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Bryce Ross Memorial Church, Pirie Mission Station
King William's Town district, Eastern Cape

J BATE: Architect



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32°47'38.51" S 27°14'31.82" E Alt: 630m

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The opening of the Memorial Church coincided with the Jubilee of Rev. John Ross of the Glasgow Missionary Society, on 12 April 1874 and was attended by more than 1000 people, with missionaries from other churches in attendance including Wesleyan, London Missionary Society and Lutheran. Also in attendance were 'Bate (Architect of the Church), [and] Hendry (builder).'

The opening was evidently delayed, 'caused partly by the great enlargement of the original plan, and partly by the difficulty in obtaining steady supplies of material and steady work. But all difficulties were at length overcome and we now most heartily congratulate the Rev. Bryce Ross on the large, substantial and thoroughly suitable building ... the church is a strong massive building of 72ft (22 metres) by 32ft (9.7 metres), on the eminence just behind the house of the Rev. Bryce Ross. It is visible from a considerable distance in any direction, and itself commands a fine view of the eastern end of the Amatola range with the Buffalo valley in the distance. At the end facing this view is a low, but solid and handsome square tower, in four tiers, and finished off with battlements. It contains a fine bell sent out as a gift by ladies in Scotland. The body of the church is lighted by seven narrow windows on each side, and between each two and at the corners are smartly finished buttresses, that add much to the look of the building. At the west end is the Vestry and Session House, a large and commodious room. The windows and doors are slightly pointed, and the whole appearance is both thoroughly ecclesiastical and thoroughly substantial. The inside corresponds with the outside. There is no attempt at finery. The seats are strong, plain and comfortable. The roof is lofty but not too much so. And the pulpit, or rather platform and desk, in its simple but pleasing style, is in harmony with all the rest. ... Total cost of the building - £2,500. Contributed by the people about Pirie, about £1000 ... It was originally proposed to build a church costing about £900 ... Plans were obtained and the work was entered on. But the Foreign Missions Committee, learning what was in prospect, sent word that as the church would be a memorial one, it ought to be of more pretensions than might otherwise be advisable, and promised help. The plan was accordingly enlarged, and the tower and vestry added. Everything had risen in price too since they began and so the £900 of original estimate appeared today as a bill of £2500. ... Mr. J. Bate, the architect of the Church, said he was very glad to be present to celebrate at once this Jubilee and the completion of the Jubilee Church. The building had been finished without a single accident, and he hoped the end of it would not be like the end of so many other Pirie churches, by the ravages of war.'

Ref: "K***** Express" [sic]. Lovedale Missionary Institution Press, Lovedale. 1 May 1874, pages 5-8.

Information provided by Liz de Wet of the Cory Library, Rhodes University. Submitted by William Martinson.

Church Bell

The church bell is hung in a free standing timber framed 'tower' set a small distance to the north of the church. Four heavy, inclined corner posts - joined with horizontal base and top rails - form the main structure and are braced across the four faces with diagonal timber braces. The junctions of the timber structure are reinforced with heavy wrought metal plates with coach bolts. The structure is capped with a steeply pitched pyramidal corrugated iron roof. A large bronze bell hangs within the roof space of this small scale 'tower'.

An inscription (in raised upper-case relief letters) is visible on the external face of the bell. The inscription commemorates the Jubilee of Rev John Ross and records the maker's name.

The inscription is set out relative to five equally spaced thin horizontal lines - with the space between the 3rd and 4th line having no text:







The Gorbals Brass and Bell Foundry apparently stood on the corner of Portugal Street and Bedford Lane in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, and was operational as a bell foundry from 1838 until 1928. In the year 1878 it was under the management of John C. Wilson and George Alexander as a partnership (from 1 July 1876 until 31January 1896) during which time they traded under the name of "John C. Wilson & Co."

The fittings including the wheel, headstock and clapper are standard Wilson products which must have been shipped out to South Africa with the bell, which would then have been hung in its 'tower' by the missionaries at Pirie.

Unfortunately the timber structure of the 'tower' is suffering from the effects of long term weathering and will shortly require some significant restoration work to prevent it from collapsing.

Michael Foulds, The Whiting Society of Ringers, UK.

Submitted by William Martinson, March 2019.

Writings about this entry

Vazi, Clifford Mlandeli. 1988. The History of Pirie Mission and the amaHleke Chiefdom. Grahamstown: MA thesis, Rhodes University. pg 23