There, hulking in ancient majesty over the pigeons and tourists, is St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican church, designed by James Gibbs. Its ‘twin brother’, so to speak, presides over the much smaller and more modestly apparelled populace of Cradock, looking out over the Karoo Heartland.
Formal history simply records the fact that, in 1862, the Dutch Reformed community of Cradock decided to expand and build a larger church. The architects, Weideman & Reid of Cape Town, came up with a design that was a nearly exact replica of the church in London.
The back story you’ll hear, often related over a sherry or two before dinner at the Victoria Manor, is that young Dominee Du Plessis met and married an Englishwoman who pined for the White Cliffs of Dover so much that this church design was chosen to make her feel more at home. A fanciful notion? But was India’s Taj Mahal not built out of such deep love as well?
What everyone does agree on, however, is that George Wallis of Cape Town completed the imposing building in 1868 at a cost of 34 000 pounds. But the consecration was slightly marred when he refused to hand over the keys until the final amount had been paid. So they had a bit of a whip-around and the building committee finally stumped up the monies owed within the hour.
- This is an excerpt from Karoo Keepsakes – A Traveller’s Companion to the Heartland of South Africa, by Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit. The book is available on order from www.karoospace.co.za and in the following outlets in Cradock: The Victoria Manor Hotel; The Schreiner Tea Room; The Olive Schreiner Museum.