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1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

Reflections on 100 years

of the Harrismith Methodist Church

. . on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the second Methodist church building in the town. Why this date was chosen, not 1973, one hundred years of Methodists in the town; or 1974 – one hundred years after the first church was built – who knows?

So the old church on top was built in 1882, Miss Bayford was at the foundation stone laying, and that’s what the centenary was for, it seems; even though that building had been demolished in 1966 or 1967, and this new church below had been built in 1968. Anyone who knows better or more – please enlighten us in the comments. Thanks!

Trustees Meeting Minute Book:

Rev Wynn the minister. (Presumably church services were being held in homes or other halls at the time?). August 1873 – First Trust Meeting to decide to build a church on the ground given by Free State Volksraad.

Church cost £460, twelve and sixpence + £451, fifteen and sixpence. Lamps and seats £44, no sixpences.

October 1874: Request for a manse. By June 1875 the manse was completed at a cost of £753, fourteen and sixpence.

Evening of Wednesday 10th January 1877: Special Meeting in consequence of the Chapel roof having been blown off this afternoon. (Whole roof removed and replaced – Minister away)

4 June 1878: The Sabbath School Committee respectfully requests the permission of the Trustees of the Wesleyan property to erect a building to be used as a Sabbath and day school. This committee giving a guarantee that the said building shall be put up free of debt.

October 17th 1880: Public meeting called to consider advisability of building a public school in Harrismith.

October 24th 1881: Decided to use present building as school and erect church on Society’s ground opposite. Forty foot by sixty foot (no cubits?). Seating 400 – cost not more than Two Thousand Five Hundred Pounds.

December 1881: Proceeds of Bazaar Two Hundred Pounds. Site of proposed new Chapel is forty foot from road (not cubits).

14 June 1882: Laying of Foundation stone of new Chapel.

A word from Rev Wilfred Hartley on the occasion of the centenary in 1982

Harrismith has a very special place in my heart, as it had for my late wife Olive. We arrived as a newly wed couple, and the people took us to their hearts in a rather wonderful way. Two of our children were born there and the ladies took great delight in assisting the lady of the manse.

We arrived in January 1940 when there was a lot of bitterness created by the Ossewa Brandwag and their cohorts, but we made out and preached the Gospel without bitterness, always seeking to take a positive line. On two occasions we had sailors from British warships staying with us, and how they enjoyed a bit of family life.

I could tell you a great deal about some of the very unusual characters who lived in Harrismith. (Oh, boy, I wish he had told!). When I meet old friends who were our contemporaries we have a jolly good laugh about “old times.”

Reminiscences of the Davie family

  1. Mrs Maggie Simpson (eldest sister of Doris Davie)

Anniversary: Cello, drums, violins played by Alice and Annie Brittan and Dora. Alice learnt millinery with Mrs Urswell; Annie and Dora served at the drapery counter of Brayshaw Store; Cornet played by Beno Sammell. The church was full of Military.

Sunday School picnic Three wagonloads left at 8am and another at 10am for latecomers. Tent erected at homestead. Mr Bonham (butcher), a Salvationist, brought band to play at start of wagons and came with. (Don’t you just love it that those sinful non-Methodists were allowed to ‘come with’?!).

Arthur Putterill was Sunday School Superintendent. His wife and daughter Marion played the organ. John Putterill was also in the choir and took the music for the anniversary. Mr Jack Fife sang in the choir. He was a lay preacher and sometimes helped in the Sunday School. His nickname was “Pompom.” (cos ‘you must have fife and drum’).

2. Mrs Mary Davie

A handful of people held Church at Grootfontein, Ivy Petty’s farm. UWCTU members Alice and Eliza and Maggie and Nellie Pendelbury came to play tennis on a Wednesday. Maggie could play better but was “not allowed” – only allowed to collect the balls.

Aunt Alice and Eliza, Sunday School teachers, (Eliza played the organ too), always called for Maggie. One day Maggie hadn’t been dressed so was left behind. When she discovered it she ran crying all the way and remembers Aunt Alice receiving her, laughing, in a dirty dress and pinny.

3. Miss Doris Davie

One Sunday, a man came into church. He sat down and all the children started to titter, because the worthy gentleman had forgotten to take his hat off !

My niece of four, sporting her brand new shoes, was standing on the pew next to her mom when suddenly she slipped, and if it hadn’t been for the prompt action of her mother, would have landed on her head!

Another niece, aged three, also standing on the pews, when we started to sing the first hymn, realized she didn’t have a hymn book, so she turned round and took the hymn book out of the hands of the lady behind her!

One Sunday morning Miss Emma Putterill came hurrying up the aisle and into the choir. In her hurry the dear old lady had forgotten to take her apron off!

Looking back – Mr Tom Moll

St Paul says: “Forgetting what is behind, looking to what is before, I press on . . “

But we can’t forget the past altogether, can we? And at times like these it does us good to look back. I am no literary man, so what I am putting down here will be only ramblings, to stir up a few memories perhaps.

When we first came to Richmond, Natal in ’47 we met up with a Mr Jim Barclay, who had been a policeman at Kromhof (near Mont Pelaan, the then Christina) and he had quite a bit of contact with Harrismith during the rebellion, so we had an interesting chat, and he gave me this little piece of doggerel:

I always thought that Johburg was, and has been since its birth, 
Without equivocation, the greatest place on earth. 
I also thought that London was the greatest city known,
With its many million people, and the Queen upon the throne.
But now a brother tells me  
That this is all a myth,
For the greatest place upon this earth 
Is known as Harrismith !

Sad to say, after a lapse of thirty eight years, my wife and I have become estranged from Harrismith and its Methodist church, but that bond with the older Harrismith-ites and the warm feeling from them somehow still exists. How can we ever forget the warm humanity, the quips and cranks, but also the true Christianity of people like the Davies, Liddells, Farquhars, Sinks, Fife, McCourt, Cheshire, Hastings, Rapsons, Spilsbury, Putterill, Sharratt …… and many more.

Now for a more personal note: My grandfather M C J Moll, was the first teacher in Harrismith, and I was related to about half of the population. My mother was a Liddell and my father’s mother a Bignhame !

My wife (nee Pratherae) and I were both born in Harrismith, in Stuart Street, within a block of each other, christened here by Mr Pendlebury in the old church, which stood on this site. We were reborn here, got married here, our first daughter was born here and christened in the old church.

Looking back with nostalgia, “revolving many memories.” (reviving?) How can the many children who passed through this Sunday School and Young People’s Guild forget Cliffie Sint as Superintendent, and their annual picnics at The Old Homestead to which they went by ox-wagon. And then comes the day when we came to Harrismith from Natal and saw for the first time this fine little church that had replaced the old sandstone one that had become so “wonky” (expecially the north-east corner that had to be underpinned) that it had to make way for a new building.

The old order changeth, 
yielding place to new.

That is true, but how conservative we are at heart, especially us “oldsters?” It gave us quite a wrench to see that our old church had had to be replaced. However, that is the way of the world. In the past this church has been a Bastion for Methodism in the north-east Free State, and we pray that it will continue to be so in the future.

I wonder if anyone still remembers the day when a Mr Barn, with his dapper little figure, and his neat imperial beard, who fancied himself as a singer and whom we had in this congregation for a few short years during World War II, jumped up out of his pew during the singing of a hymn, and stomped up the aisle, proclaiming in a Stentorian voice: “This is not how it should be sung, put some more life into it!”

Mr Wilfred Hartley in the pulpit, and Uncle Wright Liddell at the organ, were at first taken aback, but then with a smile they humoured the old fellow. The hymn was speeded up and sung accordingly to his wishes.

Precious memories – Rev Lloyd Griffiths

It is a privilege and a joy to respond to your minister’s request for a short article in this your Centenary Year. Congratulations on this most important milestone in the life and witness of Harrismith Methodism!

Never do we pass the Platberg but memories tug at the heart strings – and a host of dear faces appear before us. We settled into the old manse at 22 Warden Street in January 1943; like two of my predecessors, Tom Elliot and Wilfred Hartley, I took my bride of a few weeks to her first home shortly after ordination in Johannesburg. Now I have just received an invitation as Past President to attend the 100th Conference in the same city! How time flies!

Besides, our two sons were born in Harrismith, my wife electing to go to the nursing home for the first one at two o’clock in the morning when the thermometer registered 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the car was standing on blocks, all four tyres having been sent to Ladysmith for retreading! War years those were.

Hopefully we shall be able to attend your celebrations in a few months time and perhaps recall some of the names of the stalwarts still being with you. Besides the regular services in the main centre there were monthly ones at Swinburne, Witzieshoek, Speedwell, (alternating with Summerslie and Maweni Heights) and a quarterly service at Verkykerskop “where a large number of Afrikaans folk attended.” We even tried a service in the Arbuckle home on the farm Somerby at Aberfeldy!

Rejoice in the Lord – again I say REJOICE !

We look forward to meeting up with you again, especially those who may remember us. Warm and affectionate greetings from Thelma and Lloyd Griffiths (Pietermaritzburg).

Miss Ivy Petty remembers

Smoke: We arrived for morning service many years ago, a raw cold morning. The door steward remarked, “It’s rather smoky inside.” Well . . we could hardly see across to the pulpit. In those days coal stoves were used to heat the church, but something had gone very wrong to say the least.

We had a visiting minister to take the service, and our Circuit Steward apologised for all the smoke. A cheerful reply came from a very smoky pulpit: “Don’t worry, it will clear up just now, and I have been in worse predicaments than this.” All the doors were opened but with each gust of wind fresh puffs of smoke came from the two lighted stoves.

The Choir: The choir stood up to render the anthem; after the first few bars all the lights went out in town. The organ stopped but not the choir, which went on to sing right through the anthem much to the delight of the choir master. In those days the bigger congregation was in the evening so there was always the choir and an anthem.

Reminiscenses of Mrs Anna Gavin:

As was the custom the Methodist Church Choir, under the leadership of the Choir Master and Organist, the late Uncle Wright Liddell, attended special services in the homes of the Van den Bosch and Spilsbury families in the country, out near Kerkenberg. This little incident occurred during 1960: This particular Sunday the late Uncle Wright provided transport for the choir in his old car. On the way to the farm one of the ladies had to open a gate. Uncle Wright was so occupied showing his passengers the crops in the lands and the cattle grazing in the fields that he completely forgot to stop the car. There was this lady, wearing high heel shoes, holding on to the open door of the car trying to jump in, the passengers were histerical and unable to tell him to stop the car. After a long struggle she eventually managed to get into the car.

The moment came when the Choir were to render the Anthem; a kitten crawled under the pedal of the organ; as the late Uncle Wright put his feet onto the pedals the kitten let out a loud “mieuww!” Needless to say that after the first episode the choir were unable to sing for laughing. The anthem was rendered much later during the service.

A tribute to the late Mr W.G Liddell by Ivy and Anna

The Centenary celebration of the church would not be complete without mentioning the name of Mr W.G Liddell or “Uncle Wright” as he was affectionately known. Those of us who were privileged to serve with him learned to understand what real dedication to Service To The Master meant.

He was our organist in our church without a break for sixty three years, never taking a holiday. He played the organ both morning and evening on Sundays; plus Thursday evenings for choir practice, without ever missing one service. He also took upon himself the task of lighting and cleaning the black coal stoves used at the time for heating the church.

“Uncle Wright” always prepared special music for Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival services, this usually being a cantata. Each Christmas Eve he organized a lorry, had the old organ placed on it, took the choir on board and set off to sing carols all over town, usually starting at the hospital, never forgetting those confined to their beds. Many interested people followed the lorry in their motor cars, joining in the singing of carols.

It was ill health towards the end of his life that forced him to give up as organist and also as treasurer of the church, the latter task he also performed for many years with much dedication.

With the passing of this great man a musical era in our Church came to an end.

Mrs Mary Swanepoel remembers

Venue: Old Methodist Church

Date: October 1959, Time: 11.30 am

Occasion: Sunday School Anniversary Service

The pupils were all sitting up front in the choir stalls. It was during the sermon that two teachers noticed that two little girls were getting restless. Black looks didn’t help. They were playing up to giggling. Eventually the three year old sidled up to one of the teachers and asked if she could go to the toilet. As she passed her friend she grabbed her and pulled her along. Thinking the children would slip quietly out the back door, the teachers looked thankfully at one another. “That’s got rid of them,” their eyes seemed to say. Unfortunately their relief was short-lived. The little girls had no intention of slipping out unnoticed. They ran skipping and laughing down the full length of the aisle and out the front door.

More was to come. Five minutes later the patter of little feet was again heard, this time coming back through the hall, into the church and again down the aisle. They ran shrieking and laughing back to their seats. Two teachers were seen to collapse. Throughout all this disturbance, the minister’s voice continued unperturbed . . .

The Minister: Rev Justin Michell

The culprits: His daughter Jenny and her friend Sheila Swanepoel

~~~oo0oo~~~

Venue: Methodist Church Hall

Date: +- 1960, Time: 7 pm

Occasion: A social to welcome the new Minister

It was the good old days before TV when folk still went out at night. Every church in town had sent a representative to welcome our minister. George Davie, as Circuit Steward, was the MC and he was introducing these speakers.

Mr Cohen was there to represent the Hebrew Community, but when it was his turn to stand up he was nowhere to be seen. Mr Davie looked round puzzled. “Whatever happened to Mr Cohen?” he asked, then added jokingly, “He must’ve thought we were going to take up a collection.”

Looks of disbelief and horror from the older Methodists. Collapse of the younger ones who didn’t know any better!

Reflections: Jack Maguire

We can well remember the attempts in the early ‘Sixties to save the old church building for this great occasion – but alas, this was not possible. The stone had weathered badly and especially around the window sills it had already begun to crumble. The late Maurice Sharratt brought in a consultant. While it was possible to prolong the life of the building, the cost would have been tremendous and the result unacceptable aesthetically, hence the decision to build the present church.

I recall the many hours spent visiting with Miss Bayford who was then in the hospital and well into her nineties. As a little girl she was present at the foundation stone laying and the opening of the old church in 1882.

Wright Liddell used to tell many stories of the old days. One of his favourites was the compulsory church parades of British POWs during the Anglo Boer War. The church was full and as the old building was considerably larger, the singing was magnificent. The Minister of the day always allowed opportunity for this special congregation to choose hymns and a regular choice was no. 879 – God save our gracious King – which was always sung with great patriotic pride.

The old church also sported four big black coal burning heaters – one in each corner of the building. The use of these had to be adjusted according to the wind direction prevailing for the day, and a wrong decision could have your service “smoked out.” By wisdom born out of experience the lighting of those fires was also left to Wright Liddell. He was seldom wrong in the two stoves he chose to light – more often than not it was those on the east side.

During this period we graduated to Capil heaters – we must have been one of the first in the country – and these were later incorporated into the “new” church. Bob Moore had a lot to do with their installation.

We retain fond memories of Harrismith and the many lovely friends we made there. We wish you all God’s blessing as you start a new century of witness and service. As we greet you we echo the words, “the best is yet to be.” – Yours sincerely Jack and Eileen Maguire

A last word from not so long ago . . by the Circuit Steward

This happening was about the second or third Sunday morning, our present minister was in the pulpit, during the singing of the first hymn, a sudden and very loud shout came from the pulpit. STOP! STOP! STOP! Nobody had any idea what caused this action, it was really hilarious watching the reactions of the congregation, hymn books fell out of the hands of some, there were faces reflecting fright, amazement and also anger. Others decided it wise to sit down.

After a pause the minister said that looking at the faces of the congregation he could only see a lot of unhappy and sad looking people. When we sing hymns praising God we must sing joyfully and with smiles on our faces. Needless to say the singing continued with much more joy and expression.

~~~oo0oo~~~

2 replies on “Reflections on 100 years”

The church! Such an important part of our mum’s lives. I remember my mum’s pride of following in Anna Gavin’s footsteps and becoming circuit steward when Anna moved out of Harrismith. When mum became too frail to drive, Ms Anna Gavin, Ivy Petty, Kathy Schoeman, Myrna Woods and some others used to gather at our house on Thursday mornings for their prayer meetings. Always followed by tea and cake, of course

Liked by 1 person

Mom always spoke of “The Double You Ay” – The WA – The Women’s Auxiliary. The ladies of the church. I suppose this was them in action!

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