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Wesleyan Chapel
Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape

J Thornhill COOK: Architect

Date:1870
Type:Church
Status:Demolished 1966
Street:Russell Rd

The Church was demolished after it closed in December 1966. This was mainly to enable the widening of the lower section of Russel Road to form the exit from the new Settlers Freeway. It was replaced by the Centenary Methodist Church located on Edward Street. The foundation stone from the original church was apparently reset in the new building on the 1 June 1969.

Colour photos believed to be by John Smallwood. Historic photos by unknown.

The following text appeared in a small leaflet produced to mark the churches 50 Year Jubilee in 1922. (Another was produced in 1966 marking the forth coming closure of the church)

Russell Road Church— A Jubilee Sketch.

Russell Road Church, though not the original home of Methodism in Port Elizabeth, is the mother Church of those now extant. At first the Port was visited twice a quarter by the Wesleyan Minister of Grahamstown. This laborious arrangement lasted until 1839, when the Rev. John Edwards was appointed to the bay to be the first resident Minister. He began his work in a hired house on the beach, no trace of which now remains. In 1841 a church was erected in Queen Street, on the spot where the Settlers of 1820 had pitched their tents, and where the Rev. William Shaw standing upon a rock, had preached in the open air. The dedicatory services were conducted by the Revd's William Shaw and V. B. Boyce, the former of whom became President of the British Conference in 1865. For thirty years this homely sanctuary, of the early Methodist type, supplied the needs of the small but growing community of Wesley’s adherents in Port Elizabeth. It now belongs to the Salvation Army.

In 1870, under the growing ministry of the Rev Thomas Guard, who was one of the finest pulpit orators of that day, the erection of Russell Road Church was commenced. The chastely built edifice with its beautiful interior arches, was completed in 1872, the cost of erection being £5,000, of which £4,500 was raised before the opening ceremony. The remaining £500 was not allowed to stand as a debt, but was taken vigorously in hand by the Rev. James Fish and Mr. Sydney Hill, who waited upon the merchants of the town, and in a few hours the sum was raised.

As a result of the rapid development of the work it soon became necessary to go further afield, and in 1878 a new Gothic church was erected at North End at a cost of £2,300, a schoolroom and vestries being added a few years later. For nearly forty five years the work of God has been carried on in that place of hallowed associations, but the time has now arrived when the buildings are no longer adequate to the needs of the Church and the premises and situation are no longer suitable. This being so, it is not surprising that the finger of Divine Providence has pointed us elsewhere. At the right moment, the J.R. Wills bequest became available for the erection of a new church, and the energetic and capable pastor, the Rev A.J.O. Killick, was not slow to take occasion by the hand; with the gratifying result that a handsome school church and Young Men's Hall are now in course of erection, and will probably be ready for opening at the end of the present year.

Whilst Methodism was being planted at North End over forty years ago, a similar forward movement was in progress at South End. Services were commenced in a humble building called "The Bethel," which was erected in South Union Street, on a site given by Mr.Bishop. In 1881 the Rev. Oliver Carey was appointed as its first pastor, and under his ministry the present commodious church in Pier Street was built. The foundation stones were laid in 1882, and in the following year the dedicatory services were conducted by the Rev. John Walton, M.A., President of the first South African Conference, arid subsequently of the British Conference. The total cost of the building was £3,000. During the pastorate of the Rev W. Wilkinson Rider, South End was constituted a separate Circuit, and appeared in the Minutes of conference for 1898 as Port Elizabeth (South), whilst the original Circuit was designated Port Elizabeth (Central).

The offshoots in the directions of North End and South End did not seriously weaken Russell Road, but in 1894 the opening of St. John's Church in Havelock Street deprived the Mother Church of a large proportion of her adherents, and of her premier position in the Circuit.

St. John's was built during the Superintendency of the Rev. William Wynne, at a cost of £9,000, and is now, thanks to the zeal and generosity of the people, and to the J. R. Wills bequest, entirely free of debt. At the side of the church a substantial school-room was erected in 1901, and was subsequently enlarged. A delightful Hall, for the accommodation of the Primary department has also been added, greatly to the advantage of the work. The three buildings form a fine continuous block in a conspicuous position and in an attractive neighbourhood.

Of the original members of the Russell Road Church the only person remaining on the Roll is Mrs. William Griffin, whose photograph, after some gentle persuasion, is reproduced in this souvenir. Through all the years Mrs. Griffin has been an ardent lover of the Church and a devoted worker, and her active interest is still maintained so far as her health permits.

Since the opening of St. John's Church, and the changes consequent thereupon, the history of Russell Road presents an inspiring example of strenuous and fruitful service. The financial burdens of the Church have been somewhat heavy, but they have been cheerfully borne, and gradually reduced, and are now brought to the point of extinction in the Jubilee effort.

The following is a fairly complete list of the Superintendents of the Circuit from the erection of Russell Road Church to the present time:—

Rev. Thomas Guard.
Rev. Robert Lauiplougli - President of the Conference, 1887 and 1902.
Rev. Edwin Gedye.
Rev. William B. Rayner.
Rev. Walter H. Price.
Rev. Thomas A. Chalker.
Rev. Robert W Bryant.
Rev. James Fish.
Rev. William Wynne - President of the Conference, 1889.
Rev. Joseph Metcalf - President of the Conference, 1911.
Rev. W. B. Rayner (2nd term)-President of the Conference, 1900.
Rev. Arthur T. Rhodes - President of the Conference, 1901.
Rev. James Pendlebury, B.A. - President of the Conference, 1919.
Rev. C. S. Lucas - President of the Conference, 1922.
Rev. C. K. Hodges.
Rev. G. W. Rogers - President of the Conference, 1916.

At intervals the following Junior Ministers have been co-pastors of Russell Road Church since the division of the pastorate upon the opening of St. John's :—

Revds. John J. Davies, W, J. Russell, Allen Lea, James Robb, Walter J. Bromiley, Peter F. Williams, and W. T. Whalley.

The jubilee celebrations include a Bazaar in the City Hall on October 13th, for the extinction of the debts contracted from time to time for renovations and improvements; special services in the Church on Sunday, the 15th October; and an "At Home" in the City Hall on the 20th, to which former adherents who have left the Circuit are cordially invited.

The Mother Church of Methodism in Port Elizabeth has attained her Jubilee. We now speed her on her way towards her Centenary.

G.W.R.

(Submitted by Gerald Humphrey, August 2017)


Writings about this entry

Herholdt, AD. 1988. Uitenhage : a case study of small town colonial architecture. Port Elizabeth: M Arch. University of Port Elizabeth. pg 335