In the 1890 map one can see the original layout before the railway line, Belgravia to the east and other surrounding areas like City & Suburban and Wolhunter. Commissioner Street is still called Natal road and there is a little stream and lake called Natal spruit.
The 1896 map shows the growth that took place in just 6 years.
St. Mary’s-the-less 1889
This is considered the oldest original (mostly) surviving building in Johannesburg. Its competition is a shop in Doornfontein with 1887 above the door but has no building plans or early ownership records to prove its case. the other is the Bree Street Police Station evidently from around 1887.
From the centenary booklet dated 1989: ‘St. Mary’s was the first Anglican church to be built in Johannesburg. It is the oldest surviving building in the city as far as we know and certainly the oldest church still in use’ It was designed by Arthur and Walter Reid and can seat about 120 people.
The organ was commissioned from the British firm Morgan & Smith in August 1908 at a cost of 525 Pounds. It was overhauled in 1979 at a cost of R7000 and is considered one of the finest in Johannesburg.
The foundation stone was laid on the 10th September 1899 by Mrs. John Darragh (Wife of the famous Reverend). There is no record of services being held before Holy Week 1891.
Walls were buttressed in 1896 and additions done in 1904 (porch and vestry) and 1908 (organ chamber).
The first church bell lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after the ship (Alnwick Castle) it was returning on from being recast was sunk by a German torpedo during WW1. On the inside of the new bell is inscribed, ‘St Mary’s Jeppestown, Recast 1917, Sunk on Alnwick Castle 19 March 1917, Replaced by insurance January 1918’
Initially know as St Mary’s Church Jeppe, it bowed and took the lower status (the-less) after St. Mary’s Cathedral was built in 1929.
There is another church in Johannesburg know as St. Mary’s on the Limpopo. It changed its name in 1982 from the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin in recognition of the Braamfontein spruit which runs under the church on its way to the Limpopo. It’s a little church tucked away between a block of flats and Brenthurst Clinic on the corner of Empire Road and Clarendon Place. I’ll cover this church in future Parktown posts.
Although not religious myself, I couldn’t help but feel humbled by the grace, ambiance and history of this little old church. It has seen most of Johannesburg’s history and still stands despite all the change and progress.
The arrow shows the church-top hidden behind buildings and warehouses. The picture was taken from the rooftop of one of the Maboneng buildings during a Sunday afternoon DJ set in 2012.