ReJHB: The Lost Churches Of Early Johannesburg

ReJHB: The Lost Churches Of Early Johannesburg

by Marc Latilla                              Posted: 2015/11/15

A brief history of the rise of religion in early Johannesburg.

Churches and places of worship are good reference points when looking at the history and architecture of a city. Many are fanatically preserved and documented and often outlast more mundane historical buildings and houses. In Johannesburg’s case, many of the early churches were demolished or re-located a few short years after being built because the town was never expected to grow at the rate it did. A combination of poor planning, early land allocation in what would become the city centre and an increase in population (who evidently needed saving) meant that the first wave of inadequate churches needed to be rebuilt in more suitable areas to accommodate the growing congregations.

The first church service in Johannesburg was held by Rev. Bousfield from Pretoria who conducted his Anglican service in October 1886 in the dining room of the Central Hotel in Commissioner Street near Sauer Street in Ferreira’s camp.

Rev. Darragh opened the first Church of St. Mary’s Parish which was built on the corner of Eloff  and Kerk Street in 1887. It was demolished after the Boer War.


The first Jewish religious service in Johannesburg was held in a store owned by a Mr. Weinstein on the corner of Market and Harrison Street. The first service for high holidays in 1887 was held in the original Rand Club in Commissioner Street officiated by Rabbi Joel Rabinowitz.

The first synagogue in Transvaal was the President street Synagogue erected in 1888/9. It was one of the first brick buildings in Johannesburg and designed by Read and McCowat and built by Mr. Rowe. The foundation stone was laid by E. Mendelssohn on 24 September 1889 but was apparently dated November 1888. At the time of completion there were approximately 100 Jews in Johannesburg. The synagogue faced south on President street and was between Kruis and Von Brandis Streets.

Dutch Reform Church

Dominee van Warmelo of Heidelberg held the first Dutch Reform service in the home of Field Cornet J. P. Meyer in Natal Camp (roughly were Jeppestown is today) in January 1887.

In August 1887 the first Dutch Reform Church was completed on Von Brandis Square where the Law Courts stand today.


The first Mosque was a wood and iron structure built in 1906. It was replaced by what was known as the Kerk Street Mosque in 1918. The foundation stone was laid on 15 May 1918 by Syed Jammool Hoosain Mashade. The rectangular building was set slightly at an angle with the street, according to its relationship with Mecca.

The building was demolished in 1989 to make way for a bigger and more modern Mosque which was completed in 1991.

Catholic Church

The first Catholic Church was opened on 21 August 1887 on the corner of 148 Fox and Smal Street Street. Five years later a presbytery was built on the corner of Main and Von Wielligh Streets just diagonally across from the church. The church buildings were sold and whole block was then taken over by the Castle Brewery in 1895. The site is where the Carlton Centre is today.

Congregational Church

This church stood on the corner of End and Bree Street. The foundation stone was laid by mining commissioner J. L. van der Merwe on the 14th July 1895.

Wesleyan Church President Street

The first Wesleyan church was in Commissioner Street and it's foundation stone laid by Captain von Brandis in July 1887. It soon became too small and a bigger church was built in 1889 just a block away from the first synagogue on the corner of President and Kruis Streets. It was enlarged in 1892 and was in use until 1919 when it was demolished.

Visit Johannesburg 1912 for the full piece.

A brief history of the rise of religion in early Johannesburg.


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