By Robert Langham Carter
Chapter 1 – The Farmlands
Two hundred years ago the unnamed region which was later called Observatory Road and finally Observatory consisted only of open veld and a few large farms, watered by the Liesbeeck and the Black River. Jackals abounded and hippos waded about in the marshes. Apart from the homesteads there were very few houses between the hamlets of Papendorp (Woodstock) and Driekoppen (Mowbray). The only communications were the rough track which led from Table Bay to Simon’ Bay, with feeders leading off through the farmlands
One of these tracks (which later became Station Road) ran to the low ridge of Slangkop, so named because of its many snakes, on the Valkenberg farm. Here the first Anglican presence was established when the Royal Observatory was opened in 1827. For the earliest of His Majesty’s Astronomers was a clergyman named Fearon Fallows who soon equipped the lounge at the south-west corner of his building as a chapel. He used to hoist a flag at the front of the house to announce the services which were attended by his small staff and some of the Dutch farming families.
The area was nominally in charge of St George’s Church in Cape Town though some, including Maclear the third Astronomer, found it easier to attend St Paul’s in Rondebosch. So did his manservant, Thomas Bowler, whose watercolours give a good idea of what the countryside looked like in early Victorian days
By 1830 the main road had been improved and coaches drawn by three or four horses began to ply and soon there were six vehicles a day in each direction. The railway line arrived in 1864, with a station at first called Bellevliet and then Observatory Road and lastly Observatory. The track to it from the main road, however, was neither paved nor lighted and was a sea of mud in the winters. Further transport became available when horse-drawn trams began to run in July 1890.
By 1881 there were enough local children for a co-educational primary school to be started in Collingwood Road, this being the nucleus of the Boys High School. And in 1864 a community of about a hundred workers grew up at the Observatory glass works near the station.
This district came into Papendorp when that parish was formed out of St George’s in 1875 and into Salt River when that was taken out of Papendorp thirteen years later. As there were few trains on Sundays worshippers, often walked up the railway track to their services. Ministry for the local Anglicans began in 1895. On 27 February the Diocese bought for £275 a part of the Malta Estate measuring 153 square roods and five square feet from one J.J. Art to be the site for a church. And a further step forward came when Archdeacon T.F. Lightfoot began to conduct an evening service once a month in a room in the Main Road. Later other clergy from the Cathedral and from Woodstock and Rondebosch were able to hold the services with Holy Communion once a month.
Chapter 2 – The Founder
F.W. Smith, the fourth rector, went on to be Dean of Kimberley. None of the other incumbents have risen so high though all served St. Michael’s with competence and much hard work. One of them in particular, Geoffrey Ferrers Gresley, the virtual founder of the parish, deserves more detailed commemoration. He was a nephew of Sir Nigel Gresley, ninth baronet, of Drakelowe Park in Derbyshire. He was born on 17 August 1851 but was thought too delicate to go either to public school or to university. He went to Ceylon as a tea planter but soon fell seriously ill and had to return to England. He evidently made a good recovery as he lived to the age of 82, despite a life of considerable hardship.
Gresley was ordained priest in 1879 and came to the Cape as chaplain to Bishop (later Archbishop) West Jones. He then served as rector of Woodstock and of Claremont and as assistant chaplain on Robben Island. It was as curate of Salt River, where his Aunt Louisa was the wife of the rector Joseph Taylor, that he came onto the Observatory scene. Appointed priest in charge of this area, he rented Scott’s Hall in Lytton Street for £4.10.0. a month from 1 November 1897, holding his first service there six days later. He organised a day school for coloured children there and in May 1899 also used it for his Sunday School.
On many Sundays there would be only five communicants and he must have been gladdened when no less than 56 took communion on Christmas Day. The parish could not pay him a salary but he had a small private income and very spartan tastes, so he just managed. His lodgings consisted of a succession of single rooms and occasionally two rooms and were sparsely furnished. The only creatures to be in comfort there were his cats whom visitors used to find occupying the few chairs. He had six cats, five of which were pure white. Sarah Beatty, the verger’s daughter, was his housekeeper for many years and continued with him in his retirement at the Strand and Faure.
Gresley was devoted to children. After Saturday morning catechism he would walk a party of his scholars up the slopes of Devil’s Peak to the Rhodes Memorial or across the open fields to Woodstock beach or, a long walk for young people, to Milnerton to gather wild flowers. At a church bazaar he disguised himself as a gypsy woman and told his parishioners’ fortunes. Knowing them as he did, he was able to startle them by his predictions – until a small boy noticed the large masculine shoes and gave the game away.
Chapter 3 – Building the Nave
The population was growing fast. Gas lighting was installed in 1898 and in the same year the residents founded and ran a public library. The Anglicans decided they must now build a church and a committee of twelve began to function. Its most prominent member was Sir David Gill, the Astronomer since 1879 and a most valuable member of the congregation. He served as St. Michael’s first church warden and its lay delegate at diocesan synods and he and Lady Gill were indefatigable in raising funds for the church.
It was at first intended to construct in three stages though in fact only the proposal for the first stage, the nave, was adhered to. The diocesan architects, Herbert (later Sir Herbert) Baker and Francis Masey, drew plans for a nave of six bays to seat about 250 persons. It has been said that it was based on Gresley’s chicken house on Robben Island. Baker certainly paid no attention to any such design – perhaps it was just one of Gresley’s jokes. On Baker’s suggestion a chancel of wood and corrugated iron was added. As he remarked, it would be so unsightly that people would soon put up the money to build a proper chancel.
G. Pallett of 19 Somerset Road in Cape Town was awarded the contract and Adrian van der Byl of Roodebloem allowed him to quarry all the required stone from his estate at no charge to the church. The stone, which is a hard quartzite of an ochre colour, was probably brought to the building site by ox waggon and dressed there.
The foundation stone (which can still be seen in the west wall) was laid with full masonic honours on 23 July 1898 by C.W. Barnett-Clarke the Dean of Cape Town and by the Deputy Grand Master of the Western Division of freemasons and copies of the Cape Times and Argus of the day before were deposited under it. West Jones was present and gave the address. The silver trowel which the dean used can now be seen in the Cathedral muniment room. It has ornamented edges and a carved ivory handle.
In the meanwhile cash and furnishings continued to be collected. A Danish gentleman H.J. Kasserus who owned the swimming baths presented a ship’s bell which had been dredged up from the Dane when she sank in Table Bay. It was hung in a frame in the grounds but soon afterwards was moved to the teak belfry which had been given by the parish of St. James at Sea Point. Nearby was the cross on the west gable, paid for by the children of the congregation.
Oak benches were obtained from Canada at a cost of £213 but arrived only 13 days after the consecration. Gresley found them “solid and good but ugly”. Six hanging oil lamps for the nave were bought for 45 shillings each and two copper and wrought iron ones for the chancel. A text was painted on the chancel arch and later replaced by a better painting within a scroll. Several lecterns were available. Baker offered to have one made in wood in the carpentry shop at Zonnebloem College. But Mrs Heineman of Newlands offered a brass one and Baker gave something else. Till the lectern arrived one was borrowed from St. John’s in Long Street.
A wooden altar, carved at Zonnebloem, was bought from All Saints’ Home in Cape Town for only £2. But a better altar, which Masey designed, and a harmonium, were ordered from England and brought up from the docks by ox wagon, this no doubt being cheaper than moving them by train. The old altar which had been used in Scott’s Hall was then put into good order and given to Malmesbury parish and the All Saints’ altar went to the mission at Suurbraak. A Glastonbury chair was designed by Baker. Two stalls for clergy and seating for 16 choirmen and 24 choirboys were set up in the chancel. And St. Andrew’s Rowbarton in Taunton, of which Gresley’s brother Roger was rector, gave a font of white stone which the Castle Line kindly brought for only half the normal freight charge.
All was now ready for the consecration and this was performed by West Jones on 4 April 1899, with Bishop A.G.S. Gibson preaching the sermon on “The House of God, the Home of Man”. Afterwards a luncheon for 56 people, provided by Dix and Sons’ cafe in Main Road, Claremont, at four shillings a head, took place in Scott’s Hall with speeches from West Jones, Gill, Mansfield of the building committee, Baker and Pallett. The collection that day was £60.
The next day the first wedding took place and the alms box was rifled. This happened three times in the first week. Gresley must have asked the police to watch the church because in July he wrote “Church handcuffed by night policeman finding door open.” Hitherto Gresley had made his entries in the Salt River registers but now he opened his own, making his first entry for marriages on 5 April and for baptisms four days later. Some burials took place in the cemetery of St Peter’s, Mowbray (which in fact was, and is, in Observatory) but the majority at Maitland.
Not long after the nave, the builder Pitt erected a hall for £1300 and it was opened by Lightfoot on 6 June 1901. The day school with its 124 coloured children under Miss Heeger moved in from Scott’s Hall. The church hall was also used for some services, for which Mr and Mrs Warner of Cape Town provided a harmonium, and as a vestry until the present vestry was built. Scott’s Hall was converted into a mission chapel and reopened on 17 September 1905, though regular services began only in the following January. As most of the coloured worshippers were Dutch speaking Gresley learnt enough of their language to be able to conduct their services. Scott’s Hall was later sold and became H.W. Haslam’s garage.
Bubonic plague broke out in the Western Cape in 1901 and an isolation camp was established at Uitvlugt (now Pinelands and N’dabeni). Gresley volunteered to minister to its inmates. This was against the wishes of the medical officers who warned him that if he was admitted he would not be allowed out. “I don’t want to come out, I want to go in,” he told them. Inside the camp he did excellent work until he caught the disease himself though, fortunately, he recovered.
The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in October 1899 brought changes in the life of the community, with many young men joining up. Troops were stationed nearby and some came to worship. They were entertained with concerts and war funds were raised. Gresley was surprised in February 1900 to find 1000 sheep from the Argentine, imported for military rations, grazing in the field to the north of the church, with soldiers acting as shepherds.
Chapter Four – The East End
With the further growth in the village’s numbers the nave became too small and people had to be turned away when there was not even standing room. It was decided to carry out both remaining stages of the building programme at the same time, thereby raising the seating capacity from 350 to 600. Baker and Masey completed the specifications by December 1903, the tender of McAllister for £6036 was accepted and some funds were raised. A Ladies’ Collecting Association was formed and Gresley himself paid many visits to Cape Town and obtained money or pledges from its wealthier residents. The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in England gave £150 and the largest private donors, of £50 each, were the archbishop, J.W. Jagger, Dr. A. Y. St. Leger of Avondale in Collingwood Road and Gresley himself. He also received some support from his family and friends in England. But money also had to be borrowed, a factor which would lead to endless trouble in the years to come, as a later chapter will show.
Even with the loans it was found necessary to economise a little. Fresh tenders were called for and that of A. B. Reid & Co. of Cape Town and Mowbray, although at £6248 slightly higher than McAllister’s, had to be accepted. Work would start at the east end and if money ran out before the nave was reached, a temporary crossing of iron would be erected to join nave and chancel, something which luckily did not prove necessary.
Gill laid the foundation stone (which, like the nave stone, can still be seen) on 30 October 1904 with a silver trowel presented to him by Masey, and West Jones read some prayers and blessed the stone. Reid’s foreman, Sidney Eddy, got to work after receiving permission to quarry stone from the Roodebloem Estate Syndicate which had taken over the property after Van der Byls’s death in 1902. When construction reached the temporary chancel this was demolished and its fittings, together with an oak litany desk, given by the Armstrongs in memory of their mother, which had arrived from England in October 1903, were moved to the new chancel. The old chancel was re-erected to the west of the nave to serve as a vestry and finally disappeared only when the present vestry was brought into use. Prior to the opening of the completed church the old oil lamps were replaced by incandescent gas.
St. Michael’s was consecrated by the Archbishop on Trinity Sunday 18 June 1905, with Archdeacon R. Brooke preaching and J.W. Williams, the Bishop of St. John’s, being among those who managed to be present despite torrential rain.
In the meanwhile this locality had been formed out of Salt River and Mowbray into the parochial district of Observatory Road. And on 18 June 1905 the parish of that name was constituted with Gresley as its first rector. When its boundaries were being discussed in February 1902, the rector of Mowbray had claimed all the territory south of Station Road but the boundaries finally agreed to were: Cole Street and Rochester Road on the north, the Black River on the east, a line between the Dutch Reformed and St. Peter’s cemeteries on the south and Devil’s Peak on the west.
Chapter 5 – Financial Problems
Most parishes need to raise loans to meet part of the cost of building their churches and manage to repay them fairly soon after their church is completed. St. Michael’s, however, had to endure an anxious spell of no less than 48 years before it was out of debt. Its troubles were due partly to the undue optimism of the building committee but also to circumstances beyond their control.
In 1894 the Observatory members of the Congregational Church had erected a building to seat 180 at a cost of only £970.8.0. Their Anglican neighbours were a good deal more ambitious. They would build their church in three stages, each stage to cost about £2000. The nave, the first stage, went according to plan and was built for £2600 which was completely paid up by the end of 1902.
The community had had to borrow £1400 in 1901 to build the parish hall and this amount was still outstanding when it was decided to effect the two further building stages at the same time at a cost of about £4500, to furnish it for £1600 and to build a rectory for £1600, making a total of no less than £7600.
There were some grounds for this optimism, for the Boer War had been a period of economic prosperity. But even before this the village had been, in a sense, “going down”. Increased urbanisation was driving the wealthier inhabitants into more rural areas further south and it was stated in the Argus Annual for 1897 that Observatory Road had now “become a very popular place of residence for young couples,” who could probably contribute little to the building fund.
The position worsened with the post-war slump. Many had to leave the district in search of employment. A landlord was glad to let a five-roomed house for as little as £3 a month, many newly built houses stood empty. When tenders were called for they proved higher than expected. All hope of building a rectory had to be abandoned but a contract for the church was made with A. B. Reid & Co. for some £6248. A local firm might have been induced to do the work for rather less but Reid’s were one of the top Cape Town companies. They had rebuilt Groote Schuur for Cecil Rhodes and been involved with many other big projects and later they would erect the Union Buildings in Pretoria: inevitably, they were expensive.
So the parishioners were blessed with one of the finest churches in the Cape Peninsula – but at heavy cost in future anxiety. They certainly made valiant efforts to regain their solvency. Gresley received no salary and his curate brother Roger only £150 a year. There was always great need to employ a curate but often there were no funds to pay one. The verger on £56 a year and the organist on £24 were by no means over-remunerated. No rectory was built until 1922 and even that had to be sold only four years later: it was not until 1935 that a rector here got a home of his own when the present rectory came into being.
The creditors agreed to reduce their rate of interest from 6% to 4% and functions of all sorts were held. There were sales of work, cake sales, bring and buys, rummage sales, fetes, bazaars, carnivals and bridge drives. The Gills held sales at the Observatory and even in retirement in London, when they managed to induce several titled ladies to make contributions. Later Astronomers also did their bit. The debts of 1903 were finally cleared in July 1946 when all that remained due was £825 out of the £1500 borrowed to build the rectory and that was liquidated not long after.
Chapter 6 – St Michael’s Music
Music here has always been of outstanding quality and there are at least three reasons for this. Several of the organists and choir masters have been fine musicians, they had an excellent instrument at their disposal and frequent concerts and recitals had to be held to raise church funds. As early as January 1899, when no church had been built, Gresley had already obtained cassocks and surplices from Van Heems of London at a cost of £20 and he had the use of various harmoniums from 1897 onwards. Music took a great step forward when F.A. Burgess was appointed organist in July 1902. Besides being a good choir master he was interested in the teaching of music and wrote several articles on this in the parish magazine. He was also a composer and at least one of his tunes went further a field. Named Observatory, it was composed in 1909 and was included in the Auxiliary Church Hymnbook when this was published in England. He retired in 1926 after long and devoted service and died overseas fifteen years later.
The church’s harmoniums all proved inadequate and the parish of Clanwilliam lent one until St. Michael’s made its next advance, which was to acquire an organ. This was ordered for about £1100 from Norman and Beard of London and Norwich, the firm who had built the large organ for Cape Town City Hall. It arrived in the ship Fort Salisbury but the parish could not afford to pay the customs duty and other charges and it had to remain in the warehouse at the docks in its packing cases till some individuals raised the money among themselves. It was then brought to the church and it was solemnly dedicated on 28 October 1905, with Burgess providing its detailed specifications in the parish magazine in the month following. A contract was made with Price and Sons of Cape Town to keep it in good repair for an annual fee of £1 7.11.6.
Successive organists recorded their appreciation of its excellence and in 1910 E. R. Goodacre, a visiting musician, agreed. “I have played many instruments in South Africa,” he recorded, “but never a better two manual example. Indeed for its size it must be a show specimen.” And in 1957 the church’s organist thought it was the finest two manual organ in the Union. “The workmanship is of an unbelievably high standard.” There was pressed steel where most modern instruments had cardboard and the finest leather instead of the usual modern felt.
Chapter 7 – The Later Years
Gresley was made a canon of St. George’s Cathedral in 1915 and it was truly “the end of an epoch” in Observatory when he retired in the following year. It was fortunate that he was prepared to rough it for, as far as comforts were concerned, he had had a truly appalling time. Apart from the £150 a year the diocese seems to have paid him, in some years all he received was £7 a month to pay his rent. He had no less than nine moves in his first ten years, being, as he said, harried “from pillar to post, if his lodging (which were always dignified by the name of “the rectory”) being usually a single room or two rooms when he was lucky.
Gresley and his brother Roger lived for a while at Strand, where he did valuable services as a volunteer nurse in the serious influenza epidemic of 1918, and then at St. Raphael’s in Faure but made their final home at Butleigh in Somerset. Gresley died on 1 July 1933 and his brother three years later.
Innumerable stories were told about him. Unlike most white folk he normally travelled third class in trains to be in contact with the poorer people. Quite late in life he found a very big man ill-treating a horse and beat him with the man’s own whip and then went into St. Michael’s to ask forgiveness for losing his temper. The school children found him a most entertaining companion on their many walks together. He was a competent artist and had won a prize for a water colour at the South African Drawing Club’s exhibition in 1889. He is sure to have made sketches of the Observatory scene and it is sad that at present none of these can be traced.
Despite the clergy’s vicissitudes the parish went from strength to strength. As there were a good many coloured domestic servants in the congregation and their home language was Dutch the early Eucharist on the first Sunday of each month was held in Dutch. By 1906 Miss May Kewsley and Miss Hilda Dumsday had 124 children in the day school and there were 156 in 14 classes in the Sunday school.
Gresley and other clergy also held Sunday afternoon services at the camp for the unemployed at Oude Molen in Maitland and when the Government built an iron chapel there in 1908 Observatory folk gave some of its furnishings.
Electric light was installed in St. Michael’s in 1912 and ten years later an attempt to house the incumbent better was made. As Le Mesurier, the second rector, had a family a whole house was rented for him in 1916 for £15 a month. 16 Wesley Street was bought for a rectory in 1922 but had to be sold after four years and the Rectory continued to be in lodgings until L. Marriott Earle designed the present house at 8 Howe Street and it was built by Smith & Marks for £1200. It was blessed by Bishop S.W. Lavis on 25 May1935.
A parish room and office for the rector and one for the curate were designed by Victor Morris and built onto the hall by J. R. Hedden of 8 Queen’s Park Avenue, Salt River for £250 in 1922. The hall was the scene of an unusually well attended annual vestry meeting in May 1927, perhaps because the vexed question of whether ladies were eligible for election to the church council was to be raised. The motion was then defeated and it was not until three years later that Mrs Smith, the wife of the rector, became the first woman member, since when many have served with great advantage to the parish.
Observatory people had died in the first World War, and in 1922 the residents were given a site on the de Waal Drive above the path to the Rhodes Memorial for the suburb’s monument. It was designed by Kendall and James Morris and unveiled by Brigadier-General W. E. Tanner on 3 August 1924.
Church attendances continued to be strong: in 1937, for example, 440 took Communion on Easter Day and 450 at Christmas. The parish seems to have struck a bad bargain in 1954 when it bought Benville House in Collingwood Road for £3000 as a site for a new hall, losing about £1000 when it sold the property for R4000 eight years later. But in most other respects it went on its way rejoicing.
Chapter 8 – The Structure
The church consists of a nave with a western narthex and baptistery, transepts, Lady Chapel, chancel, apse, organ chamber and vestry. The over-all length is about 37 metres and the width across the transepts 16 metres. The six-bay nave is 8 metres broad, the chancel is 11 metres by 7 and both nave and chancel have an interior height of 11 metres. There is a spiral fleche over the crossing and the main gables are finished with barge-boards. When construction began it was hoped to build a steeple at the south-west corner.
Internally, the nave had a plastered dado and an arch-braced open ceiling of dark timber with small queen-post struts supported by heavy carved consoles on stone corbels. The roughly dressed walling suggests the Norman or Romanesque style. But two windows have tracery, and all the other have trefoil heads, reminiscent of the English Perpendicular style of the fifteenth century.
Mrs Doreen Greig, an expert on Sir Herbert Baker, calls St. Michael’s “a curious church”. It displays new elements like the window shapes and the fleche, which is typical of Northern France, but “the result is uncongenial. Perhaps the size of the church and a cramped site did not give the idea it contained enough scope.” Nevertheless she devotes a lot of space to it in her life of Baker. And other viewers, who are concerned with its general appearance rather than with its architecture, find it a handsome building.
Baker wrote to Gresley that Pallett had put work into the nave of a higher quality than he had contracted for and the masonry throughout is in fact excellent. The architects evidently liked their work here as they used practically the identical plan for at least two later churches, those at Germiston and Mafeking. Most of their buildings have since been enlarged or altered. St. Michael’s remains one of the few entirely unspoilt Baker churches.
Chapter 9 – The Round Tour
In this Chapter the Church’s treasures are visited by starting at the main entrance door on the south-west and going round clockwise to the Lady Chapel and Chancel and back into the Nave and down to the West end. The erection of private memorial tablets often disfigures a church. St Michael’s is fortunate in having none of these, memorials here all taking other forms.
The space enclosed by two iron screens. Owing to frequent thefts it was decided to keep the church locked out of service times except for the west door of this transept so that worshippers could see up to the altar in the Chapel and thieves get no further than the screens. Because of their inadequate height this precaution did not always prove successful. In July 1990 the screens were finally raised to the stonework above as a memorial to Basil Hendricks, a benefactor of the Church.
The Memorial to men killed in the First World War. Three panels of polished clouded onyx in a frame of mottled red alabaster. The memorial was designed by Kendall and Morris and was unveiled by General Tanner on 8 October 1 922.
The stinkwood pulpit was given by the sons and daughters of James Woof of Upper Wrensch Road, one of the church’s pioneers, and cost them £250. Designed by Kendall and Morris. Hugh Robert Burt of Bloemfontein, who had earlier lived in Wynberg and done much sculpture for churches, began work on it but fell ill and carving was completed by the prolific church furnishing firm of R. H. Morris and Co. of Cape Town. Gresley dedicated the pulpit on 15 December 1920.
The Chapel of our Lady
The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the entrance to the Chapel was given by Charles and Elizabeth Hobrough and dedicated by Bishop Leslie Stradling on Mothering Sunday 1983. In his sermon entitled “Mary: Eye-witness and Servant” the Bishop said: “It’s not surprising that you have put up a statue of Mary; the only surprising thing is that it has taken so long”. The two standard candlesticks in teak were made at Zonnebloem and given by curate Norman Hill and others in March 1930.
The Chapel pews and altar rail, all in teak, were given in memory of Harry D. Cusens by his widow and daughter and dedicated on Easter Day in
Encaustic tile with flower pattern in the north wall. Placed in Westminster Abbey c. 1370 and presented by Francis M. Westlake, the Custodian of the Abbey.
The Tabernacle. In March 1936 the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament donated the tabernacle in which the Sacrament is reserved.
The Chapel altar. This is made in Table Mountain granite by W. T. Attwood of 314 Main Road and given by Miss Ethel G. Golby of Willow Road in memory of her sister Mary. Dedicated by Archbishop Phelps on 27 October1935.
The small processional crucifix on the north wall is probably the original altar cross brought by Gresley from Uitvlugt chapel when the plague camp there was closed down. It was dedicated on 18 June 1905.
The image of Christ the Good Shepherd on the south wall was given by Fr Roger Gresley in memory of “four and a half years of happy ministry at St Michael’s”. An oak missal stand carved with foliage and the figure of a lion is marked on the back “R. Gresley- 1914”.
The Rood which hangs from the chancel arch, designed by Kendall, was given in memory of Fr Geoffrey Gresley and dedicated by Archbishop Phelps on 14 August 1936. The teak cross, which is 2.4 by 1.4 metres, was carved by F. Bakker and Co. The figure on the cross is 1.2 metres high and was made by Faith Craft Works of Westminster.
The teak credence table in the sanctuary was presented by W. Russell-Perkins of Johannesburg, formerly a teacher in St Michael’s Sunday School.
The crucifix above the high altar, thought to be 19th century Spanish, was given in 1984 by Mr Herman Noy of Cape Town. An earlier brass cross, now in the vestry, was given by Fr W. Watkins who had been Gresley’s colleague on Robben Island and is thought to be an exact copy of the cross in the Island’s chapel. A Mr Wood gave a slab of polished dark grey marble in September 1910 for the cross to stand on.
The six Florentine brass candlesticks on the high altar were given in August 1984 by Mr Guy Carter, and Mr Bill Gordon-Rae in memory of his daughter.
The copy of A Virgin and Child by Murillo in an ornate frame on the South Wall was given by Fr Geoffrey Gresley in July 1910 in thanksgiving for his recovery from plague in Uitvlugt camp.
In the safe are kept two silver chalices, a small silver ciborium, possibly the one given by Mr W. Saddler in 1937, and a large silver ciborium inscribed “In memory of Yvonne”.
The two brass seven-branched candlesticks used at Benediction were given by Mr and Mrs J. Steward in 1905. Mrs West Jones donated the two small silver candlesticks and the large brass alms dish in 1909, and the copper font jug was given in memory of Florence Sawyer in 1976. The Italian metal and marble monstrance was acquired in 1983 with money given in the Michaelmass thank offerings.
The unusual Angel Lectern in walnut wood was given prior to 1905 by Mrs Theresa Hudson in memory of her husband.
On the South wall is an oil painting of the Descent from the Cross. This is a copy, probably by a Belgian artist, of a picture in an art gallery in Munich. The angel on each side was painted by an inferior hand, probably the artist’s aprentice. Sir David Gill bought it in Edinburgh and he and Lady Gill presented it to St Michael’s in January 1907, shortly before they left South Africa.
Glastonbury chair. This ornate chair, used by the Celebrant each Sunday, was designed and presented by Herbert Baker in 1899.
The Confessional prie-dieu. Made by T. Thomason and Co. of Manchester and Birmingham and given in 1903 by two daughters in memory of their mother Mrs Armstrong.
The Greek Ikon of St Michael the Archangel was donated in 1990 by Dr Theo Rousseau.
The octagonal Font on stone shaft and base was made by Richardson, a local stonemason, in Pretoria flatpan stone in 1936 for £29.10.0. The Baptistery seats were given in 1938 by Miss E. Golby.
Below the west window is a white marble statue of Christ, a small copy of one in Copenhagen by the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen. It was made by Taylor and Gibson’s Monumental Works in the Main Road and given by Taylor in 1899.
Chapter 10 – The Windows
Some say that stained glass is a mere ornament and a waste of money. This is not so. Glass adds to the beauty of a church and to its religious atmosphere. Most of us do much of our learning visually and the study of stained glass gives us a much clearer picture of Biblical scenes and people.
St Peter: Made by Burlison and Grylls of 35 Great Ormond Street, London. Most of their glass was based on designs by the architect G. F. Bodley. Given by Theresa Hudson in memory of her son Laurence who died while a choirboy at St Saviour’s, Claremont. Erected on 7 February 1899, this was the church’s earliest piece of glass.
St George: In memory of Claude Clinkscales of Strubens Road who died in 1942. Cost £100. Dedicated by Archbishop G. H. Clayton 13 February 1955. The companion window of St Michael is possibly by C. S. Groves who is noted below.
Tinted “cathedral” glass was placed in the three lancet windows in the north transept in August 1937 at a cost of £50 (this may have included the cost of similar glass in the south transept windows). By 1985 these windows were broken and leaking badly. The Parish Priest, Fr David Binns, wrote to M. Gabriel Loire of Chartres, suggesting stained glass windows based on the design of the famous window in Chartres Cathedral of “Notre Dame de Ia Belle Verriere”.
An appeal was launched and the three windows were paid for by parishioners and friends and dedicated by Archbishop Philip Russell on 31 May 1986. Like Loire’s windows in St George’s Cathedral they were made by the method known as “dalles de verre” and are set in epoxy resin. They cost a total of R 22,224.71.
In the centre are the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child holding the orb in his left hand and his right hand raised in blessing. Above is the Dove of the Holy Spirit. On either side are angels bearing candles and censers and above them are the star and the sun, symbols of Mary and Jesus.
Below are the three Archangels. Gabriel is on the left holding a lily, and Raphael on the right carrying a fish. In the centre is St Michael bearing shield and spear and overcoming the devil. Above him are the sacred letters Alpha and Omega.
Three windows in the North wall.
Faith: holding the Gospel in her left hand and the Cross in her right. Given in memory of Nigel Walsingham Gresley (1850 – 1912), rector of Ozleworth in Gloucestershire, by his younger brothers Geoffrey and Roger.
Hope: crowned with a flower wreath and holding the anchor of Hope (and of the Cape of Good Hope) in her right hand and ears of corn in her left.
Love: with a golden crown and holding a golden heart with a flame of fire above it.
Hope and Love were given by the Armstrong family in memory of Agnes Edith Armstrong. All three windows are by Burlison and Grylls and were dedicated on Ascension Day, 17 May 1912.
East Window: Three-light window of the Virgin and Child with shepherds and magi. By Burlison and Grylls. Given by the Hudson family in memory of Theresa Margaret Hudson (1831-1907) and dedicated on 24 December 1910, her birthday.
Centre: The Ascended Christ, holding the orb in left hand and adored by angels. It is related in the life of W .M. Carter that Gresley discussed the subject of this window with the archbishop. Carter suggested a Crucifixion but Gresley and Mrs Carter and another lady who was present all preferred The Lord in Glory, and Carter gave in. Presented by Sir David Gill and other members of the British Association of Science who inspected the Observatory in 1905.
Left: Angel in blue robe blowing a trumpet. Emblem of Faith below. Right: Angel in red playing a tambourine. Emblem of Hope below. Both these windows were given by Baker and Masey. All three are by Burlison and Grylls and were dedicated on Michaelmass Day, 29 September 1907.
South: The Magi seek Christ by a star. By Jones and Willis of London, Birmingham and Liverpool who supplied many windows and fillings to South African churches. Given by Miss Augusta Maclear of Wayland, Kenilworth, in memory of her father, Sir Thomas Maclear, Astronomer 1834-1870. Dedicated by R. Brooke, Archdeacon of the Cape, 1 July 1923.
Two windows showing Jesus and St John the Baptist with animals and birds. By Groves 1930. Charles Sidney Groves (1878-1964) was a lecturer at the Michaelis School of Art of the University of Cape Town. He made many fillings and windows for South African churches. Given by the Inglis and Cox families. G.D. Inglis of Rochdale Villa, Alfred Street, was an auctioneer and estate agent in Burg Street, Cape Town. Dedicated by Canon le Mesurier 14 December 1930. The window of the Christ Child was damaged by vandals in 1989 and restored by the firm of Jan Bitenco of Cape Town.
South. St Andrew: Like the St Peter opposite, made by Burlison and Grylls and given by Mrs Hudson in memory of her son.
West. Crucifixion: Sexfoil tracery above. By Lavers Westlake and Barraud of 3 Oxford Street, Manchester and Southampton Street, London. Much of their glass was designed by the pre-Raphaelite artist Henry Holiday and they have other windows in this country. Given by the Parish children. They had begun to collect by July 1908 and the window was installed at Epiphany 6 January 1915.
Chapter 11 – The Holy City
Many of St. Michael’s people played leading parts in local affairs. One matter on which Observatory was almost unanimous for many years was its aversion to liquor shops. As early as the 1890’s there were frequent applications for licences and these were always opposed by public meetings and for many years with success up to as late as 1918 though later the trade managed to get in.
Observatory used to boast more than 16 churches and was called, at any rate by some of its more smug inhabitants, the Holy City. A writer reported this in the Argus in 1983 and felt sad that the number of churches had fallen while the bottle stores had increased, so it was no longer a Holy City. It should be a matter for prayer that the number of the saints will grow larger and Observatory become the Holy City again.