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St Mary's - Cuylerville

St Mary's Church, image copyright Diocese of Grahamstown

The church of St Mary in Cuylerville is a lovely old church. The worshippers at this church are mainly from the surrounding farming community.

Service Times

Contact details

The rector is the Venerable Cynthia Webbstock, she can be contacted on telephone 046 624 1236 or 073 180 0311, email

Location: S33°29'35", E27°00'49"
The orientation of nave aisle is 3° South of East

History of the church

After peace returned to the frontier, the Revd James Barrow held occasional services at Cuylerville and in August 1838, probably encouraged by the completion of Bathurst Church, the settlers of Bailie's location had started subscribing towards a school-chapel, which should also provide defence in times of war. An 18 morgen allotment was transferred by Robert Godlonton to the trustees of the building fund, who had raised £90, while the S.P.C.K. granted £50.

In January 1839 James Barrow called for tenders for the erection of the school- chapel and master's house. By June building was in progress and on 17th July Colonel Henry Somerset laid the foundation stone, the Revds John Heavyside and James Barrow being among those present. Both buildings were complete by September 1840 and the official opening was arranged for the 8th of the month. However, due to the early onset of the spring rains, the roads were so bad that Heavyside, who was to have preached the sermon, could not get through. Colonel Somerset and some others did manage to reach Cuylerville, but it was decided to postpone the ceremony for a week. It duly took place on 15th September. James Barrow commenced the service; John Heavyside preached the sermon and the trustees' wives served tea afterwards - a custom observed with undiminished enthusiasm to the present day.

In 1841, ten years after John Bailie had asked for a clergyman-cum-schoolmaster, the catechist John Boon of the Colonial Church Society began teaching at Cuylerville. Though this was officially a time of peace, Cuylerville could never relax completely. In 1842 Maria Upton's eldest son William Harden was killed by marauders and in the following year Boon's horse was maimed by Xhosas only a mile or so from Cuylerville. In 1844 he left Cuylerville for the Winterberg and was therefore lucky enough to be absent during the war of 1846-7.

The little fortress-church, which at that time had loopholes for windows and a porch in front to prevent assegais from being thrown inside, came into its own. Sixty-six people lived in or around it for a year and though the cattle were again all driven off, there were intervals of relative calm during which water could be fetched from the nearby stream, or the men could even get to Bathurst to replenish supplies. The only person killed by Xhosas at the time was the librarian of the Graham's Town Public Library, John Skirrow who was on a visit to friends. He was the nephew of the John Skirrow who had in 1829 recommended alterations to the design of Bathurst church.

During the 8th and last Frontier War, the whole process was repeated. Maria Upton, who had again managed to build up a herd of 100 cattle, again lost them all and again her house was burned down.

By May 1852 the camp at Cuylerville had sustained nine attacks by the Xhosa, but these afterwards became less frequent and fierce and the war was formally ended in March 1853.

For the past nine years the Revd James Barrow had been serving the Cuylerville community to the best of his ability, but in February 1854 John Boon returned to his duties there. Bishop Armstrong of Grahamstown, on a visit to Cuylerville soon after commented on the orderliness of everything there. "Even the puff- adder found curled up near the door after the service seems to have behaved in an exemplary fashion," he wrote. In the following month Boon wrote to the Graham's Town Journal, appealing for £100 for a dormitory for weekly boarders and by May 26th was able to provide accommodation, meals and books for a few boarders at fees ranging from £20 to £25 per year, depending on age. In the following year he began a small school-chapel at Mancazana about 30km from Fort Beaufort and disappears from the records of Cuylerville from this time.

At last, peace and security had come to Cuylerville, but the three successive onslaughts of the Frontier Wars had been too much for the little village, which finally disappeared. Maria Up ton stayed on her farm, but did not enjoy the benefits of peace in the area for long as she went to a deeper peace in 1857 at the age of 63. She was buried in Cuylerville churchyard.

From this time onwards St Mary's Church at Cuylerville as being a chapelry of the Bathurst Church, was visited more or less regularly by its ministers and in 1868 twelve children were confirmed there. It is not known when the church received its name; it was probably as casual an affair as the naming of St John's. It had an Endowment Fund quite early on, from which James Barrow borrowed - but never returned - £87 for parsonage repairs. Eventually it was paid back from funds raised by a bazaar in 1876.

The Revd W. Meaden held regular services there throughout his years of office, but they were not kept up by his successors to any extent till July 1934 when the first service was held there in two years. By 1935 the church was able to contribute regularly to general Diocesan funds and has continued to do so ever since. Though the access road, which became impassable in wet weather, made regular services difficult, the church was not neglected. In November 1947 it received £1300 from the estate of Mr W.W. Whittal, who grandparents had helped to defend the church a hundred years before. £300 of this was to go for the upkeep of the church and the rest for a memorial to the garrison that defended it in 1846.

In 1959 Alfred Monks tried to revive regular services at the church, but with little more success than his predecessors and in June 1968 Waiter Hook held a service there at a gathering of all Maria Upton's Fletcher descendants. This was preceded by a talk on the Fletcher family by Edward Morse Jones.

Meanwhile, the idea of the memorial was extended to include all the men who had defended the village during the three frontier wars and, in accordance with a suggestion of Morse Jones, it was decided that it should take the form of a lych- gate at the graveyard. This was dedicated in September 1969, two months after Morse Jones' death. He is the only person not of settler descent to have been buried at Cuylerville, in fulfilment of his wish to be surrounded, at last, by the bird life he had loved so much.

Cuylerville came to life again in 1970 as the end point of the symbolic ox-wagon trek to commemorate the 1820 Settlers. The period costumes, the wagons and the braaiv1eis fires made the area look very much as it must have done in 1820. This event revived interest in the church; in September 1972 attendances at services rose to 90% of all its members and in October this little church equalled St John' contribution of R250 towards the renovation of St James', Southwell.

Money donated at the time of the Settler celebrations was used for the renovation of the church (now a National Monument), and Mr Charles Acton who did so much towards the restoration of St John's, was again deeply involved. With its fine wooden roof-trusses exposed to view and its interior beautifully refurbished, St Mary's Church has taken on a new lease of life; while an active congregation drawn from the surrounding farms ensures that it will continue to play its part in the community.


  1. Krsic, Shirley, Fortress of Faith: The Story of St John's Church, Bathurst Bathurst, 1986, ISBN 978-0-620-10308-4. pp 104-107