St Saviour’s Church
The birth – and life – of St Saviour’s, mother church of Good Shepherd-Protea.
*Based on a history written by R.R.Langham-Carter.
The original parish of St Saviour’s, mother church of Good Shepherd-Protea, covered an enormous area. Besides Claremont, it included Newlands, part of Kenilworth and a large tract on the Cape Flats. Chapels had to be built and staffed by St Saviour’s to care for the increasing populations. Of six such daughter churches, only Good Shepherd-Protea has remained as a chapelry with St Saviour’s.
The dynamism of Robert Gray, who had arrived at the Cape in February 1848 and became first Anglican Bishop of Cape Town, is reflected in the speed with which he got things done: the foundation stone for St Saviour’s was laid on 14 November 1850.
The Claremont region of the day consisted mainly of farms and country estates with a little hamlet of cottages, some taverns on the main road to Simonstown and one or two small shops. By the middle of the 19th century, road surfaces had improved and the services of horse-drawn omnibuses to Cape Town had became faster and more frequent. But those who wanted an Anglican service had to go some miles north to St Paul’s in Rondebosch or south to St John’s in Wynberg.
Gray came out to South Africa with the firm intention of developing Anglican work throughout the country but did not neglect the area on his own doorstep. Within months he had rented a cottage at the corner of Main and Protea Roads, which was a school on week days and a church on Sundays. Soon after it was decided to build a small church on ground adjacent to the Main Road, donated by Rice Jones.
The Bishop’s wife, Sophia, had made a study of architecture and had plans for a chancel to which a nave could be added when the congregation increased. The cost would be about £625 and a little funding was obtained locally, but most of it came from the Grays and their friends.
Mrs Gray had some excellent builders who lived at Bishopscourt. These were the Scottish stone masons Alexander Bern and Colin and Alexander Lawrence who also erected many other fine churches. They put up a small chancel in Table Mountain sandstone, while Butterfield sent out from England the stone for the windows, the teak beams for the ceiling, ready carved to the right shape, and some basic furnishings. It was first used on Easter Sunday in 1853 and Gray consecrated it as St Saviour’s on Easter Tuesday the next year.
Services gradually became too crowded for the small chancel and, so, in 1857 two bays of a nave with aisles were built and, eight years later, two further bays were added, lifting the seating capacity to 270.
The Gray era ended in 1872. Sophia had died the previous year and the Bishop died on 1 September. He was buried at St Saviour’s with great pomp and ceremony: two special trains from Cape Town disembarked nearly 2 000 mourners, who joined the cortege coming down Protea Road from Bishopscourt. It was resolved to enlarge St Saviour’s further as a memorial to the Grays – with two final turrets for the nave, a northwest porch and a bell turret, the new work being dedicated by Bishop West Jones on 22 December 1880.
But the congregation continued to grow and it was decided to demolish Sophy Gray’s chancel, to build two eastern bays of the nave on its site with a new chancel beyond and to add two transepts, a side chapel, two vestries and an organ chamber, all built to designs by Herbert Baker. The work was delayed by the outbreak of the South African war and it was not till 5 April 1903 that Bishop Alan Gibson, a former rector of the parish, was able to lay the foundation stone – with Archbishop West Jones consecrating the work on 17 April 1904. Apart from a choir vestry in 1953, there have been no further additions to the church.
St Saviour’s has enjoyed a history of distinguished rectors: prior to the arrival of the first rector, Hopkins Badnall was priest-in-charge. He was not just one of the church’s leading theologians, but also first vice-principal of Diocesan College (Bishops) which Gray had founded and later archdeacon of Cape Town. Alfred Wilshere, the second rector after Charles Molony, had served as an army chaplain in the Crimean war where he worked with Florence Nightingale – he was, after St Saviour’s, chaplain on Robben Island whose church is also named Good Shepherd.
Wilshere was succeeded by Richard Brooke who had been a master at St George’s Grammar School and at Bishops and then rector of Clanwilliam. Richard Brooke became principal of Bishops from 1887 to 1900 after having established the St Saviour’s School at Feldhausen (now the Grove School), which became the Diocesan College School with junior boys there till 1900 when they transferred to the Woodlands premises in Rondebosch. Saul Solomon had the shortest incumbency – of just three years. His father was the owner of the Argus newspaper and he himself had careers in law, the church (Anglican and Roman Catholic!) and finally judge in the Transvaal. Eustace Wade, who later became Bishop of Natal was the father of Wimbledon tennis champion Virginia Wade – and John Aubrey went on to become principal of St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown.
Other St Saviour’s clergy who grew into higher appointments include Alan Gibson who became coadjutor Bishop of Cape Town; Michael Gibbs who became Dean of Cape Town and later Dean of Chester in England; and more recently Garth Counsell who was consegrated Bishop Suffragan of Cape Town in July 2004, being succeeded by John Hanson as present day rector of the parish.
The council and congregation of Good Shepherd-Protea are indebted to Mr. R.R. Langham-Carter who wrote “Under the Mountain – the story of St Saviour’s, Claremont” in 1973. Extracts from this publication have been used to compile this history for the Good Shepherd-Protea website – copies of the publication are available from the St Saviour’s office.