This post is not part of my Hidden Joburg series, which I started last year (and will eventually return to). But it should be. St. Alban’s Anglican Mission Church in Ferreirasdorp would have been a perfect addition to the Hidden Joburg book and I don’t know why it was left out. This church is so hidden, you can’t even see it on Google Street view.
I visited St. Alban’s last weekend as part of a Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tour of Ferreirasdorp to honor Human Rights Day. Like most of Joburg, this historic area has a checkered past. Ferreirasdorp was the site of the original mining camp that became Johannesburg; many of the city’s first permanent buildings sprung up there. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo’s law offices were in Ferreirasdorp in the 1950s when it was a thriving, racially diverse commercial district. But due to the apartheid-era Group Areas Act, carried out in the 1950s and 60s, Ferreirasdorp’s black, colored (mixed-race), and Indian communities were mostly forcibly removed from the area during the mid-20th century.
St. Alban’s became a site for Ferreirasdorp’s colored Anglican Christian community in 1898, and the current church structure was built nearly 100 years ago in 1928. The church was at risk in the 1960s, when the congregation was forcibly removed, but fortunately the offices of the local Anglican diocese moved to the property and that helped the buildings survive. Anti-Apartheid Struggle icon Desmond Tutu had his offices at St. Alban’s when he served as Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986.
Despite various periods of neglect, St. Alban’s is now a beautifully maintained church with an active congregation. The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation has done a lot of work to restore the church, which is now marked with a coveted blue heritage plaque.
Visiting St. Alban’s in Ferreirasdorp
I love visiting old churches, especially hidden ones that I never knew about, so I was super excited to get inside St. Alban’s.
Similar to the Christ the King Anglican Church in Sophiatown, which architect Frank Fleming also designed, St. Alban’s is both simple and grand. The inside of the church, built entirely of brick, is huge, with soaring, leaded glass windows that let in tons of light.
The church pews, which aren’t original, bear the Star of David on their ends. The pews were donated by Villa Arcadia, which was once a Jewish orphanage, and the initials of various Villa Arcadia students are still carved into the wood.
St. Alban’s has a large, pretty garden — a rarity in this part of downtown Joburg — that gave us a nice perspective on the outside of the church.
If you’d like to check out St. Alban’s yourself, ignore the location on Google Maps. The church is on Ridout Street near the corner of Anderson Street.
Thanks to the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation for another great tour. I’ll be back next week with the third and final installment of my Quirky South Africa road trip series.