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Holy Trinity Church - Belvidere
Knysna, Western Cape

Sophia Wharton Myddleton (Sophy) GRAY: Architect

Date:1855
Type:Church
Style:Kent Style
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
34°02'07.49" S 23°03'01" E Alt: 20m

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(Fransen 1982 gives the date as 1851-5, Radford 1979:188 notes that the church is usually attributed to William BUTTERFIELD while himself attributing it on stylistic grounds to HJ UNDERWOOD)

Foundation stone laid on 15 October 1851, and the church was consecrated on 5 October 1855 by Bishop Gray.

This church is unique among Sophia Gray's churches in that it is the only Norman (Romanesque) building. The Norman style is characterized by the use of the round arch, small windows and very thick walls.

In early 1848, two affluent English-speaking settlers from the Knysna area Thomas Duthie and William Newdigate, rode to Cape Town to impress on the Bishop the need for clergymen in their region. On 14 September 1848 he recorded while at Belvidere, an extensive piece of land owned by Duthie.

In March 1849, Duthie formed the Belvidere Church Building Committee that began to meet regularly and on 8 October 1849 they thanked Mrs Gray for providing them with 'so beautiful a design' for the church. It is likely that Sophia used a design by Henry UNDERWOOD whose plan for Saint Sepulchre's Cemetery Chapel, Oxford (1848 demolished circa 1970) is similar to what was built at Belvidere. Working drawings of the final plan were discussed between Gray and the head stonemason (probably Alexander Bern) on 26 November 1850 in Knysna when the Bishop was on the return leg of his tour to Natal.

The stonemasons set out the building on 27 May 1851 and for the next six months stone was blasted at a quarry and brought to the site. By the middle of 1852, all the stonework was complete and the roof was begun, and in 1853 the church opened for service. The consecration however had to be delayed until 5 October 1855 when the Bishop was in Knysna again for a visit.

One of the stained glass windows is dedicated to Augusta Vera Duthie and another to William Henry Moore Duthie and Alfred George Duthie granddaughter and grandsons of Thomas Duthie.

This is probably one of Sophia Gray's best known churches.

[Edited and expanded from Martin, Desmond, 2005. The Bishop’s Churches. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. Pp, 32-3]

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Holy Trinity Church, Belvidere.

Text selected and transcribed by Nikki Jones from A Memoir of The Reverend Alfred George Duthie of Belvidere South Africa and William Henry Moore Duthie of Belvidere South Africa together with A short History of Holy Trinity Church Belvidere, Knysna, South Africa. Edited by Annie Hart, M.A. and Robert C.H. Hart B.A. Oxford University Press, 1934.

" 'Thursday September 14, 1848.
After breakfast walked out with Mr. Duthie to determine upon the site of the Belvidere Church. We fixed upon a beautiful spot, commanding a very fine view of the lake. We decided upon one of the Butterfield's plans for the church which is to hold 100 but is capable of enlargement.'
The plan ultimately chosen was that of a small Norman church, very true to type in proportions and detail, and just as effective in its South African setting as the twelfth century churches of the crusaders were in that of the Holy land. One story says that Mrs Gray was the architect ; another that the plan was Butterfield's. Though Mrs Gray undoubtedly had much to do with the actual building of churches, there is no proof that she did more than adapt the plans which, admittedly, the Bishop had bought from England. A search through Butterfield's plans has revealed none similar to that of Belvidere. So the identity of the architect remains unknown. But whoever the architect was, he must have based the design on the best-known examples of Norman work and embodied details and features of actual churches. The apse and the capitals of the internal piers of Dalmeny Church near Edinburgh resemble those of Belvidere so closely that one is almost forced to conclude that the similarity is not mere accident ; while comparisons with Kilpeck Church in Herefordshire also seem to indicate a close relationship of detail. But whether proportions of these churches were copied in the first instance for Belvidere, or whether Holy Trinity is itself a more or less exact copy of some comparatively modern church in Europe, based on twelfth century Norman architecture, is uncertain."

...." The Building Committee had developed from Church Committee (March 1849) and included (with power to add to their numbers):

Thomas Henry Duthie, Esq. J.P.
The Reverend William Andrews
The Hon. Henry Barrington, J.P
Mr Charles Bull

Mr. Duthie was elected Chairman and Treasurer, and Mr. Bull was requested to act as Secretary. The first resolution of the Committee was that: 'A general meeting take place the last Monday in each month at 12 o'clock and ordinary meetings every Monday at the same hour – the ordinary meetings being for the purpose of carrying through the resolutions of the general meeting of the Committee.'

And so these gentlemen began that untiring work of administration and supervision carefully recorded in the Minute Book. In addition, Mr. Duthie agreed to supply a Ledger Book which was to be 'a book of expenses and also an inventory of the property belonging to the Church'.

The obtaining of workmen was no light task. In April 1849 Mr. Charles Bull was ordered by his Committtee to placard the following notice at George and in Cape Town : 'Notice is hereby given that the Belvidere Church Committee will receive tenders until the end of the month of April for building a School House in the town of Belvidere, 20ft. by 40ft. (6m by 12m) outside. Every information will be given by the Secretary, Belvidere.' Dr Andrews drew up the following advertisement: 'Labourers are much required at Belvidere in order to facilitate the buildings, public and private, which are now in progress.'

We read that in October 1849 the Committee requested Mr. Barrington to be kind enough to communicate with a certain Bendell to know whether he would 'come up and engage to take in hand the rough work of the Church – the Committee allowing him 24/- per week wages, an allowance for tools, and as many labourers as he can procure, for whose wages at a proper rate the Committee will provide'.

At the meeting of the Committee held on November 1, 1849, the Lord Bishop of Capetown was present, and afterwards – with the regular members – 'inspected the Church ground in the rain.'

On May 15 ,1850, we read : 'It was moved by Mr. Barrington and seconded by Mr. Andrews, that labourers be engaged from the next emigrant ship for the purpose of quarrying stone at Belvidere and other work at 12/- a week, and also that the necessary tools be obtained from Capetown for the work.'

Already the Committee had passed a resolution (October 8,1849) ‘that the plan sent by Mrs. Gray be adopted and that the thanks of the committee be tendered to Mrs. Gray for having forwarded them so beautiful a design.'

A year later, when making his second visitation to the Knysna in November 1850, the Bishop spent some time in 'talking over with the mason the working drawings of a proposed plain Norman Church at Belvidere.' The mason mentioned was probably Alexander Bern, who, with his friends, Alexander and Colin Lawrence, was brought to South Africa by Bishop Gray and who built seven churches [including St. Saviour's Claremont, and St James, Graaff-Reinet] for him throughout the diocese and helped in the erection of at least one Dutch Reformed Church. He was the son of James Bern of Brechin, Forfarshire, who was drowned with a number of companions whilst crossing the River Irwell, Manchester, where they were employed in the building of one of the early railway bridges. The art of building was hereditary in the Bern family, and it is pleasing to note that at the present day excellent craftsmen are to be found among Alexander Bern's descendants, who have done much to make beautiful several houses of God in this remote corner of the world.

Alexander Lawrence , whose eldest son was later mayor of Kimberley, shared the work and fortunes of Alexander Bern and was helped by his brother Colin.

The woodwork of the building was done by William Page, who came to South Africa to work for Mr. Newdigate at Redbourne and whose family too has long and honourable association with the life and the making beautiful of the Church in the Knysna district.

The names of Roberts, Butler, and Smith also appear in the very careful records that Captain Duthie kept of work and wages ; nor should the non-european [sic] labourers, of whom Titus, Africa, Chidongo, Cupido and Louis are mentioned, be forgotten. These men built in much the same spirit as the medieval craftsmen, who gave of their best in raising the great churches in Europe – not hurriedly, but with a determination to make the building beautiful for the Glory of God.

The finding of good stone within a comparatively short distance from the church (two miles (3.2km)) was a great help. Bishop Gray lamented that good building stone was scarce in South Africa but was pleased with the Belvidere stone.

During those years whilst the church was in building the usually quiet river-side must have presented a busy scene. On Tuesday May 27, 1851, Alexander Bern, Alexander Lawrence and Colin Lawrence 'found and set out the building'. Between May and October 1851 the white men at the quarry must have done much blasting, and the oxen, urged on by the coloured drivers, must have heaved and strained under many a load before the foundation stone could be laid on October 15, 1851. It was at this period that two of the sons of the founder, Archibald Hamilton and Thomas Henry, though only lads at the time, helped forward the work by leading teams of oxen, so that they too should have the privilege of sharing in the building of the House of God. As many as sixteen loads of stone were brought from the quarry in the weeks ending August 30 and September 30.

On October 13, 1851, the chancel arch was begun, and in the same month (October 22) the 'Monster Stone' was brought from the quarry. The entire pulpit with the exception of the parapet walls was carved out of this single stone, and it is still a mystery how the great stone was hauled over the two miles of rough veld that separated the quarry from the church site.

The little sailing ship Apame had already brought her first consignment from overseas in January 1849. She was chartered in 1848 by the Hon. H. Barrington, who was then in England and who left for South Africa with his bride in September of the same year.

Captain Duthie says in his journal, under the heading of November 12, 1848: 'By the post had letters from Barrington who would leave early in September and has chartered the Apame of 170 tons for this port – to discharge at Belvidere, and she brings a slater, bricks, &c. for Belvidere Church.'

In the minutes of the Church Building Committee it is stated under the heading of July 30, 1849,’that it be recorded that 3000 slates now at the Apame be purchased, at the rate of £8.8.0. per 1000.

On Wednesday, November 5, 1851, Alexander Bern and the Lawrences were walling the pulpit and chancel arch. From an entry in the old Ledger we learn that on Friday December 5, 1851, Archdeacon Merriman (later Bishop) of Grahamstown visited the church. In "The K***r, the Hottentot, and the Frontier Farmer" he gave an account of his visit to the Knysna district.

'Dr. Andrews has a very nice church completed on the east side of the Knysna in which I officiated (St. George's) and there is a beautiful little structure in progress on the west side. They have been fortunate in finding a good working stone and in securing masons who understand and take an interest in their work. When completed, the church at Belvidere, will, I think, be for some time the gem of Church Architecture in the Colony.' From the Ledger we learn that the first load of stone from the new quarry had been brought to the church site the very day before Archbishop Merriman's visit.

Still the work went on. As his contribution Dr. Andrews sent bags of lime, difficult to obtain and very necessary. Portland sent timber from its woods to be used for poles for the scaffolding, and from the Poort (now Highway) came the yellow-wood beams.

By February 1852 the first chancel window was being arched and on Friday, February 27, the centre chancel window was arched, the keystone having been laid by the Rev. Robert Arthur Currey, M.A., who had arrived in South Africa the previous year and was acting as assistant to the Ven. Archdeacon Welby of George.

By the middle of 1852 all the stone-work was finished. William Newdigate, in a letter to his father dated June 8, 1852, writes: 'My carpenter Page is coming here this week to see if he can put on the roof on the church. The stone work is the most beautiful of its kind in the colony.'

On Sept 25,1855, Bishop Gray reports as follows in his Journal of Visitation:

'After luncheon we went to inspect the beautiful little Norman church, which has been erected chiefly at the cost of Mr. Duthie, and which, by general consent, is the most perfect church as yet in the Diocese. It is of a beautiful stone, and the masonry is excellent, having been built by the same steady masons who have been employed for the last six years, building one church after another. The cost has been about £900. I had heard a good deal of the church, but it exceeded my expectations.'

The consecration of Holy Trinity Church took place on Friday October 5 – two days after that of the church at Newhaven.

Submitted by William MARTINSON

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pg 78-79
Hart, Annie & Hart, Robert. 1934. A memoir of the Reverend Alfred George Duthie, M.C. of Belvidere, South Africa and of William Henry Moore Duthie of Belvidere, South Africa : together with a short history of Holy Trinity Church, Belvidere, Knysna, South Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pg
Martin, Desmond. 2005. The Bishop's churches. Cape Town: Struik. pg 32-33
Menache, Philippe & David, Darryl Earl. 2012. A Platteland Pilgrimage : 102 country churches of South Africa . South Africa: Booktown Richmond Press. pg 12
Menache, Philippe & David, Darryl Earl. 2010. 101 Country Churches of South Africa. South Africa: Booktown Richmond Press. pg 84
Oxley, John. 1992. Places of Worship in South Africa. Halfway House: Southern Book Publishers. pg 60-62
Richardson, Deidré. 2001. Historic Sites of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. pg 113
Storrar, Patricia. 2001. Plettenberg Bay and the Paradise Coast. Craighall: Trevor McGlashan, TJM Publishers. pg 159, 200, 201