Little wooden church on hill turns 100

2011-11-24 00:00

THE little wooden church, faced with malthoid­, still stands 100 years on, hiding among the trees on the hill of Uplands Road, halfway between Hilton and Pietermaritzburg. A small congregation of about 30 sit scattered in the nave with their voices echoing in song, continuing to add life to the quaint treasure once every week.

It’s story that began a long time ago.

Every Sunday morning, the few families who lived in Zwartkop, now Blackridge, would travel to town by ox wagon to attend church. The first house to be erected in that area was the Mileman home (in 1867), the land belonging to William Mileman.

A nearby school, erected in 1899, Uplands High School, was run by Annie Colepeper who, to save the families of Zwartkop the ardous­ trip of going into town, invited  the clergy­ of  the  parish (then St Peter’s) to hold regular church services in the school.

As the number of members increased, the need for a church arose and in 1908 the journey of St Mary’s Church began with Mileman donating the land for the church.

It was built on traditional gothic lines at a cost of £350, much of which was raised by the staff and pupils of Uplands High School and its members. The church was consecrated and dedicated The Church of the Annunciation by Bishop Baines on November­ 25, 1911, when some of the 110 parishioners, who had to stand outside the church because it could seat only 70 people, sang Psalm 24.

 The church building has not been altered and still stands on its stone stilts, overlooking Pietermaritzburg­.

Most of the church was furnished by local people. Through the initiative of Miss Landale­, a teacher from Uplands High School who was talented at wood carving, a group of young people carved the altar frontal, its cross and superscriptions under her supervision. She also involved The Association of Arts and Crafts for Church Purposes­ to provide the altar linen and embroider the vestments.

Other furnishings that were borrowed from Uplands High School were gradually replaced by memorials, with the bishop’s chair in memory of Annie Simpson, the daughter of Mileman. Many of these were purchased by past and then present pupils of the school.

Simpson’s granddaughter, Charmion Rogers, began playing the church harmonium­ at the age of 17 and spent many years giving her services to the parish of Prestbury.

“In 1936, the Tanner family went to live in Blackridge. Ida Constance Tanner served as sacristan for many years. Her son and my husband John, made 14 of the 16 pews that still stand in St Mary’s. They also replaced the old chairs,” said Audrey Tanner.

Initially the church was part of the Kirby-Hilton parish, but became a daughter church to St David’s Prestbury in the early sixties.

In 2001 the church was faced with closure as congregation numbers had declined and it had become increasingly difficult to maintain.

The then 90-year-old church, with its cardboard appearance, had also been vandalised­ and broken into on three occasions­ with many of its assets being stolen­.

But the church managed to outlive the dark days and continues with weekly services­ every Sunday at 7 am.

“There was a time when the number of people attending sermons dropped to six or nine,” said Tanner. “But the numbers have increased since then and we normally have around 20 to 30 people attending.”

Sherrell Botha, one of the church wardens,­ said: “The church is like family and hopefully it continues to live on for many more years.”

• The 100th anniversary celebration service will be held at 11 am on Sunday with a bring-and-share lunch afterwards. Everyone is welcome.

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