Rev Taylor and the rise and fall of the Cradock Congregational Church

As a result of a London Missionary Society outreach programme, a congregational church was started in Cradock in 1820.  Rev George Baker, who was born in Essex in 1789 and who had come to South Africa in 1815 to serve as a missionary with the LMS, moved to Cradock as the town’s first preacher in 1821. John Munro, who was in charge of the Bethelsdorp, also moved there in December, 1839, to become the town’s first teacher at the Congregational School. He worked in Cradock until his retirement in 1846.  Robert Barry Taylor joined this community on August 26, 1848. Up until his arrival the school had doubled a church, but he did not find this satisfactory and he motivated the community to collect funds and to build itself a church.  This Neo-Gothic building with yellowwood doors was inaugurated on July 24, 1855, states the 21st anniversary booklet of the Cradock Congregational Church. The church was a small scale a replica of the Harpenden Church in England. It had a square tower with four small turrets on the corners. Sadly, these did not survive.  Initially it was called the Harpenden Chapel, then the Harpenden Independent Church. Later, its English links faded and it was known as the United Congregational Church. A few years after its completion, the building was destroyed by storm and earth tremor.  Undaunted, Robert Barry Taylor simply began raising funds again for restoration work. This time a front porch and clock tower were added. The church was enlarged during the time of Pastor J G Weis (1906–1914).  In 1974, the building was seriously damaged in a flood, but the congregation leapt into action to rescue it.  The congregation felt it owed a great deal to Rev Taylor and his wife, Marianne, so they buried them beneath the pulpit.  In 1982, when the church was declared a national monument, Professor Dennis Radford of the University of the Witwatersrand worked on restorations. He believed that Rev Taylor had initially been buried in the church cemetery when he died in 1876, and that the same applied to his wife when she died in 1895. In his opinion it was only in 1909, when the church was enlarged, that the couple were accorded the honour of burial beneath the pulpit.


An exciting discovery was made while restoration of the Cradock church was in progress. A beautifully painted, colourful, traditional old Cape-style frieze, similar to the antique paintings at the Koopmans de Wet House, Boschendal and Libertas, was discovered on the walls by a Scottish expert, Mr Rattray.  Further cleaning revealed a second treasure, a marble panel, framed in yellowwood and painted to resemble a knotty wood was also found. “Such panels were immensely stylish in Victorian times,” said Rattray.  Sadly this magnificently restored historic church just disappeared.  Vandals struck and destroyed much of the interior, then later years and it was swallowed up by modern developments, electricity pylons and substations, and then it disappeared under a web of power lines.


© Rose’s Roundup, July 2011 (No 210)

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