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Outcry after historic building damaged in fire

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An outcry for the preservation of Kimberley’s historic buildings has been sparked by the devastating fire that swept through the historic Trinity House and caused significant damage.

The damage caused to the inside of Trinity House in Chapel Street in Kimberley due to a fire. Picture: Soraya Crowie

AN OUTCRY for the preservation of Kimberley’s historic buildings has been sparked by the devastating fire that swept through the historic Trinity House and caused significant damage.

The fire, reportedly started by homeless individuals seeking shelter from the cold, gutted the top floor of the 118-year-old Methodist Church building.

Trinity House, located next to the Methodist Church on Chapel Street, has been vacant for some time. The blaze severely damaged the wooden floors and the roof of the building, which was declared a National Heritage Site on March 7, 1993.

The incident has brought the city’s history into sharp focus.

Kimberley, known for its diamond mining past, saw a surge of fortune seekers flocking to the Northern Cape following the discovery of diamonds in 1867.

According to the Dimension, a newspaper owned by the Methodist Church, large settlements sprang up along the Vaal River in Barkly West, which was formerly known as

Klipdrift and Pniel. Various digger camps spread in different directions.

The first minister to be appointed to serve Methodists in the burgeoning digger camps was Reverend Benjamin SH Impey, who arrived in 1871.

As the camps expanded, Methodist places of worship sprouted in all directions. According to the Dimension, early church services were conducted in saloons and bars, with billiard tables serving as pulpits and empty liquor bottles as candle holders. Orders of whiskey in loud voices could be heard being placed during church services.

Later, large tents were erected alongside the saloons and services were conducted in the tents.

The need for a proper church building for Methodists became apparent, leading to the construction of a flimsy chapel on the corner of Du Toitspan and Chapel streets, which was opened by by Reverend James Scott in May 1872. However, a strong thunderstorm destroyed the structure in January 1874, leaving only the brick and the stone foundation.

A more robust church of corrugated iron and a wood frame, lined with Kimberley brick, was built at the same site and opened in 1875. An organ, built by Foster and Andrew in England, was shipped to Durban and transported by ox-wagon to Kimberley to be installed in the church.

An extra wing had to be built onto the church on the corner of Du Toitspan to accommodate the new organ.

The end of the Anglo-Boer War in 1902 saw the church’s membership grow to over 800, necessitating a larger place of worship.

During a meeting held in December 1904, it was agreed that two stands on the corner a block away from the church building on Du Toitspan Road and Chapel Street, where the first church was, would be suitable for erecting a new church.

That was when the Trinity Methodist Church was conceived.

The foundation for Trinity was laid on March 7, 1906, without anyone apparently realising that there were already two foundation stones on the site.

A bottle containing the minutes of the church conference, a circuit plan, names of the building committee and the Methodist churchman, and names of the architect and builders was placed beneath the surface.

The second stone was laid on behalf of Mr GW Compton who was greatly involved in the project to acquire the then-new church but was unable to attend the ceremony.

Under the second stone, another bottle was placed which contained the then-current copy of the Diamond Fields Advertiser (DFA) as well as coins of the British realm.

Simultaneously, provision was made for the construction of a suitable home for the resident minister and his family, adjacent to the church.

After about eight months, the beautiful place of worship took shape in the centre of the Diamond City.

The inaugural service of the Trinity Methodist Church was held in October 1906.

The church is currently still home to one of the grandest and oldest organs to date. The organ apparently bears the date 1887 and was originally installed in the old wood and corrugated iron church, but the Trinity Methodist church later became its new home.

The aftermath of the recent fire has left local residents and business owners operating in the vicinity of the church building “heartbroken” after seeing the damage done to the historic building.

Local voices have expressed their sorrow, stating, “This church has such a rich history. It is heartbreaking to see so much history go up in smoke. The materials and resources used to construct historic buildings are no longer manufactured.

Some of the things inside that building, like the glass that was installed, are priceless and no longer manufactured. The labour and craftsmanship that went into the construction was a testimony of historic events. It is just sad that this incident occurred,” they said.

“There really needs to be more done about the protection of historic sites in the city. We cannot just want to read about these stories in history books yet not preserve their existence for future generations.”

The Trinity House parsonage, which was originally constructed as the residence for the church’s ministers, has fallen victim to various criminal activities and trespassing incidents over the years.

In 2018, emergency services personnel and law enforcement officers were called to the property to remove a woman, believed to be mentally unstable, from a lemon tree within the premises.

Earlier this year, Trinity House fell prey to crime once again when the offices rented by Mme Re Ka Thusa, a fund initiated by the Northern Cape provincial government to support emerging female entrepreneurs, were burgled.

The church indicated that it has yet to calculate the extent of the damage caused by the recent fire at Trinity House. While they expressed relief that the fire did not spread to the church, which would have resulted in irreparable damage, they acknowledged that the incident was still a heavy blow.

The church also noted a decline in its membership over the years and is considering organising a fund-raising event to repair the damage.

The incident has been confirmed by police spokesperson Colonel Cherel Ehlers.

“On Sunday night, June 9, 2024, at about 11.40pm, the Kimberley Flying Squad was busy with patrols when they spotted smoke coming from a building in Chapel Street in the CBD. The fire brigade assisted in extinguishing the fire. No one was injured during the incident and the cause of the fire is unknown,” said Ehlers.

Trinity House, located next to the Methodist Church on Chapel Street, was severely damaged in a fire: Pictures: Soraya Crowie

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