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St John the Baptist
Vaalwater district, Limpopo

Sir Herbert BAKER: Architect

Date:1913
Client:Anglican Church of South Africa
Type:Anglican Church
Style:Kent Style : Baker School
Status:Extant

 


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Coordinates:
24°15'41.8" S 28°16'13.7" E

  The architect who would build in Africa has to reverse the process [of the evolution of the Gothic] … [which] never took healthy roots in the attempts which were made to transplant it to Italy; still less can fully developed Gothic … be successfully acclimatized under the rays of Africa's more vertical sun.

While Baker (1944: 145) had been articled to the Gothic revivalist, Sir George Gilbert Scott (Junior, 1839-1897), spending a year of his advanced pupilage as resident architect for the building of a new church at Lamberis, in England, his arrival in South Africa offered welcome opportunity by a recently settled English population in need of new churches:

  One could almost imagine oneself amongst the primitive Christian pioneers, who built the early and simple churches … which still exist in England. Their small windows were suited to the clear and sunny climate of Africa.

Of the many churches he built he says:

  The masonry had to be rough, and forced upon us a primitive style of architecture.

His arguments for the styling of the architecture are in terms of climate and the use of local materials, and he eschews the Gothic as being unsuitable to the African sun. The example of St John the Baptist typifies this approach in his ecclesiastical oeuvre. It can be argued that since Baker had left by the time of its design in 1913, his spirit pervades even if by the hand of his partner, Fleming.

This church, it can be argued, is a progenitor of what is now termed Critical Regionalism. The plan is that of a simple Saxon chapel, apsed to the east, and small crossing with entrance portico to the south and vestry to the north. The roof structure is unusual in that it rests directly on the rough-hewn masonry of local sandstone beneath leaving a ventilation gap and allowing a mysterious halo of ambient light to add golden glow to the underside of the thatched roof and slender Oregon pine roof timbers. Slender gothic pointed arched timber windows have stained glass memorials to the immediate female members of the founding family. The stone baptismal font is to the design of the Fleming office, dating to the 1940s. The timber crucifix with encaustic Christ is by the hand of Grace Battiss, wife of the artist, Walter Battiss.

Various memorials plaques and graves all add to the historical interest to this, of the most rugged, rustic and remote of Anglican churches in South Africa.

Adjunct structures have been added in the recent past, namely a new Community Church Hall and Tea Kiosk with toilets, all of stone under thatch.

An email received

"I loved reading the account of St John the Baptist Church in the Waterberg.

The church was built by my grandfather, Edward Davidson.

Just one small correction. Walter Battiss’s wife’s name was GRACE (not Elizabeth). She was my godmother. I have a copy of the receipt for the construction of the cross and other information about it if these would be of interest. When it was first taken to the farm my great-great aunts [Mrs. Peacock and Miss. Fawssett] were upset that the Christ figure was too sparsely clothed. Aunt Grace then added a larger loin cloth!

Many thanks,

Diana Hagley (nee Clarke, nee Davidson)"

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A history of St John the Baptist written by Mary Davidson (Nee Fawssett) c1963, probably written for the 50th anniversary

EXTRACT FROM THE KINGDOM

"For some time past, the work of the Church at this centre (twenty Four Rivers and neighbourhood) has been left almost entirely in the hands of the few very keen Churchmen who live in this district. They have carried on their responsibility in a most noble manner, and have held regular services at on of the farm houses every Sunday and Holy Days.

The Priest in charge, (the Rev. G.H. Sharman) has been able, at last, to institute more regular and frequent visits. During his last visit a meeting was held to consider whether it would be practicable and advisable to undertake a scheme, which has been cherished for some considerable time, namely that of building a small Church on the Farm of Twenty Four Rivers".

Land for the site of the proposed Church has been very generously given by Miss. [Edith] Fawssett.

At a meeting at was agreed that the time had come for such a step and a committee was formed for the purpose of collecting funds from Churchmen at Twenty Four Rivers, and from personal friends in England.

Committee elected as follows:-
Messrs. EADavidsonHon. Secretary
RMGordon
JMortimer
JROReynolds(Nylstroom)
Rev. GMSharmanWaterberg District
Priest in charge

Steps were then taken to build the little Church we know and love so well. A site was chosen not too far from Mrs. Peacock and Miss. Fawssett's house so that they could look after the Church and at the same time for it to stand where it could be seen from some distance.

Fortunately Sir. Herbert Baker, whose name is so well known in connection with the Pretoria Cathedral was able to draw out a plan for us to work on.

Having procured the design, building operations began in good earnest.

Mr. Davidson made himself responsible for the building materials his Black African workers, wagon and oxen carted stones from a quarry that had been made on the farm, and beautiful big river stones were brought from Dwaas River four miles away by this means.

We were fortunate in finding a good builder, Mr. Brady, who stayed with the Davidsons while the native boys built up the walls of the Church.

Carpenters volunteered their work. Mr. Horace Wale was in charge of the roof assisted by Mr. John Mortimer, who, he tells me spent every Sunday morning planning the beams ready for the weeks work. A friend of Miss. [Edith] Fawssett's in England, Mrs. Saunders sent money for the windows in memory of her father. Major Crosse and another relative sent money for the permanent Altar Rails. The Altar and the Lectern were made by Mr. Horace Wale and the wood given by Miss. [Edith] Fawssett.

Mrs. Peacock gave the Cross and Candlesticks for the Altar in memory of her husband. Our beautiful font was given by an Associate of the Community of St. John the Baptist Clewer, and the order executed in Pretoria.

The chairs were given by Mr. H.B. Fawssett.

The Thatched roof which has lasted so well and only once been reinforced was executed by Mr. Hans Benade with Mr. Davidson’s assistance. Miss. Fawssett chose the name “St. John the Baptist” for the dedication. For as she said it was a church “In the desert”. The veld was very wild in those days and no roads to speak of.

DEDICATION OF THE CHURCH

"1914 July, 15th" by Michael, Bishop of Pretoria.

The much looked forward day dawned, and with happy hearts we welcomed our Bishop and his dear wife Mrs. Furse.

The Service was most impressive, the singing went well conducted by Mr. H.B. Fawssett who had been a choir master.

The Deed of Gift was signed and sealed then with the Bishop leading us, we followed him round the portion of ground which was consecrated as a burial enclosure for our dear ones.

The Church and surrounding ground belongs to the Diocese of Pretoria.

The Bishop and Mrs. Furse and the congregation were then refreshed by an excellent lunch and we parted with words of encouragement and hope from the Bishop.

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Help came from all quarters. Mr. B. Grewar gave us some little Fir trees for a wind break which was badly needed, A cousin of Tom Smith gave the fencing wire. The bell was given by the Rev. W. Drury C.F. and Mrs. Peacock, Miss. Fawssett and Mrs. Fawssett in England shared in making the Altar Frontals, super frontals etc. Miss. Fawssett’s embroidery is as beautiful today as when it was done so many years ago.

The Violet Frontal was given in memory of the Rev. E.H. Meggett by his mother and Fiancee and first used on Palm Sunday 1950.

We all helped in making the kneelers, and so gradually the Church was furnished until later when many more beautiful gifts were added.

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From 1914 to May 1917.

The Rev. T.T. Perry was vicar of Nylstroom and district, he visited us for Services about three times a year and Mr. H.B. Fawssett was made lay-reader and took Matins and Evensong every Sunday.

In 1917 Mr. Perry left for the European War and Mr. Wellington of Pietersburg took charge of our Parish. Mr. Fawssett still continuing his services when no Priest could come.

In 1920, the Rev. Ernest Prance became Rector of Nylstroom, and came out to us about ten times. In 1923 the Rev. J.M. Short became Rector and took services for us, sometimes the Rev. N.L. Bell Bishop's Chaplain came to us from Johannesburg. Mr. Short was our Rector until the Rev. E.C. Glaisyer cam in December 1928.

Mr. Fawssett became very ill and died, Mr. Glaisyer took his funeral on February 13th 1929. Mr. Glaisyer left us in December 1932 when there was a time of depression when we had no permanent Rector.

The Rev. F.G. Clarke and Archdeacon Jenkin took services for us. The Rev. G.H. Cooper of Sunnyside, Pretoria came to dedicate the window of the Good Shepherd in memory of Helen Marion Davidson on May 11th 1933.

In October 1933, the Rev. W. Cawood, Priest in charge of The Good Shepherd Mission in Pretoria, came to give services, when he could not spare the time for the very long journey, Mr. Clarke came from Pietersburg, he also came to take the funeral of Mary Katherine Peacock aged 86 years on May 4th 1935.

Mr. Clarke also came from Potchefstroom Military Camp (assisted by Mr. Gaylard) and took the funeral of Edith Ann Fawssett aged 85 years.

In 1938 the Bishop was in a position to install a permanent Priest for the Waterberg and Nylstroom. The Rev. H.M. Gaylard, he had a parish car and was able to do a great deal of travelling taking services at different places, arranging to come to Twenty Four once a month as well as taking many services for the Africans.

When Mr. Gaylard after seven years, was offered the living of Pretoria West, the Rev. R. Park very kindly consented to fill in the gap until the Rev. E. Maggett arrived on July 25th 1947.

Unfortunately Mr. Meggett's health had been undermined by the strenuous time he had spent fire-fighting at Canterbury during the war, and in a few months time he contracted an illness which became so serious that his mother took him to her home in Bulawayo where he died on March 6th 1948.

After Mr. Meggett's death, the Bishop gave the Rev. S.T. Andrews the parish of the Waterberg, which was in his charge until Christmas 1952 and the Rev. H.C. Colvin Lewis then came to the Waterberg in spite of disabilities caused by the war in which he was a Chaplain serving Overseas, he stayed with us until Easter 1958. Then until the Rev. T. Verryn could come to us the Rev. H.M. Gaylard and Rev. R.S. Clucas took services.

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LAY READER

Edward A. Davidson – 1928 to 1961

After Mr. Fawssett's death the Bishop of Pretoria Neville Talbot gave E.A. Davidson licence to become lay reader of the Chapelery of Twenty Four Rivers. He attended Synod each year, until his health broke down, and continued his duties as lay-reader for thirty three years and took the service on Easter Day, three months before he died in Pretoria, and was buried at Twenty Four Rivers.

R.I.P.

NEW ORGAN

In 1928 the congregation bought a new American Organ £40. to replace Mrs. Peacock's little Harmonium which had travelled for many miles by wagon. First from Nylstroom to Cream of Tartar fontein (the roads could not have been worse), then to Warmbaths with Colonel Colenbrander's Column, where it entertained the troops by accompanying the songs at their Concerts, then to Twenty Four Rivers after Peace, where it was used for Sunday services and so it needed a successor.

MARRIAGES AND CHRISTENINGS

The marriage register is kept in the Nylstroom strong box.

The Baptismal register is at Twenty Four Rivers and in it’s pages you travel back through the years, picturing the happy Christenings which have taken place from 1923, when Margaret Chaney and Alex Gordon were christened, to our last little baby Juliet Mary Baber, christened on the 29th September 1962.

THE CHURCH YARD

In the Church Yard, two outstanding features have been erected, the Arch for the Bell in Memory of little Christopher Donovan planned and given by Mr. Davidson and erected by Mr. Austin.

The Lych gate which Mr. Davidson planned in 1959. The work was carried out by the late William Mihlanga Chatechist, and the gates were especially designed to have the initials M.K.P. and E.F.C. incorporated into the wrought iron of the gates in Memory of Mrs. Peacock and Elizabeth Clark. The Africans gave a fern to hang on the wall of the Lych Gate.

GIFTS TO THE CHURCH IN LATER YEARS

The appearance of the Church is greatly improved by the gifts that have been presented to it. The Rev. F.G. Clarke made and carved a beautiful credence table in memory of his marriage, on the side of the carving represents St. John the Baptist, and on the other side the Marriage of Cana.

The Multi-coloured Sanctuary Carpet and strips to match are very much in keeping with the floor of the Church.

The comfortable seats are all given in memory of dear ones who have worshiped here. The movable Altar rails are given in memory of Aylwin Burls, the Priest's chair was given recently by Graham and Rosalind King in Memory of their wedding.

The Gaylards have given pictures and Baptismal books in memory of their children’s christenings. The hung Crucifix was given by Mrs. Peacock and Miss. Fawssett’s family and friends, and the one stained glass window in memory of Elizabeth Clarke given by her husband and depicts the Risen Saviour, and as we have mentioned before, the window of the Good Shepherd is in memory of little Helen Davidson.

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AMUSING EVENTS

In the early days before a wire netting was placed between the wall and roof to keep Owls out, a little bird made its pretty little nest on the ledge of the harmonium. When Mrs. Peacock came to play for the service, the little bird was most distressed and took refuge on the wall and next Sunday the poor little mother’s alarm was great, for, she had to leave her eggs in the nest until the service was over.

You may have heard the story of the man in the congregation whose kneeler kept moving under his knee, he wondered if he was quite sober, and so did the rest of the congregation, but the problem was solved when a Puff Adder crawled slowly from under the poor man's chair. I will end with the well known story of the Baboon, which had evidently escaped from somewhere, and being cold he got into the vestry, by taking some of the window out, but when he found he could not get into the warm Church, he bit at the vestry door so violently that his teeth marks still remain to this day.

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So ends a rather sketchy history of our beloved Church of St. John the Baptist, Twenty Four Rivers.

As the years go by more of our dear ones lie in peace under the shadow of the trees where birds sing and flowers bloom.

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Since writing this little history of the Church, another beautiful gift has been presented by Mrs. Burls in memory of her mother – Mary Page.

It is a lovely chair for the harmonium made of Boekenhout (one of our local trees) and very nicely polished.

Attributed to Baker but in all likelihood not of his hand, but his office.

These notes were last edited on 2019 11 19