New timbers for historic church

Musgrave Methodist Church is undergoing renovations to the roof, which has been damaged by wood borer. This picture was probably taken in the early 1900s and shows the tram coming up Musgrave Road.

Musgrave Methodist Church is undergoing renovations to the roof, which has been damaged by wood borer. This picture was probably taken in the early 1900s and shows the tram coming up Musgrave Road.

Published Oct 21, 2023


The old picture today features Durban’s historic Musgrave Methodist Church in Musgrave Road. This beautiful brick building has faithfully served generations of Durban families since it was built in 1893.

Taken probably in the early 1900s, and featuring a tram in the foreground, the picture appeared in a booklet celebrating the church’s 100th year, published in 1993. Also of interest was a picture of the church in 1993 which appeared on the cover of the booklet which we’ve juxtaposed with a picture taken by Shelley Kjonstad this week after renovation work on the church began this month.

The Musgrave Methodist church today with the church hall hidden by a tree. The scaffolding for the restoration of the roof can be seen. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ANA

The church’s magnificently crafted wooden roof has been irrevocably damaged by voracious wood borer and work has started on replacing the damaged timbers. Congregants had invested enormous energy into a fund-raising campaign to enable the restoration, reaching their target of R1.2 million by the beginning of this year.

However, once the restoration process started, and the wooden ceiling cladding was removed, it was found that the roof timber underneath was damaged to a greater extent than was originally anticipated. The church requires a further R250 000 to complete the work. The funds need to be raised by the end of this month.

The Musgrave Methodist Church has been on the site at the corner of St Thomas and Musgrave roads since 1877. It opened on Easter Sunday that year. The land was acquired for the princely sum of £10, largely thanks to influential trustee Walter Greenacre. The land adjoined the Greenacre estate and was little more than sand and bush.

The Musgrave Methodist Church in 1993, shot for the cover of a booklet celebrating its centenary.
The church today, undergoing renovation to replace its ceiling timbers. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ANA

The original church soon proved too small for the growing congregation. It was demolished and the church hall, built in 1899, stands in its place today. It is on the left of the old picture. The current church was built in 1893. The architect was WE Roberts, the builder Joseph Alcock and the Carpenter John Nicol and Son. It cost £3 200.

The foundation stone was laid on April 29 that year by the Rev Mason.

The manse, and elegant Victorian villa, was built in 1895 and is today used for offices of various social outreach and early childhood development organisations.

Please use well: Rev David Barbour inside the church among the scaffolding. The church is appealing for R250 000 to complete more work than initially anticipated because the wood borer damage to the ceiling was worse than originally estimated. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ANA

In the early days of the church, Greenacre and business rival Harold Payne were members of the church, and would alternate as treasurer on the church’s trust. Many a time, they would make up any shortfall in the collection to ensure the church had a respectable sum to manage itself properly.

The organ inside the church was installed at the end of 1929 and is one of the finest instruments of its kind in Durban. It involved some structural alterations to the church which included the addition of a vestry at the rear of the church. It would cost £2 567 and the alterations £4 343.

Its beautiful stained glass windows were donated by the Hulett family and were installed at the same time as the organ. In what has been called the Hulett window, faces of the family were cleverly incorporated into the window, which was the first of its kind to be made in South Africa. It was designed by Prof Oxley of the Fine Arts Department of Natal Technical College.

An early picture of the congregation inside Musgrave Methodist Church.

Rev Barbour takes us around the massive undertaking to restore the ceiling as workman on scaffolding are removing the old and installing the new. Piles of old timber stack up at the back. Piles of roof tiles too. He tells how the batons on the roof just crumbled when they were removed. The famed stained glass windows are all boarded up to protect them and the organ is covered.

Services are being held in the hall.

Two uncovered stainglass windows where work is being complete. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad /ANA

Barbour says he’s told everything is on schedule and he hopes to be able to hold the Christmas service in the renovated church.

The leadership of Musgrave Methodist Church have done a sterling job of carefully and continuously looking after their property since 1877. The current appeal is an unforeseen emergency. The fact that they are carrying out these repairs demonstrates their commitment to preserving the magnificent landmark buildings to continue to do their good work.

If you are able to assist, contact church administrator Tilda Tearle at 031 201 2005/6 or [email protected]

The interior of the church showing the organ, altar and the famed wooden ceiling before the alterations started this year. Picture: Rev David Barbour

The Independent on Saturday