Early St Cyprian's - Worship in a Tent
St Cyprian's Cathedral Kimberley

This Week at the Cathedral

St Cyprian's Grammar School Kimberley

School Prospectus

St Cyprian's History: Worship in a tent

Cathedral building windows and memorials

Further monumental inscriptions


Early days on the Diamond Fields: "to hear the grand old service once again..."

"Make me a sanctuary," God commanded Moses, "and I shall dwell among the Israelites."[1] This instruction, elaborated in Exodus, must often have been on the minds, one supposes, of those few first priests on the Diamond Fields, who made do in tents and set about the planting of the church here. Throngs of people, arriving in burgeoning numbers after the discovery of diamonds, scrambled, whenever and wherever a new "rush" was proclaimed, and new towns of tents could spring up overnight. Digger populations, as mentioned in one typical account, swelled from an initial 2000 to 12 000 and up to 50 000 over a matter of months.

What had been known as the Middelveld, with the lower part of the Vaal River flowing along its edge, lay on the western side of the (as yet) young and vaguely defined Diocese of Bloemfontein - or was it actually the northern end of the Diocese of Grahamstown?[2] In some senses these niceties of ecclesiastical geography were, for the moment, academic, since Bloemfontein was without a Bishop (Twells had resigned in 1869); Archdeacon Merriman, in Grahamstown (soon to succeed as the next Bishop of that Diocese), was acting as Vicar-General for the Free State; and, for part of the period in question, the Bishop of Grahamstown (Cotterill) was in fact acting as Metropolitan in the absence of Cape Town's Bishop Gray, who was in England with his wife (who was desperately ill).[3]

The first visit by a priest to the Diamond Fields, in 1870, came from the Free State when the Revd Mr C. Clulee, spent part of his winter holiday here from Bloemfontein[4]; but the jurisdiction of the church in these parts (which, like the Diocese of the Free State as a whole, lay beyond the Queen's dominions[5]) was first officially extended with the arrival of Archdeacon Henry Kitton from Grahamstown in November. "We are requested to state for the information of members of the English Church residing at the Diamond Fields," announced the Diamond News, "that the Ven Archdeacon Kitton has been temporarily appointed by the Lord Bishop of Grahamstown (acting as Metropolitan) to the pastoral charge of the whole district on both sides of the river. The services and rites of the English Church will, until permanent arrangements are made, be performed only by the Archdeacon and such clergymen as he may authorise."[6]

Within a month, "Church of England Services" were being advertised and were held at Pniel, "in the new church tent"; in the Music Hall at Klipdrift (afterwards called Barkly West); and also at Good Hope.[7] Moving swiftly to consolidate an Anglican presence here, Kitton convened a meeting of the English Church Committee in December. Accepting office as secretary, Mr R.W. Murray advocated the erection of a church building as "a work so essential for the general good, that everyone of the Fields caring for the welfare of the community ought to take a part in it when called upon to do so." Soon tenders were being sought "for building the first church and school edifice on the Fields"; and, in February, His Excellency the Governor Sir Henry Barkly honoured the community by laying the foundation stone.[8]

It was also in February 1871 that the Archdeacon was joined by the Revd Mr Henry Sadler, who had arrived via Bloemfontein, and who is referred to in contemporary accounts as "Chaplain to the Fields".[9] Sadler had been recruited in England during Bishop Gray's recent visit there.[10] That the Metropolitan himself kept abreast of events at this remote corner of the country[11] emerges from occasional references in his correspondence. A distinct note of ambivalence comes across in a remark made in March 1871, that "Diamonds still found, but most unsuccessful. I do not see how we are to provide these 20 000 scattered souls with means of grace. They are not giving 100 Pounds a year to support their minister. Those who find get away, the beggars alone seem to remain."[12] If Gray was disconcerted, Sadler, in the thick of it, must often have been exasperated. "Here was a constantly shifting populace over a length of about 150 miles by 25," he reported: "This unsettledness indisposes them to contribute much to the erection of places of worship or the maintenance of a clergyman in a fixed spot."[13] The Klipdrifters, he conceded, "contributed handsomely", but "the church-goers in the other camps will do nothing".[14] St Mary's at Barkly West (i.e. Klipdrift) once established, remained for some years the principal parish church on the Fields,[15] and in relation to it those that sprang up at the Dry Diggings - what would become Kimberley - were initially mere outstations.


Dr Alan Becher Webb,[16] the new Bishop of Bloemfontein, hurried to the Diamond Fields as soon as he could - five weeks after reaching the interior - in September 1871 (it was then a three-day journey from the Free State capital). Webb was accompanied and guided by his Dean, Archdeacon Croghan (who had visited at least once previously).[17] Assessing the needs of the place, and advised probably by Croghan, the Bishop immediately transferred to Du Toitspan the "clever, merry-hearted" Mr F.W. Doxat, from Philippolis.[18] And shortly thereafter he sent, as an assistant at the Dry Diggings, a young priest from England named John Witherstone Rickards. Newly arrived, Rickards was to have joined the Missionary Brotherhood of St Augustine at Modderpoort in the eastern Free State - but he was instead diverted westwards to the Diamond Fields. Here his legacy - what began as a tent but is now the Cathedral Church of St Cyprian the Martyr - stands to this day.[19]

Rickards' London background should not be overlooked, for it was by virtue of his experience there that our parish obtained both its name and, one might suggest, something of its character. Ordained priest in 1868, he had served as curate under Fr Charles Gutch at a rather remarkable mission church in a depressed part of London - which went by the name of St Cyprian's, Marylebone.[20] "It was a centre of numerous works of mercy; a light spot amidst the dullness of London by-streets".[21] The dedication of this church was itself unusual and had initially been opposed by the Bishop of London because St Cyprian was not a "Red-Letter" saint.[22] Today, St Cyprian's, Marylebone, occupies a Neo-Gothic building perhaps only dreamt of in Gutch's day: back in the 1860s it consisted of no more than an ad hoc arrangement of erstwhile domestic buildings and spaces, suggestive in some ways of the early meeting places of the primitive church 1800 years previously. That the first church services in Kimberley took place under just such ad hoc conditions may in part have inspired Rickards to attach the name of "St Cyprian" to the church's first meetings in a tent at New Rush. It was equally a reflection, no doubt, of the warm memories of his former parish that he had carried with him when "the missionary spirit urged him to make his way in 1870 to South Africa".[23]

Something of the singular atmosphere at St Cyprian's, Marylebone, comes across in a description of it by Fr Frederick Noel SSJE, who served there with Rickards in the late 1860s. (This characterisation is often wrongly cited as describing the first church of St Cyprian in Kimberley[24]):

"The little church was a quaint building consisting of the front rooms of a house in Park Street, with the yard behind them and the stable in the mews at the back, the upper storey of which formed the choir, the stable itself the vestry, underneath it the yard, which had been a coal store, was roofed over and had a skylight, and a flight of many steps led up to the sanctuary. A surpliced choir was an unusual sight in the '60s, except in cathedrals and special advanced churches, and the daily celebration, which was carried on in this little sanctuary for 36 years, was something still more strange. About 150 people could be squeezed in, when all the gangways were filled up, and the services were very hearty and the congregation regular and devoted".[25]

If this was the unusual setting of St Cyprian's, Marylebone, then the incipient congregation of St Cyprian's at New Rush, now Kimberley, met first in even stranger surroundings. The writer J.W. Matthews would recall something of the "primitive state of things existing" on his first arrival at the Diamond Fields in November 1871, when worshippers gathered in a canvas tent billiard-room:

"On entering I beheld a full-robed clergyman officiating at one end of a billiard-table, which served for his reading desk, whilst a large and attentive crowd sat around the other end, some on rude benches which were fixed along the walls, others perched upon gin cases, buckets reversed, or any other make-shift that came to hand. The congregation behaved with suitable decorum, but I confess it was not easy to keep the mind from wandering to the incongruity of the surroundings. ..When the parson was praying or the people singing, it was not particularly edifying to be interrupted by the lively chaff and occasional bursts of blasphemy, which we could plainly hear through the canvas party-walls, which separated us from the adjoining bar and its half tipsy occupants."[26] For Matthews, "notwithstanding these drawbacks", and despite the valiant but imperfect renditions of the appointed hymns, it was nevertheless "refreshing to hear the grand old service once again".

Bishop Robert Gray, in the closing years of his life (he died on 1 September 1872), played only an indirect role in the establishment of the church on the Diamond Fields, and indeed he is seldom mentioned in this connection. The Bishop's projected visitation to the Free State, strongly mooted in 1870 but postponed when he had suddenly to depart for England, was eventually abandoned because of his own failing health. Yet the needs of Bloemfontein and its enormous hinterland (still without a Bishop through 1870) were amongst Gray's central concerns and a pressing priority when he went to England in July. It was there that he at length persuaded a suitable candidate, Allan Becher Webb, to agree to come out as the new Bishop (Jones had declined the Free State - which was a thousand kilometres into the interior from the Cape - but he later came to Cape Town to succeed Gray as Metropolitan).[27]

Crucial as was the appointment of a Bishop, Gray's recruitment drives were directed with equal (if not greater) vigour at men and women - clergy as well as laity - who would help carry out the work of an expanding church whose mission field was demanding as it was diverse. Hence of some consequence, it may be argued, for the subsequent life of the church in Kimberley in particular, was a visit by Bishop Gray - on St Cyprian's Day 1870 - to what he referred to as the humble "little mission chapel constructed out of two small houses, a coal shed, and a stable", which was St Cyprian's in Marylebone[28] (Gray's journal entry on an earlier visit there in 1867 describes it with a hint of some affection and admiration[29]). This ad hoc abode, accommodating a few hundred people at a squeeze, was, as Gray remarked, "all the provision for the spiritual needs" of some 11 000 souls in that part of London "which the church has yet made": the endeavours, against all odds, of its clergy (three were maintained by the Offertory), and its small Sisterhood (who were living in part of the building), were in a sense the closest analogue in London for the effort, with limited resources, that was needed in South Africa. The missionary values and level of commitment evident in this work amongst the poor, moreover, were of the kind that Gray was attempting to promote in this country. A sermon in Marylebone in September 1870, like Gray's sermons and addresses wherever he went on his periodic return trips to England, no doubt, called upon men and women to volunteer their services for church work in South Africa. We can but surmise that John Witherstone Rickards, as a curate there at the time, was present, and that when "the missionary spirit urged him to make his way in 1870 to South Africa",[30] this was (in all likelihood) a direct response to Gray's call. This being the case, it might truly be said that one of the seeds from which the life of St Cyprian's Kimberley would grow was planted by no less a figure than Bishop Robert Gray, in that unlikely mission chapel, dedicated to an African Bishop, on that St Cyprian's Day in 1870, in London.



[1] Exodus 25-27.

[2] In June 1869 Bishop Gray remarked that "Diamonds still continue to be found on our frontier, or beyond it" (emphasis added) - Letter Robert Gray to Bishop of Oxford 17 June 1869 in Gray, C. 1876. Life of Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of South Africa, II:475.

[3] In the months prior to his departure for England in July 1870, Gray had been anxious to get to the Free State, fearing that the church there might "collapse if not cared for" (his anxiety was heightened by the struggle to find a man who would occupy the office vacated by Twells). (Letter Robert Gray to Bishop Wilberforce 4 July 1870, in Gray, C. 1876. Life of Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of South Africa, II:502). Merriman had been offered the See but turned it down.

[4] Lewis & Edwards 480. Clulee, who came out with Bishop Twells in 1863, was Headmaster of the Grammar School in Bloemfontein, as well as heading the "Native Mission". Earlier in 1870 Archdeacon Merriman from Grahamstown had visited Hopetown, the northern-most outpost, at that time, of the Diocese of Grahamstown. There he encountered many men travelling to the Fields.

[5] A point made by Bishop Webb in Bloemfontein on St Andrew's Day 1900, during his brief temporary return there. To this day the CPSA straddles several international boundaries; and the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman itself has not been constrained within a single political entity.

[6] Diamond News 26 Nov 1870

[7] Diamond News 10 Dec 1870

[8]Diamond News 17 Dec 1870 ; Diamond News 21 Jan 1871 ; Diamond News 4 Feb 1871 ; Pressly, G.N. 1971 Centenary booklet St Mary's

[9] Diamond News 4 Feb 1871

[10] Gray had returned to the Cape with his family in January 1871- Gray II:515

[11] Despite many more pressing matters: Gray was distressed by his wife's ailing health and was himself far from well, and had returned to "plenty of troubles" (Gray II:516) - of which the evolving difficulties and opportunities for the church at the Diamond Fields were but one.

[12] Letter Gray to Mrs Mowbray 18 March 1871. Gray II:516.

[13] Letter H. Sadler 18 June 1871 cited in Lewis & Edwards p 480.

[14] H. Sadler cited in Lewis & Edwards p 481.

[15] The subsequent history of St Mary's is very adequately outlined in Pressly, G.N.

[16] Gray 525

[17] Lewis & Edwards

[18] Lewis & Edwards 410. Brother Doxat was brought out by Bishop Twells to the Missionary Brotherhood at Modderpoort, and was ordained at Advent 1868. p 405.

[19] Lewis & Edwards 410, 481; Cathedral history fragment 1870s 6 Obit to Rickards in "old Diocesan magazine" Jul 1922 by Revd Frederick Noel SSJE.

[20] Cathedral history fragment 1870s 6 Obit to Rickards in "old Diocesan magazine" Jul 1922 by Revd Frederick Noel SSJE.

[21] Cathedral history fragment 1870s 9:6.

[22] Tait was Bishop of London at the time. Red-Letter Days: In 1532 the Commons in England petitioned that holy-days, especially in harvest-time, should be diminished in number, and their observance as public holidays was soon considerably curtailed. The festival of St Thomas of Canterbury was removed from the calendar altogether - a move of great political significance as it "preluded the coming humiliation of the church by the civil power" All commemorations were swept away, except those that came to be printed in red letters in the Book of Common Prayer, hence "Red-Letter Days". The feast of St Cyprian was of course not one of these. Clarke, W.K.L. 1932. The calendar. In Clarke, W.K.L. (ed). 1932. Liturgy and worship: a companion to the prayer books of the Anglican Communion (London, SPCK), pp 215-6. Interestingly, as recently as 1932, there were only four churches in England that were dedicated to St Cyprian. (ibid, p231).

[23] Cathedral history fragment 1870s 6 Obit to Rickards in "old Diocesan magazine" Jul 1922 by Revd Frederick Noel SSJE.

[24] The mistake appears first in Lewis & Edwards (p 485). Repetition of it followed from this otherwise authoritative source, most recently in Oliver & Rall 1997. Images of Kimberley, p 83.

[25] Cathedral history fragment 1870s 6 Obit to Rickards in "old Diocesan magazine" Jul 1922 by Revd Frederick Noel SSJE. Noel adds that: "Mr Gutch did not live to see the beautiful church which has now taken its place as St Cyprian's Marylebone, and has been built partly as a memorial to his labours on the site of his former house. Among those who helped him in the choir during those early days were Mr Charles E. Kempe, the distinguished artist; Mr Shaw, afterwards Brother Maynard of the Society of St John the Evangelist, Cowley, who built the St Cuthbert's Church in the Diocese of St John's, South Africa; and Sir Frederick Holiday of the Indian Audit, well-known as Treasurer of the English Church Union. With these and like-minded men, John Rickards had been associated at S Cyprian's for two years when the missionary spirit urged him to make his way in 1870 to South Africa."

[26] Matthews, J.W. 1887 Incwadi Yami p 394 et seq. Matthews attended church at New Rush on his first Sunday on the Diamond Fields in November 1871.

[27] "I have offered the Free State to Jones," wrote Gray to the Bishop of Winchester in September 1870. Gray II:506. Finding "men and women" for work in South Africa kept the Metropolitan busy ("I have never had harder work than since I came to town,"he said - ibid p 509), and the refusals (apparently including that of Jones) were "very depressing" (ibid). In a letter to the Sisters at Cape Town Gray mentions having "offered the State to three men" (cited in Gray II:508). Following Gray's death William West Jones was persuaded to accept the office of Metropolitan, which he took up in August 1874. Lewis & Edwards 113-116. At the request of the South African Bishops, he took the title of Archbishop, at Lambeth, in 1897. Lewis & Edwards p 134. Dr Allan Becher Webb was consecrated at Inverness in Scotland on St Andrew's Day 1870: due initially to have been consecrated at St Paul's, London, Gray refused to have the new Bishop take the oath of obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury (considered by Gray to be "uncanonical and injurious to the Colonial Churches"). This matter relates to Gray's rejection of Erastianism, and his vision that the CPSA should order its own life free from political edicts or interference from abroad. Some of the beneficial consequences of this for the church in the twentieth century are touched upon by Bank, Louis, 1998. The changing role of the laity. In Suggit, J. & Goedhals, M. (eds) 1998. Change and challenge. p 36 et seq.

[28] Gray 1876 II:508.

[29] Gray 1876 II:372.

[30] Cathedral history fragment 1870s 6 Obit to Rickards in "Old Diocesan magazine" Jul 1922 by Revd Frederick Noel SSJE.


Archdeacon William Crisp's 1895 history, Some account of the Diocese of Bloemfontein in the Province of South Africa from 1863 to 1894 (containing descriptions of St Cyprian's Kimberley and its early Rectors), is available on the internet via the Project Canterbury, at:




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