Letter to the Congregation – 29 April 2020

Dear members, I trust you are all keeping well, as we are 36 hours away from the end of lock-down period 2, and we enter level 4 lock-down. Our Session is having a Session Meeting tonight, and if there is anything you would like to bring to our attention kindly let Craig or I know – 083 459 1950.

Please continue praying for one another, and for those in need.

This year, we are turning 97 years old, yes 97 years old. We need to keep our congregation alive and aim for the 100 mark! Its only 3 years away. What a celebration it will be, and we will have much to celebrate about. And it is because of this, that I decided (with the permission of the Beckwith family) to re-run a speech given by one of our Senior Members, Jean Salmon in 1998, when the congregation celebrated 75 years at a special dinner held at the church. This may bring back many memories and for the newer members some interesting things to learn about our little congregation.

Thank you to Jean for the write-up below and for everything you, Frank, and your families have done in our congregation over the years.

In the vineyard, as always,

Session Clerk

* * * * * * * *

75th Anniversary St Columba’s Church (1998) – Written by Jean Salmon

Tonight, we are all here to celebrate 75 wonderful years in the life of our beloved St Columba’s. We give thanks and praise to God for his goodness and mercy in guiding us spiritually throughout these 75 years. By His Grace, He has enriched our lives and we thank all our Ministers who have brought our Lord’s message of love to all of us.

I have been asked to speak tonight as I have lived my entire life in Hatfield and cannot remember a time when there wasn’t a St Columba’s. The foundation stone for St Columba’s was laid on 20th June 1923, by the Reverend James Gray – the then minister of St Andrew’s Church. I am therefore going to try and give you mental pictures of my earliest memories of what Pretoria, as a town looked like – then Hatfield at that time and finally our earliest church in those distant, far off days.

Pretoria Station was the hub of exciting activities. Steam-trains ruled supreme. When friends left for “overseas”, it was a real occasion. Family and friends would all gather at the Pretoria Station to bid loving farewells at the Cape Town bound train. This Mail Train left at night, and joined up with the Mail Boats, usually Union Castle liners that took fourteen days to reach Southampton and Britain. Remember that there was no fast transport – only a few cars and no air travel.

Church Square was roughly the same as it is today with the statue of Paul Kruger and his Boer leaders in the centre. However, in those days, a fountain with gold fish circled the statue. There were also lovely green lawns and flower beds – everything was very clean and orderly.

The stately old Raadsaal, Café Royal, Post Office and Palace of Justice were there, and other smaller buildings that were later replaced by huge banks with which today we are all familiar. The main shops were Robert Hamiltons, Millans (later called Garlicks), the Louvre, John Jacks, and the Dee-Bee Bazaar. The old Town Hall was in Pretorius Street, near Central Street and opposite, on the corner was the Grand Theatre. Nearest the square in Pretorius Street was the Victorian Opera House, were many famous old-time actors performed.

Town on Christmas Eve was a joyous, magical place. The Square and streets were festooned with colourful fairylights and all the shops were open to enable people to do last minute shopping. Throngs of people walked freely along Church Street and young boys sold brightly coloured balloons and ticklers on sticks – made of kite paper – these were sold for a tickey each.

Now we come to Hatfield. The only means of transport besides bicycles, motorbikes or motorbikes and sidecars, was either by train or by tram. Rissik was an important station as all the trains to the east had to stop there – except for the evening and morning Delagoa Bay (Lourenco-Marques) trains that thundered through without stopping. The train line to town was a single-track line so that the signals were very important, and the station master was a real VIP. Rissik Station was a quaint but pretty wood-and-iron construction – much like the picturesque stations in Switzerland. There were bicycle sheds attached to the station as many commuters rode far distances before catching the train for town or work.

People walked, very often, long distances – but somehow, in those days, thought nothing of it. The train line was only sunken below street level in the early 1950s. Prior to that time there was no bridge here at Hilda Street.
Trams, on the other hand started from the Square, proceeded down Church Street as far as the Union Buildings – which were already there – built in 1910 (the year my father landed in South Africa). The tram then turned right into Leyds Street, as far as Pretorius Street – reaching its terminal at Hill Street. Government House, where the Governor General had his residence was in Church Street, slightly east of Hill Street. Hatfield’s eastern boundary was End Street – aptly named. This was where Mr and Mrs MacCuaig lived. Mrs MacCuaig was our church’s first Honorary Secretary and typed all the monthly magazines on a little old type-writer and her husband laboriously helped print the magazines using a hand-controlled, old-fashioned Gestetner machine. Beyond End Street was the river – where the local dairyman’s cows grazed and where the herd boys made clay cows and oxen for the young boys.

At that time there were only a few suburban shops. At Rissik there was Craig’s Café and general dealers, a chemist, post office, How’s Butchery, a bicycle shop; and in Duncan Street, Duncan Supply Store near the railway line and Rathbones in Prospect Street. The small Police Station was in Duxbury Road and policemen in those days wore navy blue uniforms and helmets year round. They patrolled the streets on bicycles and were highly respected – but feared by small children.

Houses were few and far between and most houses were on large stands with plenty of space for fruit trees and flower gardens. An annual flower show was held in the ‘Old Town Hall’.

Now I come to St Columba’s – the reason for which we are all here tonight. I do not remember the building of St Columba’s (the Hall), but most of my family members remembered the foundations being laid. However, from the time I can remember there was always a St Columba’s. Our church was the focal point of our lives. As children it was taken for granted that we attend Sunday School every Sunday. There were morning and evening church services, but many parents preferred the evening service when the enthusiastic large choir sang.

The church was built by the firm of Davidson & Junos (Tom Davidson being the father-in-law of our wonderful Grace Davidson.) The carpentry work of the pulpit and decorative choir enclosures were all made by a Master Craftsman, Mr Mungo Bryson – father of Chrissie Elphinstone and grandfather of Christopher. The plumbing was done by the firm of Frasers – father-in-law of our dear Margaret Fraser.
In the beginning, we were merely a Preaching Station and there were only relieving Ministers, but St Andrews was always there to help and guide. Our first Minister the Reverend Peter Gordon was appointed in 1929 and by this time it was deemed necessary to build a manse for the Reverend and Mrs Gordon and family. Times were hard and the firm of Kirkness that built the manse were very long suffering and generous. This was to be the home of all future Ministers, wives and families until the Reverend Johann Kromberg’s time when a more suitable home was bought in Amos Street Colbyn, and the old manse, opposite Grosvenor Park, was sold.

St Columba’s was a flourishing early church with many enthusiastic members and their families. The Scottish Hymnal was used – thus following the old Scottish tradition. The organ was impressive but had to be hand-pumped. Our first organist was Bob Logan – a young man and brother of Beth Mark, who many of you will remember. Major Tom Scott – the choir master was a memorable elderly man with a deep love for singing and choir work. The choir, who sat on either side of the front of the church, was large and there were many trained voices amongst them. Bob Logan, the organist was followed by Mr Robbie Cochrane, and then by Mrs Janie de Wit – In latter years Doreen van Deilen, who has returned our congregation and Greg Cuthbertson have carried on the fine tradition.

Our first Session Clerk was Mr Gordon Leighton, followed by Blackie Swart, Hugh Wells, Lucien Biebuyck and Paula Cross who holds the position still.

The foundation members names are too numerous to mention tonight, but we are honour-bound to remember and praise them for their devotion to St Columba’s. All members of St Columba’s, through the years have found in the church not only their spiritual fulfilment but also social fulfilment.

Originally, the women of the church met regularly and these meetings were called the “Work Parties”. They catered for all church functions, had tea parties, fetes etc. and were generally useful fundraisers for the church. After a few years they were officially formed into our church’s “Women’s Association”. These hard-working women prepared all year round for the annual fetes and provided refreshments for all the church functions and meetings. My age group started as G.A’s (Girls’ Auxiliary) and afterwards qualified to become the J.B’s (Junior Branch) of the Women’s Association. We had monthly meetings with speakers and demonstrations and enjoyed fellowship and fun. For many years we also provided a Christmas party for our Proes Street Mission – with all the traditional Christmas fare and each child received a gift. This, unfortunately all came to an end when the mission was closed due to the Group Areas Act.

There came a time afterwards when we were too old to be called Junior Branch – so we became the Evening Branch of the W.A. It was only until a couple of years ago, due to changed conditions that we changed and became the Saturday Afternoon Branch where we still enjoy the same fellowship. There was however always the Morning Branch for those ladies who did not work or found it more convenient to attend the morning meetings. We all had similar meetings – social and devotional and fund-raising efforts. Later a Lydia Young Mother’s Group was formed and they too in recent years became the Lydia Branch of the Women’s Association. Many of these women are also members of the Dorcas group – who cater for weddings and outside functions on a very professional scale – thus bringing in large amounts of money for church improvements and funds. Swannie McPherson started this group – followed by Anita Snyckers and finally Pat Reynders assisted by our able and hard-working secretary Nola Beeston. It is to these ladies that we are indebted for this wonderful memorial banquet tonight.
It may appear that the women were the all-important members of the church, but you men can be assured that without your wise counselling, support and financial know-how, the church would not be in the sound position it is today. With this, a sincere “thank you” goes out to all the men of the church.
For many years, musical evenings (concerts and plays) were held and produced by our Amateur Dramatic Society. Costumes were elaborate, and beautiful Period dresses were made of materials such as silk taffeta bought from the Indian Shops in Prinsloo Street for 6d a yard.

Sunday School was well attended in those early years and because of lack of space, many classes were held outside under the tress and even in the little old kitchen. One of the special Sunday School events of the year was the Annual Sunday School Anniversary, held during the morning service, when a special programme was presented by the children. The highlight of the year however was the Annual Sunday School Picnic – usually held on Ascension Day or the 24th of May, which was the Queen’s birthday holiday. The venues varied – the McIvor’s farm at Faerie Glen was popular – as was the Hastie-Smith’s farm at Koedoespoort – and Fountains was also a popular venue. Lorries, buses or trains were used to transport the children and parents but an advance lorry with S.S men-teachers and the bigger boys left a few hours earlier carrying the ‘eats’ for the picnic and getting the fires made and Billy-Cans boiling for the hot cocoa or tea that awaited the children’s arrival. The S.S teachers all met the evening before and made hundreds of delicious meat sandwiches which were packed into white-sheet-lined zinc baths – ready to be transported in the early morning. There were, in addition, bags of oranges and boxes of apples as well as Chelsea Buns and Queen Cakes ordered from Boerstras, and barrels of ginger beer from Shillings at Lion Bridge. Prizes were awarded for the traditional races such as: the three-legged race, the sack race, the egg & spoon race, the potato race, the thread-the-needle race, the obstacle race

as well as the usual flat races. The fathers assisted with these and it proved to be an outing enjoyed by the entire family. The Sunday School also had an annual Fancy Dress Parade, concerts, and plays.
When we were teenagers we were fortunate to have a wonderful Friday night Youth Fellowship. Officially badminton and table tennis were played. The Rev. Donald McRae followed the Rev. Peter Gordon in 1935, and he and his wife Betty, then newly married, enthusiastically entered into the fun of these evenings – even providing us occasionally with a dance in the manse. These evenings proved so popular that teenagers from other denominations – Catholics and Anglicans, also attended. My sister Jess also wrote and produced plays spun round the popular musical hits of the time.

Unfortunately, these joyous evenings came to an abrupt end when war was declared on 3rd September 1939, and many of the young fellows joined the forces and every aspect of life changed. Hatfield even experienced the Black Out. After the Rev. Donald McRae came the Rev and Mrs Keith Craig and their two young sons in 1941. Remembering that this was war time, churches activities were greatly reduced. They were followed in 1953 by the Rev. and Mrs David Phillips with their 3 young daughters. It was during the Rev. David Phillips’ inspired ministry, that our present church was built and opened in March 1959. The old church then became the Church Hall.

The Rev. Johann Kromberg followed the Rev. David Phillips in 1966 and they had four children – the youngest daughter Hillary was born while they lived in the manse. In 1979 our special Rev. Danie van Zyl and wife Helmine, with their two children, Anthony and Billy-Jean came. You will, I’m sure all agree that Danie is a true Man of God. He has guided us spiritually and given us a greater insight into the Bible in these past 19 wonderfully meaningful years of his ministry. Helmine, has always been a tower of strength to Danie and has entered into every side of church-life – even becoming P.R. Presbyterial Representative of the W.A in South Africa. I can’t say enough good things about Danie and Helmine- and our past Ministers, who gave so much of themselves in love and caring. We will always be grateful to them for the impact they have made on our lives.

On behalf of all of us I can but say a big thank you. The Rev. Pat Baxter came to us as an assistant minister to help Danie with his Pastoral care. This she did most conscientiously and gained the love of the whole congregation. As you all know, she has been in America for the past few years doing further studies, and we know that she will return greatly enriched.

In closing, I want each one of you to know how much you have meant to me and my family, and how important it is in a church to have this spiritual togetherness.

The Bible says “Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love – but the greatest of these is Love.”
Thank you

Published by St. Columba's Presbyterian Church Hatfield

St Columba's Presbyterian Church in Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa is a Christian Church. Our vision is to be a Christ-centred, bible-believing church that calls all to come and experience the love of Christ, in a welcoming and caring body of believers.

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