Monday, August 29, 2016 - 07:20

This group of structures still survives. But in what form? They came on my heritage radar more than a decade ago but I would like to review the situation now. Originally established as a mission church in the town, there was an attached pastorie, plus school building divided between boys and girls. In the grounds behind the group is one of the wells that helped sustain the early town.

Then came the infamous group areas act and forced removals - the coloured people who had made up the congregation were relocated to a section of the town called Wesbank. The church had lost its function and amongst subsequent owners was the Department of Community Development. Something of an irony.

A fascinating side story had developed over the years. In 1910 a new pulpit was purchased by the NG Church in Malmesbury, and the original was donated to the NG Mission Church. When in 1973 The ‘Calvynse Kerk’ sought a pulpit for their new church they approached the Department, which sold 80 pews, and the pulpit for the grand total of R50. The pulpit, however, is of historical value, dated 1795, and believed to be the work of renowned sculptor, Anton Anreith. The solid oak pulpit was transported in sections from Cape Town to Malmesbury by ox wagons in 1795, and inaugurated on 23 October of that year.

To return to the mission church. It later became a store for an agricultural company and although preservation was not part of their core focus, the windows were covered by security mesh, which helped save them. Overall, though, the complex deteriorated through lack of maintenance.

 

Security mesh protected the windows (Chris Murphy)

 

The structures then came into private hands; the owner wished to create a multi-denominational church, and sought advice on how to maintain such a valuable group of buildings. But then tragedy struck - during a wet winter one of the walls collapsed.

 

The collapsed wall (Chris Murphy)

 

Short of capital the owner wished to make a temporary repair; the roof above the collapsed section was volatile and needed support, and the only material he could afford was cement blocks. Heritage Western Cape refused and the owner abandoned the project.

Now, in 2016 the group is utilised as low cost shops. Alongside is a new retail store built in a not at all sympathetic style to the original architecture.

I ponder whether the outcome is satisfactory? The structures are apparently better maintained, but what of their cultural value? Adaptability has to be a motivation in contemporary heritage, but with the loss of original function in this case, what actually has been retained?

Take a look at the photographs below and feel free to share your thoughts.

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2004 (Chris Murphy)

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2016 (Chris Murphy)

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2004 (Chris Murphy)

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2016 (Chris Murphy)

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2004 (Chris Murphy)

 

Malmesbury Church Complex 2016 (Chris Murphy)

 

Chris Murphy is a graphic designer and photographer working mostly in the tourism sector. He trained in layout at the Cape Times, and subsequently evolved into a graphic designer. Photography has been a creative outlet for him since his teens and he has attended courses at the Ruth Prowse School of Art and West Ealing College in London. The landscape and architectural heritage are his chosen subjects. 

Chris was a member and subsequent chair of the Swartland Heritage Foundation. He has also completed the Urban and Architectural Conservation course at UCT. At present he is the chair of the West Coast Museum Forum.

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