sustained in all its parts. The front, from the level of the floor, is seventy feet (21.34m) high to the top of the central pinnacle, and it is about sixty-three feet (19.2m) wide, including the buttresses. The interior dimensions are ninety feet (27.43m) long by fifty feet (15.24m) broad, and from the floor to the ceiling it is thirty-four feet (10.36m) in height. There are two side and one end galleries; and the building is capable of accommodating in great comfort a congregation of about fourteen hundred persons. Altogether, this place of worship is probably the most commodious and handsome of any building of the kind occupied by any English congregation in Southern Africa." (Cory Library Ref: MS 15 841):

In an obituary for Mr. James Wilson Abbott published in the Grahamstown Journal of 12 April 1898, his building skills are lauded. Among his many achievements were:
"… placing of new stained glass windows in Commemoration Church, fixing of the tablet to the memory of the Rev. William Shaw in Commemoration Church … and construction of the Neo-Gothic Arch in the north wall of Commemoration Church to receive the new organ Building."

Submitted by William MARTINSON.

Writings about this entry

Gledhill, Eilly, Kearney, Brian & Peters, Walter. 1975. Grahamstown : a pilot study in conservation. Durban: University of Natal. pg 52-53
Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 123
Oxley, John. 1992. Places of Worship in South Africa. Halfway House: Southern Book Publishers. pg 52-54
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pg 112